Beauty in India and Nepal

Last night my plane touched down at Heathrow, but like many a traveller before me, as I battle jet-lag, my mind and my heart are still far off, refusing to come down to earth.

I’ve returned from an intensely stimulating yet refreshing week in India and Nepal, visiting the churches and partners there which Tearfund train and support in the pursuit of protecting vulnerable children from sex trafficking.  Cliches communicate so weakly, but please pause with me to engage with just one: “There’s beauty everywhere.”

RLP IndiaNepal - 15I saw beauty in people’s faces everywhere, in the resilience of humans finding a way to survive, in the sunshine and colours of India, the breathtaking mountains of Nepal and the amazing work of God in the fast growing Nepali churches.

 

Tearfund’s goal is to partner with local Churches around the world, where the needs is greatest. Serving the poorest and most vulnerable to empower them to overcome poverty and become a blessing to their communities. I’ve known Tearfund’s work for decades and I’m sure of one thing, they have thought, prayed and shared wisdom to a great extent in how to best help the poor.  The genius priority they have discovered is that to overcome poverty, we can help people to discover their own solutions to the problems they face.  One such form of poverty is the stealing of young girls from Nepal, who end up as women in prostitution in Indian cities, enslaved by debt and an underground corrupt system of exploitation which deceives and controls them.  I went expecting to encounter extreme ugliness in a messed up world of sexual exploitation, but amidst it I found incredible beauty in what people are doing, motivated by God’s love.

For the past 5 years the Holy Spirit has been teaching me about the key kingdom priority of empowerment rather than control.  This past week has been one of the most powerful and exciting modules in that learning.

The first part of the trip was spent in Mumbai, many writers have attempted to capture the mind blowing experience of visiting India for the first time, my wise cousin’s simple description: “Brilliantly mental”.

RLP IndiaNepal - 3Our focus was to visit the red-light district there, the foulest, darkest, busiest place I’ve ever been.  On our first evening we took time to prayer-walk through it’s streets, my heart simply yearned for God’s kingdom to come and His will be done.  There was ugliness everywhere.

I expected it to be a trip of two halves, the beauty of Nepal and the ugliness of the red-light district in Mumbai.  One of our group described it as protecting girls from being tricked out of heaven and trafficked to hell.  Yet what surprised me was that amidst the extreme dirt and ugliness, we found beauty.

Years ago my sister started working for a charity helping ‘women in prostitution’. I asked why she used a long wordy description, was it fussy political correctness, rather than calling them ‘prostitutes’?  Words matter and what she explained then, I have seen clearer than ever.  I expected to encounter ‘prostitutes’, women emptied by exploitation, lifeless units abused by broken men.  Instead we met women and children, who are enslaved by prostitution, yet still alive.  We met the children of these women, being protected and educated by Christians.  Still living with their mothers, but having a safe place to sleep and a happy place to learn and laugh.  They were so beautiful, it was genuinely impossible to get my head around their situation in life.

Then we met some of the women in an group which teaches them life skills, relational and practical ways to rebuild their lives and escape the slavery of debt.  Two pieces of beauty amazed me: Their friendships were a genuine source of life and hope, they loved one another.  And when I asked what we could pray and ask God to do for them, they had real faith, we prayed for them and saw the Holy Spirit powerfully impact them, bringing healing and hope.  I had nothing to offer them except God’s power and love.  Seeing Him move there will transform my boldness to pray in other places too.

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We moved on to Nepal.  A truly remarkable place, so different from Mumbai.  The central part of the trip was a visit into the remote mountain villages.  On the edge of steep mountain, small communities live so simply, in such beauty.

RLP IndiaNepal - 18What God is doing there is totally amazing.
We met Ashora, a young woman who was dramatically healed from a crippling stomach illness 7 years ago when she encountered Jesus.  She started a church in her community and then planted one in the next door community, (45mins walk away down a steep mountainside) These two churches have a combined membership of 500 people now. 400 of them have come to Christ directly as a result of them or a family member being physically healed by God!

The healings and growth was exciting, but the culture of the church was beautiful.  This was a church planted and led by a 17 year old girl.

 

They loved to pray, they loved one another, they weren’t driven by angst or in competition with their opponents, I didn’t sense a trace of hollow religion.

The  church is often persecuted because the kingdom of God overturns the caste system that traps people in a social structure of exploitation that dehumanises the poor.  These churches had received anger and violence in persecution.  As the church began to serve those around them, for example by helping people to save money and start small businesses to rise out of poverty, the persecution was pushed back.  In this village, when the earthquake brought unimaginable devastation, the church was mobilised to do a door-to-door review of what people had lost.  That audit data, meant fairness when government and NGO relief aid arrived.  We heard of how many communities elsewhere had turned on one another, lying and fighting over relief aid, in Ashora’ s community because of the church, there was peace and that is beautiful.

These snapshots of the beauty which we experienced everywhere have been so hugely refreshing for me personally. So now, as I try to land back in England, the question is how do I link this trip to the rest of my life?  Yes St.Chad’s will continue to support Tearfund and I encourage you to do so personally.  Through Connected Church  we will also stay in touch with the believers there and pray for them.

RLP IndiaNepal - 26

I’m left asking ‘what is the poverty I face in my community and what solutions do we already have to overcome it?’

After being a husband and Dad, my calling is to facilitate St.Chad’s to see the kingdom of God invading Romiley and be part of the renewal of the Anglican church, out of Hollow Religion.  As I come back to England, I have an inbox and ToDo list full of problems and issues.  Coming home I see that so much of what I do as a church leader is to deal with problems.   My twitter feed is full of friends tackling those at General Synod, God bless them! We are swamped by problems, I’m usually so busy looking at them that I miss the beauty all around me.

One thing I learned was that poverty isn’t just about food or shelter, but about broken relationships.  A huge part of how the Nepali churches are empowering people out of poverty is  by building trust.

What do we already have which can help us overcome the poverty of relationships in the UK church?  How can we continue to build trust?

This week I have seen local churches, started through healing, growing through sharing Jesus and overcoming resistance through serving and empowering others.  Their life seems more beautiful than ours, but we do have beauty and the more we empower one another in local churches, the more we will see it everywhere.

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How can we respond?

Early on Sunday morning, I sensed the Holy Spirit tell me to lay down the sermon I had written and instead preach on how we can make a positive, biblical response to the rapid movement of people displaced form Syria and Iraq through the brutality and evil violence destroying the place they have called home.

Having read the parable of the Good Samaritan, here’s a blog version.

  1. Wake up!

The scale.

The reality of this migration has been going on for months, the growing camps of refugees in Calais has been the summer’s news story and the hideous challenge faced by the global community by the violent aggression of militant groups in the middle East is an ongoing issue.  But the issue has captured our attention and the attention of the world’s media this week.  We need to wake up to this.

On the way back from church, my 11yr old son who had heard my sermon asked me some great questions, including how ‘big’ this thing is.  My reflection is that this is probably the largest scale historical event in my lifetime, alongside the collapse of communism and the invention of the internet, [Pushing the 2005 Ashes series into 4th place!]

Taking a step back and looking at people and land, rather than ethnicity and nationality,  this is the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War.  This will mix people from different cultural backgrounds to an unprecedented level.  We need to wake up to this change.

the bigger picture – 

The sermon I was due to give this morning was on Ephesians 1, landing on verse 10. God’s eternal plan to bring all things in heaven and on earth under the Lordship of Jesus.

I don’t know what your attitude or belief is with regard to end time prophesies and the direction of human history.   My reflection is that many of my generation in the church in the UK have disconnected the now of our experience from the direction of all history.  We’ve experienced too many bogus, outrageous, unfulfilled prophecies and predictions about the end of the world and what will happen and perhaps become cynical or disconnected.   The internet has meant that every President, Pope or Pop-Star has probably been denounced as the anti-Christ by someone and this whole subject feels overwhelmingly complicated, we feel allergic to talk of millennia, beasts and world systems.   We are both a rationalist generation and yet intuitively feel apocalyptic fatigue.  We tread carefully about pinning events in our time, with the bigger purposes of God, because we’ve seen others try that and then look very silly a few years later.

The danger of this cynicism is that our bigger view of where things are going, rarely informs our day-to-day life.  That makes it hard to reconcile the images in our newspapers or Facebook feeds now – with the bigger picture of all things, of eternal purposes.

Across Europe,  Muslims, fleeing hideous violence and destruction are finding a mixture of grace or defensiveness from historically Christian nations.  That will shape human history.

As this happens, churches – across Europe are showing love, welcome, service, compassion to Muslims.  Old wounds, perceptions and prejudices are being reinforced or broken down.

You probably won’t hear it on the news – but many are encountering Jesus through this. – Coming to know the living Saviour, when his followers show love, generosity and compassion.

2. Assess our attitudes. 

I have had to reflect a lot this week on my personal response to this.  I was asked to speak on Radio FiveLive on Thursday morning about the petition to the government and my immediate response was fear.  Complexity paralysis: the fear of saying the wrong thing, of expressing a view on a complicated matter and then being shot down for it.
Then I stepped back and looked again, as a disciple of Jesus this isn’t very complicated!  The Bible is clear that we are to show mercy and generosity to those who are vulnerable or poor, regardless of ethnic or religious labels.  Jesus beautifully and powerfully communicates that in the parable of the good Samaritan.  The complexity isn’t whether we should act, it’s how we prioritise our actions.

In the parable, the Priest is going to Jerusalem, perhaps for his once in a year opportunity to serve at the temple.  This was his big gig, the event he’d been preparing for and looking forward to.  If the victim by the road was dead and he touched him, he’d become unclean and be unable to fulfil his dreams and calling.  We are all busy, we lead hectic lives, we are at full capacity, Jesus points straight at that and challenges our priorities.

This summer, I heard someone teach on this passage (I think Karl Martin at NewWine), saying that the Levite was perhaps in eye-sight of the Priest and had seen him not act.  He feared that if he did, he’d be criticised for doing so.  He was paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong, he let that shout louder than his call to show compassion and generosity.

This situation forces us to ask how we can respond with compassion and sacrifice.  What would we be willing to give up to help? – how can we individually help? – What do we have available? What if 100 refugee families were located into our community, what could we do as a church? – what would we need to stop doing? We need to be ready to assess our attitudes and priorities, not just see this as a someone else’s problem.

3. Challenge bad attitudes.

It’s cheap and easy to judge & attack David Cameron and our government from afar with the limited knowledge we have of the complexities and range of opinions they’re processing.  Criticism doesn’t help those who are desperate to find home, food and shelter and a place of peace.  Write positively to your MP, expressing kingdom values, encourage them that as one of their constituents you care.  (include your home address so that they know you live in their catchment area)  I wrote to mine this week and immediately got a positive constructive response.  The more voices of compassion and generosity they hear, the louder they can amplify them in Westminster.  Negative judgement and criticism of our politicians only complicated and paralyses them in making the big decisions they need to make. They need our prayers and our views, rather than our judgement.

The real influence we can have is with our neighbours and workplaces.  What are people saying? – is there a defensive, selfish, critical attitude amongst those you spend your time with, which you can challenge?

We will each spend this week in different contexts, there will be different agendas or agreed values in your workplaces, groups of friends, clubs, local neighbourhood.

Be bold and courageous in being compassionate and positive. – challenge small minded selfishness and promote a movement of grace and generosity.

  • Don’t judge or slam people down – but ask provocative questions, draw out prejudice and lack of grace and help them to see it.
  • Complexity – there are lots of debates, arguments, criticism and ‘knowing best’ – that’s not kingdom – its destructive and obstructive. – If people are anxious about taking positive action, because they fear criticism or having motives or strategy challenged – then they’ll second guess and hold back.  Sadly, it seems for every positive statement about welcome, grace, generosity and compassion – someone will pipe up with a negative, a counter argument. – This isn’t the time to argue, it’s the time to love.  We have no right to an opinion, if we’re not willing to personally make some sacrifice to help the vulnerable.
  • Think about what you read and what perspective it gives.  Discern whether it is fuelling your prejudice or inspiring kingdom compassion.  There are newspapers which generally criticise, take a nationalistic attitude, stir or sensationalise a situation and feed thoughts that aren’t rooted in God’s love and grace. – Don’t read those papers and certainly don’t buy them!

4. What’s in your hand?

What have you got to give?

I am excited that there are multiple ways we can all do something.  Don’t be overwhelmed by choice, don’t compare, just act.

If you want to give money, then there are many great charities who will steward it wisely.  Personally we’re giving to Tearfund, because I love their approach of empowering and resourcing local churches in the places where there are most refugees.

[www.tearfund.org]

There are many who are going to the refugee camps, taking essentials, warm clothes, shelter, bedding, food. For example CalAid – a new response charity – taking essential items from North West and volunteering to help. [www.calaid.co.uk]

And then a great way to help children engage is Project Paddington – sending teddies to displaced children with messages of love and compassion.  This is a great thing to do as a family, or better still encourage your local school to get involved in. Find them on facebook, or email: projectpaddingtonuk@gmail.com to register interest.

Many new, compassionate initiatives are starting up and have been swamped, which is fantastic! Help them and be patient as they work tirelessly to find ways to respond fast and help those in need.

5. PRAY.

The one thing we can all do is to pray and this makes a huge difference in the heavenly realms.   Prayer is part of your relationship with God, express to Him what’s on your heart.  If a suggested structure helps you, here’s a little list.

  • Pray for those displaced. – Safety in travel and unity in the camps.  Food and essentials – particularly as weather turns.
  • Pray for children & the most vulnerable. – Major migration also creates dangers of human trafficking and exploitation. – Pray for protection.
  • Pray for government and those making decisions. – careful diplomacy and working together in Europe. – Wisdom, freedom from the fear of criticism (they’ll be attacked whatever they decide – but God put them in place of leadership, so ask Him to bless them)
  • Pray for churches & charities who are serving those displaced. – resources, unity, power off the Holy Spirit.
  • Continue to pray against the spiritual forces of violence which influence the Islamic fundamentalists in Syrian and Iraq.  Pray for God’s victory over the evil which is causing this.