Join Nik & Tim, our Churchwardens, as they walk the Wherryman's Way.
Sometimes life doesn't make sense. Things happen and something deep within us wants to cry out 'No!' or 'Why?' or even 'Where are you God?'. Life can be tough as we face all sorts of trials, tribulations, issues and struggles. But it really feels like life shouldn't be like this. It feels plain wrong. It just does.
And so it should because it isn't supposed to be like this. God didn't want it like this. Remember the garden? - walking with God in paradise in the cool of the day when everything was 'good' and 'very good' and death had not become part of the lot of humanity.
Ever eaten something that disagreed with you? I had a curry the other evening. Now, I don't eat onions. They upset the delicate balance in my otherwise 'very good' stomach. I checked, I asked, specifically if there were onions in the chicken tikka masala. 'Yes, Sir. There are.' 'Do you have any dishes without onions?' I asked with a combination of hope and desperation. 'No, Sir. This is a curry house. All curry has onions.' He didn't add 'You silly man' but the implication was cleary there. Before I could stop myself, knowing full well what the consequences would be, I heard myself saying 'Oh, that'll be fine, I'm sure. I'll take the tikka masala.' Did God really say.....Did I really know.....Yes. And no amount of positive thinking or yakult was going to make any difference to me, or to humanity. Sin entered. And with it came separation from God and death (Rom 5:12). Now the whole creation is 'groaning in travail' (Rom 8:22). It wasn't, it isn't, supposed to be like that. And we know it. That's why it hurts so much. It's groaning, it's travail. It's mortality.
Everything within us wants it to be put right, for it not to hurt so much. For sin and death to be overcome. And that's why the cross is at the centre of history, for at the cross God reconciles us (puts us right) with himself. He makes the books the balance.
Because of the cross, where life triumphs over death, where the goodness of heaven overcomes the wrongs of humanity, 'that which is mortal is swallowed up into life' (2 Cor 5:4) and the groaning of humanity is no more.
It isn't supposed to be this way. And God has made sure that what's wrong has been put right in the only way it could have been. For at the cross, where Jesus redeems the pain, the old way, the wrong way, the way that led us all to death, is swallowed up in the victory of new life (1 Cor 15:54).
The Thankgiving service for the life of India, is at 2.00pm on Thursday 10th March at St Andrew's, Chorleywood. She beholds, and experiences, Him making everything new (Rev 21:5). To Him be the glory.
Well this is the final instalment from Kolkata. We catch a 10.00am flight in the morning which means getting up at 6.00. It's now 11.40pm so please forgive me if I'm brief!
William Carey, the father of modern missions, came to Kolkata from very humble beginnings in Northamptonshire. He arrived in 1793 and his impact has been huge. It was my privilege today to speak at the church he founded. Admittedly I had to eat humble pie before doing so and ask Ben for one of his Strepsils (let the reader understand). I felt led encourage the congregation that the same power that empowered Carey, the same purpose that he was called to and the same plan that he worked to are all ours today. He famously said, in a sermon he preached before he left England, that 'We should attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.' He lived that, and he saw that. Many people, like our friend Benjamin, are attempting great things in the evagelisation of this 'spiritual' nation - the noise from the idol festivals this week has been deafening. I do feel slightly guilty that I didn't suggest to Ben and Mark that they might need ear plugs. But I'm pleased to report that mine have worked very well indeed.
Benjamin is seeing great things and it's been a privilege to share with him, although again I could have done with a little more notice than him asking me at breakfast this morning if I would 'bring a word of encouragement' at his church immediately after speaking at Carey Baptist! I can work on a short time of preparation but no preparation does make it a little tricky.
Others are attempting great things in relation to setting the captives free and at our third church service of the day, which is nearly as many as Dave will have done back at St Ts, we witnessed three young people being baptised. What was particularly moving was that all of the Mahima girls were at the service and so we got to meet them, chat with them a little, and discover that one of them wants to get baptised at the next baptism service. I asked her 'Is that because you love The Lord Jesus? 'Oh, yes!' she replied enthusiastically nodding.
These girls looked just like any other Indian teenagers, in fact far better than many we have seen. Cleaner, brighter and somehow radiating a warmth that is inexplicable, other than the fact that these are Smita's girls. Mahima means 'glory'. It felt glorious.
And how best to award such commitment to seeing these girls redeemed, restored and renewed? By the giving of the second greatest gift of all, of course. See you in Norwich.
What does a Youth Conference in Kolkata and Anti-Slavery have in common?
Today started on the same theme as yesterday finished.
To Mark's disappointment we headed off to meet Benjamin's close friend, church planter and area leader Arne (pronounced Arnie) by car. It's same Arne who is 'house sitting' the Basirhat property who we had seen on Tuesday and so I was looking forward to keeping my promise to him to return! I hope I don't have to explain that to you, do I?
Although we are here with a clear focus to take the planning for the Aftercare Home on to the next stage the work that Benjamin and his team are doing is quite phenomenal. It really is Acts in action. And so I wanted Mark and Ben to experience how Benjamin and his team have already planted over 16,000 churches in villages all over India and further afield, in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal.
We left a little later than we had planned to. I know how difficult regular readers of the blog will find that to believe but it's true. Traffic in Kolkata was....you know the picture. And I'm sure Mark was dreaming of the motorbike as we sat in the midst of a slowly moving tightly packed mass of mostly mangled machinery. I guess the mortality rate of drivers is actually quite low, though, as cars rarely go faster than walking pace. The problem is minor dings. The 1960s Austin Ambassador is still the car of choice for taxi drivers. And why not? You'd have to have slightly abandoned your senses to spend all day on these streets in a car that you might worry about being scratched or dented.
Finally we hit the open road. And freedom for the driver to accelerate. The problem with that is that chicken played at 5mph in the city is a different game entirely from chicken played at 50mph in the country. Travel insurance. Check. Intense prayer. Check. The Apostle Paul encourages us to pray ceaselessly. No need for any encouragement other than circumstances today. Church planting is a serious matter when people can be beaten, abused and occasionally killed. I think it may actually be nearly as dangerous to get to the villages in the first place. The Crown Prosecutor and the former defence lawyer had a most stimulating conversation about how many of the drivers on the road we travelled today would have found themselves prosecuted under s3 of the Road Traffic Act for careless or inconsiderate driving. Learned and unanimous conclusion - all of them.
The journey was not enhanced by the fact that for a good half an hour we followed a wide open channel taking raw, untreated sewage from the 18,000,000 people of Kolkata to the sea. Touch here # for an authentic sensory experience. You didn't did you? Anyway by now I'm sure you can imagine the stench. It's hot here!
By the grace of God we finally made it to the spot where we were getting the Big Life boat to take us to a Hindu village not accessible by road and where the team had not been before.
We were very well received by the village and whilst Ben and Mark expended far too much energy on a hot day playing games with the children I joined Arne and a Christian Dr to run a medical camp. This took place in the yard of a woman's basic 'shack' home, a woman whose name sounded like Chamonix but didn't quite understand when I mentioned this to her. I asked what connection she had with Big Life. 'None at all, she's only just met us.' She brought us chai and biscuits as a crowd gathered to have their medical conditions diagnosed and prescriptions administered. I discovered that nearly all the complaints related to water borne parasites and diseases. Or the arsenic which is in the water at very high levels. This shocked me but didn't surprise me. Remember the sewerage which was not so far away. And add the massive landfill site we also passed for a toxic cocktail.
By this time Chamonix had a tract in her hand entitled 'Free from fear' and Madhu, who was doing a great job interpreting, asked her what she feared? She replied without missing a beat. 'Getting sick.' No surprise there. The nearest medical facilty is over an hour away by boat and there are no local Drs. No medicines. No hope. It wasn't the poverty of a lack of money that struck me. Two boys entertained themselves for ages with two plastic margarine tubs and two sticks. It was the poverty of the fragility of life without the extra resources to treat their water properly, have good transport, seek proper (or indeed any) medical care, or protect there children. What do I mean by that last comment? You see, although this outreach today is not about traffick victims, it still is. It is from places like here that young girls get taken and put into brothels. Young boys end up in brick kilns and can longer aspire to be Drs or engineers like the ones I spoke to today. I was surprsied by how open the village was with us. Complete strangers. We meant only good but how easy it would be to win the affections of such kind trusting people and then abuse that trust. I don't want to be cynical but I know it happens. I've seen the stats, I've listened to the IJM workers. They could be playing in bricks today and working in a brick kiln tomorrow. Only hope of a future without fear can stop this happening.
Being part of a loving church fellowship can bring this hope. Hope doesn't disappoint us. And it won't disappoint them. Being part of a worldwide family that is called to love the least and give water to them in Christ's name can help. Big Life are planning on building a clinic in this area, too. All this helps to break the chains of the cycle of trafficking. By removing the poverty of fear and replacing it with the hope of the true Gospel, the captives are set free and the year of the Lord's favour is proclaimed.
Together we can make a difference.
I'm getting more forgetful as I get older. And I forgot to mention in yesterday's blog that I was writing it after having been awake, apart from a cat nap on the plane and an hour grabbed in the early evening, for 36 hours. I was more comatose than tired. I hope it made at least some sense. I eventually turned the light out at about 12.30am knowing that I had to be up at 6.30am for there to be enough time for a quick bite of breakfast.
You know the story. A man is walking along a beech when he sees a young boy surrounded by hundreds of stranded starfish that have been washed up by the tide. He picks one up and throws it into the waves. "Why are you doing that?" asks the man, "It won't make any difference." The boy stoops and picks up another and, tossing it into the sea, replies "It will to that one."
From a 3.30am start on Wednesday morning from a sofa in Richmond to a 10pm arrival (11pm UK time) in the heart of the Northern Province of Sierra Leone where there is much horn beeping, shouting, loud music, night time crickets, joyful noises, power cuts, goats and chickens and thunder and lighting in an air thick and heavy with moisture and heat.