After executing an unexpected and exhausting Plan B, we finally pulled into the Leadership Training Centre in Likabali. It was good to arrive at some place familiar - or at least it was familiar for me and Corban.
Though we began our day at 4:30 in the morning in Agra, and our journey required taxis, planes, hired 4x4s, rustic ferries, and a beaten up van; and even though it was now 6pm and we had only had one semi-real meal (Indian instant food on the plane), there were 50+ pastors and Bible students eagerly waiting our arrival.
The thought came to my mind, and the reality came to my body, "The joy of the Lord is our strength." I have no doubt that our simple gathering brought joy to God, and we had the strength we needed to say a few words of encouragement, introduce the team, and share a prayer. The smiles and energy of the pastors greeted us warmly, and wished us well as we went up to the house for dinner, and then collapsed onto our Asian style thin futon beds draped with mosquito netting for extra security from whichever bugs thought we might make a good nights snack. It was Tuesday night and Castleton, NY seemed very long ago and very far away.
It was a very good night's rest, finally...
But a new day was dawning, but that isn't where this post is going.
It is about a transformation which happened over five days to seven people.
Wednesday was a full day, after a series of full days, and by dusk everyone in our group was understandably tired - very tired. But the day wasn't done. There was a scheduled time of praise and worship with the pastors at 6pm, I was supposed to teach more, and then we could hear testimonies from some of the pastors. Heading down to the meeting area wasn't optional for me, but it did not sound like a good option to various group members. Could they stay awake? Was it worth the effort? What about dinner? I didn't beg, but I thought it might be necessary to get everyone to the waiting pastors.
4 days later,
we had shifted
from Wednesday to Sunday
and what a Sunday it was.
A two hour worship service in Likabali at a church of probably 300 people. A quick bite to eat in town and then over an hour long ride on roads the likes of which you will never ride on in America unless you are purposely 4-wheeling, brought us to a rural town were we participated in the baptism of two new believers, teaching and prayer. Then there was the hard ride back being shaken and stirred in our little 4X4. On the way we stopped in town to purchase tea and candy to take home as gifts.
As we drove the sun started to set, and we made it back to the Centre as dusk settled on our final evening in Likabali. It was now time to pack, because at 7:30 the next morning we had to begin our long journey home. But we were not done just yet... Bailey let me know, "the remaining students will be gathering for a final time of worship if anyone wants to join them." I thought I would be the lone representative of our group, but I let everyone of our group know that when they heard singing, they could head down if they wanted. Few minutes later I couldn't find anyone. They had vanished...
Every single team member - the team members who five days earlier needed encouragement to bring their weary bodies to make at least an appearance at the worship time - was found, not in their rooms packing, but gathered in a simple room, with exposed light bulbs, rustic benches, and a dozen Indians praising God. What a change! Every group member was joining in the singing, raising their voices in the cacophony of joint prayers, and experiencing the wonderful power of Christ which crosses all boundaries. Each evening we had gathered together, and each night our bond had strengthened. The pastors had drawn us into open, unashamed, joyful worship again and again. The Lord spoke to our hearts and our souls through the witness of these faithful men and women. Our evenings together had changed for each one of us from an "ought to" into a "want to."
It was amazing to see, to be a part of, and it was a great end to an amazing week with our brothers and sisters in Christ in a foreign land.