Thursday, July 22, 2010

Youth Worker's Training Weekend!

As we drove under the archway entrance, past a rice paddy and down a road lined with palm trees we arrived at Canaan Retreat Center. With such peaceful surroundings, I knew that this retreat center was going to be a place we would enjoy meeting youth and college ministers from around Hyderabad. We were in Ghatkesar, about 1 1/2 hours outside of Hyderabad.

This wasn't just any retreat for me (Donna), this was a retreat where we would teach the Teen Worker's Curriculum that I and other youth workers in the US have been developing for the past three years. This was our inaugural training in two ways, one- the material had never been taught to youth workers before anywhere in the world, and two- this was the first time that Here's LIfe Inner City has trained ministers in India.

We partnered with Youth for Christ and Campus Crusade India, Evangelical Union, Shining Stars and a couple of local churches, there were 33 of us in all. Some of the highlights for the youth worker's attending were the lessons on Biblical Manhood, Emotional Intelligence, What are your purpose and guiding values, Sharing the Good News with Teens and How to Prepare Young People for Marriage. We had several instructors, Tom, Megen, Jean, Myself and our host, Peter Wiig.

As we were watching the end of the retreat slideshow, I had such a great feeling in my heart that our hours of brainstorming, collaborating and writing for these lessons hasn't been in vain, but that finally the people who we have a heart to minister to, equip and empower have been touched with this material. I thank God that this is only the beginning of equipping passionate people to share the love of Christ with teens as they walk alongside them through life.

Thank you for your prayers for this retreat!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Walking in Faith

It’s been a while since our team (Candice, Daniela, Drew & Naomi) has updated you on our lives here in India, because we have been doing a lot of traveling as we were sent out to rural villages and towns during the first two weeks of being here. So this post will be a bit longer than the rest as we attempt to update you on two weeks of ministry here in India.

week one: 07/04 - 07/09

My team and I spent the week in the rural village of Athmakur. We arrived on Sunday morning after a two-hour bus ride from Hyderabad and were joyfully greeted by the Pastor of the local church and his beautiful family. Over the course of the week, we began to live life with this family, taking upon ourselves their passion for this village and its people.

One of our ministries to the village over the week was leading a VBS for the children there. On our first day, forty-two kids from all over the village gathered around the simple church grounds, eager and courageous in spirit. We began to lead them in the knowledge of God’s love, yearning with all our hearts to convey its deepness in the simplest of forms to their young minds. The kids were beautifully eager, hanging onto every word we spoke. Our only hope was that their eagerness was drawn to the Spirit rather than the group of Americans who came to their village. Towards the end of the night, we began to play games with the kids, and the church seemed to almost explode with joy. Our team then noticed a man, sullen-faced and angry, staring through the window. When Premdas, our dear friend and translator, approached the man, he began yelling in Telugu, shouting that we were corrupting his son with the words of our religion. He then demanded his son leave with him and stormed off toward the village.

The next day as we sat in the church preparing for the days events, we received news that shook us all quite deeply. The father that dragged his son out of the church that night beat him so badly that the boy suffered from pains in his body. The father then took his son to the doctor, claiming that the candy we had given his son made him sick. He even went so far as to report us to the local newspaper, saying that the foreign Christians had come to corrupt and convert their children, forcing our religion upon them. The reporter that the father spoke to was also the largest anti-Christian Hindu in the entire village. Our fears began to rise as talk spread of our motives within the village.

Later that day, we were scheduled to speak at a school assembly. Our aim was to encourage the kids in their value through Christ's deep love for them. When we arrived at the school, the anti-Christian reporter was there, camera ready in hand and face screaming his utter disgust for our being there. Originally, our talk included references to God and His creating us out of His great love for us. But because of the strong anti-Christian sentiments, we decided to re-word that section of our speech, trusting that the Spirit would move despite the absence of a direct reference to God. Praying that the LORD would protect us as we did His will.

I was much reminded of the book of Esther during this time, in that although God’s name may not be in the book, His name is definitely on the book, working together all things for the good of His people. So that became our prayer…that the LORD’s name would dwell on the assembly even if His name was absent from its content.

We witnessed God’s providence in a beautiful way that day. As the reporter’s suspicions were silenced by our omission of God’s name in the assembly, his demeanor was drastically shifted to welcoming us with open arms. So much so that he wrote a story about the Americans who came to India, which appeared in four local newspapers the next day. Thus, he opened the doors of other villagers’ hearts to be more open and accepting of not simply our presence, but also the words we spoke. God truly has his hand upon us, working all things together for our good. May we continue to trust Him in and through all things. His love for us is constantly breaking walls and uniting hearts. May we embrace this plan of His that is in perfect orchestration before us.

week two: 07/11 - 07/16

This past week, our team was sent out to a coal-mining city about six hours away from Hyderabad with team PULSE. When we first arrived, our hearts were a little bit shaken as we missed our kids from the previous ministry sites we had learned to call home. There was a mundane spirit surrounding our hearts and minds that we couldn’t seem to shake the first night there. But, we knew that the LORD had brought us to this city for a purpose much greater than our own desires. We spent the next few days in fervent prayer that the LORD would search our hearts and challenge our minds. During the week that we were serving in the town, we were stretched to our limits in a beautiful way. Over the course of two days each team visited two churches, and within those churches we led a main service to the full congregation and then were split up in order to lead a women’s and men’s time in a more intimate setting.

Something we’ve been learning here in India, through experience as well as through word of mouth, is the lack of fellowship within church communities. Although the people from the local villages or towns gather together for church on Sunday mornings, there seems to be a lack of fellowship outside the walls of the church, or even within them. So, during our time together as women, it was our deep desire that the women of these villages would come to know the beauty of fellowship. We led them to the book of Exodus, where we explored the ways in which God used women, specifically Moses’ mother, to raise up a great man of the LORD that literally changed the course of history. As the women came to realize their role in the Kingdom we began to challenge them with the power of community as we asked them to form groups of two to three women and simply pray together, sharing their struggles and joys with their fellow sisters. What followed was a beautiful display of the Kingdom. The room was filled with voices; so much so that one could not discern one voice from another. Women were opening their hearts to one another, allowing vulnerability to take center stage. And then we began praying, collectively. We couldn’t understand a word of Telugu, and they couldn’t understand our English. But we began glorifying the LORD in a beautiful way that morning, spreading the Kingdom in uncharted territory. The worries of anything left behind at home or at our previous ministry sites began to melt away as we watched the LORD cross every barrier, whether cultural, emotional, or lingual, to unite his daughters in the glorification of His name. It was the first time that these women had ever experienced spiritual fellowship, and our prayer for them is that it would continue even after our fingerprints have left their hearts.

The LORD is truly doing big things here in India, and we are so blessed to be used in such beautiful ways. May we continue to see ourselves as broken vessels, fixed by the King, and directed by the Spirit. May His good, pleasing, and perfect will be done.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Written on His Heart

Peter with Nagarani and Dhayakar – two of the children who accepted the Lord

This past week, The Justice League team (Victoria, Peter, David, Megen) left the congestion and dense population of the city for Bommakal, a village of 1200 people located about 170 km from Hyderabad. We soon discovered that we had exchanged the smog of the city for intense heat and humidity and dirt roads that, while not congested with traffic, had to be shared with amazingly large and unconcerned herds of livestock. These roads also took their toll on our vehicle; the faithful old sumo fell prey to a punctured tire the second night we were there, which required an emergency tire change (including at least 4 attempts at jacking up the vehicle, which only proved successful when the entire team lifted the gigantic sumo high enough off the ground to properly position the jack) on the side of a deserted road at 11:00 pm.
When we first arrived at the afterschool center and met the kids we would be working with this week, our response matched theirs: reserved. Having just finished an amazing week with the kids at Ashirvad (see previous posts), it was hard to keep from making comparisons between the two groups of children. While the Ashirvad kids had been overflowing with love and enthusiasm toward us, which they expressed in amazingly good English, these village kids seemed shy and hesitant to interact with us. To further complicate connecting with them, they spoke virtually no English. At our nightly team prayer times, we asked God to open our hearts to love these kids without making comparisons.
We had decided to begin the week with an experiential activity that would allow us to present the gospel to the kids. As I shared and asked questions, I noticed that their response was usually “I don’t know,” but I assumed that they were still feeling too shy to venture an answer. Based on what we had been told about the kids, we were under the assumption that all of them were familiar with the gospel and that about half of them knew Christ as their Savior. We continued to emphasize the gospel, but it wasn't until our third night in Bommakal that we found out that these statistics had recently changed. The afterschool center had taken a year's break from its programs and had only reopened a few weeks before we arrived. Our host in the village told us that nearly all of the students were Hindu and that this was their first involvement with the afterschool program or the church.
That night, our team went back to our lodgings stunned and overwhelmed by what we had just learned. No wonder the kids didn't know the answer to the questions I had asked them about the gospel. No wonder they were shy and still learning how to love and be loved. Our team of four went up on the roof of the church where we were staying and sat in silence as we remembered the eager pairs of eyes fixed on us as we shared those words of life, those serious faces that appeared to be listening as though their lives depended on it. And we realized that, in fact, their lives did depend on it. It had been difficult at our previous ministry site to look into the beautiful faces of the kids at Ashirvad and realize that despite their happy smiles, unless God does a miracle, they will die a difficult and early death as a result of AIDS. How much more heartbreaking to look into the equally gorgeous faces and bright eyes of the kids at Bommakal and realize that, unless God does a miracle, they are headed toward an eternity in hell. And so, sitting there on that rooftop in an Indian village, we began to pray. We prayed for the souls of those kids who, we realized, we had come to love every bit as passionately as we had loved the Ashirvad kids. We prayed for the church there that makes up such a tiny percentage of the population of the village and for God to use those believers to lead the kids to Him. And we prayed for our remaining time in the village – 1 ½ days seemed so short suddenly. We felt that what we had to offer was so little, yet we knew that the same God who fed 5,000 people with one boy’s lunch was able to take our small offering and multiply it for His purposes. We had no idea when we offered our last days in Bommakal to God how He would choose to use them.
The day before we left the village, we decided to give the kids an opportunity to respond to the gospel. We led them in making simple origami hearts and writing the names of people they loved on the hearts they had made. Then we told them if they loved Jesus and wanted to invite Him into their hearts, to write His name on their hearts. Peter shared with them that the love they have for the people they wrote down is tiny compared with God’s love for each of them. He asked the group to close their eyes and anyone who wanted to pray and receive Christ as Savior to raise their hand. To our astonishment, 24 students raised their hands! As one of our team members said later, those hands weren’t just raised – they shot up and they stayed up the entire time Peter led them in prayer. In fact, we had to remind them to put their hands down when we finished!
We went “home” that night and climbed the stairs to the same roof where we’d sat and prayed the night before. Again, we were stunned and overwhelmed – overwhelmed by what God had done and stunned that He had allowed us to be a part of it. We realized that God had done a miracle and that we could now look into 24 pairs of bright eyes and know that these beautiful, amazing children are now sons and daughters of God and that we will see them again one day in heaven.
Before we left Bommakal, each of us made an origami heart identical to those the kids had made. Each heart is covered with names, written in different colored markers, some in English, some in Telugu characters – the names of the children of Bommakal. When we drove away, we took those hearts with us as a testimony to us of the way God taught us to love those children and a reminder that 24 of those children also have their names written on His heart and in His book of life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Story of Rayudu

Before coming on this trip to India we were often asked, "Why are you going to India? What ministry are you partnering with there? What are the needs there?" The following story of Rayudu, although heartbreaking, paints a vivid picture of the ongoing needs here and of the hope that the Shining Stars Centers for Youth Development are offering to the children and families that attend on a daily basis.
Rayudu (pictured above with his sister) was always an excellent student in school and excelled at everything he did. He was known as a child "who always did his best at everything." His parents (top picture) were devout Hindus and Rayudu frequently urged his parents to turn from their idol worship and follow Jesus--a decision he had made while attending a Shining Stars Youth Development Center in his neighborhood.
In January, of 2006 Rayudu (age 12) was scratched (not bitten) by a stray dog. He went to the doctor and started on a regimen of rabies shots, but the doctor did not seem to indicate that the risk for rabies was very high since it was only a scratch. Rayudu's family is very poor and could not afford to finish his regimen of shots--so they did not take him back for his follow up appointments. They did not think twice about it since the doctor did not emphasize the importance of coming back for the rest of his shots.
Three months later, in April of 2006 Rayudu began to act strangely and he was taken by the director of Shining Stars (Peter Wiig) to a local hospital. They mentioned that he probably had rabies and referred them to another hospital down the road for treatment. Upon arrival at the hospital the doctor told them, "He will die, 100%." Upon hearing the news of his impending death Rayudu said, "I am not afraid to die because I will go to be with Jesus in heaven."
Although Rayudu was briefly distressed about his own fate he quickly began to think of others:
  • While lying on his hospital bed he placed both of his parents hands into Peter Wiig's and made Peter promise that he would take care of them.
  • He collected all of his father's money and asked that it be used for the education of his siblings (like his sister's pictured above).
  • He also asked the Shining Stars to promise to take care of his sister's education and help her to study.
  • He told his mother that he wanted all of his clothes and body parts given to the poor (though he himself was very poor).
Family and friends gathered around Rayudu until late into the night where they sang worship songs, prayed with him, and said their goodbyes. He passed away at 12:30 a.m. on April 26th, 2006.
His memory still remains with all that are involved with Shining Stars. Within a couple of days of his death Rayudu's parents asked Jesus to be their savior! This is something that we know would have brought Rayudu great joy and is an answer to his many prayers. His brother and sisters are all still involved in Shining Stars and their beautiful smiles light up the room.
Shining Stars has honored Rayudu's request and recently secured funding (through much work & effort by the staff) for all of his sibling's education up through high school. They also receive help daily with their school work as tutoring is a key part of the after school program.
The Shining Stars Centers have taken measures to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again by educating the staff and getting connected with a local agency that provides rabies shots free of charge.
This story illustrates the important role that the Shining Stars Centers are playing in the lives of families here in Hyderabad. They are not only sharing the good news of Christ with the kids and their families, they also serve as valuable resources for many poor families here in the city. Rayudu's siblings are now getting an education they probably would never have gotten without the help of the Shining Stars staff. This ministry is doing a mighty work for the Lord here in India and their ministry is impacting many lives. It is our privilege and honor to serve with them this month and hopefully in the years ahead.

Teen Workers Training Retreat

Tom and I (Donna), along with Peter Wiig (all pictured above) have stayed behind this week in Hyderabad to prepare lessons for the Teen Workers Training Retreat we're doing this Thursday-Saturday. Here's Life Inner City is partnering with India Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade and Shining Stars to train 30-40 people working with youth. This is an exciting training for me because this will be the inaugural training using training curriculum that Here's Life Inner City's Youth development department has been developing over the past 3 years. This is my first editing project ever! Please pray for:

  • Pray for God to bring the people he wants there for the training. We are expecting between 30-40 people there which would be fantastic!
  • Pray for Donna, Tom, Peter Wiig, Megen, and Jean as they teach/lead the various seminars.
  • Pray for the participants to be blessed and encouraged by the training and that they would apply the lessons learned to their various teen ministries throughout the city of Hyderabad.

Thank you for your prayers!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Praying With Faith & Hope

Have you ever felt trapped or helpless? Maybe money and available resources have kept you from experiencing such moments of desperation. Last week, team P.U.L.S.E. (Wade Norman, Jean Johnston & Tiffany Nickles) went to visit a home with a few workers from YWAM (Youth with a Mission). One of the houses we stopped at was a one room home filled with five residents. A widow and 2 of her 4 children anxiously invited us in. There was no room for all of us to be in their home at the same time so most of us sat on the ground outside. During the conversation we discovered that the widow and her youngest and only son were infected with H.I.V. The widow and her two daughters really enjoyed our company and we really enjoyed theirs. I (Wade, pictured above) felt helpless and humbled because it was all we had to offer.
The original plan for that day was to help YWAM finish building a restroom for this family. However, due to rain our plans for completing the restroom were put on hold. My heart was filled with pain as I looked at the two girls as my own sisters. I tried to imagine my own sisters going through similar hardships. It was difficult to say the least.
Before we departed from their home I was asked to pray for the family. This request alone compounded the pain I felt for this family. What could I possibly pray that would take their eyes off the reality of their current circumstances? I felt unequipped but I prayed anyway. As I began to pray the pain that surrounded my heart slowly turned to joy. God wasted no time reminding me that He cared for these people more than I could ever know. Who was I to think that I had anything to offer this family? God exposed my prideful motives that I had buried under my heart. I was convicted as the words of my heart foolishly belittled the power of prayer and by belittling the power of prayer I was belittling the power of God.
This situation, like many others, was an opportunity to trust Him. I needed to believe that God could help this family and that He would help this family in the way that He chooses. Sometimes I want God to work the way I want but God is not afraid to blow my mind by doing something totally different. This family will continue to be reached out to and loved by the local ministry here and I will continue to pray for God to do a miracle in their lives. Praise His Holy name and lets give thanks that we have hope in Him!
--Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are acheiving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal --2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Prayer for Our Teams

This is an exciting and faith stretching week for our teams as they are all outside the city of Hyderabad working in rural villages. After spending all of Sunday night traveling on a bus Team Pulse (Jean Johnston, Wade Norman, & Tiffany Nickles) and Team Hydergood (Drew Gehrke, Candice Reddy, Naomi Jaramillo, & Daniela Sanchez) arrived in a small coal mining town named Godavari Khani where they are staying at the Calvary Gospel Church.
In the town they will be speaking at local school assemblies, working at a Shining Stars Youth Development Center at a local church (doing VBS type activities with the children, homework, skits, Bible stories, games, arts & crafts, etc.), leading a Women's and Youth Bible study.
Please pray for them:
  • Pray that they are able to sleep well this week after starting the week so tired from their late night travel.
  • Pray for God to speak through them as they speak at local school assemblies.
  • Pray that God help them make special connections with the children at the youth center and that they would be bold to share the Love of Jesus with the children.
  • Pray for unity as these 2 teams (Team Hydergood & Team Pulse) work closely together for the first time.

Our third team, The Justice League (Peter, Victoria, Megen and David) left at noon on Sunday for Bommakal. Bommakal is a small village where they said the only cars they've seen in the last day was the one they drove and a delivery truck. They are helping to jumpstart the Shining Stars Center for the new school year by visiting the children in their homes and inviting them to the Center for tutoring and Bible lessons.

Pray for the Justice League:

  • Creativity in connecting with the kids.
  • Healing for Victoria and Peter as they recover from a cold.

Thanks for praying for these teams! Check in tomorrow for update and prayer request for our busy team leaders.