Thursday, January 9, 2014

A New Welcome / A New New Year / A New Perspective / Sri Lanka

The last time I saw Susiri, was at an International Board meeting in Gudalar, India in 2005.  I was serving on the Board of Medic International and had joined him and the rest of the board for a meeting in Southern India.  Susiri is the director of Medic Lanka.  It was at that time that I felt a kindred spirit with Susiri and his love for the Lord.  He asked me to come and visit Sri Lanka on many occasions.  I stepped down from my board responsibilities a year later and stayed in sparatic contact with Susiri -- still he would say -- Come to Sri Lanka.  But it was just not the time -- my hearts desire has been to always go.  Well, God in his wisdom chose that this year would be the year I would get to come.  When I emailed him and told him I was going to be in India and in Thailand -- I knew it was in the region -- he prayed about it and said, yes please come.  He had heard the ministry I was involved with and knew that it was something that Sri Lanka needed to focus on -- even though -- no church had every publicly addressed the issue of Homosexuality.  So he was paving new ground and being very courageous.  Sri Lanka has gone through much turmoil over the years and only recently has been walking in a measure of freedom from the civil war that has taken place and where much blood has been shed.

I arrived on Dec. 30th and was blessed by him to stay for a couple days at the beach at a really nice hotel.  He knew I had been traveling extensively and was probably tired, so he felt I should just relax


for a couple days -- I certainly did -- and the place was wonderful.  My view out the back was of some trees and beyond that the ocean -- when you walked outside you would go through those trees and step out onto the sand that would lead directly to the ocean.  A gift from God for sure.




I slept in the next morning and took a walk on the beach and did some reading -- a welcome retreat after 6 weeks of being on the move.  The next evening was the new years eve service and I was going to bring the word at Smyrna Christian Church in Watalla, Sri Lanka.  Watalla is about 15 minutes south of Columbo.  Susiri told me that I would be with them from 9:00pm when it started until 1:30 or 2:00am when it was finished.  So we headed down to the church and got prepared and then the official meeting started at 10:00pm with praise and worship.  I was told that we would continue to worship and hear testimonies up until 11:45pm at which time I would start my message.  I was to speak for 14 minutes and that just before midnight -- I would stop and then we would worship until about 12:15am when the fireworks stopped -- then I would pick up where I left off and continue the message -- a new approach -- but there you go!  So that is just what I did -- and then we ended with a time of communion.

I will say it was a bit of a trip trying to worship with big fireworks going off in the background -- and because it was hot- - the back doors of the church were opened -- so the sound was really coming in -- for me -- also, there was intermittent explosions -- throughout the rest of my sermon -- a new level of concentration efforts!
John Speaking at Smyrna Christian Church in Watalla



I am not exactly sure if there was as much power in my sermon as there was in the explosions -- but I gave it my best.  I spoke out of Luke 24 and we took a look at walking in faith and not getting caught up in the major life events in our lives.



After a trip to the roof for refreshments and a time of fellowship -- we slowly wrapped up and headed for home -- for me, back to the hotel, where I would sleep and catch up the following day before we started for the conference center where the workshop was to take place.  The next few days would be very full days -- so I was grateful to take some time to be with the Lord, to get refreshed and to get ready for the Homosexuality, The Church & You workshop -- the first ever in Sri Lanka!  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hyderabad/Secunderabad - Positive Friends - Making Room For Jesus

Trevain R. Kumar - NeoLifeMission Kids Home
Dec. 20th -- After arriving at the airport and being greeted by the brother who first welcomed into Hyderabad, Trevain Raj Kumar, we drove to the kids home where I got a chance to see the progress of the kids and also to see the new location.  Trevain, who heads up NeoLifeMission http://www.neolifemissiontrust.org/index.html, has been so faithful with the work the Lord has given him, including adding a small store that sells books and school supplies.  I had the privilege of spending time with his wife Preeti their son Bobby who now towers over his parents (smile) and their new little daughter who is adorable!  After a great dinner and a good night sleep at their place, I was driven to Secunderabad where I would meet Saji Mathei to spend the next few days.

Saji & Me

We met Saji in Secunderabad and then proceeded to drive to his home.  This would be the place I would stay for the next few days and where we would conduct the Homosexuality, The Church & You program as well on Dec. 23rd.

In the meantime -- today we would have a Positive Friends meeting in the afternoon and then we would go into their 1st annual Christmas Party for Jeevanan Trust Ministries.

We began with about 25 or so individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS and had a time where I was able to share my testimony of living with AIDS and how the Lord has helped me through this process.

Positive Friends - Dec. 21st, 2013

John Sharing with Positive Friends (Christopher translating to my left)

We got into some lively discussions as they were explaining to me some of the challenges they face.  I was trying to encourage them to be a part of the change and that they could initiate that by their attitudes and that the Lord could use them to help break stigma by being courageous -- it was a really good time.  I gained more insight into some of the never ending complexities that these individuals face in this country.

After a good couple hours together -- it was time to head up to the roof -- where the preparations for the Christmas program had been put in place.

Deva and his wife Preshanti -- opened things up for us with a warm greeting and some Christmas songs.  I just love Deva's heart and he and Preshanti have such a fun way about them -- their two boys are a joy to be around!

Deva (right) and Preshanti (purple) and another sister lead Christmas Carols.

There were songs, drama, testimonies and I had a chance to share a short word on making room for Jesus in our hearts.  At the end I had a time of prayer for the group and invited those that did not know Jesus to receive them into their hearts for the first time to start their relationship with him!

John Sharing with Joseph translating!


It was pretty magical on the roof -- with all the lights surrounding the edge and being able to see the rooftops of other buildings and the stars above that --
John with joseph translating.  Skyline
Then it was time for Silent Night -- we were all led to take candles and light them and then to sing Silent Night together -- that was a very beautiful time -- there were bags with sand all around the end of the roof with candles in them along with the lights on the tree and the candles people held -- very beautiful . .. here are a couple shots of that . . .

Silent Night





The kids had a great time -- and when it came time to blow out the candles -- they were not wanting to end the magic that had been created. 











Deva (L) Saji (R)


Deva asked Saji to come up in the end to thank everyone for coming and to give a Christmas Greeting -- we ended the night with a prayer.  Then it was time for dinner and there was a really nice meal prepared for everyone -- some who had traveled a long distance to be with us -- Jeevanan is growing as a ministry -- keep them within your prayers!






On December 23rd we had the Homosexuality, The Church & You workshop with about 12 Pastors/Leaders -- and the leaders of Jeevanan Trust Ministry-- we had some good discussion and it was a full day.  There were a couple days of rest and then a great visit with Sumanth & Beena and the members of the church in Secunderabad -- such a big family God has adopted me into!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Angel Ministries Outreach At Mercy Vineyard

Let the Games Begin
The outreach began with the group being split up into two groups and they were going to play some games.   Pastor Rick was going to facilitate this along with another brother.  It did not take long for the place to explode with laughter and to absolutely break the ice!  Even as the games continued people were arriving and the crowd went from about 85 to a good 125 or 150 quickly.


Pastor Rick (arms crossed) and Ellen Coffin (Pink w/purple scarf) of Mercy Vineyard
I had the chance to be introduced to Pastor Rick at lunch the day earlier but now was able to meet his wife Ellen (friends of Kurt Bubna - Spokane valley) and then many more guests.  It moved from the games to being seated again and it was time for worship.

Opening Worship


Many of these people have never been to a church service -- they would typically never gather in a place like this -- so it was a very big deal for Jagadish to get all these folks to come -- he told me he spent a lot of time on reaching out to various groups around the city -- even those spread out quite a bit -- but they were coming.  He had an evening of some songs, special songs, testimonies -- himself and his wifes', David's and his boss K.V. Paul was to bring the main gospel message.   K. V. is a business man who is involved in publishing of childrens learning books around the country, among other things.  He also has been very involved in ministry over the years and has deeply impacted the body of Christ with his work.  Jagadish told me that he has been mentored by K. V. over the years and he has had a profound impact on him -- like he is his own father. 

 Anyway, after the message,  they were going to all be treated to a wonderful home cooked meal and then some gifts.  Everyone was settling in once the program got going and with the words on the screen -- many of the guests began to join in the singing.

Hijira singing special song (David in black jacket)
I was blessed to see the group of Hijira up singing a special song, including David -- they all had accepted Jesus earlier Jagadish told me and each were on their own journey as a Christian.   I learned quite a bit just watching how everyone was inter-acting being at church -- how Pastor Rick related to folks --the environment that was created for everyone to be in -- and the impact of this approach -- I think was amazing.  It was a very free, non-judgmental, loving, fun and spirit-filled evening where Jesus could draw everyone to himself through what was sung, spoken or served.

K. V. Paul & Carolyn w/Translation for Gospel Message
 By the time K. V. Paul got up to share the gospel message, Jagadish's wife Carolyn was to translate.  Jagadish told me later he was not sure if people would be attentive the whole night so he wanted the message at the halfway point so they would for sure hear the gospel before they left if they left earlier.   After Paul's message he gave an invitation and it was at least 20 of the Hijira responded to receive Jesus -- this was great to witness.

Jagadish was thrilled, His commitment to have people know Jesus is really amazing and in his own journey, as God develops and grows him -- he continues to have an impact on very many people in this area -- pretty remarkable. Both he and Carolyn need our prayers that they would continue to be strengthened in the work that they are doing and that in this foundational time in their marriage that they would really grow in love and understanding of each other -- that will be the foundation for the years to come!

Jagadish & Wife Carolyn Sharing Testimony
When they got up to share their story it was very attentive in their as well -- it is a powerful story of redemption and God's grace.  Many were touched.

Jagadish, Carolyn look on while David shares testimony
David Shared about how being given a chance to work at the sewing center has helped him learn skills so he no longer had to resort to other bad ways of learning a living -- he also said that since he accepted Jesus -- there have been many changes in his life.  I was standing with him at the back before he went up to speak and asked if he was nervous and he said yes!  I had a chance to pray for him before and that was such a blessing to me -- knowing what he was about to do -- and the impact of that on this community -- God is good.
Jagadish and David hand out gifts
 Jagadish had got a bunch of gifts for folks -- each got a shawl, and then a bible -- either a written one or an audio bible in their language if they could not read -- amazing!  And then also a cake.  So they left full -- what a great outreach ministry and I pray that it would continue to bring forth much fruit.

David and Me
I told Pastor Rick that I was really blessed by his heart and the place he had opened up for Jagadish and this ministry.  Many pastors would have to take great risk to have this extremely marginalized community come into their church -- but it is what God is calling us to do -- reach out to everyone -- no one should be excluded from the gospel -- but when you actually start to walk that out -- very few can handle what that means.

My time with Jagadish was very limited -- I got to speak with Carolyn a bit at the outreach -- she worked late the next night and could not join us for dinner -- but I got some time with Jagadish and I just feel blessed to know him and will continue to lift him up and all that the Lord is doing in and through him and the Hijira.  God is on the move!

Bangalore a Jag and Stitches

Jagadish
I arrived in Bangalore late afternoon of the 16th and grabbed a taxi and immediately called up my friend Jagadish to direct the driver to where I was going.  Jagadish had made arrangements at a local hotel for me to stay which was very close to where his house is located.  I met Jagadish through one my pastors - David Warnick after one of his trips to India a few years back for Alpha training.  I was told about this guy that was in his 20's that came from a transgender background that had radically come to Jesus and that I should meet him.  I started to e-mail Jagadish and then communicate via Skype.  I wanted to just encourage this young guy in his walk in any way that I could.  Come to find out he was already reaching out to so many others and having an impact.  We had a few conversations over the months and then it seemed it was harder to stay in touch.  I got busier and so did he.

As this trip was starting to happen I knew I wanted to try and make a few days to spend some time with him and to also meet his new wife.  He had just got married in October of 2013 -- a milestone in both of their lives.  He had told me at the time that he was also blessed to be a part of a great Vineyard Church which was pastored by Rick & Ellen Coffin.  And to connect things up even more, my friend Kurt Bubna that pastors Eastpoint Church in Spokane Valley, Washington -- when to high school with both Rick & Ellen Coffin and they are very good friends!  Crazy small world sometimes.

Anyway, got check in and took a bit of a rest and then Jagadish came over later to just say hello and to catch up a bit.  Carolyn, his wife works until 8:30pm at night and then has a one and a half hour commute back home -- so I would have to meet her the next evening.  He was right in the middle of a very big outreach which was supposed to happen the week before -- but there were a couple deaths that were related to folks which caused it to be postponed.  So I was going to be able to be a part of it. Jagadish told me it was costing quite a bit of money for the outreach and he was going to try and save money by doing the cooking himself.

Jagadish (pink shirt), Head Cutter (at table), David (trainee at machine)

The next day we went to one of the business he is working on -- a sewing center.  He said his boss lives in Hyderabad and overseas things financially but Jagadish runs the center and overseas quality control -- Right now they were working on children's school uniforms and had received a very big contract.  This work goes about 9 months out of the year.  I was introduced also to David.  David is a hijira that came to the Lord.  Jagadish feels strongly that even though the individual might identify as a woman, he calls them by their original name -- in this case David.  David still has breasts and dresses as a woman sometimes but Jagadish addresses him as a him.  David is being trained by Jagadish and in the picture is seated at the front machine.  A great warm spirit about him.

After touring the center we went to runs some errands (zipping around on a scooter!) and then went to get some lunch.  That evening I took rest and then the next day was going to start with the food prep and then the outreach in the late afternoon.

When I arrived the next day to a few hijira on the living room floor, along with the partners in Jagadish ministry all preparing vegetables -- they gave me a space at a chair and a bag of peas and I thought -- this will go very fast.  So I took the pea and said, "I know how to do this!" - I snapped off either end and through it in the pot and the whole room started to laugh!  This wasn't a snow pea -- it was peas in a pod.  One of the Hijira came over and showed me -- snap off either end, then slice pod with finger nail or pull string down and reveal inner pod with the peas -- scoot the peas out into the pot and drop the pod on the floor on the newspaper.  One, then 15 seconds later, two, etc. -- this was going to take a lot longer I thought!  There were bags of peas, carrots, potatoes, and about 6 other vegetables.  It took about 4 hours or so of prep.  I really wanted to take pictures but because we were in such close proximity I did not want to make them feel uncomfortable.  These were hijira that have been connecting with Jagadish for some time -- they also were still dressing as women but he called them by their male names.  One thing was for sure -- they loved and respected Jagadish.

More on the outreach later . . .

Monday, December 16, 2013

Walking By Faith, A Gift Given And Received

Sunday morning began with a drive into an area about 15 minutes from where I was staying and I was to preach at this church.  I had met the pastor at the HCU workshop and he was excited to share his church with me and graciously opened the pulpit.

Pastor A.C. and his family & Me


I noticed they had very deep worship -- this comes from generous hearts.  I found out the physical building was just finished one year ago and 95% of it was paid for by the congregation -- including some folks who are laborers themselves making nearly nothing -- gave so much towards this building.  They love God and they put legs on that love!

After an introduction by Sura, I shared from Luke 24, the Road to Emmaus.  I had prayed that God would use this message to be an encouragement -- with translation I had an hour -- so I had to really move through things.  The main point about this message was about walking in faith and not getting distracted with the major life events and to be intimately connected with Jesus.  I tell you, when you continue to minister every day there is a spiritual muscle that you have to press into the Lord -- and I was feeling that this morning.  When it came time for the end I felt led to lead them in a chorus of Alleluia and to speak out some things that the Spirit might be touching on -- I asked them to release things to the Lord as the Holy Spirit pointed it out-- after another prompting for a response to receive Jesus for the first time -- I was happy to see that 6 people raised their hands and made decisions for Christ!  It has been awhile since I have seen this fruit -- that is an encouragement to me.

After the service I had two significant conversations -- one is that a guy who is physically disabled for 24 years and has battled with the the government to get support because of a whole host of reasons.  He has also had great conflict at his place of employment as he is the only Christian amongst Hindus and they treat him very poorly.  Just when he got some headway with his case for health insurance coverage on surgery he needs to have -- they moved his case to another state - -means he would have to pull his kid out of school and a leave his job -- the list goes on and on -- he said to me that when he heard the message about not getting caught up in your story and that Jesus wants us to surrender to Him and receive things as from his hand and to walk by faith -- God touched him and he prayed to release the whole thing to God and is feeling a major release of peace in his life after 24 years!!!   That is crazy - -How amazing is God.

The other young kid that came up to me said that when i shared part of my story before the message -- God spoke to him to get involved with Sura with ministering to the Hijira.  An uncle that he loves has left his family and is living as a woman amongst this group.  This young man wanted me to pray for him because he felt called to serve in this way.  The pastor said his church was going to commit to prayer for this community and that they would be welcome inside his church  -- this is groundbreaking for India!

A GIFT FOR MEERA's GROUP

Sura had told me that there was a Commercial Grinder that Meera had talked about wanting to have to make vegetable pills (in essence -- home made vitamins and juice, etc.,) which could generate an income for the group.  They could also offer griding up spices or other things for people in their community and charge for it and that is income.  So we went to the store to see what we could get -- we found a really amazing one for $230.00 us dollars which was 14,500 rupees - I had been praying about a small amount of money I took before I left the states which is from money we had in Seat of Mercy Ministries to tithe towards some other work -- I felt so strongly that this was the gift.  So I told Sura -- that Seat of Mercy Ministries would buy it.  So we went after church to go pick the thing up -- IT IS SO HEAVY -- like 150 pounds.

Electric Grinder



So not only was it a challenge to put it in the car - -but when we showed up at Meera's place and they come out in the saris and trying to lift this thing and carry it from the car to the small hallway near their house -- if I had could have videoed that -- it would have been priceless --- I was laughing and so were they.

anyway -- we loved with not just words -- hopefully God will bless the deeds and they can utilize this as a source of income and move away from other ways that are destructive!

Seat of Mercy Ministries presents a Wet Grinder to the Hijiras for Income Generating Work
After this -- it was off to have a lunch and then off to meet the next group.  This was spiritually the toughest place.  I could feel the spiritual heaviness where we were -- it pressed hard against my chest and their was a feeling of chaos around.  This was very different than the other two places we had visited.  Nonetheless, we had prayed before we arrived so we knew the Lord was with us --

Where they live is touch -- pretty much either mud or brick places in the dirt -- slum area -- off the side of the road where nothing else is around.



So after they gathered in front of one of the places they stay -- they set out mats and a couple chairs for Sura and me -- and I started to share some of my story with them.  It took some time for them to really settle and listen -- so many distractions -- dogs running into the area and barking -- cars honking as it was outside near the road -- even some unexpected visitors.







Me sharing with another Hijira Group (friend of group in chair to right)
This group was interested in the HIV/AIDS part of my story.  Many of them are active in prostitution and are a high risk group.  I asked them if they had been tested -- most said no -- they were afraid to go -- I told them it was important that they know their status and if positive get treatment.  Getting to the part of following Jesus was father away from this group -- on the surface of this conversation -- but afterwards in our discussions -- one of the Hijira came up to Sura and said they wanted to see the Jesus film.  So he is going to come back and show it to them in the next few weeks -- inviting others around and will put up a sheet as a screen and show it right there in their area -- it is 2 and 1/2 hours.  What a gift that film is in explaining who Jesus is and why he came.

This ended up being a gift for me as it was so personally challenging -- hard to explain - -but I could feel demonic stuff coming after me that used to be a part of my life -- it was as if it came back to the places it used to dwell but did not have access and the Spirit of God was like a fire guarding my soul.  Powerful and Humbling -- my life looks way cleaner on the outside now -- but it is only because Jesus has cleaned it up on the inside -- and If he can do that for me -- these new friends can as well.

I have made a commitment to pray for them in our prayer meeting on Thursdays -- so I am getting the name of each Guru we visited and all the Hijiras in their group.  We are going to believe God for transformation in their life!

Posing out side their home -- where the Jesus Film will be shown in a few weeks.


Well if that wasn't enough -- I was still going to finish the day by going back to Sura's place and to have a time with the 35 girls that live at his house.  His amazing wife cooks for this entire group every day -- and for her own family as well.  What an amazing woman.

Sura introduced me -- we had a time of singing and then I got to teach them a song which is done in rounds -- that was fun . . .

Afterwards I shared a bit from Psalm 139 and shared about how special they were to the Lord.   They work so hard on their school -- the whole country does for that matter for those who are students.

Me singing with the girls -- fun!!
After -- it was a simple but lovely meal with Sura and then some prayer and a trip back to my hotel where I fell Asleep.  This was my last day of a very full week in Bhubenaswar.  It will take some time to process all of this -- as it moves by so quickly -- so many people you meet -- such deep stories -- some tragic . . . the love of the Lord and yet the darkness of the brokenness -- it catches up at some points and then I release it to the Lord.

This week has been a gift on so may levels.  I have so much to be thankful for and also such a desire to make my life count on this earth for the Lord.

g'night.

Visiting The Hijira's

Meera (in white) and friends

Hijira is the Hindi term given to the eunuch's here or the transgender community.  Being introduced to the community in Bhubenaswar through Sura Samal from Love and Serve India has been an amazing opportunity.  He has laid an amazing foundation of love and respect which is the bridge that I was able to walk across to share my story.  Most people avoid this group and they are extremely marginalized.  But Jesus came for everyone -- and everyone needs to know that God loves them and how would they know unless someone tells them?

The Hijira typically have a guru who is the leader -- and in this case that would be Meera.  The other Hijira's usually live in the same place, share food, etc.  Their work mostly consists of begging on trains, and for some it is prostitution.  Meera is probably the most visual person in Orissa and has been activist for this community -- organizes rallies, etc.  After the verdict came down on the Supreme Court Ruling--Meera's group was the one that was leading the rally and was on the news etc.  For me it was a bit weird to watch them marching down the street, see them on TV and the next day, be at their house.

So on Saturday afternoon, I had a chance to share my story with them about dealing with homosexuality and my struggles with that and also about testing positive for HIV and then developing AIDS and ultimately surrendering to Jesus -- and then sang them a song.  Afterwards I asked them if they had any questions -- they asked me about living with HIV, about medications -- we spoke about the challenges with them now getting tested because it is "illegal" for them to have sex with men so if they test and are asked about their sexuality, they could be arrested.  A bit crazy.

For me this was a huge step in boldness in declaring my journey and how Jesus has changed me internally.  They listened pretty intently and I tried to focus on Jesus and also share my challenges -- you pray and throw things out their by faith -- I believe seeds were sewn.  A few of them have prayed to receive Christ in the past but having the ability to disciple them or even have a church for them to attend has been a challenge.  It will take a very supportive pastor.  So excited that some in the area are starting to come along side Sura -- even after our workshop.

I asked them if I could pray for them afterwards and they said yes and all bowed their heads.  That is what really impacted me is the respect that they had for God and I could see that the Lord is drawing them . . .very beautiful in the midst of a very crazy life.

Praying for Hijira
There are so many traps and challenges for these folks, it is a miracle for them to leave.  But God is in the business of miracles.  Sura was telling me about some job-skills that he was wanting to share with them and a potential way to start that -- more on that later.  I wanted to make sure that I hugged each one of them before I left,  I wanted them to feel as if Jesus was hugging them.

They found out it was Sura's b-day and had to run to the corner store and get him a cake and sing him happy birthday -- that is a real reflection of their affection for him as well.  They absolutely respect him.


Sura having B-day Cake with friends!

So let the party continue . . . we went back to Sura's and he had birthday cake with his wife and daughter and the 35 young girls that live in their house!!

Birthday Cake & Presents at Home
Saturday Evening we went to visit another group whose Guru is Meneka.  They live in the slum in a hut like structure that is about 10 x 12.  They just got electricity because Sura had raised the money for it -- before they were using kerosene or something and the smoke was unbearable Sura said -- you would cough the whole time you were there.  There are about 12 staying in that small place.  Very different feel amongst this group -- way more unified like a family.  I shared with them my story as well and then let them ask questions -- they are all wanting to know if I am married or have a partner -- I told them no that I was single and celibate.   I told them that Jesus loved them all very much, and that he came to set captives free -- I had shared how this happened for me . . . trying to build on the foundation that has been laid -- believing God some of them will come to faith!

When I saw their physical space and the slum they live in and even when I was walking out -- I had to stop and say -- this is their home -- this is where they go to sleep and hang out -- I am leaving, they are not -- crazy -- no one else in the whole area had electricity -- so the others will be able to connect up to their source as well.   They all got hugs and were wanting to take a picture.

Meneka in yellow t-shirt and brown coat.
Jesus was present with us . . . 

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Verdict and an Appeal

Hijira Starting Their Rally

The general term for the gay community in India would be Eunuch's.  But has been evolving over time with most of them calling themselves Hijira which would be the Hindu name for it.  Many of the universal terms are being applied here as well -- the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) categories.  However, in the Hindu context, there is an additional category for the religious eunuch, Jogappas.  This particular Eunuch would be attached to a certain Hindu Deity.

A VERDICT
Yesterday, it was the day after the Indian Supreme Court reversed a decision from a lower court to take a standing law of 150 + years on the books #377 which had been modified a few years back to allow gay sex between consenting adults.  This was seen as a huge set back for this Hijira community.  When you are dealing with homosexuality it is very hard to separate who you are from your behavior -- so they don't see the ruling as what they are doing is bad but who they are is bad.  This is not truth and certainly not how God sees them.  If they don't have a relationship with Jesus -- they won't be able to perceive an identity beyond what they are feeling.  

There is a vast difference between those that are homosexual in this country and the challenges they face - especially those with the challenges of extreme poverty and a caste system which would marginalize them even more.  

Brother Sura from Love and Serve India, has been reaching out to this group for a few years.  He has earned a place of love and respect with them.  They know he is a man of God and they call on him for prayer when they have problems and also for help in other ways.  He has shared God's word and truth with them -- some have received Christ.  Discipling them is a challenge as they are so isolated - so many are still just enmeshed in their cultural wars.

We had plans earlier in the week to get with them on a few occasions and I was going to share my testimony with them and just pour into what Bro. Sura has been doing with them.  I wanted to know more about their plight and to minister to them.  All these plans were cancelled when the verdict came out.  They decided they were going to rally and Mirah -- one of the leaders who Bro. Sura has been working with said we could come down there to seem them.  I was hesitant because I did not want to get caught up in the Media surrounding this issue -- I wanted to meet with them personally.  We drove down and saw them gather and followed for a bit and then went to where they were settled.  I had a chance to say hello to Mirah and a couple others but the police started to move the crowd around -- so I thought it is time to go.

Rally (Bro. Sura in pink shirt and brown pants in front of man in foreground w/helmut)


Gathering in front of Train Station

They had put black bands around some of their mouths as to say they have been silenced.

After we drove away -- we got a call from Mirah who had asked Sura to have me come and meet with them either later that night or tomorrow.  This was a great sign for me that God was still at work and an answer to so much prayer -- our showing up made that difference.

AN APPEAL
The other side to this story is that I found out that the Lawyer that filed the petition before the Supreme Court was a Christian and that he lived in Bhubenaswar!  When Sura told me this I said, "Do you have his e-mail or phone number?"  Sura replied he did and I said, "May I have it?"  His answer was yes!

I felt so strongly that I wanted to speak to this man to find out exactly how he thought focusing on the gay community and this law was being the most effective way to share the gospel with this community.  Because of the nature of the ministry that I have been doing in bringing education and awareness to the Church regarding Homosexuality and their response -- I thought this would be amazing to meet with him.  I sent the e-mail and asked if he would see me -- I had a response in four hours with a yes -- and it would be either Friday or Saturday.  I worked out the schedule and would meet him from 5:00 - 6:00pm in a place that was supposed to be about 30 minutes from where I was.  A day after this national verdict - - I was going to meet with the man behind the case.

After a frustrating drive of one and a half hours with a taxi driver that spoke no English and did not know where he was going -- even after 7 calls to the Lawyer who would explain things to him -- then he would hang up the phone and immediately go and ask someone on the street if they knew where the place was -I thought you just talked to the guy whose house we are going to -- if you can't understand him -- why would the person on the street know?  (Patience . . . . Patience John . . .Thank you Jesus!)

(some of this is graphic but I don't know how else to explain what is going on)
I finally was able to meet with the Mr. B.D. Daas and was offered tea and some cakes and we began our discussion that lasted about an hour and a half.  I wanted to know first what was the law on the books -- what was the amendment and why he reversed it.  I then wanted to know how he thought this was helpful in furthering the gospel.  He explained to the complexity of the law and this particular issue stems from The Christian Definition of Marriage on the books defines it as a commitment between two (2) Persons -- not male and female but two Persons.  This is a major loophole that he feels is a vulnerability for the church -- There is also a section of the law that would hinder a woman to have a legal divorce becuase of a correlation between 377and an existing law.  Now I understand fully what God's word teaches about the practice of homosexuality and I believe it is clear that it is sin.  But seeing this work itself out culturally, knowing the mistakes that have been made in the west -- made me want to talk to this guy to see where his heart was at.

He said, he did not have a problem with Civil Unions for gays but then said because typical unions would include one person -- because he understood some people have multiple partners -- the part of the law that talks about dissolution of assets would be very complicated because if you are considered that a partnership was as a result of having multiple partners in some cases -- it would be absolutely impossible to dissolve assets.  Now I think this was making some wrong assumptions but I got his basic point.

I still felt there was a bit of a misunderstanding about the wording of the old testament and message of the gospel that Jesus brings and how that is presented.  I shared my heart with him and the word as God has reveled to me.  I told him that it was hard to the hijira to not see this as personal rejection -- and that although the bible speaks against the behavior -- there are many sins that are not illegal -- Like you don't get arrested for overeating and put in prison for life because of gluttony.  We had very healthy debate -- Those of you who know me know I was in my element with this man because i am a closeted lawyer in many ways!

He understands the way the world is moving and what will probably happen in his country - he told me he was going to forward me a copy of the full petition so I could understand the language.  I told him I wanted to stay in touch with him and would be praying for him.  I found him to have a very loving heart and definately loves God - -but sees things through a lawyers eyes.

He is also advocating on behalf of the Dalits and their plight.  Additionally, he was telling me about how he was part of a petition as well for a reversal of the Anti-Conversion law which is currently in place in the state of Orissa-- stating that it is unconstitutional.  You can have the freedom to practice, the freedom to propagate but you cannot convert.  People can also make the choice to change religions -- but the arguable point is when is conversion influenced or chosen.  There are so many amazing things to be fighting for as this amazing country moves ahead.

The main amazing thing for me was God is the one that gave me a place across the table from the man that is petitioning things in the court that is affecting the entire nation and the marginalized communities. I prayerfully and humbly approached this meeting (well maybe not so humbly as I was frustrated with the driver) -- but even though he feels he is defending righteousness, I feel so am I and the Lord brought us together -- amazing.

So -- I will let you know how my time with the Eunuchs go tomorrow . . . . 

I feel like I am white-water rafting . . . .

peace.

A Timely Discussion!

On the day I was to start the "Homosexuality, The Church And You" workshop in Bhubenaswar, the front page of The Times Of India was about the Supreme Court Ruling that shot down an earlier amendment making sex between two gay consenting adults legal, and reversing its position.  I had to smile because in preparation for this day, brother Sura had been telling me that, "we don't really discuss these things out in the open."  The headlines laid on the table before I was to begin and in fact -- he started by sharing it with the congregation.  This is indicative of how the timing of this trip has been -- amazing!

Front Page of The Times - Supreme Court Ruling


When I found out I was to do the HCU workshop in one day in English back in Powai -- I thought, this is going to be a challenge as it is usually done over the course of four weeks.  I got through it, but I think it is possibly too much for one day -- perhaps for the speaker and the audience -- not sure.  Well, on this day, it was also to be done in one day, but with translation.  So I had to literally cut the thing in half.


Getting ready to begin

I love it as the Lord continues to challenge me in these areas.  It took so long to get to a point to be able say all that I thought I needed to communicate what I was supposed to in developing this workshop and then to find out -- there are situations where certain people only need to hear a version!

Many churches in India still have the women sit on one side and the men on the other.  They don't even talk about sex in Church let alone discuss the topic of homosexuality.  So for this workshop to take place is very groundbreaking on many levels -- not to say a personal challenge for Brother Sura to have to translate while maneuvering this territory as well.

Brother Sura gave the back story about he was first approached by a Hijira (Eunuch) on a train and how the Lord used that encounter to bring awareness to him of their lives.  It was the love of the Lord that drew him to reach out these marginalized folks and share the love of God.  He has been faithfully loving this group for years and has built a very strong bond of trust.  They call him when they need prayer about something or for practical help as well and they know they can count on him and those that minster with him.  He has shared the gospel and at least 10 of these Hijira have accepted Jesus - -discipling them has been a challenge as they wont go to a typical church.  Then he shared how he and I had been introduced through Ray Eicher who was co-leading Operation Mobilization 30 years ago and was a mentor to him -- and he we were!

Me Singing
After responding to a request to start with a song -- I began to start the explain this workshop and why I was doing it.  I shared a condensed version of my testimony, prayerfully asking God to help me share what was relevant for this group and what they could understand.  We took a short break and then I went through the Theology -- also cut down version -- and then asked questions.  There were a few but still reserved.  They did have questions about the HIV/AIDS part of my testimony and then we talked about how everyone in the church should be tested and they needed to know their status and why that was important.  We also talked about welcoming those that might be HIV infected into fellowship as well.  This was a great addition to the day!


We came back with energy and got into the next two sessions on Identity and Encounter -- totally cut those down and really focused on asking questions.

We had a question proposed - what would they do if a Eunuch came to church - what side of the church would they sit on?  This brought about a lively discussion -- and also, we heard a story where a pastor was asked the same question and he said -- he would not have them come -- we spoke about that as well.  I told them that was the wrong answer -- that we have to struggle through these tough issues as  everybody is welcome in the house of the Lord.  Luke 9:11 says, "Jesus welcomed the people, taught them about the kingdom of God and he healed them."  A great model for us.

It was good for me to finally see them laughing and loosening up as they considered this really awkward social situation and watching people almost blush at the thought of it -- and then considering the plight of the Eunuch -- how would they respond?

At the end of the day -- they said they wanted to join brother Sura in praying for these Eunuchs and they wanted to see God reach them -- they no longer want to judge them as they see in the bible that it is wrong to judge.  Well for me thinking that I needed to share everything in order for them to get it -- the Lord showed me -- perhaps not -- I need to speak under the power of the Holy Spirit and share what he leads me to and to also pray for divine revelation.  We covered an amazing amount of ground in one day in this church -- So proud of my brothers and sisters and how they invited me in and welcomed the Lords work!

HCU - Bhubenaswar

I was very challenged and very blessed by this wonderful group of believers.  I was also so happy to see Daniel and Santayjar who stay with the Dalits in the village that I visited the other day.  They are evangelists - - I just have so much respect for these young men that have given their lives to live with this marginalized group of people to share Jesus.

At the end of the day there is great satisfaction because I share what He has shown me.  He told Peter, "If you love me, feed my sheep!"

Peace,
John

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dalits: The Outcasts / Boys Home

After a good night sleep upon arriving in Bhubaneswar, I met up with Brother Sura worked for World Vision for 24 years and left about 8 years ago to follow the Lord's leading in new areas -- a very bold step out from financial security and status.  Yet God has been very faithful to him and his ministry is quite remarkable.  We were to take a trip for the day to visit a boy's home that he runs with 45 young boys in it -- along with a visit to a village community to see the Dalits.

From what I understand, the Dalits are a community in the Hindu religion are the lowest possible cast.  They are "under the feet" of the gods -- which means they are to be stepped upon or subject to servitude and nothing else.  It was an amazing eye-opener for me to hear the plight of these poor folks.

Inside Dalit Village

It is so hard for them as they are not included in society -- they are outcasts.  So they cannot have regular homes, they have their own villages -- they can go to regular government schools -- but I am told they experience mistreatment from some teachers and headmasters and that behavior is copied by other children.  Regarding work -- they are limited to the the land they live on much of the time -- and in the case  of where I visited -- they were share croppers-with another person who was growing rice.  The Dalits were able to grow and harvest the rice and be paid for their services and then would get some of the profits  but they could not own it.   When I visited their village -- I was very impressed with how clean it was and the pride by which they took care of there things -- even though their homes were mud and they lived in dirt --
Sura w/Village Leader - Rice field in distance - Young girl preps firewood.


The village leader walked around and showed me their village.
Typical village home for family

members of village 

They harvested the rice and used some of the straw for the animals -- some for making Dung-Logs (pic-below) where they wrap cow dung around the straw and let it dry -- and this is used for keeping their homes warm -- and even cooking.  They also can use the straw for the roofs or for making brooms or other things.

Dung Logs




They raise chickens, goats and cows for milk -- they have coconuts -- and bananas.
  
Girl with goat.

Woman coming back to Village after working with cow.

For them to give someone pure coconut water (juice) is a form of honor and hospitality -- they offered me some -- in fact they gave me four (4) glasses - -I said no thanks after (2) but they kept coming -- wow -- sweet and pure.  One man said through interpretation -- we don't have money and are not rich -- but what we have we give to you . . . .i was so humbled.

Prepping Coconut Water 

Me drinking I think #3 of 4 Glasses! 




































Sura also whispered to remind me:  "And if anyone gives even a cup of water to the least of my disciples, he will surely not loose his reward."  Matt. 10:42

Sura sharing with Dalits (Leader w/brown shawl)

Sura shared some of his testimony -- letting them know he was a Dalit but Jesus had set him free many years ago.

Sura has been working with this group for some time -- there are about 8 villages in the surrounding area.  This particular village we went to had about 40 families.  There is one young man named Daniel who is a christian -- and he has been ministering to the Dalits all along.  Sometimes they do bible studies with the folks.  There is only one church which is about 5 miles away and it is a baptist church. But there is no outreach on their behalf -- Sura has been ministering to these folks on his own - and now with Daniel.  Sura has shown many others from the states about this group and they have been given water filters -- they have had help with roofs and other things.  I was telling him -- they need to have their own church -- planted by them and for their village -- I am praying that God does that and also that others would come along side to make it happen.



There is such an openness from these folks.


I was told if they convert to Christianity, they loose their support from the government because then they will no longer be Hindu and no longer the lower cast -- so to choose Jesus means they already have nothing -- but by following him they will loose the very little they did have . . . and we say we have challenges at home.



I had a conversation with them about my testimony and was able to share how Jesus has helped me -- beyond an AIDS diagnosis and the stigma around that and also that he set me free internally when he forgave my sins.  I told them that God was in the business of setting people free and that is why Jesus came to the earth.  I ended up singing a song Acapella for them and it was such a blessing to sing my heart out for these people in this village











Me singing Perfect Love - Acapella!
 -- Jesus was present -- it was pretty special . . .

Members of Dalit Village (leader with brown shawl) and Me.

These people have made their way into my heart and I am going to be praying for them and also would love to let others know about their plight!


_________________________________________________________________________________


After my time with the Dalits -- we went to Sura's boys home where their are 45 young boys living -- boy that is a lively place.

Young Boys (45 of them)  (with 2 young girl visitors)

Sura's home for the boys in Porivili

We joined them for their devotional time -- they sang songs and then I was to share.  After their songs -- I wanted to teach them a song in rounds - they already knew the song -- so we had a great time splitting the room in two and having them sing across to each other -- natural competition - built the volume and intensity and joy was in the place -- I was spent after singing with them!  I shared my testimony with them and also gave them a short teaching on HIV/AIDS and God blessed our time together --

Enjoy the pics . . .
peace