Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chennai – Day 2

While this is actually day one of our class it is day two for several of us. I am going to format the rest of my journal the way my course work is required. We are required to find a way to document each session, both formal in class or other ad hoc sessions throughout the trip. Describing, narrating and summarizing the essence of what we heard and saw is the first part. Part two is your analysis of what was said or not said, i.e. the theological assumptions of the presentations, the social location of the presentation, etc. In part three, we are to extrapolate the transferable principles for our context and ministry.

Today we met in the hotel restaurant for breakfast. We were introduced to one another, met our hosts, some local pastors and leaders from Chennai and Mumbai. We broke into three groups and loaded up into rented vans with drivers for the day. The day was led by Tim, (I don’t know his last name) who has worked with YWAM for the past thirty years. I think he has spent most of that time overseeing the Asian YWAM bases. On each bus we had one of the hosts. Our host was Lawrence Vincent, an Indian man who is an expert on Indian history, especially Hinduism and Hindu religion. I did not realize there was a difference until today. During our bus rides from location to location, Lawrence discussed the history of Hinduism, Hindu religion and Christianity. I would like to have a concentrated time to listen and ask questions of Lawrence. He made some compelling statements about contextualizing the gospel in India. He cautioned us over and over to not look at India and Christianity through our Western worldview. He is a wealth of information. Deborah and I were on the same bus. I enjoyed our group. There is a pastor from Cairo, Egypt, a woman professor from Azuza Pacific University, Geoff, a young church planter from San Diego, Craig who pastors a church in Lynden, Washington. There were three men in the back of the bus that I did not have a chance to meet or talk with.

We were told today that the weather is mild. I don’t think I would want to be here for there summer if this is mild. It is very hot and humid. Driving through India is a trip. There is traffic everywhere. Not just automobiles. There are bicycles, rickshaws, electric tuk tuks, cows, pedestrians, there does seem to be any rules of engagement while on the road. It is sort of every person, or animal for himself.
Our first stop was the Mount of Saint Thomas. It is said that the apostle Thomas came to India in 52 A.D. There he taught the local people using symbols from their culture about Christ. There were seven churches planted by Thomas in India. The Mount we visited is the place where he was martyred in A.D. 78 while praying for the city. Ray made an interesting comment, he said, “Thomas was the only apostle who was not converted during Jesus’ life, he was converted after the resurrection.” There was a small church built to mark the spot where Thomas was said to have been killed.

Our next stop (after being in traffic in a very hot van) was The Theosophical Society. Theosophy is the body of truths which forms the basis of all religions, and which cannot be claimed as the exclusive possession of any. It restores to the world the Science of the Spirit, teaching man to the Spirit as himself and the mind and body as his servants. It puts death in its rightful place, as a recurring incidence in and endless life, opening the gateway to a fuller and more radiant existence. The main tenets of Theiosophy:
Consciousness, Universal and Individual
Immortality of Man
Universal Brotherhood
God’s plan which is evolution

The society was founded by a French woman, who was very into the occult, astro travel, great manifestations. She later married a man, Colonel Olcott and together they made the Society’s headquarters in India around 1881. Today the headquarters are run by a married couple from New Zealand who are in their mid-eighties. We met them today and listened to a very short talk on the Society. In the main hall, we saw the World Religions displayed on the walls. They believe all religions are the same. They are basically the headquarters for what is now considered secular humanism. The man (I don’t know his name) while making his short presentation talked about the equality of all people. I asked his wife after the presentation what she thought about living in a country that propagated oppression via the caste system. Her answer, “everyone is entitled to believe what they want, we treat the lower castes with respect” that was not a satisfying answer to me.

Our next stop was the Temple of Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) was very clear in his mind from boyhood that the aim of life is God-realization. He believes as well that all religions are one. He was known as the prophet of harmony of religions. The temple was very plain with a massive altar. The doors to the altar were closed. We arrived shortly before they were opened, revealing the massive idol. A stature of Sri Ramakrishna. There were several worshippers in the temple. What I noticed about the worshippers was that their faces were contorted. I’m not sure how to explain it but there were several people I looked at right into their eyes and their faces seemed contorted with pain. I felt very sad at the temple. I found myself praying for the people in the Spirit that somehow Jesus would be revealed to them and bring freedom. I really was not trying to feel anything. I just wanted to notice people. I could not help though to feel sadness for them as my sense was that there was so much oppression that was revealed in their faces.

Our next stop, the Temple of Sri Kapaleeswarar. This place was unbelievable. Lawrence pointed out to us that it is modeled like the temple that Solomon built. This temple is dedicated to the Lord Siva. There is a lot of history here but I am not sure I really understood it. There were gods and goddesses in holy places that we were not able to enter. There was a sign over some of the inside rooms of the temple that said, “Non-hindus not allowed beyond this point”. I said to Deborah as we stood in the courtyard and watched the worshippers go inside where the priests were with the god or goddess that I felt like we were in the court of the Gentiles. Once again, while at the temple I was more interested in looking at and seeing the people there rather than the structure and the history. There were many, many young Indian women sitting outside as we were waiting to go from one place to another. I like smiling at them and nodding. They all smiled back and nodded. One woman came and talked with me. She asked me where I was from and asked my name. She asked me if I thought the temple was beautiful to which I replied, “yes”

We left the temple and walked to a restaurant for lunch. Lunch was at a traditional Indian restaurant. Tim had pre-ordered our lunch. We sat in an air conditioned part of the restaurant. It was a nice break from the heat. I sat at a table with an Indian man from Mumbai who works for the Mustard Seed Foundation in India. The Mustard Seed Foundation is the Bakke family foundation.

I will return to posting either later tonight or sometime tomorrow. It is now 5:00 p.m. and we are meeting to go to dinner at Sparky’s. Sparky’s is an American style diner that the YWAM base started. We are going to hear from several people tonight. One speaker is from the International Justice Mission. It is a lot to take in. We actually cannot keep up with journaling the schedule is very full.

It is now 10:00 p.m. We returned from dinner about an hour ago. Rich phoned me so I got to talk with him and Alex! Before I left we phoned T-Mobile to see about access in India. They were able to turn on something so I could have my cell phone while in India. They told me if Rich phoned me it was free but if I phoned Rich it would be 2.99 per minute. When we arrived I could not get coverage. Deborah also has T-Mobile and she had bars. When we were settled in our hotel room we called T-Mobile customer care from Deborah’s phone. We found out that I did not have the right type of phone for coverage, they apparently failed to tell me that before I left. We thought of a solution. We asked them to forward my phone to Deborah’s and that way if Rich phones me it is still at no cost. No one else can phone me though or it will cost too much. It’s nice to come in every evening and talk to Rich and Alex before I go to sleep or journal.

Okay, back to the day.

After lunch we visited Saint Thomas Basilica. It is the Roman Catholic church that has a bone (relic) of St Thomas. We went into the basement where they have a life size mannequin of St Thomas encased in glass and wood. The church was not as extravagant as some of the basilicas we saw in Italy.

We left there and had a tour of the beach area. I think I already said this but the beach in Chennai is supposed to be the second largest beach in the world. No one here knows where the first largest beach is. I guess we could google it.

Our final stop of the afternoon was the complex that houses the writings and works of Periyar Ramasami (1879-1973) who was known as the Voltaire (1694-1778) of South India, particularly, in Tamil Nadu. Both were rationalists who aroused their people to realize that all men are equal and it is the birthright of every individual to enjoy liberty, equality and fraternity. We were told by Lawrence our historian that Periyar was the first person to break the caste system. He loathed the Brahmans and the oppression of people. When Lord Mountbatten was charged to disengage India from the UK, both Ambedikar and Periyar bitterly opposed it because it was not going to bring freedom for “all” people. The backwards, lower caste and the untouchables would not be free. They were the first of social reformers protesting on behalf of those that were oppressed.

Before we left this site, Ray took us aside and asked us to reflect on Acts 16:6 – “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.” Ray said he has often reflected on why the Holy Spirit forbade them to go east. The choice was for Paul and his entourage to follow the Roman road (west) or the Silk road (east). He then made this statement, “The west had a strong government and a weak culture and the east had a strong culture with a weak government” He thought the Holy Spirit knew that it was easier to take on and change Rome with a weak culture then it would have been to take on and change Asia with a strong culture.

With that I need to stop and go to bed. I will pick up the rest of our day tomorrow a.m. Thanks for your prayers. Today was exhausting but good!


Yadah said...

I am reading and very interested. Thank you for these insights.

Jim said...

Very nice job pastor - overwhelming isnt it?

Check this statement with Sunil- "They were the first of social reformers protesting on behalf of those that were oppressed"
I think that there were a number of others that preceded Ambedkar and the other guy. The point being that the anit caste movement is proably closer to 300-400 years old which means we might be nearing the tipping point

Robin A said...

This is so interensting. I did not know that Thomas planted churches there and was martered there. I have been praying for you for the heat and for your sence of smell. I am having surgery 12 hours from now. So you can pray for me as well. :-)

steven hamilton said...

really fascinating Rose...talking about the Holy Spirit forbading Paul to go east onto the Silk Road, but rather turning him West toward Europe and Rome, it seems to me that if we dig into the historical-cultural background, we might find that 'most' were headed east on the Silk Road, and it really took the Holy Spirit to make Paul turn West. Besides, as you mentioned, Thomas (and likely many other apostles) headed East...especially since there were significant Jewish communities that way...

great descriptions of your trip...i am really enjoying them. hope to see you in Ohio for the feast of st. patrick's.



Donna Faith said...

Enjoying your journal. Appreciate the connection to what you're experiencing. You're in our prayers.
Donna Faith

Anonymous said...

Indian History The Most Powerful Indian History Stories, Find out the Real Truth...

Ed Viswanathan said...

You wrote " Our host was Lawrence Vincent, an Indian man who is an expert on Indian history, especially Hinduism and Hindu religion."

As far as I know there is no difference except the fact that HINDUISM IS A CULTURE and not an organized religion like Islam or Christianity.

Actual name of Hinduism is SANATHANA DHARMA or Righetousness for ever.

It was Persians who invaded India during 6th century B.C. who gave the name Hinduism meaning the religion of people living near the Indus river. In Persian the letter H and S are pronounced almost the same so they mistook the word Sindhu (Sanskrit name for Indus) to H and then started calling Hindus and Hinduism.

Almost all eastern religions like Buddhism and Jainism came from Hinduism.