February 2006

Greetings, family and friends of The Narrow Way Ministry from “Iceland”, Arkansas:

I have just returned from India, and by the time you receive this newsletter I will be in Romania visiting and working with our Bible Worker friends and pastors in Transylvania that we support through your assistance. I will be traveling with a high school buddy, David Smith, the two of us being, at one point in our lives the two least likely guys to ever make it to heaven… We both left the church in our youth, but in opposite directions, hurting others all along the way while pursuing our mad careers of pleasing self. Now, by God’s grace, love, and redemptive power, the two of us are very active in ministry and mission work for the Lord, he primarily in the Philippines, China, & Florida. To take this mission trip together is a wonderful testimony to the loving forgiveness of our God and His desire to share the joy of service with those who have been redeemed.

Since my return from India, our family had a speaking/concert opportunity at the 1st Seventh-day Adventist Church in Louisville, KY. But Natalie fell ill, and Claudia and Natalie had to stay home. Zachary and I connected with Papa Bob Sutherland in Madison and made it a “man thing”. The three of us went on and had a very blessed Sabbath with our church family in Louisville. The evening concert was followed by a church social - a Valentine’s Banquet. We were able to make new friends and to discover that some of us had gone to school together at Madison Elementary, Little Creek Academy, and Southern Missionary College. Of course, it took some research in old school yearbooks and in comparing notes to make these discoveries, because all of them had changed so much over the years…

But, I digress. I need to get back to my report on the trip to India.

First, some facts about India, some shared by visiting Elder Ron Watts, president of the Southern Asia Division. It is the 7th largest country in the world with the 2nd highest population of 1.2 Billion, and it is, amazingly, self-sufficient in food production. It is the world’s leading producer of tea and sugar and has the largest cattle population. In fact, the cow is considered to be sacred. Therefore you find them setting up “house” in the middle of the passing lane on the 4-lane highways, and in any place of their choosing in the roads and medians of cities, towns, villages, and markets. The traffic always gives way to these truly “contented cows….” The 3 most popular Hindu gods, though, are the monkey-god, the elephant and the snake.

Hindi is the official language of India and is the 4th most widely used language in the world, and more than 200 other languages are spoken there as well.

Technically, it is illegal to evangelize and to convert Hindus to Christianity. It was not far from where we were working that a couple years ago fanatical Hindus burned alive one missionary and his two sons in their car. Another missionary wife was killed while her husband was away from home. But the gospel commission compels us to share with these dear people. So we have to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves in reaching out to these people and in conducting our “meetings of prayer” (legal) and in building “houses of prayer” (not churches) in the villages.

Visas are not granted to ministers, evangelists, and missionaries. But they are granted to teachers, and health workers, and tourists. By the way, before returning home we visited the Taj Mahal, Ghandi’s Memorial, the McDonalds in Agra, which served delicious vegetarian food, the Pizza Hut in New Delhi, and were very conspicuous tourists…

Observations: Women’s Sarees are like snowflakes, no 2 alike. Out of thousands upon thousands, each one seems to be unique. The Indian people are very colorful, very friendly, very gracious and hospitable €“ in short, just beautiful and a joy to be with. The term “Vegan” is a Hindu term, based upon pagan philosophy, not Christian morals and convictions, nor health, and it has been incorporated into new age philosophy drifting into our language replacing the term “strict vegetarian”.

Driving is “every man for himself”. The general rule seems to be that you favor the left side of the road, and the bigger vehicle always has the right of way… Well, not really. Merging traffic seems to take the right of way, whether on foot, cart, bicycle, motorcycle, rickshaw, car, truck, or bus. One has to drive very defensively in order to avoid collision.

On the four-lane divided highway we drove every day, the traffic goes both directions on both divisions of the road. One had to always be on the lookout for oncoming traffic in the passing lane, that traffic being pedestrian, bicycle, scooter, motor cycle, ox cart, auto, truck, or bus.

Other road rules: straddle the broken white line at all times, except to pass or to be passed. Honk when passing. Honk when being passed. Honk just to honk, all the time. Driving uses more horns and bells than eyesight. When overtaking another vehicle, stomp on the brakes just as you begin to pass to make sure you are not going faster then he and to make sure that you allow any oncoming vehicles to almost hit you head on….

Shocking birth defects and handicaps: the lame, the halt, the blind are ever present. Beautiful people with bodies twisted and distorted from birth defects and polio just break the heart. Facial disfigurations, missing facial body parts, are very common, as are tumors and growths on the faces and necks, etc. One Sabbath we saw a beautiful girl that had no toes on her feet and deformed fingers on her hands. One pitiful beggar had huge balloon-like feet that looked more like hands with fingers than feet with toes. Never have I seen such pitiful deformities in people than in these unfortunate people.

On the brighter side: It was the season for many types of fruits - apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, gooseberries, pineapple, and papaya. Our daily meals were breakfast and dinner, no lunch. So, everyday our team stopped somewhere and purchased big, beautiful papayas for about 30 cents apiece. I ate a whole papaya for lunch just about every day. They were truly delectable and refreshing, especially after walking door-to-door in the villages in 90-degree weather.

The evenings would chill down to mid-60’s and low 70’s. It was amusing to us to watch all the people come into the huge meeting ground at night with shawls and ear coverings and knit hats in order to keep warm in the 70 degree night air… But I must admit, sometimes it did seem rather chilly, especially after the heat of the day.

Bugs were a real nuisance at night, especially mosquitoes. But we were prepared with our bug spray. Still they were a nuisance. Royce Williams expressed our sentiments well when he said, “Sure would have been nice if Noah had thought to swat one of those mosquitoes on the Ark.”

Oh! I have to tell on myself a little bit. Some of us took a trip one day to the Bobbili School for the Blind and Sight Impaired. It was 6 hours up, an hour or so there, and 6 ours back. That was one of the most touching experiences of the mission trip. 152 children, 92 boys and 60 girls. They sang for us and recited Scripture, and they clung to us, soaking up every ounce of personal attention they could get. They are truly outcasts of society, but loving and loveable. The school is giving them a marvelous new lease on life with a thorough education, including computer training.

While taking pictures of the compound from the water tower, I spied a water buffalo herd and some boys riding on a couple of them. I motioned them over for a picture, climbed down from the tower to take it, then asked if I could ride…!! They laughed themselves silly at the suggestion but gave in and offered me the opportunity of a lifetime. As I climbed onto that beast, he suddenly realized I was different and became a rodeo-bucking buffalo. My ride was very short, and I landed with a thud in the mud.

I wasn’t hurt and asked them if I could try again. “No, No,” they laughed. “He’s really upset now. We have to let him calm down.”

“He’s upset!?” we conversed through a translator. “Why?”

“He didn’t like your black pants”, they laughed. “And you mounted him on the wrong side!”

“How could he see my black pants?” I asked, because I had approached him from the rear.

Everyone had a real hearty laugh over it all. I have to admit, I was totally surprised. The buffalo seem to move so slowly and lazily, I had no idea one could be so energetic. But I must make the point that I did get to ride a water buffalo in India, even if it was for just a second or two…! Now I suppose I need to grow up!

REAPING THE HARVEST IN INDIA:

Ellen White speaks of a “firmament of chosen ones in India”: “Among earth’s inhabitants, scattered in every land, there are those who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Like the stars of heaven, which appear only at night, these faithful ones will shine forth when darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the people. In heathen Africa, in the Catholic lands of Europe and of South America, in China, in India, in the islands of the sea, and in all the dark corners of the earth, God has in reserve a firmament of chosen ones that will yet shine forth amidst the darkness revealing clearly to an apostate world the transforming power of obedience to His law.” (Prophets and Kings, 188,189)

In Andhra Pradesh, the state in which we were working, there are 12 million people in 2 people groups. Of the 1 Million Seventh-day Adventists in India, 600,000 are in this state alone. History shows that when you have several thousand conversions from one people group, you can likely get the whole group in general. This may help explain the ripening harvest that we are witnessing there now.

It was in India that Buddhism originated and then spread to other parts of the world. The entire nation at one point was predominantly Buddhist. In the 11th century, Islam strongly influenced the Indian culture. Then Hinduism was established and is now the predominant religion. This tells us something: If the majority of the population can be converted from Buddhism to Hinduism, then the same could happen with Christianity. Even now, some converted Hindu priests in the area we were working are writing books exposing Hinduism and promoting Christianity.

This mission trip to India and the evangelistic work was a joint effort with volunteers from several organizations: It Is Written, Maranatha, ASI, and Gospel Outreach, Shawn Boonstra being the speaker for the centralized meeting. Our team from the west consisted of about 26 volunteers: from It Is Written - Shawn & Jean Boonstra, Royce Williams, Robert Costa, Victor Pires, Palmer Halvorson, Fred & April Hardinge; from ASI, etc. - Viorel, Michelle, Michael and Crystal Catarama, Bob & Rhonda Backman, Chuck and Dominic Bovey, Geneva Blankenbaker, Marvin & Alta Krause, Keith and Virginia Plummer, Anita & Christie Ringering, Edwin Cheneweth, Mary Jones, and myself.

We divided into 5 groups for the purpose of visiting 50 villages around the city of Ravulapalem in the state of Andhra Pradesh that were already being worked by local gospel workers, and to go door-to-door praying with and for the families and inviting them personally to attend the “meetings of prayer” in Ravulapalem. We informed them of the big trucks that were available every night to transport the entire village, if necessary, to one central location in Ravulapalem where were held “the meetings of prayer”. By the last night about 125 trucks transported the villagers, and what a thrill to see them nightly come into the compound in convoys, loaded with waving and cheering people excited to be a part of the big event.

As we entered many of the villages, we were met with eager anticipation and fanfare, for the villagers were expecting us. Sometimes there would be a band and fireworks. Usually each of us was greeted with a beautiful flower garland placed around our necks and then showered with flower petals as we made our way to a little meeting location. Here the villagers would gather to sing songs, to hear a message of inspiration and a health talk and to pray together with us. The children were very excited with soap bubbles and little pictures of Jesus or little banners that said, “Jesus Loves Me”.

Following the little meeting, we often were served coconuts cut from the trees in our presence, then cut open with a sickle or large knife, accompanied with a straw for our sipping enjoyment and refreshment. Sometimes we were given tree-ripened bananas and oranges that were truly delicious. The children might also hand us a single flower accompanied by a very big grin, letting us know how much we were appreciated. We would then divide up and go each with a translator from door-to-door meeting the people again in their homes.

You need to understand how significant this little visit was. We were told that we were perceived as being very close to God, coming from America, and as being sent by God; that for us to duck under their low hanging thatch roof, to step up onto their little porch, to touch these people and to hug them and to place our hands upon their heads and pray with them, was probably the single most eventful incident to ever happen in their entire lifetime, looking back into the past and forward into the future on this earth. These people were of the low caste, the untouchables, not even allowed to enter the Hindu temples. Now, here we are from half way around the world, “sent from God Himself”, touching and holding and hugging them and praying for them. They were being told how much they were loved by God and by us personally; that we were equal; that we were brothers and sisters of one family; and that we personally wanted to see them and be with them at the meetings of prayer that night and that transportation was provided to make sure they could join us.

During these visits, it was not uncommon to find one’s self praying over someone demon possessed. What a thrill to see the transformation take place due to the power and presence of God. We prayed over the sick and the childless and some of the ill were successfully treated with natural remedies. We were told that it was not uncommon to see miraculous healing and for barren women in the villages to announce several weeks after the departure of the volunteers that they were now with child, due to the prayers in their behalf.

After praying for 2 ladies in one home, I was asked to please pray for their sickly goats. I couldn’t easily get into the low-hanging, thatch-covered pen, so I prayed over it.

After many rejections in one very prejudiced Hindu section of a village, my group finally happened upon a little church, built by some pastor who is never able to come around. A number of women from the village had gathered there for Bible Study and prayer. They welcomed us in and asked me to speak to their little group, after which I offered to have prayer for them. Following the prayer, they each requested individual prayer for specific problems and issues in their lives: health, unhappy marriages, mean husbands, being childless, etc.

It is very exciting to see these same people we have visited and personally invited during the day come in on the trucks that evening. We were told that many more people board the trucks after they have been visited in their homes.

The first night there was in attendance about 2,500. And each night thereafter the numbers increased dramatically as the villages received their personal door-to-door visitation and invitations: from 3,500 to 5,000, to 7,000, to 9,000, to 10,000, to 15,000, to 18,000, to 20,000. By the closing night, the estimation was 25,000 plus. The number was too difficult to estimate but approximately 10 times that of the opening night.

Each night the program began with a short clip from the Jesus Film based upon the book of Luke. That was followed by a Children’s Story by Jean Boonstra and the teaching of a song in the Telegu language. Then Fred and April Hardinge presented much needed health talks and demonstrations. After the offering was taken, (a very important part of worship in India), and some other preliminaries and acknowledgements, Shawn Boonstra would give his powerful and moving presentations from the perspective of the love of the Creator God. His translator, Dr. Wilson, did an amazing job, except once in a while when he would choke and cough. We found out later that he occasionally swallowed one of the swarming bugs that were attracted by all the lights. As Shawn would finish with a closing appeal and prayer, we would all find ourselves swamped with petitioners for special hands-on prayer. These dear people, young and old, boys and girls and adults would actually grab our hands and place them on their own heads or those of their children or some other loved one and say, “Pray!” It was a real bonding experience.

What was really exciting was to get the daily baptism reports, which began several days into the meetings. Gospel workers had been working with these people prior to our arrival, and the meetings were, yes, very evangelistic, but also a reaping of a very ripe harvest. The first report was of 871 baptisms throughout the 50 villages. Two days later the total was 2,474. The numbers increased dramatically as baptisms were taking place daily throughout the 50 villages: 7,593, then 8,570, then 9,699. We hoped for 10,000 baptisms, but by the 2nd Thursday the number had reached 11,755. Friday evening the total had reached 12,870. I have just received an update that the number of baptisms has now reached 14,341.

What a thrill, what a spiritual high, to know that we played a small part in this phenomenal harvest that can only be described as of “day of Pentecost” (Pentecostal?) proportions!

Of course, we in the west are immediately prone to ask, “How many of these will still be members one year from now?” We were informed that that question is totally inappropriate. The question is not “How many of them will leave us?” but “Will we leave them…?” In accepting Jesus over Hinduism, they have taken a huge step in faith.

Too many evangelists have gone to India and made a big splash, returning home to share their amazing stories, raking in large donations for their ministries, and never following through with nurturing the people they left behind. The program we are working with is much different, a nurturing one. Let me explain.

First, Gospel Outreach workers are assigned to each village to prepare the way for evangelism and to stay up to 5 years after the big event. The people are personally visited by the workers and by the volunteers from the west. There is a great harvest during the centralized “meetings of prayer.” Every one baptized receives their own personal Bible in their own language, a very meaningful and significant gesture. The villages donate a plot of land, and then a “house of prayer” is built through the efforts of Maranatha and ASI and others. These 50 are scheduled to be completed by May 1. The new converts are left with the assurance that they are truly a part of a worldwide family of believers who love them and care for them and will not abandon them. It’s a beautiful plan, and the Holy Spirit is moving in a powerful way in the highways and hedges and byways of India. The Master’s house will be filled. (See Luke 14:16-24)

Sabbaths were very special on this trip, for it was on Sabbaths that we visited villages where churches had been constructed and were awaiting dedication. We were met with fireworks, bottle rockets, beautiful flower garlands, showers of flower petals, and then ushered into colorfully decorated ox carts for the traditional parade of honor through the village streets for up to one hour before dismounting at the brand new, still smelling of fresh cement and paint “house of prayer”. The whole village was made to know that this was the Seventh-day Adventist day in town. A short ceremony ensued in front of the facility, with the unveiling of a plaque, a short speech, and a ribbon cutting. Then proceeded the press into the building for the songs, sermon, dedication prayer, and the offering. Because of the crowd, many people could only press their faces through the windows from outside, for there was no more room inside the “house of prayer”.

The offering would take much time, because the village people would pledge gifts for the new “house of prayer”, some even running home to bring back a ceiling fan, a fluorescent light fixture, a wall clock, chairs, etc. The new members are given the opportunity to really make this their own by bringing their gifts to the sanctuary.

The final night of the meetings we were warned that we would have to make an escape to avoid a disaster, the reason being that the crowd was so huge and so many would want to get one final touch and prayer from the “messengers of God” that it could be dangerous. It could result in a crushing stampede. So, in the middle of the full length Jesus Film program we had a short farewell ceremony, and while Shawn Boonstra delivered a sermonette the volunteers quietly slipped into their awaiting cars and disappeared. At the conclusion of Shawn’s talk, the Jesus Film was restarted, captivating the attention of the audience once again while Shawn’s party slipped out and made its way back to Rajahmundry.

It was a sad parting, because we really could not get close to the people one last time to touch them and pray for them. But they are left in good hands, those of the Gospel Workers and Ministers assigned to their villages, and most importantly, they are left in the hands of their newly found loving Creator God.

I want to thank each of you who made it possible for me to go on this venture. It was certainly a life-changing event for me as it was for thousands of our new brothers and sisters in God’s family. Please remember these dear ones with your prayers and support. And thank you for your continued support of The Narrow Way Ministry as we endeavor to spread the message that “Our God is mighty to save, the ‘whosoevers’, from ‘whatsoever’, even ‘to the uttermost’.

Keep looking up…,

Ron Woolsey, Claudia, Zachary and Natalie