John Oakes Reports on Teaching Trip to South Asia Featured

Thursday, 02 February 2017 13:38

church in DelhiDelhi Jan 5-7

I arrive in Delhi after 24 hours of travel.   Delhi is the political capital as well as being perhaps the most important city of industry in India.  It is a mega city with a population of nearly 25 million.  Despite the massive population, Delhi is relatively easy to get around compared to other Indian cities, in part because New Delhi was laid out by the British, with wide streets and a grid system. This is certainly not the case in the rest of the country.

I am met at the airport by Prakesh D’sa and Henry Gomes. Prakesh leads the local church I am visiting and Henry leads one of the regions as well as the singles.  As I drive to my hotel through some pretty hair-raising traffic Henry describes the religious diversity of Delhi. We pass a large Parsi center. This is Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Iran. We also see a huge temple used by the Bahai—a religion started in Iraq in the 19th century. We see Sikhs everywhere, as well as a large complex used by followers of this religion. They are the ones who wear hair turbans—at least the men do. We also see Jains, but none of the male monks, who walk around completely nude.  They are hard to miss. But I have not even mentioned the two largest religions in India—the Muslims and the Hindus.  The BJP party is now in power.  This is the right-leaning party which supports Hindu fundamentalism. Christian groups have really been getting a hard time recently, including riots and attacks on churches.  Christians make up about 1% of the population here, officially, but I am told that it is probably more like 2%, as many believers in Christ choose not to “out” themselves for fear of reprisals.

I love this country and am so pleased to visit for the third time.  Folks in Delhi can be a bit pushy and aggressive at times—kind of like in New York, but as with all Indians, they are at heart very polite. Of course, there is the stark poverty, but things have improved immensely in India, even since my first visit here.  The economy has been growing at a 7% annual rate. Roads are better, infrastructure is improving, but, still, official corruption and red tape holds back this huge country with its wealth of human capital.

The church I am visiting has about 520 members. Very recently they sent out a team of 20 to plant another church south of Delhi.  For several years the campus ministry had nearly disappeared, but in the last three years they have put renewed effort into campus work, including hiring interns and the group has finally begun to grow again. This bodes well for the church.

lunch in DelhiI get to spend time with Dinesh and Jules, who are the couple leading the new church planting in Gurugram.  Jules moved to India from Chicago to marry Dinesh and to join him in the ministry. On Thursday I taught on Jesus in the Old Testament, on the Existence of God and on the Reliability of the Bible.  I am teaching many lessons here, and different groups such as the singles, Bible group leaders or the campus and teens attend the various classes. On Friday I taught for perhaps eight hours total on the question of marriage and divorce, the Holy Spirit’s Role in our Lives, Living by Faith (Hebrews 11), Freedom in Christ and more. It was a very busy day. Saturday included classes on Revelation, History Archaeology and the Bible, God and Science and more.  After this, I head to the airport with Shiva and Ketou who are interns here for a late flight to Mumbai.

Mumbai Jan 8-11

I am met at the airport by Mark Pereira and Kevin Roshan.  Mark leads a region for the church here in Mumbai with his wife Sheryl.  Kevin is an intern and my constant companion here.  Mark has a secular job and is not paid by the church, yet he leads a region of about 130. I am staying at the Pereira’s apartment. The church I am visiting is about 450 members.  After several years of no growth, recently the church has been growing at a good pace.  Having David and Monica Noronha leading the group here has helped.

Mumbai is one of my favorite cities.  It is a bit hard to explain why, but this city is truly fascinating.  There are more than 20 million inhabitants and they are crammed onto a peninsula, making this the most crowded city I have seen.  Everywhere you go, the streets throng with pedestrians, autorickshaws, hand-drawn carts, trucks of every possible description. The streets of this city are a maze. I have no idea how people find their way around.  Even the taxi drivers need GPS to make their way.  This is the business and banking capital of India.  It is perhaps the most British of the Indian cities.  The food here, like everywhere in India, is fantastic. The variety is unending.  It is hard to take in the variety of people and languages here.  For example, on this trip to India I will be in Delhi, where they speak  Hindi, Mumbai where they speak Marati, Kolkatta where they speak Bengali, Bangalore, where they speak Kannada and Chenai where they speak Tamil.  Everyone speaks at least three languages—their local language, Hindi and English.

On Sunday I preach for the two southern regions of the Mumbai Church of Christ.  There are about 350 in attendance.  I get some time with John and Jasmine Britto who lead the central sector.  John and Jasmine are very interested in the teaching ministry, so we have some great talks.  While in Mumbai I spend quite a bit of time with Kevin Roshan who is an intern for the church (a humble intern according to him). He will be married in five weeks to Pavitra Ganesha.  The singing is in Marati, Hindi and English.  I also preach on Freedom in Christ for the two northern regions, with about 250 in attendance.  By now I am very tired and my voice is almost completely gone.

Monday includes a three hour class for the staff on Revelation and an evening class on Evidence for Jesus at the National College of Bandara for the campus and single professionals.  More than half the group was guests which is so encouraging to me.  It is difficult to evangelize in this strongly Hindu country, but they are working hard, nonetheless. 

John Oakes and traveling companions in PunePune Jan 10

On Wednesday I travel three hours by car with David Noronha, Kevin and Shawn to Pune (Poona).  This is a smaller city of only nine million people.  It is considered a center of Hindu tradition.  Here I meet Raji and Sangeeta Cherian who lead this church of 207 members.  This couple not only leads the Pune church, they also help to oversee four other churches in Maharashtra State in Kolhapur, Sholapur, Aurangabad, Ahmednagar.  Overall, we have fifty-five churches here in India, as well as four in Pakistan, three in Nepal, one in Bangaladesh and one in Sri Lanka.

We have some great food together—paneer, roti, nan, biriyani, and kebab. This is food of northern India.  The food in southern India is almost completely different.  Here we eat everything with our hands, which takes a bit of getting used to.  In the evening I give a presentation on God and Science. The audience is mainly campus and professionals, as the talk is not translated.  Eighty were expected, but 120 showed up, including forty guests.  It was fantastically encouraging to see all the open people at this event.  After the class we have dinner with Kevin’s uncle and aunt in their home, followed by a three hour drive back to Mumbai, getting home at 1:30 AM. This was a very full day.

Now I am back in Mumbai for one more day. On Wednesday evening I teach at Xavier Institute for Engineering on God and science, primarily to college students. Kevin tells me that 120 are expected, but 200 are in attendance.  Nearly half are guests.  The campus ministry here is really encouraging.  However, they still need more help with interns and those willing to work full time with the campus ministry. Perhaps you should consider the One Year Challenge and come here to India.  All the students speak English.  What a great opportunity this would be.

Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan 12-14

The flight to Dhaka is a bit over two hours.  My arrival at the airport is made difficult as it takes nearly three hours to get through the immigration process.  I am met by Edward and Theo.  Edward and his wife work for the church.  They along with David and Ruth Dhali,  Martin and Papia Byapari and Johnny and his wife form a team which leads the church here.  Martin runs a very active HOPE worldwide ministry, including several job training programs for the youth. They are so grateful here for the visit, as the church here in Bangladesh is fairly isolated. 

Dakha is a teeming city of 30 million inhabitants, making it one of the largest cities in the world.  It is a unique place based on my experience.  The principle means of transport here is by human powered bicycle cab.  The streets are remarkably clean and the people are fantastically friendly.  Bangladesh is a very crowded country. In a nation one third the size of California live one hundred and fifty million people.  This is a rather poor country, but I feel very safe as we walk around the city.  This country is about 90% Muslim, 9% Hindu and 1% Buddhist, Christian and other.  It is an officially secular government and the form of Islam here is relatively mild.  Few of the women wear veils or even head scarves. There is a small minority of radical Islamists, but the government is committed to opposing their influence.  Nevertheless, the church here faces strong opposition to conversion of Muslims and sharing their faith publicly is not possible.  I am embarrassed to admit that my preconception was that the people here would be fairly simple and not all that well educated. I find the opposite to be true. There is much discussion about different philosophies and interest in intellectual questions here in Bangaladesh.

One thing which is a bit of a surprise to me is that the weekend I am here just happens to coincide with the largest gathering in the world of Muslims outside of Mecca here in Dhaka.  This explains why there were so many obviously devoted Muslims on my flight and virtually no women. Who would have guessed that the second largest gathering of Muslims would be in Bangaladesh?
students in Dhaka
On Thursday evening I teach a class on God and Science for a small group in the home of David and Ruth. Actually, it is not that small as more than thirty pack into a small apartment. People here as so eager for more and deeper Bible teaching, and have many questions. The church has fifty members.  They have struggled to grow here for many years.

Friday is the day of worship in Bangaladesh, as this is a Muslim country.  Most of the believers must work on Sunday, so they have their principle worship day here on Friday as well, although they hold communion services in smaller groups on Sunday.  This is a practical compromise with what we consider “normal” but which is faithful to the Christian tradition of taking the Lord’s Supper on Sunday.  Driving around the city today, the streets throng with an unbelievable number of pedestrians.  There are shops everywhere, as far as the eye can see.  There are hundreds of thousands of shops here. No wonder that this is called a nation of shops.

Church starts at 9:30 this morning.  After giving a sermon on Freedom in Christ, I teach three more classes on Evidence for Jesus, Jesus in the Old Testament and Living by Faith.  “Church” lasted until 5:15.  I am very impressed that more than 80% of the church stayed for the entire day—almost eight hours.  During church the power went out, which is not unusual here. They wanted to stop the service, thinking that we needed a microphone and power point, but I asked them to let me keep teaching.  Jesus did not need these things. Afterward, we had dinner together with the leadership group of the Dhaka church.  They have so many questions about how to do Christianity, as they are rather isolated here and need much input.

Saturday is my last day in Bangladesh. I teach for three hours on Old Testament Survey. Most of those who had attended two hours on Thursday and eight hours yesterday were back again for more teaching.  After the class, David and Ruth take me to the airport. I leave very impressed with the faith and hearts of these Christians in a very difficult place to preach Jesus. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Bangaladesh.

Read more about John's trips to Calcutta, Bangalore, Chennai, Sri Lanka...

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