Teaching evangelism to native missionaries in Kolkata, India. This was definitely nothing to sneeze at. If you’ve read my previous post, it’s easy to see that I had a great deal of concern as to my assigned task. Sure, I was excited, but also filled with trepidation…meaning, I was a wreck.
Could I really do this? Could I really train local Indian missionaries on how to evangelize local villages who haven’t heard the Gospel? I mean, let’s be real. Evangelism in America might make you feel a little uncomfortable, but the worst thing that happens is someone tells you to mind your own business, you get teased or the person you are evangelizing tells you that they don’t need prayer. American Christians like to act like they are persecuted against, but it’s persecution with a really tiny *p*. It’s barely even a tiny *p* at that! Don’t believe me? Have you ever been stopped by the authorities and questioned because you wanted to go to church? Have you ever been slapped in jail for praying for someone and invoking the name of Christ in public? Ever had your town burnt down and the local pastors beheaded because you celebrated Christmas? No? Well guess what. This happens in India. And we aren’t talking a hundred years ago. We are talking right now as I type this. In India, Christian evangelism can cost you your freedom and your life. And that, boys and girls, is persecution with a capital P-E-R-S-E-C-U-T-I-O-N.
On the first two hour cab ride to meet my future students, I had a lot to mull over. I had just a few days to soak in as much “on the ground” Indian culture as I could before undertaking my mission assignment. In the months before the mission trip, I had devoured as much information on India as I could stuff into my brain. Books, movies, internet, blog posts…I was on a steady diet of India-India-India. Yet you can read a million things on a subject, but until you are physically immersed in it, you’re just studying. Its knowledge without experience, which basically means I could talk a good game, but had absolutely no practical application. Its like a boxer who practices fighting. He knows the moves. Knows the tendencies. He can shadow box like crazy and has tremendous punching power. Every boxer looks great…until he (or she) gets punched in the mouth.
But here I *actually* was in India, and I had a chance to exercise the knowledge I had gained with the experience of a culture I had long had an interest in. And man, being on the ground in India? I was in love. The sights, the sounds, the colors, the smells, the food, the honking horns (dear Lord, so many honking horns)…I loved all of it. And I felt I had studied well.
And one cannot study anything on India and not gain the realization that religion in India is a big deal.
And that’s putting it lightly.
In India, religion is the biggest deal possible. The entire culture is predicated upon it. Everything is built around it. It is inseparable from the threads of Indian society, for it is woven into its very foundations. There is a shrine on every corner, a temple near every block. Many of the taxis are actually mobile shrines; dashboards and windows covered with effigies and icons of the cabbies’ patron gods and demi-gods. And street by street, vendors sell marigolds, hibiscus and other flowers that are to be given as a sacrifice to the deities.
In America, even in the vast majority of Christian circles, life is 95% physical and 5% spiritual. Western culture is a culture based on naturalism, meaning that we have the tendency to believe that the natural world is all that exists, that God heals only through doctors and medicine, that the Bible is simply a set of principles, that demonic spirits are really multiple personalities, et cetera. But in India, the script is completely flipped. Life is 5% physical and 95% spiritual. And if you aren’t ready for it, it will rock your world. There is an understanding of the supernatural there that goes deeper than anything I have experienced in the States.
Growing up, I had a fascination with Hinduism. Don’t forget, I’m the guy that used to own an occult bookstore before coming to Christ. I remember, back in my college years, naively asking one of my Hindu friends “How many gods are there in Hinduism?”
That question went over like a ton of bricks. He almost shot beer out of his nose. After gaining a little control over himself he replied back, “You may as well ask me how many different shapes of clouds there are, or what the shape of water is. We have a god for everything, because everything is god.”
So how do you evangelize to a culture like that? A culture that believes in over 33 million gods? How do you evangelize to a culture that believes Jesus Christ is just an emanation and avatar of the Hindu god/man savior known as Krishna? How do you evangelize to a culture that believes that the western version of Jesus Christ is a perversion of the true Jesus / Krishna, a Jesus that came in love to the world but was European-ized, and brought to India as the caucasian deity of the repressive British Empire? So as a white guy, how in the world do I overcome that?
How do you evangelize a people group that believes that everyone is Hindu, because in their understanding, the religion of Hinduism encompasses all others?
These are not easy questions.
And to top it off, I was informed that my students may not speak English.
Just a slight detail, that one.
So here I am on the first two hour cab ride to Howrah to meet my students. To say I felt inadequate, unworthy and unprepared would be an understatement of monumental proportions. As the cab wound through the congested streets of brightly colored vendors, sputtering auto-rickshaws, dashing pedestrians, heartbreaking child-beggars and so many sights and smells that the mind begins to simply become boggled, I felt the dread spirit of anxiety begin to wind like a snake up my spine. An insidious thing, the spirit of anxiety is. It is an elongated leech with no eyes, a slug that lives for the smell of fear. It senses are driven by its thousands and thousands of putrid mandibles that it uses to moves quickly, inserting spines into your armor so that when it flexes its corded muscle it can burrow through and strip you first of your peace of mind. It then attacks the chest and lungs, constricting breathing, turning your focus away from what you should have your mind set upon to instead get you to focus on yourself and your worries, which saps concentration and energy (and also leads to heart-attack like symptoms. Coincidence? No such thing).
I had no answers. I was beginning to panic.
A little voice inside my head screamed, “I’m a missionary dagnabit! Act like one! PRAY!!!”
So I did. Boy did I pray. I prayed for everything. I prayed for the team. I prayed for the cabbie. I prayed for people back home. I prayed for my wife (who was working with orphan children in an amazing YWAM program called King’s Kids). I prayed for the missionaries I was about to teach. I prayed for the cows that were standing in the middle of the road blocking traffic. Then I began praying for me.
“Lord, help me!” I screamed inside my head. I was shaking and tears were brimming behind closed eyelids. “I don’t know what to do. I’m 8500 miles away from home and I have no idea what I am doing, where I am, where I’m going, what to say. I haven’t been so scared and excited at the same time in my entire life. Papa, I just don’t want to let You down, the team down, and these missionaries I am about to teach. Lord I can’t let them down. Lord, this can’t be about me and what I can do so it has to be all about You…and You have to do it. Because on my own I have nothing. But your Word says that through You all things are possible and Your Word never returns void. Lord, you have to show up, right now, or I may just jump out of this cab and go screaming into a lagoon.”
And then I felt it. I felt Him in the cab.
He spoke and His voice moved through my Spirit. The closest thing I can describe to it, is feeling the purest, warmest water flowing over the top of your head and swirling down your body, like being wrapped in swaddling clothes of the finest velvet. All anxiety fled as I felt every worry and concern dashed upon His firm foundation.
What did He say, you ask?
Don’t worry, I’m going to tell you.
The secret to evangelizing in India…can be found in the Mario Kart video game
Yep, I will repeat it again.
“The secret to evangelizing in India can be found in the Mario Kart video game.”
I know. It doesn’t sound, um, how do you say it? It just doesn’t sound holy. It doesn’t sound sacred. Trust me, I would prefer to have gotten sleepy on the taxi, laid my head back, closed my eyes and opened them to see a giant ladder from Heaven descending with angels climbing up and down. I would have preferred to have seen a dove descending on me from on high. I would have liked to have heard a lot of other, er, more illuminating things.
But real life in the Kingdom of God isn’t always filled with moments where the Heavens open up and choirs sing in the background. I mean that would be cool. I would love to experience that. I would have a pretty easy time writing a book if stuff like that happened to me regularly. But it doesn’t. The only time I remember hearing a choir during a spiritual experience happened to me when I was nine months old, but that’s another blog post for another time. More often than not, real life in the Kingdom of God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit moving in the little moments and speaking with us in ways that constantly surprise because God is always there, and if you listen, He is always talking. We just have to get past our own inadequacies and self-doubt to hear Him. He loves His children. He wants relationship with us. He misses us desperately. And He will use any opportunity to speak to His children he can get, because He loves us that much.
Sometimes, real life in the Kingdom of God is just a comforting voice saying that the secret to evangelizing in India could be found in a video game and not to worry about anything, because He had it covered.
I went from feeling terrible in one second to feeling on top of the world in another. The anxiety had lifted. I felt like a new man. Stable. Easy-going. Authoritative. Powerful.
And as the cab sputtered down the road, closer and closer to our objective while dodging cows, goats, chickens, people and other vehicles, one thing was really nagging at me…
Even though He said something to me to settle me down, because I know He knows what He is doing...I still had no idea what He was talking about…