India 2016

India is a vast country with a population of 1.2 billion people – a fifth of the world’s total population! It is a land of great extremes. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Extreme heat and dryness and extreme monsoons rains. Extreme religious fervour and extreme western materialism. Cutting edge technology (especially IT) and primitive medieval utensils. When you visit India your various senses are assaulted. Your ears are battered by a cacophony of sound – especially vehicle horns! Everywhere you look you see a kaleidoscope of sights that mesmerise. And then there are the smells, ranging from beautiful exotic spices to less pleasant aromas. Someone has observed that whatever you care to say about India it will be true somewhere.

Three main religious faiths are found in India. The majority of the population would be considered Hindu. This is a faith system that is hard to define as it is characterised by the worship of as many as 330 million gods. As a result each community, even each family will focus on a limited number of gods that are important to them and there is wide diversity in how religious devotion is practiced. The main unifying factor is whether or not the Hindu texts or Vedas are considered sacred. Many Hindus are quite happy to accept Jesus Christ as another god among many.

Christianity varies in significance according to regions. The stronger Christian presence is historically found in the west and south and there are reasonable levels of religious freedom in those places. In other parts of India there can be great hostility towards Christians. Officially there is complete freedom of religion however Hindu government officials will often turn a blind eye to attacks on Christian businesses and homes meaning that persecution is a real threat in many places, especially those that are more remote or rural.

Islam also has a significant presence in India and in places there can be great tension between Muslims and others. Part of the independence package imposed on India by Britain led to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh through a process known as partition. This was an attempt to try and resolve some of these tensions.

Indian is the world’s largest democracy and the current ruling party are Hindu. They are implementing some welcome reforms such as ensuring that everyone has access to decent sanitation. They are committed to generating economic growth and trade but at the same time seeking to break free from historic western influence. So for example many cities have reverted to Indian names (Bombay becomes Mumbai, Bangalore becomes Bengaluru).

The two national languages are English and Hindi, and educated people will speak both quite fluently. Each of the many states also has its own regional language which will be spoken by many people. There are thousands of other languages spoken across the country. Some poorer and less educated people may speak little English or Hindi and so have limited opportunities to better themselves.

Our connection with India arises out of the longer term relationship between Commission and Newfrontiers India. A relationship that dates back to the era when there was just one apostolic sphere of Newfrontiers churches in the UK. We have a particular relationship with a church in Mumbai and a church in Goa. If you visit www.commission-together.org you can find a map that indicates where the churches that Commission relates to are distributed.

During November a team of people from Life Church will be heading to India to spend some time fellowshipping and encouraging our Christian brothers and sisters there. The team members are David Grant, Jo Grant, Angie Colebrooke and Dave Whiteman. Please pray that they will be kept safe while travelling and be free from illness. Please also pray that they will be a blessing to the people they meet. If you would like to have details of their itinerary please ask David Grant.

This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Lifelines

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India Update

Day 1 – Saturday

7.30am and 12 nervously, excited travellers assembled at Heathrow airport, eagerly anticipating the flight to Mumbai. The team, gathered from across southern UK, have come together to join young believers from churches in India. Our purpose to serve them and bring them encouragement as later in the week we will be sharing with them the fun of the U:Day conference. The pre-event publicity has whetted our appetites and we are looking forward to times of worship, bible teaching, fun and games and much more. This first day is mainly a travelling day and we boarded our plane without incident.  

We landed in Mumbai at 1:30am local time to be confronted immediately with the bustle of this great Indian city. The queue to get through security was the longest and slowest that I have ever seen as it seemed that all of humanity had descended at the same moment upon the customs hall. We consoled ourselves that at least this would mean that our suitcases would be on their way through, cycling on the carousel when we got through. How naive? Another long wait, watching bag after bag pass in front of our noses, until at last we were all reunited with our baggage.   Now the simple matter of going through customs. But this is India, more queueing to have our bags scanned before we emerged into the Mumbai night air. Even at 3:00am the area outside the airport was heaving with people and full of the contradictions that everyone reports. Bashed up auto rickshaws rubbing shoulders with state of the art luxury airconditioned cars. Street vendors, beggars, people sleeping on the pavement. My only real surprise was that the smells were not as overpowering as I had been warned.   Our first experience of Mumbai traffic was moderated by the early hour. Exactly as forewarned we learnt that Mumbai drivers have three controls – a horn, brakes and a steering wheel which they use in that order! Bizarrely it seems to work, and our drivers squeezed through gaps in the traffic that I would never have dreamed of attempting.  

4:00am saw us arriving at the apartments that seemed to be managed by a convent, where we crashed to our beds for a few hours sleep to ready ourselves for an early start in the morning.  

Day 2 – Sunday

6:30am and the alarm went off. Not sure how much sleep that I had, if any! Time for a quick shower before going down to the floor below for breakfast of fried eggs, bread, coffee, doughnuts – all served by nuns!   Time now for another dash across the city, this time our driver was Joshua. He seemed to get enjoyment out of winding up other drivers by obeying traffic lights and generally observing the rules of the road. I also learnt  another principle of Mumbai driving – everything has priority over autorickshaws. Fortunately we were in a car so we had right of way!  

We arrived safely at church and just like home the worship started to a 2/3 empty room. Just like home the room filled up during the worship. I was taken for lunch by a lovely Indian family to a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed great food before returning to the apartment to catch up with the others who had been to other churches in the city.   For our evening meal we were taken to Domino’s Pizza, the sight of 16 people crammed into 2 cars was something to behold, as was the dogem drive through the Sunday evening streets.