July 9, 2004
Dear Bro. Willie and Saints,
This letter is to report the progress of the Church of God effort in south India, and a brief summary of Bro. Artur Herter's (Roetgesbuttel, Germany) and my January visit there. The occasion of the annual convention at Kottarakara was especially significant because it was the first held in the new tabernacle. Before saints worshipped at this national meeting under cocoanut thatch on dirt floors, but now they thank God for a fine, modern concrete structure - spacious auditorium, dining and kitchen area and dormitories - quite a remarkable achievement for some $20,000 in expenditures! Of that amount about $4500 is yet unpaid. At the dedication many local officials spoke welcoming the gospel effort. In India nearly all buildings, even peoples' homes, are named. Accordingly the tabernacle is named "Bethel Tabernacle". Its true and proper name is The Bethel Tabernacle of the Church of God.
It was refreshing to hear the things being preached to a standing-room-only congregation. One spoke of the contents of the temple - the typical significance of the shewbread, spices, candlestick and oil, golden pot of manna, and stone with names in it. He said the tabernacle is complete and perfect; it is Christ. Another described his conversion: For years he resisted God. One night he heard wailing, as of people mourning. Curious, he went to see the cause. He found a group of 7 agreeing in deep prayer; they had been fasting and praying for his salvation. He was very touched, and began to repent. As he did, his sins came before him as in a slide show, and he wept and begged forgiveness. He told how God healed him of smallpox. Another said the last prayer in the Bible is "Even so come, Lord Jesus." The last promise is "Behold, I come quickly." He said salvation is as if a man and wife would sit at their table with deadly enemies gathered all about. How can they? It is because the Lord sits with them. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow if death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." From the responses I judge this to have been the most effective of the 3 conventions I have attended; the church was obviously rejoicing in victory.
We were blessed to meet Bro. Phanwanjah, who pastors about 50 people in north India. He rode trains 5 days and nights to be with the saints, spoke excellent English, and is very interested in any literature we can send. The love of the saints in the US and India over the years has had a great impact. For instance, we (church properties in India are held similarly to the way US chapels are owned) have about 15 chapels in India besides the tabernacle. In the 1970s they cost about $900 each. Today they are worth perhaps $20,000 each. Bro. John has a "van" that is constantly in use in the gospel, and the pastors are (minimally) provided for.
We visited 4 chapels, but pastors were away, doing their daily work of community and church ministry. I wept at their commitment, for they are educated people who enjoy nice things as much as anyone. Here's a photo of a typical parsonage cooking area. 2 years ago we took them small shampoo bottles donated by motel visitors. I found one on a pastor's shelf. Although highly diluted, it was obviously still a prized possession. One pastor's wife asked us to step into the adjoining chapel and pray for her father who has oral cancer. Seeing her poverty, I slipped 100 rupees into her hand, and Bro. Artur 200 - about $6.10. Her face never changed expression, but big tears began sliding down her cheeks. The sum amounted to about 1 _" days' wages for a skilled worker there. The love we send these dedicated ministers has resulted in many souls' salvation, some of whom have reached their final reward.
Bro. Artur was particularly interested to visit an orphanage operated by the church in India with support from the German church. It is about 3 hours' drive from Kottarakara, near Trivandrum. 2 families from Kottarakara have consecrated to live there and care for the 20 children, aged up to 15, in the orphanage. They are bright, lively, affectionate children, without trace of bitterness or rebellion. They seemed to feel blessed to have the care they are receiving. They thronged us, embraced us, sang to us, and begged us to sing to them. Despite their smiles, their thin little arms and legs gave mute testimony of the hunger they have endured before coming to us.
There is a waiting list of others. Bro. John Varghese and his son, Biju, are worthy of our gratitude for the fine work they have done as stewards of the resources put in their hands for building the tabernacle. Biju has recently begun a pulpit ministry, and we are looking forward to his having many fruitful years furthering the gospel work in India. Please pray for him and his young family. Please remember these dear souls who seek to serve the same Lord as we, who love us, and who hope to meet us in eternity.