Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Thanksgiving in India - 2006

Wow! I've been to a ton of countries and seen a lot of sights, but nothing compares to India. Each trip stands in a class of its own and this one is no different. I've recently returned from my latest trip to Southern India. It was absolutely amazing in so many ways. I had the privelege of leading the trip and my fellow teammates were the members of the Light Singers, the ministry team I travel with each weekend here in the States. We travel together overseas once a year to share the Gospel with others, but also to gain a new perspective ourselves. As we travel and speak about missions here in the U.S. it helps us to be able to identify with what God is doing elsewhere by going and immersing ourselves in another culture, exposing ourselves to different religions, and seeking to understand more of God's heart and His love for all people. So, this year, this desire took us to India.

We worked with a very credible ministry (which needs to remain nameless) which focuses on ministry to orphans, educating of national students, and preparing seminary students to go out and become missionaries to other parts of India and around the world. This ministry is fixed in the midst of a land that is overflowing with people. The country of India is about 1/3 the size of the United States and its population exceeds over 1 billion (That's like putting over 1 billion people east of the Mississippi). Soon, India will pass China in total population.

Sadly, at the center of this rapidly expanding culture is a religion who focuses its attention on more gods than can be numbered. India is predominantly Hindu. Some sources have stated that there are over 200 million Hindu gods. Unbelievable! Think about that...the U.S. just recently passed the 300 million person mark with regards to population. Let the seriousness of that sink in. The pictures above are of the largest Hindu temple in Tamil Nadu. Hopefully you can make out some of the detail. If you can see closely, it looks as if there are little figurines carved out as part of the detail of the structure. Each one of these little figurines is a god...and there are more inside. Actually, as part of their rituals, they remove all the figurines/statues from inside the temple and put them in the wooden cart you see in the top picture. The cart itself is bigger than a normal dumptruck. They put the statues inside the cart then push the cart down to the river which is about half a mile away.

And so we came to offer hope. We came to offer love. We came to offer Christ. The ministry we worked with is doing just that...and doing it well. It is one thing to say that you went and worked with kids in an orphanage, but God totally blew our team away the day we saw an orphan actually adopted into the family (check out the picture above...that's him being dropped off). There was no big hassle. There was no paper work to fill out. A constable brought a small 3 year-old boy and said they had found him at a police checkpoint; would they now take him? There was no huge decision process, there was no voting by the board, the headmaster simply took the young boy, picked him up, tried to calm the boy's wailing and wiped the tears, and simply said, "Look, today we have a new gift." Just like that, this small boy (whom is now named Matthew) in and his new life began. It was an incredible representation of Christ. He takes us...no questions ask, adopts us into his family, and gives us amazing hope and purpose. Amazing.

Each day consisted of similar activities. In the morning we would wake up, eat breakfast, then head of to the Bible school to share with the Bible students. Each day we sang songs, shared from the Word of God, then split into classes where we taught everything from discipleship to the names of our family members. The Bible school students have no text books. They simply have a Bible, a journal, and a song book. They take notes and memorize everything...practically as it is coming out of the professor's mouth. The Bible school is held on a new piece of land that was given to the ministry. The funds have not been raised yet to build new buildings so the students meet in thatch huts. What is amazing to me about these students is that they are enrolled in a 3-year program. After the third year, they graduate and are sent out to be missionaries either to India or to another country. Many of them know that this commitment may one day cost them their life as many are martyred for their faith that they openly share wherever they go. Their faith means something. Its cost is very real.

After we would conclude at the Bible school we would then report back to the ministry's headquarters where their public school was located. Students attended from all different backgrounds, lifestyles, and religions. Our team would split up into pairs and then go into the classrooms and teach in their public school. All of the students understand English so that made it a little easier. We taught everything from music, to Spanish, to history, to biology, and of course the Bible. The team loved this opportunity and it was awesome to see their enthusiasm while trying something new...totally out of our comfort zones.

The afternoons varied. Some afternoons were used for rest, during some we had different school assemblies, and on others, we went into the city to learn about the culture by walking the streets (usually while doing souvenir shopping) and checking out the different Hindu temples...they are everywhere. During the school assemblies, we would teach, put on a drama, and sing some songs. One of the bigget hits was the song that goes "Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah...Praise Ye the Lord...with the kids standing up and shouting back and forth. It was great! The public school assemblies also gave us the opportunity not only to encourage Christian students, but Hindus and Muslims as well.

Each evening we held different church services across the city. It was amazing to hear the Indians worship. They sing songs that are literally like 10 minutes long. It's awesome. We sang songs, performed skits/drama, and then each evening I had the opportunity to speak. What a receptive and responsive audience! It was great to hang out afterwards and just visit with elderly Christians who were late in years and had much experience to share. The churches were so alive, so genuine, so intentional. It was refreshing just to be able to attend. After each message, Dr. George would follow up on the message and he spoke with such power and authority. Praise God for the working of His Word.

During this trip, God taught me a new lesson in his sovereignty. Wednesday night we held a service at a house church. The host family had a daughter, Sheila, who was to leave the next weekend to do a medical/missionary internship in London. So we met at her house, worshipped together, heard testimonies from her mother and father, ate, and had a wonderful time. The next day, Thursday - which was our last day in India, we were leaving the Bible school in the morning. We received a phone call saying that there had been an accident and Sheila's mom was "no more", meaning she was killed. Unbelievable. We had just sat at her house the night before. We heard her last charge to her house church and to her daughter. And now she was gone. Sheila was a wreck, understandably, but still the family focused on the Lord understanding that his ways and his plans are higher than our own. Sheila will still be leaving for London later in mid-December.

God has proven himself so faithful to me. It was incredible to witness how he works around the world. I know I won't forget the hopeless feeling of seeing people bow down to statues, rocks, and cows. I won't forget how he stretched our team and unifed us as we served. I will definitely never forget the faces, the smells, the sounds. I look forward to returning soon and learning more. I've learned to trust him more, even when you don't understand. Just be obedient.

Even before the trip, we were met with obstacles. 4 days before we were to leave, bomb threats were issued on our port of entry. After much prayer and conferring with government sources, we decided to go. Even on the way to the airport, a huge tree fell right in front of our van tearing the front bumper off of another car. Should we keep going? Absolutely. Not out of ignorant enthusiasm or to be foolish, but out of the understand that God is in control. Nothing can happen without his allowing it. He wants me to trust him. Even when the view ahead is pitch-black. These obstacles have really caused me to think about the American church. It has been my experience often times that when met with obstacles, the church wants to view that as God closing the door. "He must not want us to go." I was inspired because through this trip I had the opportunity to sit at the feet of Christians who had been met with many obstacles, prayed hard, persevered, and had become victorious. Maybe we miss out on God's blessings because we're not willing to press on in faithful prayer and discover God's fulness.

I want to say thank you to all of you who supported our team through prayer and even financially! Please continue to pray for the people of India and that more missionaries will be sent so that more might hear and understand. Please also be in prayer for my next upcoming trip in March as I help lead a team to the Czech Republic. Your continued support and love is felt and trul appreciated. If you have any questions or comments, let me know. You can email me at pkatkinson@liberty.edu

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Greetings from Puerto Rico!

My recent trip through Light Ministries with our team of 22 members proved very productive. Puerto Rico is an exciting and lively place. Though final legislative decisions are approved by the United States, it operates as an independent nation. Our team was blessed to be able to learn about the culture, participate in many of the customs, provide physical man-power to meet needs, and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with many. We saw about 20 people personally testify to receive Christ as their Savior. Our ministry was great in that it involved evangelism, discipleship, encouragement, and physical labor. We performed concerts, primed and painted a new church facility, tore down drop ceilings and walls, performed dramas in public parks, cleaned schools, conducted school chapels, led worship in church services, held youth rallies, fed the homeless, and much, much more. I want to begin by saying thank you to so many of you who provided support through prayer while we were gone. There were a lot of things going on and we needed it! Thank you for your partnership in ministry.

I enjoyed this trip, but it was different for me in many ways. I, along with Tom Nylander, Director for Light Ministries, co-led the trip to San Juan which included a trip to Ponce, a beautiful city about an hour-and-a-half away. I would say that probably the biggest difference for me personally on this trip was the fact that Puerto Rico, in many ways, was just like being at home. We had all the modern conveniences that we have here in the states: cell phones, tvs, computers, etc. (which was not always a bad thing...especially when we needed to communicate with others back in Virginia). However, on a few more primitive trips that I have been on, it has been nice to NOT have those things. It was nice not to hear the phone ring, not to be bombarded with emails, etc. It was a lot easier for those things to not be distractions because they were not available. It caused one to be disciplined and focus continually on why you were there.

The Land and a bit of the Culture:
Puerto Rico is an incredible land with some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen!

As I stated earlier, one thing you experience on all mission trips is the culture. The Puerto Ricans we served with through Christian Community Church were incredibly warm, friendly, and inviting. Overall, Puerto Rican culture is very laid-back. Times and programs are not as important as people and relationships. We were there on January 6th, which is the day they celebrate 3 Kings Day. It is traditionally more of their "Christmas Day" when gifts are given and they celebrate the 3 Wise Men coming to visit the new born Christ. On that night we participated in a tradition called Parranda (a tradition that I am sure will not catch on in America). You get a band of people together and go "caroling" in the wee hours of the morning...only by "caroling", I mean screaming and beating on drums with the goal of waking them up, them inviting you in, and them feeding everyone. It was fun...just a bit tiring as we went around from 11pm-5am.

Everyone lined up waiting for Parranda's joyful music to begin!
Can you imagine feeding all those people at 2 in the morning?

Ministry through Schools and Churches:

We had a great ministry in the churches and schools we were in. In the churches we held several Youth Services, were involved leading worship in main church services, and also had the opportunity to encourage the churches through preaching. We held 14 services and ministered in two different schools and in 4 different churches. It was such a blessing to worship with other Christians and experience two different cultures worshipping the same God.

Ministering to 7-12th Graders at Wesleyan Academy, a private Christian school (above)
Kids going crazy at a Youth Rally (below)

It was so great to have the opportunity to be an encouargement to many pastors of different churches. Everytime I go overseas and have the opportunity to meet different pastors I'm always humbled by their commitment to Christ as I hear their own stories and testimonies. I praise the Lord for those who have been so faithful for so long and only pray that my life can be characterized as "faithful" as well.

Ministry through Drama:

One unique opportunity for ministry was provided through drama. We ministered through drama almost every day. We did three different dramas: Redeemer, Chains, and King of Hearts. The drama I was in was called Redeemer and focused on creation, man's choice to sin, and God's redeeming love. Below are pictures of one time we did the dramas. This time was on 3 King's Day. On 3 King's Day all parents take their children to the Governor's Mansion where he hands out gifts. There were an estimated 75,000 people that were in this area on January 6th. What better place to set up and do some dramas? However, there were other events to compete with such as side-shows, contests, and marching bands. One band actually marched right through our Chains drama while they were doing it. But nonetheless, as you can see below, people still stayed around to hear the message of Christ afterwards.

Redeemer Drama (above)
Explaining the message behind the drama afterwards (below)

Our Host Church:
Christian Community Church was our host church for the 2 weeks we were in Puerto Rico. CCC is an active, incredible non-denominational church. God has blessed their ministry and they continue to grow and reach out to Guaynabo and the surrounding areas. They currently have 4 services on Sundays and are in the middle of a building project. It was very rewarding to not only serve with them on Sundays and Wednesdays, but to also be able to help by meeting physcial needs such as priming and painting in the completed basement of their new facility.

The Light Singers:
It was a great privilege to be able to travel overseas with the team I travel with every weekend. These guys and ladies work really hard to spread the Gospel across the country and around the world as well as work to open the eyes of others to people God loves everywhere. On the last day we went to check out the scenic view of El Murro. El Murro served as the watchtower and was the entrance port to the island. It was the place on many battles and many graves. It provided much scenic beauty and even a good backdrop for some photos for Light's new CD that should be coming out this Spring.

Final Thanks:
Thanks again for all your love and your continued support! Please continue to pray for the people of San Juan, Guaynabo, and Ponce. Pray that God will continue to use the words, songs, and dramas that were presented to continually teach them more about Himself and draw them closer to Him.