Once the plane wheels left the runway in Atlanta, the pilot was in total control of our lives, and by the pilot, I mean God. In our carefully structured lives that we have made for ourselves at home, we like to think we are more in control than we really are. This mission trip was a reminder to me of just how much control God has over our lives. Over the next ten days, in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, he would have control over our safety, our schedule, our provisions, and our appointments. 8 hours of flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam, a 2 hour layover in Amsterdam, and 8 more hours of flight to Mumbai. 8500 miles and we finally arrived in………India.
My wife, a veteran mission tripper, told me that other countries smell different than this one. So, after leaving the plane in Mumbai, I took in my first whiff of Mumbai – a combination of spice, sewage, and humidity. They say that smell is the sense that is most closely associated with memory, and I will always remember the various smells of India.
Mumbai was just intended to be an overnight stay, so that we could go to other planned destinations within India. To be honest (and maybe it was just exhausted eyes), Mumbai was just a blur to me – the airport, the midnight taxi ride, the hotel room, and breakfast the next day before leaving on another to plane to Vijayawada. The breakfast was interesting: toast with marmalade, a cheese sandwich, french fries, and vienna sausages. I didn’t dare touch the milk or fruit. The first meal of India concerned me a little – what would the future hold after this meal? But over the next few days, God taught me something about food, and rest. I didn’t eat a lot by American standards, but I seemed to eat enough. I didn’t rest as much as I normally did at home, but I seemed to rest enough.
So, we left the city of 20 million inhabitants, Mumbai, without scratching the surface. Next stop was the smaller city of Vijayawada, where we were to help dedicate two local churches. So, after yet another two-hour plane flight, we arrived in Vijayawada. We were all a little surprised at the size of the airport, the size of your average house with one runway. It was also a little concerning that Pastor Aaron could not find the location of the two churches on Google Maps. Apparently, we were about to see a side of India completely different than Mumbai. We were warmly welcomed at the airport by Pastor Joseph, an associate of Dr. Thomas’ and a wonderful Christian man. We stopped briefly at a small church within Vijayawada itself and then it was on to Pastor Joseph’s home village. More crazy driving to the village, but by this time it was more entertaining than scary. The countryside of India is a place where things just seem to “occur”. A house, a farm, a business, another farm, cars, bikes, tractors, pedestrians, dogs, pigs, and cows. We were literally in the uttermost and uddermost parts of the Earth (sorry, couldn’t resist).
I cannot fully describe the hospitality of Pastor Joseph’s home village. We were brought into town with a marching band and adorned with (sweet smelling) flower petals and leis. It is as though American Christians were seen as celebrity rock stars. (While I greatly appreciated this, it also surprised me. I came to here to serve, not to be served. If they only knew the real David Allen from the States….) The church was not yet built, but our team helped lay the cornerstone and spoke during a service under a tent. Pastor Joseph was raising money to build the actual church building, but he was clear that he did not want our money. He wanted the people of the village to help build their own church and see the power of God themselves. Pastor Joseph was a caring and charismatic, yet humble, man. We were able to meet most of his family at the village after the service.
The next day, we journeyed to the next church to be dedicated. Pastor Joseph is also involved with this church, and we were treated with the same band and flowers as before. This church building has just been completed, but there is also a dormitory being built. There is a term in India called the “dowry castaway”. In India, where dowries are still prevalent, the parents of the bride must provide a dowry (money, property, etc.) of a specified amount to the groom and his family. If, at any point, the dowry cannot be fully provided, then the wife is cast off from everyone, including her own family. Any children already born to the couple are also cast off. So, you have a common occurrence in India with a cast off woman and children with nowhere to go. Often, the woman must turn to prostitution to make ends meet. This church was built specifically to meet the needs of the dowry castaways, caring for and educating them and their children. We had another open air service here, and as I looked at the church and the cotton fields and railroad tracks beyond it, it felt as if we were on the edge of the world. Google Maps could not find these churches, but God was still here, meeting the needs of his sheep. The truest example of a New Testament church that I had ever found was 8500 miles from my home, in Vijayawada, India.
Next, Part 3……………..back to Mumbai, and the Kota.