India: Through the Wardrobe


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Originally uploaded by Ann Lovell

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Bangalore, India with a team from my church in Seoul. I have been trying to get my head around all that I saw God do. I had no idea that stepping off the plane in Bangalore would be like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. At this point, however, it is the closest metaphor I can think of that describes my experiences there.

My purpose on the trip was to lead a Bible conference for Pastor’s wives and widows. I was scheduled to speak for four sessions – two on Tuesday and two on Thursday. God had other plans.

On Tuesday morning, after a few hours of sleep, our group went first to the children’s home where the majority of our group was slated to give injections, play games, and tell Bible stories to the 118 orphans living there. Shortly after we arrived and were welcomed, my friend, Shanti, and I were driven to the church in the next village where the women had gathered for the conference. Shanti and her husband, Prince, own a chain of Indian restaurants in Seoul, and both are members of SIBC. This was their first time on a trip of this nature.

The Power of the Story

I began the conference by sharing the lessons I had prepared on the fall of man and Eve’s role in it. After just a few minutes, one of the more elderly women stood up and addressed the group. I asked my interpreter, Rebecca*, to translate for me.

Rebecca said, “She is telling them to wake up and pay close attention. She is telling them to stop falling asleep.”

Well, it wasn’t difficult for me to figure out that what I had planned to teach wasn’t working. By God’s grace, I suddenly remembered all my training in oral storytelling. For oral learners, the best way to communicate is simply to tell the story just as it is recorded in the Bible. So, I switched gears as best I could and simply told the story of Adam and Eve.

When I finished, I asked Shanti if she had anything to add. She offered to share her story, and for the next few minutes, she told how she had come from a Hindu background to faith in Jesus Christ. The women were enthralled, and I was reminded of the power of the story. When women share what God has done in our lives, He is glorified.

I was pretty sure I had been a miserable failure, and I was quite certain that I would not be asked to speak again. I was wrong. Rebecca asked if I could “teach” for another 30 minutes. I told her that I would share my personal story. Some of you know that my story involves elements of God’s physical healing from teenage cancer, infertility, and the premature births and deaths of my first three children. While these healings were not miraculous, they were healings nonetheless. I simply shared my story, and Shanti and I prayed for each of the women individually. Day 1 was complete.

The Hindu Priest

We went back to the children’s home, and later in the day, I went with some from our group to meet with our company’s personnel in Bangalore. The rest of our group remained at the children’s home giving injections until late into the night. One of the most powerful stories from their experience involved the Hindu priest from the neighboring village. From a distance, he had been watching the group giving injections to the children throughout the day. Later that night, he came with his wife, and both received injections. Then, he sought out one of our men to pray with him and his wife. After the prayer, the priest and his wife returned to their village hand-in-hand.

The next day, on Wednesday, Pastor Dan and Pastor Jack from SIBC held a Pastor’s conference in the same church where I had been the day before. Later in the day, the Hindu Priest and his wife showed up at the conference, and again they asked for prayer from Dan and Jack. It seems that God is at work in the life of this man who is a leader in a village that as yet has no house church. Our national partner, Paul*, has had a vision to reach this village since attempting to show the Jesus film there in 1982. He and his team were beaten and stoned in that attempt, and he continues to encounter resistance to this day, which leads me to Day 2 …

Prayerwalking the Village

Actually, when we started our day on Wednesday, I knew nothing about the Hindu Priest or the village. But, we took a different route to the children’s home on Wednesday morning and drove through the village. Four members of our team – Shanti, Sherri, Mary, and I – had no responsibilities on Wednesday but as we passed through the village, I felt a very strong leading to prayerwalk through it. When we arrived at the children’s home, I watched the children for a few minutes, but the leading to prayerwalk was so strong that I knew I would be disobedient if I did not follow through. I asked Shanti, Mary, and Sherri if they would like to join me, and they were eager to do so. We started off down the dirt road, but we had not gone very far when one of the orphanage workers came after us. He advised Shanti that we should not go and said that the people in the village might hurt us. Shanti told him that she thought we would be all right. She asked the rest of us what we thought, and we all agreed to go ahead. None of us were the least bit worried.

As we approached the first house, the family came out of the gate to talk to us. I made their photo, and Shanti explained who we were and what we were doing at the children’s home. A few steps more and the road forked. A short distance away down the right fork stood a group of people who were beckoning us to come. Once we reached them, I made photos of many of them, and we found them to be very welcoming. Again, none of us felt even slightly threatened or afraid.

As we continued our walk, praying silently in our hearts, a crowd continued to gather. Shanti would communicate as best she could, and I would make photos. Smiles and nods were basically our only means of communication. With the crowd growing, we made our way to the Hindu temple, where we stopped for just a few minutes before Prince arrived with the van after making a run for bottled water for the orphanage. We prayed silently at the temple for a few minutes more and then boarded the van to go back to the village. From the van, I made one last photo of the children. They were reaching out to me, and I showed the photo to Shanti who was in the seat beside me. We returned to the village without much fanfare but within 15 minutes of our arrival, children from the village began to come and participate in the Jesus songs and games. Those are the highlights for Day 2, which leads me to …

Shanti’s Vision

On Thursday morning, I was scheduled again to hold a conference for pastor’s wives and widows. However, our team had inoculated all of the pastors at the conclusion of the pastor’s conference on Wednesday, and all of the pastors were sick. Therefore, all of their wives had to stay home and take care of them. We met instead at Paul and Rebecca’s home for what turned out to be a time of worship and sharing. During this time, Shanti shared her vision. For the past three to four years, every time she has closed her eyes, she has had a vision of children reaching out to her. She believed them to be Indian, and she believed they were from the slums. Although she had no mission inclination or desire, she could not escape the vision of these children. Shanti said, “But yesterday after we finished our walk through the village, Ann showed me a photo she had taken of the children reaching out to her. Those are the children from my vision, and I believe that God has called me to help them.” If only the wonders of the Almighty stopped there, but the day was just beginning.

The Gospel Meeting

After our most incredible time of sharing and worship, Paul asked if I could go door-to-door to meet with some of the women whose husbands were sick. That plan lasted about all of two minutes when Paul asked if I would be willing to accompany Pastor Dan, Pastor Jack, and Josh (a member of our team from Shanghai, China) to the Gospel meeting they had scheduled in another village about twenty minutes away. I agreed but asked if I could take either Shanti or Rebecca to help me interpret. Sadly, there was no room in the car for Shanti and Rebecca, so it was four men and me.

When we arrived in the Hindu village, about 30 people from the local house church had gathered. As the preaching started, a young woman arrived with her baby. The baby was severely malnourished, and as Jack and Dan preached, I motioned to the mother that I wanted to hold the baby. As I held this tiny baby who appeared to be clinging to life, I began to pray, asking God what could be done for this child and praying that He would be glorified in this child’s life somehow. I gave the baby back to his mother just before I was asked to share.

In preparing the stories I had planned to share at that day’s women’s conference, I had asked Rebecca what the women needed to hear. She told me that they needed to know that Jesus has the power to heal. Although I had planned to share the story of Jarius’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood, I realized sitting in the village that I simply needed to tell my story. Again, especially given that my testimony includes elements of healing, it seemed the thing to do. I began very simply by saying, “I am here to tell you that Jesus has the power to heal,” and I went from there.

At the end, Paul asked if there were any who wanted to become followers of Jesus, and five women responded and prayed to receive Christ. Immediately after that, most of the congregation came to the four of us for prayer. I prayed for the mother and her baby and for a number of other women and children. Then, a very old woman who had been sitting apart from the group beckoned me to come to her. This is where things get very interesting …

The Crippled Woman

The woman was seated on the ground and with some difficulty she stood to request prayer. She was hunched over, gripping a walking stick with both hands. She put one hand on her back, and even without an interpreter, I knew that she wanted me to pray for the pain in her back. I prayed that God would remove the pain and I prayed in accordance with Romans 8 that the Spirit would intercede for this woman according to God’s will. When I finished praying, the woman straightened up! She began shaking her head from side to side in the way that Indians say “yes,” and she was talking a mile a minute in words I could not understand. To say I was amazed is an understatement. Then, she got down at my feet in what I feared was an act of worship. I bent down, took her by both arms and said, without an interpreter, “No. No. Don’t worship me. Worship Jesus.” I lifted her to her feet. She was still bobbing her head and talking excitedly, and then she stood even straighter. By this time, I had no idea what to make of what was happening. I began looking around for somebody to help me, and at that point, I clearly felt God say, “Ann, do you believe I can heal this woman?” I prayed out loud (and bug-eyed, I’m sure), “Yes, Lord! I believe. Help my unbelief!”

We stood there a few minutes more – me in wide-eyed wonder at the power of God and her bobbing her head and talking excitedly. I was called away, and I helped her sit down. As we were leaving, she reached out again to touch the feet of the pastor’s wife from the village. The pastor’s wife did the same thing I had done – waved her off. And that is where I left her.

That night, I read through all of the miracles of healing in the book of Luke, and I focused specifically on the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5:17-26 and the healing of the crippled woman in Luke 13:10-17. Most significant were the words of Jesus from Luke 5: 23-24. “Which is easier,” Jesus said, “to say your sins are forgiven or to say take up your bed and walk? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority over all things,” he said to the paralytic, “take up your bed and walk.” The five women who had accepted Jesus had not surprised me, but I had been completely astonished that a crippled woman had stood up straight. In reality, which is easier?

And now back to the village …

Baby Solomon

After my amazing encounter with the crippled woman, I was still very concerned about the baby. At this point, I did not know if the baby was a boy or a girl, but I knew that it needed medical attention and fast. I asked Paul if we could take the baby to the hospital. He conferred with the local pastor, and at first, they agreed to go that afternoon. Then, they decided that they would meet us at the hospital on Friday morning. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this, but Paul assured me that the baby and the mother would come.

On Friday morning, we had scheduled a tour of the Bangalore Baptist Hospital, and as promised, the mother, father, and baby arrived with the local pastor at the hospital at about the same time we did. The baby was registered and seen fairly quickly. Rebecca was with us, and as we were waiting to see the pediatrician, I asked more questions. I learned that the baby was a boy between two and three months old. The baby had been “fat” when it was born, but it would not nurse and had not gained weight. Since the baby would not nurse, the mother had been feeding it cow’s milk. The couple had a son a few months before this baby that also wouldn’t nurse. That baby lived six weeks. Through Rebecca, I learned that the couple believed that an owl had flown over their house and sentenced their children to die.

I also asked the baby’s name and learned that the couple had not yet named it. This concerned me until later in the day when I learned from a coworker that Indians have a naming ceremony for their babies that usually comes much later in the first year. However, when the father and the pastor returned with the baby’s registration papers, they had named the baby, Solomon.

Solomon weighed in at 2.45 kgs (about 5 lbs.). As the pediatrician examined him and questioned the mother, I learned that the mother had an abscess, and this was the reason that the baby would not nurse. The doctor believed that both mother and baby might be infected with HIV and ordered an HIV test on the baby. The results of this test were not available when I left India. She also asked if the mother was willing to admit the baby. I assured the mother through Rebecca that we would pay for the baby’s care, and the mother was willing for the baby to be admitted. Then we were off to buy formula for the baby, to get the mother seen, and to figure out how to get the baby in a room.

As it turned out, the mother’s abscess, though large, simply needed to be drained. The doctor pulled a half-liter of pus from the abscess. The mother was producing milk, and the doctor believes that once the abscess heals, she will be able to nurse the baby.

Finally, the baby was in a ward with his mother and father; the mother’s abscess had been drained and the mother was on medication; and the baby was sucking down formula like … well, like he hadn’t eaten in two months. The doctor told me late in the day that she thought the baby would be ok if he would just “eat, eat, eat, eat, eat.” At the end of the day, the baby was certainly “eat, eat, eat, eat, eating.”

As I realized that my role in this drama was coming to an end, I told the pastor that I wanted to make a photo of the family and pray with them before I left. The photo actually didn’t turn out very well; I can’t be a photographer and a minister at the same time. But the prayer was most important anyway. I prayed for the family and the pastor, and while nothing miraculous occurred this time, when I opened my eyes, the other families from the ward had gathered in a circle around us and were looking at me curiously.

As I was leaving, I looked into the face of that young mother one last time. I had seen many emotions in her face that day. I had seen bewilderment and fear and pain. But as I left that room after praying for her and her family, she raised her hand, waved to me, and gave me a big smile. In her eyes at that moment, I saw hope.

And that is the picture of India that I will forever carry in my heart.

Travel light and wear comfortable shoes,

Ann

*Names changed to protect the security of the local believers.

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