Skippy R's picture
07.14.2008 | Comments(29)

Help us cease from striving

If you're burned out on televangelist appeals for money, megachurch ministry-bloat and evangelical politics, it might be refreshing to take a look at an organization that's trying to give a life-long, no-strings-attached hug to a few million of the poorest, dirtiest, most despised people on earth.

I dropped in on Gospel for Asia's annual conference last weekend at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas. Their main topic was how to accommodate more poor people in their churches.

It seems that back in 2001 about a gigagillion Dalits-- India's lowest-caste "untouchables" -- got together and announced that Hinduism just wasn't doing it for 'em any more. The thrill was gone. So they offered the Christians, the Muslims, the Buddhists and any other religion an opportunity to pitch their version of spiritual reality to them.

The result is that GFA is scrambling to establish thousands of schools and churches around India to accommodate an increasing influx into their ranks of people who literally define the word "outcast." The word Dalit actually means "broken people."

Dalits can't be squeezed for big tithes and offerings. They don't bring anything to the table. In fact, they always show up with deep and often tragic needs. One Dalit who spoke at the meeting recalled how his parents somehow managed to claw their way our of grinding poverty to get him into a school, but he was only allowed to sit in one little spot in the corner on the floor away from the others. He wasn't allowed to drink from --or even get near-- the water faucet. "I experienced poverty, starvation and untouchability," he explained. "Now I am touched by the gospel of Jesus."

When I traveled to India a couple of years ago with GFA, I saw hundreds of these poorest of the poor along the roads everywhere doing the dirty work, squatting over little cooking fires, begging, defecating at the side of the road, scrounging for scraps of plastic or bits of cloth. These probably aren't the outsourced customer service guys from India you talk to when your computer goes on the blink. They're what St. Paul called the "offscouring of the earth."

The apostle understood, like GFA does, that these are the very people Christ died for. And He can only touch them through us.

But then, this Dalit's prayer caught me off guard: "Lord, help us cease from striving."

Huh? Isn't that what evangelism is all about-- striving to get the main thing done, accomplishing the mission, working the plan, doing it right?

Maybe not. The speakers all seemed to be talking about servanthood, being bondslaves. Slaves don't have many plans, and the pay isn't very good, besides.

At one GFA session, Gayle Erwin, author and a member of the GFA board, understated the case when he observed, "nobody comes out of GFA with million-dollar homes." In other words, Sen. Grassley is not interested in this group. It has too much obvious integrity. Despite the decreasing value of the dollar, there was little agonizing over the economy at the conference. The only mention of it was a suggestion: "You better hurry up and give quick."

GFA President K. P. Yohannan eloquently described the plight of the Dalits, but didn't mention that he still drives his early '60s VW when he's in the States. No air-conditioning. A native of India, Yohannan started GFA back in the 1970s after studying for the ministry in Dallas. Since then he's gone from looking goofy to looking grizzled, but carries himself with an air of peace and self-detachment that puts everyone around him at ease. GFA now has more than 16,500 native missionaries serving in 11 countries in South Asia. You can support one of these native missionaries for a ridiculous total of around $50 a month.

These Gospel for Asia people take Jesus very seriously but without our western/American overlay of overachieving busy-ness, guilt, arrogance or attachment to political causes. In the Indian state of Kerala, where GFA's largest seminary campus is located, the government is run by communists who sometimes work in cooperation with Christian groups. Yikes! Jerry Falwell's rolling over in his grave. It's a different world. Of course, GFA is as conservative as can be, except when it comes to the poor. Then they're liberal in the New Testament sort of way, with the emphasis on "liberality."

Lots of news came out of the meeting. One native leader from Burma told about delivering aid to victims of the devastating cyclone and people being saved as unburied bodies littered the fields. One of the native missionaries in Nepal who served time in jail for his faith described radical changes that have opened up that country to religious freedom.

And the media noticed one interesting angle-- while hundreds of supporters of Gospel for Asia prayed and sang, hundreds of Harry Potter fans at the opposite end of the hotel gathered--in full costume-- to role-play, buy Quidditch sticks and Hoggwart's capes and hear speakers delivering scholarly papers on the book and fantasy film series. (The two groups' wary interaction was discussed by the Dallas Morning News Religion Blog).

For me the big news from the conference was, when faced with a world of screaming need, the only effective response is to pray like the Dalit convert did, "Lord, help us cease from striving."

FurlStumbleUponTechnorati Tags: Gospel For Asia, Christian humor, satire, humor

Comments(29)

that calvinist doug | 09:55 am on 7/15/2008

Holy crap! Two serious and heartfelt blogs in a row?! I think Skippy's been nippin' at the sacramental wine again.

Seriously, though, I think we'd all benefit from considering the sacrafices made daily by international missionaries around the world whenever we get too jaded by the televangelists in our midst. The sermon in my church this past Sunday was a good, old-fashioned, "Christian repent!" message regarding this very topic (missions). The gist of it was that rather think that missions requires a "special call", in fact the opposite is true. We're all under a general mandate with the Great Commission, and it would take a "special call" to exempt us.

budda | 08:18 pm on 7/22/2008

I hope he credited that spiel to Keith Green.

that calvinist doug | 10:48 am on 7/23/2008

Actually, no, he credited the turn-of-the-twentieth century president of Princeton Seminary (sorry, I forgot his name). I suppose Keith should have credited him!

izza301 | 02:18 am on 4/18/2011

We are all called to be missionaries and help our brothers and sisters who are in need. We are opt to help our fellow Christians and even non-Christians who are striving to live. Glitec Finance   

dr j | 03:20 pm on 7/16/2008

Reading your article brought both fond memories and tears to my eyes. I had the privilege to travel with BSI (Bible Society of India) for a month in 1999. I noticed that there were two groups of Indian Christians that I interacted with. The "high Church" folk were dressed extremely well (the gold saris, jewelry) and were quite able to have deep theological debates (I spoke at a women's conference and the big debate was women's role in the Indian Body of Believers) but even with that, they realized that they ALL were in a class of persecuted minorities. The other group were the Believers that were from the middle to lower class population. These brothers and sisters didn't have a lot to debate, they just knew that Our Lord had made a huge difference in how they viewed life here, with hope (as opposed to despair when they were Hindu and Buddhist) as the great freedom and release. Their economic situation hadn't changed significantly. There was no assumption on either group's part that their status in the Body was indicated by their material possessions (or lack thereof). Did they desire more stuff? Probably, but not more highly than a translation of the Word in their own native dialect, community of worship, and sharing of the blessings that the Father had granted in another day to worship Him and to express His love to those around them who had not heard the Gospel.

Now I am in the great NW, and routinely listen to church pastors and elders state that the local congregation is doing a huge "sacrifice" (yes that word is used) when a whopping 10% of the budget goes to missions (even had an elder refer to missions giving as the tithe given back to God from the congregation). $3,500,000 spent to provide separated areas for each of the segments of the youth group so that they could have their own "hangouts" and not have to deal with the old folks (anyone over 18), including a wii wall, hardwood basketball court. $40,000 for a new cross tower so that it could be seen for a mile radius from the church building so that people would be drawn to the building. I could on but I am making myself sick thinking about it.

So what is the point? Arguing about emergent churches, word of faith, contemplative spirituality, evangelicals, Pentecostals, etc is missing the big point (but it sure is fun and allows us to avoid the bigger picture, right?). If we are indeed going to "strive" (love the perspective that the Dalit brother/sister expressed) perhaps it should be to argue a little less, be a little more humble about our own intellectual/theological understanding, complain less about what we don't have, and try to act in a manner that more accurately reflects the status to which we are called as the Creator's Children through the sacrifice of His Son.

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philipe | 02:38 pm on 3/06/2011

Psa 70:5 But I am poor and needy: make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer; O LORD, make no tarrying.
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jesse | 03:47 pm on 4/02/2011

It is an inspiring account of how the word of god is to be translated into especially in such poverty stricken societies. However, we cannot change their lives by pouring the dollars only. We need to enlighten them with education and literary. salvage yards

jesse | 03:48 pm on 4/02/2011

It is an inspiring account of how the word of god is to be translated into especially in such poverty stricken societies. However, we cannot change their lives by pouring the dollars only. We need to enlighten them with education and literary. salvage yards

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moneyline.sg | 08:10 pm on 4/19/2011

The importance of prayer cannot be over emphasized. Sometimes we get so
busy we think we just don’t have time for devotions or prayer. It’s exactly at
times like these that we need to “cease striving” and turn things over to the
Lord our God.
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gaby | 02:42 am on 4/21/2011

Its so teary when i read this blog. I feel I'm in that situation. Thanks for sharing it.

Robert S | 03:03 am on 4/21/2011

A friend recommended me this article and I am so happy he did because I just loved this article. It seems that the west is slowly forgetting the basic tenants of Our Lord's teaching whereas those who are new to the religion are waking up to it. It really makes me glad and as stop, as the previous commentator says, "cease striving".

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George S | 11:54 pm on 5/02/2011

It's a shame how these people were outcast. Hope they are provided with a suitable education.

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sell old iphone 3g | 05:43 am on 5/04/2011

The customer service guys from India you talk to when your computer goes on the blink are the major services to work.

krezell | 05:57 am on 5/06/2011

I think it will be very nice if the president is a religious person. This is because when you are religious you will obey god and fear to do bad things, So every Sunday when you're going to the church and you tried to help those people who are not eating everyday and the people who have no home to sleep, t can help change their life. The president should do this to lessen the crime rate because the no.1 making a crime are the people who have nothing all.

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fatima rey | 10:00 pm on 5/07/2011

For me being a religious president is really nice,because when you are religious you know god, and you know the people what you are helping.

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fatima rey | 10:00 pm on 5/07/2011

For me being a religious president is really nice,because when you are religious you know god, and you know the people what you are helping.

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