God did marvelous things during this near three-week trip to the middle east coast of India. God very clearly let us know that this was His project and began to shape the faith of us all. In the beginning the Lord did this through His sovereign timing of finances but later through the power of His Word.
By withholding the funds to buy even a ticket until the very last minute. The Lord had prepared us for this special challenge. He spoke to and encouraged Pastor Stephen’s father there in India as well as myself. And then at the very last moment, in just ten days the needed $7,700 came in. The timing was remarkable. This clearly convinced us that God organized this trip and not man.
It was wonderful to see how Pastor Stephen planned all of these seminars in faith. He knew that we did not have the money but still trusted God to provide somehow. Because of tight finances, Pastor Stephen made a number of wise adjustments to the budgets and programming. We want to praise God that we had in the end a little bit more than we needed for the entire trip. We were not just paying for our costs, however.
The plan was to care for the premises, feeding, lodging and needed travel expenses. The accommodations were anything but luxurious. The pastors slept on huge carpet mats spread out on the hard cement floors of the meeting hall that were subject to insects of all kinds. There was a team to make and serve meals including tea. They then sat on plastic chairs for the three-hour meetings; the message was typically one and half-hour long. I usually combined two messages into one.
Because of a tight budget, we only had two pastor-only seminars. We did, however, also hold two other 3-day meetings that were open to the public. These four meetings enabled us to hold meetings in each of the most northern districts of the state of Andhra Pradesh (A.P.). Besides these meetings, I spoke six other times including Pastor Stephen’s church, a small village church up in the mountains and two on the plains. It was exciting to preach at a village that had no Christians yet.
Due to keeping costs low, we traveled back and forth from the meetings each day. Travel was dangerous and except for the last seminar required at a minimum one hour travel each way. By God’s grace we hired an air-conditioned car and its driver. We only needed to pay for accommodations in Kakinata for about five of us on the team (this was almost 6 hours away).
Our goal was to inspire and train pastors, church planters and evangelists. The pastors attending the two ‘open’ meetings probably numbered only 15 at each so I will focus on the pastor seminars where we had about 130 (Vizag) and 180 (Vizianagaram) pastors attending. The attentive audience was indeed what we hoped.
One of the questions that kept going over in my mind was whether the training was helpful and necessary. I had my own goals. I was testing a curriculum that the Lord had given to me over a year ago called ADT (Advanced Discipleship Training). So while some were wondering whether the training was helpful, I was discriminating how effective the ADT program was and how it might be improved. I’ll first evaluate the response to the seminars as a whole and then the ADT curriculum.
Since I was unfamiliar to the church scene there in India and specifically to that locale, it was not easy to verify the helpfulness of the seminar. I do not mean that there was a lack of talk about the seminar. I just had no means to guarantee that it was all accurate. All the comments were extremely positive. I wondered if they were being extra polite like Asians or if the leaders were only providing me the positive feedback. In the end, I have come to believe that they were indeed providing me a faithful report of what was happening. Let me point out some of these reassurances that affirm their report was accurate.
- First, the coordinators were regularly telling me at the different areas that the seminar was not just being helpful but many were expressing it was very helpful.
- I could tell by the response of the pastors. They were attentive. The one session where we opened it up for discussion became a rather excited time.
- The one translator exuberantly shared after each message how challenging it was. He told others the same thing.
- Testimonies after the series were given. The last testimony (the only one from the last seminar) was from a brother who had given up on the ministry before coming to this series but had now recommitted his life and continuing the ministry.
- Many individuals came up to me not just for prayer but to express how much the series impacted them.
- I could see the Spirit of God significantly working at times. They would start bursting out in praise or in prayer.
- Perhaps the most sure sign was how those attending got more and more people to come once they started hearing the lectures.
- There were a few who traveled many miles to attend the seminar a second time.
After all the series of meetings were over, Pastor Stephen’s father (Rev. Paul) came to speak to me. He was sharing from his heart about all the meetings. He told me how God spoke to him about this ministry even before I came. He saw it all happen. He did share how a few others have held pastor conferences, but the pastors were very dissatisfied. He told me that they were very satisfied with this seminar. They were moved by God.
He went on even further and spoke to me about returning to India with my whole family next time. He was not being vague but specific. He mentioned that this time we only went to four districts. There are many more districts. He said that this was the first time I was here. Nobody knew of me. Now that I have been here, many people will attend. He even suggested going to the larger cities such as Hyberadad.
I am humbled by how God has used these 3 weeks but not surprised. God has confirmed He wants to use me to bring encouragement to His people around the world. I only do not want to step ahead of the Lord. It seems that the Lord would have me return to India.
At the pastor seminars I spoke 9 sessions, each consisting of two talks blended together. They all were translated into Telugu. For the most part I was not able to use any kind of visuals. (We didn’t even have electricity at times). The sound system was adequate though troublesome at times.
I realized that even before I went that I would have to rework the material somewhat. I thought it was in a more helpful format than it was. Even I had to work through it before speaking. It was hard to get so much material ready. This is partly because I was approaching this seminar from three tiers:
1) Shaping the Heart (Isaiah 40;1-5),
2) Supplying skills and vision (1 John 2:12-14) and
3) Seeking God in His Word (Joshua, Romans and Nehemiah).
This seminar was on training disciples. This particularly influenced the afternoon sessions where I went through the 3 stages of Christian discipleship from 1 John 2:12-14. The first of the blended talks was focused on teaching where the second part was on how to practically work that into their own ministries.
The three foci by God’s grace wonderfully produced a blended seminar that had a lot of impact. Each talk easily related to the other. I had hoped this would happen and by God’s grace glad it did. Several themes were prominent:
- God needs to shape our heart before using us.
- Spiritual growth is a process. We can grow only as fast as we rightly deal with things.
- It is important to lay a good foundation in the lives of Christians (discipleship).
- Developing good leadership is dependent upon how well we train all the disciples early on in their faith as well as specific training we can give them.
The only big question mark in my mind is how I can get them to spend time on applying the messages to their lives and ministries. More than likely, they will be busy when they return to their homes. The original design for thee seminars was to take a week long so that they could work through them as individuals and together share their hearts in small groups. This would cost more, reach fewer people and involve more administrative work.
Overall, the material was very challenging and helpful. They called it “deep” in a very positive way. They are tired of learning basics. I would like to put this ADT series on Library. I need to work through the other ADT seminar topics so that other people could use it a bit easier.
We wanted to provide BFF materials for the pastors there. It was rightly said that they have very few reading materials. When I got there, I understood that if anything, it was an understatement of the need.
We originally figured on a $3000 budget to give $5 worth of material to each pastor. In the end, Pastor Stephen actually had a 150 pages translated into Telugu, nicely designed and carefully assembled with a spiral binding all for about US $1.15 each. He produced 500 copies for way under the budget. He again was paying attention to our low budget. The booklet is largely made up of the Godly Man series. There were also about twenty pages given separate that went as a companion to the message.
The materials received very positive feedback. One pastor said that though he has attended many meetings before, he never received any materials in Telugu. One of the translators was greatly moved when he translated the materials. People were extremely pleased at the fruit of the labor of Pastor Stephen.
I believe God blessed so much because people were praying from both sides of the world. Their prayers were being brought before our Great Creator in a great swelling call for more grace.
The schedule was very tiring. I slept little at night and depended more on naps, often in the swerving car. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my brothers in the Lord’s work. God greatly enabled me when I was weak and confused. The first week was so difficult. I loved the seminar, but I felt horrible that I think was due to a mosquito chemical killer. But the huge headache went away and so did my ear ache (after it came back again) after about half the time there. I thank the Lord fro bringing to my attention these potential things that caused the problem.
If I would make any changes, it would be to enforce eating only a few bananas or fruit in the morning. They simply fed me too much. In the end I told them that whereas in America I only eat one big meal a day, they give me 3 big meals a day, all bigger than what I normally eat. I am used to a bowl of rice but they give a huge plateful of rice plus all their different dishes. I honestly looked forward to my fasting time just for a break.
It was touching to see the people looking God for more blessing. After many of the meetings, people came forward wanting specific prayer. Numerous Hindus would also come asking for prayer. Their needs were great. Once when in a village up in the northern district, my heart was taken with all the physical needs that were mentioned. This led me to again seek the gift of healing if not for myself for others. May God be so gracious to bring His healing hand to the afflicted.
The greatest time there was not having them lay rings of flowers around my neck (this was hard for me to accept) or even the privilege of passing out certificates to the pastors, but being able to be on my knees praying in one spirit with my brothers and to teach the mighty Word of God.
I was so blessed to be able to speak at an evangelistic meeting to a village that did not know Jesus. I felt horrible on that mountain trip. One church meeting didn’t work out. I was glad not to go. Then they arranged another even later meeting. Later when we were there I finally discovered that it was a village without yet one Christian. In that case we needed two translators. The village chief not only said I was okay to speak but wanted prayer afterwards. May God raise a church up there soon!
We experienced the outpouring of God’s grace at the last meeting in Kakinada. This is the meeting where I had to stop early. Why? The people of God just burst out in prayer for a good long period. I just ended my message there with a prayer. I remember meditating for hours on our long ride home. I did not deserve to speak forth the wonderful love of God.
ADT is all about training God’s leaders who are ready to learn. It is a means by which God can train quickly those who have not received much training. The teaching is to correct a number of faulty mindsets and practices that Christians learn from higher institutions. He actually brought it into existence there in India for His glory.