11/15/11 – Taj Mahal and Travel to Delhi

Today we met for breakfast at 7:00 as we planned to leave the hotel at 7:30 to get to the Taj Mahal early, before the crowds hit. While eating breakfast I met Fred Butcher, with a team from Oregon that is on mission with the the Reid Saunders Association. They were doing outdoor evangelism and medical mission in Nepal. There were 34 on the team, four of which were Indian nationals, including Pastor Sunny Abraham of Great Harvest Bible College in Chennai. Fred’s son, Brett, is on staff with Reid Saunders, traveling 5 or 6 times per year. Brett’s brother, Brad (Bradley) is a missionary living in Hyderabad. Brett said they know a few pastors in Nepal and he may be a great connection for us there as we plan to hold a conference there next year. We left the hotel about 8:15 and we were only about 2 km from the Taj Mahal. 

Taj Mahal was fascinating – a real architectural masterpiece. The entire structure is built from white marble imported from 335km away, all done in the 16th century. It has intricate inlays of other stones throughout. We hired a guide named Mishan, who did a great job for us. I was able to share Christ with him and he said he had never heard these things and he wants to know more. He asked if we could get him a bible which, of course, we will. He also asked pastor Arthur where he could find a church to learn more. Arthur directed him to Pastor L.D.’s church. We spent about 4 hours a Taj Mahal and rode a camel-pulled cart back to the parking lot where we did some shopping and I was able to witness briefly to a Muslim named Oshan.  Mishan also helped us to arrange to take the bus to Delhi so we could leave earlier than our 7:00pm scheduled time to leave by train. 

We got back to the hotel at 1:05pm and I left to get our bus tickets. When I got back to the hotel the team had just sat down to order lunch but we had to leave for the bus in 15 minutes so we all left without lunch. I bought bananas, chips, crackers and cookies for us to eat on the bus. We got onto an air conditioned Volvo bus with reclining seats (a real treat for us after the travel we’ve experienced this trip).  

Arthur has been a great help on this trip but I must also mention that his wife, Janice, really has a gift for administration. Arthur is learning the way that we do things as we go along. I told him this afternoon how blessed I am to have him here helping us get around. He told me he is learning a lot from me, too, as I lead the team. He is learning a lot about how to lead and organize. 

11/14/11 – Agra Prison Day

We woke up and changed hotels after breakfast. I went up the street with Arthur to the Hotel Rama to check the rooms. We decided to move the team. We have one night here and it will be a very comfortable last night of our time in Agra. We have marble floors, a beautiful hotel, good food in the restaurant, a swimming pool (which we will not be using) and even massages for 1,100 rupees (about $25) per hour. 

Jamie, GVT and RVT went shopping for humanitarian aid and bought 100 blankets and 400 bananas. Lois and I both each got massages while Fred and Don went for a walk. 

We all had lunch at the hotel at 3:30 and had a debrief about yesterday, including the train ride to Agra. I assigned the prison service assignments and recapped the responsibilities of each person’s role. Greg took a minute to thank Arthur and Janice for all they are doing and have done. He told them he is looking forward to returning and continuing the work the Lord has begun. This brought tears to the eyes of both of them. The nationals truly are blessed by our presence. They receive great encouragement and they always speak of how much they learn from us when we come. 

We left for the prison at 3:30pm. We arrived early, about 4:20, so we waited until our scheduled time of 5:00. They took us into the prison and straight out into the courtyard to meet with the OC. He was not going to let us hold our service. Arthur and Pastor L.D. talked with him for a while and after about 15 minutes he decided to let us hold the service from right where we were. He had about 50 men seated behind us and he called a bunch more to come out. After a few minutes he asked us to begin. I believe the count of men was 123. 

Greg did the President’s introduction, Fred was emcee, Jamie gave his testimony, Scott did the short sermon, Lois the long sermon and I did the altar call. The OC was coming forward asking us to hurry it up during Fred’s original introduction as the emcee. We pressed on and got moving with the program. After Lois’ sermon I came forward to do the altar call. Just after I got started the assistant OC came up to stop me. I continued and called the men to forsake all other gods and place their trust in the one true God, Jesus Christ. Just as it came time to ask the men to follow me in the sinner’s prayer the Assistant OC came up and told us to stop. With much prayer from the team and a pleasant request we found favor with him and I was able to lead many men to commit their lives to Christ. We closed the service immediately after that. 

We were then escorted out to the gate. On the way I walked with the Assistant OC and he mentioned that our presentation was about an hour. I told him that usually it takes about an hour or 90 minutes. He said this was not a good time to come for this long of a service because the men have things to do. I asked if  he would rather have us come earlier next time. He told me that 1:00 or 2:00 would be better, which is the time that we originally wanted to be there, anyway. We seem to have real difficult communication problems with the nationals on this trip. I know this happens regularly and I am just getting more of an idea of how bad it is on this particular trip because I am a leader, but it is definitely a real issue this time. I am learning a lot of things that I will need to be clearer about and plan in advance much more in the future, if at all possible from 16,000 miles away.

After dinner we each went to get ready for tomorrow since we are getting up early to go to Taj Mahal. 

11/13/11 – Long Travel Day to Agra

Today we rose at 3:30 and left the hotel at 4:00am to travel by train to Agra. We have a five and a half hour ride to Lucknow, a four hour layover and another six hours to Agra. We will arrive in Agra about 9:30pm. Tomorrow we have another prison service in Agra and we will be spending the day sightseeing Tuesday, includinga  the Taj Mahal. 

We arrived at the train about 90 minutes early. We were the first people on the train and we are all seated in 4 bench seats that face each other. We are traveling with Arthur, Janice, and their daughter, Hannah. 

The ride to Lucknow was uncomfortable and long. The ladies ant use the “restroom” because there are now toilets, only squatters. It was great, however, to see the countryside by train in the daytime. I took many great photos. 

When we arrived in Lucknow we hired a porter that oiled his handcart full of about 10 or 12 bags and we relaxed in the Air Conditioned waiting room. There were comfortable, padded chairs and couches for all of us to sit in. We were able to rest, sit back, and some of us were able to sleep. I took Lois and Don and we went just outside the station and bought some bananas. We also bought a bunch more chips and cookies for the train ride to Agra. Our diet today consists of snacks but most of the team doesn’t mind after 10 days of Indian cuisine. Many of the team have been “spiced out”, they’ve had enough of the spicy food. 5 of us have been sick on this trip. Rhonda had a kidney infection the first morning in Lucknow, Greg woke up sick the next day, Jamie got sick about the same time and I came down with a rather nasty cold yesterday and it’s in full swing today. Greg also caught the same cold yesterday (the second time he’s been sick on this trip). Rhonda mentioned that Greg rarely gets sick, but he gets sick on every mission trip he takes. I suppose that could be because of the threat he poses to the enemy and the long, hard days that are spent in ministry when he is traveling. Scott has had “intestinal” problems for several days. 

I hired a porter again at 2:45 to take our bags to the train so they could all get loaded in our sitting area before the car was full of everyone else (baggage security). On this leg of the trip we are more comfortable. All our bags are completely under the seat or in the overhead racks and all of our seats are facing forward. We are all sitting 2 to a seat instead of 3 as it was on the way here. 

Arthur shared an email with us that was sent by another missionary that met him last month. The email was this man’s version of Arthur’s testimony, as told to him. Arthur was working hard to climb the political ranks in India when a “friend” of his reached power and falsely accused Arthur of a crime. Arthur was sentenced to prison and was sent away 15 days after he was married. Janice, a Hindu, waited for him until his release. Arthur was born again while in prison and when he was released he told her that he wanted to remain married, but that his life now belongs to Jesus Christ. The Lord changed her heart and she is now being used mightily in their ministry.

4:20pm – we are on the train to Agra, we just departed from Lucknow station, the train is very bumpy and jerky right now. Rhonda just said “this is a fun ride” and “It’s actually like a carnival ride”  we are moving at a pretty good clip. The police officer in the seats ahead of us is just sitting there staring at us. He is turned around sideways in his seat and watching all of us. We are definitely an oddity and the center of attraction wherever we go. 

Arthur just came back to tell us that he just received a phone call from the OC at the Barabanki prison. He told Arthur that the prisoners’ lives are changing and he is excited to have us return again soon. Praise the Lord!!! Arthur also just told us that the OC is going to write a story in the local newspaper about our visit. 

We just experienced a major mob scene. We stopped at Etawa station and there were literally thousands of people standing at the platform waiting to get onboard our train. When we stopped they pushed and shoved each other and herded into the train. There were at least 150 more people in our car than when we arrived, perhaps even 200 or more. They were pushing and shoving each other in the aisles and crowding into the seats, even trying to sit in the reserved seats with the others that were already seated. A lady and her daughter were trying to make Lois and Don get out of their seats. The lady was yelling at everyone. We had 12 reserved seats but they were not all together. We are, however, sitting together so the seat she was supposed to be sitting in was occupied by us and the seat we were supposed to be in was occupied by someone else. Arthur moved with Janice to another seat so the lady could sit there but that wasn’t good enough for her, she continued to holler at us. Janice had to calm her down. This is such an incredibly selfish society, everyone is out for themselves with no concern for anyone else. Greg was having to push people off of himself as he was sitting in the aisle seat. The train was so packed that people were even laying up in the overhead luggage racks. 

Don pulled out the “Bag of Encouragement” after everyone got off the train. Greg and Rhonda decided that he is the best encourager we have ever had. He has the bag with him which has some books for devotional readings, food, snacks and love. I would have to agree, the bag of encouragement was a great idea. 

There are little children on the train begging and picking up the trash that is left behind after the train stops and empties. There are vendors selling snacks, Chai, newspapers and fresh roasted peanuts. We bought 3 bags of potato chips, 4 different kinds of cookies, 2 pound cakes and some bagged Indian snack mix for 95 Rupies (just over $2). Water costs 15 Rupies per one liter bottle (33 cents). 

We have been living on simple carbs and protein on this trip. The only fruit that’s safe to eat is food that can be peeled so that leaves us with bananas. Mostly we are eating bread (Naan), rice, chicken or mutton, and curry. I am longing for a salad and some mixed fruit. Vitamix here I come, it’s smoothie time on Friday. I also look forward to being able to get some regular exercise. Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings we often take for granted, and forgive me for doing so. 

It is now 8:49pm. There is virtually nobody on the train now. We all have plenty of room to spread out. We are ready to get to Agra and debrief from the day. 

Pastor L.D. Gupta was at the train station to meet us when we arrived an hour late. He pastors a church in Agra and has been prepaying for many years for an opportunity to serve in the prisons. He is, of course,  very excited to have us here. He and Arthur have never met in person, they have only talked on the phone a few times. They connected through a mutual friend. Pastor L.D. had three cars there to take us to the hotel. Agra is a much cleaner and more tourist-friendly city than any other I have been to in India. 

The hotel is very dirty and in disrepair. Jamie and I are rooming together and our room smells musty and chemically. We are sure that the ownership has been trying to cover it up long before we got there. I believe it’s the air conditioning. Scott and Don’s room smells horrible and the air conditioning doesn’t work. We moved them upstairs and had them room with Fred. Jamie and I also switched rooms. Our room is in the lobby with an open vent for the bathroom that vents right into the lobby so we can hear everything that is going on out there. 

11/12/11 – Prison Service at Gorakhpur

Today is the day for our prison service at Gorakhpur. We are scheduled to be there at 1:00pm. Joshua had a friend of his come to the hotel to exchange money for us. Then Joshua, Scott and I left the hotel at 11:45 to go buy blankets and stocking caps for the children at the prison. We drove about 20 minutes out of the city and Joshua and the other Pastor Joshua shopped for about 20 minutes to find the best price on blankets and caps. We drove up the road about a kilometer to the storage warehouse to pick up all of the blankets. By the time we got to the hotel to pick up our team it was 12:45pm. Traffic was terrible (worse than usual) and we arrived at the prison at about 1:30pm. 

We were invited in immediately and were told we could bring one camera with us. We used GVT’s camera since it does video. He wanted video of himself doing the President/IGL presentation, the altar call and the healing prayer. I served as the Photo Journalist (a job that can never again be done by the service leader). The leader needs to be readily available in case something goes wrong in the service or if we are asked to wrap up or if someone is going over on their allotted time. He needs to be prepared to jump in when necessary.

We waited for quite a while to begun the service since there were only about 100 prisoners present when we arrived. There was a large tarp laid out for them to sit on so GVT saw that as an indicator that many more many still come. While we were waiting a group of inmate workers came to set up a sound system. The speaker they placed in the tree reminded me of an old World War II megaphone speaker. One close analogy I can use to describe much of this country is that it seems like a ruins that has been populated and they are using everything they can find and not returning it to its original state. Many of the buildings are like inhabited ruins that nobody realizes can be repaired. Walls in the buildings and hotels are dirty with people standing around like they have nothing to do. It truly seems like a country that has lost all hope. I pray we can bring some hope to this place this week and in the years to come. 

Greg did the President’s presentation, Fred served as emcee, Rhonda gave her testimonial, Don did the short sermon and the Greg had to jump in before Lois could give her long sermon because the Superintendent was asking us to conclude. He then did an altar call and then closed with the healing prayer. I got all of Greg’s roles on video. We need to discuss as a team the importance of sticking with our topics/roles and remaining within out allotted time. Failure to do so can jeopardize the entire service and we know that the enemy will do everything in his power to divert the attention of the audience and disrupt our service before we can proclaim the gospel. 

We were served Chai and cookies in the courtyard after the service since there was no room for all of us in the OC’s office. The OC took us to an area in the prison where there was a gallows that was used by the British many years ago when the country was under British rule. We took lots of photos at this service.

11/11/11 – Gorakhpur Basic Training Conference

Today we are holding our conference. We left the hotel at right around 11:15. Therefore at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11 we were on our way to our PFC Prison Ministry Conference in Gorakhpur. When we arrived everyone was waiting for us. The conference began at noon. Greg wanted to observe and he wanted one of us to emcee, so I did. Jamie still is not feeling well so we elected to have him stick with his original role of teaching on What it is to be a Volunteer. I changed up the conference teachers at the last minute and asked Lois to teach on How to Start a Prison Ministry. You should never change the program at the last minute, but Lois did and excellent job. I gave her the material and asked her to read through it and see if she felt comfortable doing the presentation. She had no role in the last conference and expressed a desire to do something. Other than that the speakers were the same as the last conference. 

We had a great lunch of, of course, chicken curry and rice. We had some time to fellowship and then we continued the conference. We ran until 5:00, an hour later than scheduled, in which case a few pastors had to leave a little early. There were a few pastors from Nepal, where we want to go next year. We are hoping to have a conference in Katmandu next year. GVT exchanged information with one Nepali pastor. Joshua said he’d get us the info for the others that were there. 

Lois and Fred prayed for the attendees after I called forward those that felt called to do prison ministry. We had a cup of chai, took some photos with the PFC in Gorakhpur banner and left for the hotel. Jamie found a spider almost as big as our hand in the men’s outhouse. I took a couple photos of the spider. It was like the rest of this trip – Nobody will believe it unless they see it, and even then there is no way anybody could understand unless they are here with us. 

I have used the phrase “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you” many times on this trip when talking about how we can take this experience home and share it with others. There truly is no way to explain it to anyone that hasn’t done the Lord’s work in India. This is without doubt one of the most spiritually oppressed and difficult places in the world to serve the Lord. 

GVT, Jamie and I had a meeting when we got back to the hotel about several observations he had made and several suggestions he had for us if certain things occur in the future. Jamie and I have really enjoyed leading the team and having Greg beside us to offer support and direction. There are certain times when I could handle a situation but it is very comforting to have Greg with me to be able to ask him how he would handle it. I definitely feel 100% comfortable and very prepared to start leading PFC teams myself and I look forward to the opportunity to do so. 

Joshua invited a fellow pastor from Gorakhpur to come to the hotel to meet us so we were blessed to be introduced to Pastor Joshua (yes, another one). He joined us for dinner but the nationals ate at the other end of the table. 

The team met for dinner at 7:30. Joshua asked to meet with me so we met for a while to discuss his vision for PFC in India. Joshua is a man with a true passion for prison ministry who has a large vision for a PFC office there. He has a large vision for establishing a prison ministry in Norther India and he would like to do so under he banner of PFC. He would like to provide temporary transitional support for released inmates in at least one central office and support several different offices throughout Northern India.  

Scott and I were still awake at 11:00pm so we made sure to stay up until 11:11:11.

11/10/11 – Barabanki Prison and Travel to Gorakhpur

I awoke to Greg’s alarm this morning at 6:00. I began packing for our trip this evening to Gorakhpur. Greg woke up sick this morning. He has a splitting headache and he had the chills all night.  

Today we are visiting Barabanki prison. It is much hotter today, it is definitely well over 90 degrees. We left the hotel at 11:45 and stopped at the mall for lunch. Everyone was ready for some American fare, something lighter on the stomach. Scott and Fred had Pizza Hut and the rest of us fattened up on KFC. There is no beef available in the restaurants. It’s terrible what idol worship will do to a people – thousands of cattle freely roaming the streets, considered sacred and, therefore inedible, yet there are millions of people dying of starvation. We then stopped to get blankets along the way. We bought 40 wool blankets for just over $3 each and took them to the prison. 

We had roughly 1130 men and 70 women with children. Jamie did the IGL presentation, I was the Emcee, Scott shared his testimonial, Don shared the short sermon, Fred did the long sermon, Lois did the altar call and we didn’t have a healing prayer (learning experience for next time). Rhonda distributed gifts to the inmates, We brought 40 blankets for the inmates. After Rhonda distributed the blankets to a few of the inmates that had been selected by the prison staff there was one man in the front row that was crying, we don’t know why. The prison staff told him to come forward to also receive a blanket. The staff will distribute the rest of them later. After the service Jamie, Greg and Rhonda went over to the ladies and children on our way out of the prison to pray for them.  

Greg and I discussed the importance of the altar call and the healing prayer. Everything leads up to the altar call. We had a great response to the altar call today, but I don’t know the actual count. 

A TRAVEL MIRACLE 

We travel to Gorakhpur tonight. We have been having trouble the entire trip with travel arrangements. The trains are apparently all booked up and we aren’t able to get confirmed reservations. In fact, we don’t have train tickets purchased for tonight or for our journey from Gorakhpur to Agra.  We were supposed to catch the 10:00pm train but we weren’t able to get the reservations confirmed, or even tickets for that matter. We thought we might have to take a bus but as we were gathered in our room praying and after we finished Samson Sin came in and said that he knows some high officials that might be able to get us tickets. He and Joshua went to the official’s house and came back empty handed. He then suggested that Jamie and I come to the railway station with him to talk to the ticketing agent. He was able to get us on a train at 8:15pm -YIKES, IT’S 7:45 now. we ran out of the train station and on the way to the hotel we called the team and told the to get the bags down to the parking lot immediately. We arrived at 7:55 and got the bags loaded in about 3 minutes. The taxi drivers were dragging their feet so I took over and started stuffing bags in the cars. Everyone loaded up and we got the the station at 8:10. We panically (I don’t think that’s a word, but you get it) dragged our bags to the platform in time catch the train (it was 10 minutes late). Just one more miracle of many on this trip, as always. We had 6 class 2 sleeper berths and 2 basic sleeper berths. Jamie and I “slept” in the basic berths. They were 3 bunks high on each wall with no curtains or bedding. I slept with my head on my suitcase. Jammie didn’t really sleep as he was worried about his bags. 

We arrived in Ghorakpur at 2:30am and waited in the waiting room until Joshua got us some bicycle rickshaws to get us to the hotel. We got to bed about 4:00am. I am rooming with Scott for the next couple nights. Fred is with Jamie, GVT is with Don and the ladies are together.  

11/9/11 – Central Jail Women’s Prison

I slept well last night. Greg and I awoke at 5:15am. After coffee and some time in the word I went to the roof and jumped rope until I dropped it and the handle broke. I did calisthenics for another 15 minutes and felt like I got some good cardio work in (burned off some of last night’s dinner).

Rhonda is doing better this morning but not yet well enough to go out with us.  We had breakfast as a team at 8:00and Lois shared the daily devotional from Psalm 92. We had the same breakfast that is served everyday – Omelet Slice (two slices of white bread sandwiched between a scrambled egg). They also served corn flakes the past couple mornings along with it. 

We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 9:30am. Arthur didn’t arrive until 10:15. This always occurs with the nationals that are not used to working with Americans. I’m sure it will get better as our trip continues. We arrived at the prison on time, in fact we got there earlier than our scheduled appointment at 11:30, but we weren’t able to buy blankets and humanitarian aid with us because they were late. 

When we arrived at the prison we met with the female OC for over an hour. She was diligent to make sure she couldn’t get into trouble by allowing us inside. She was very friendly and spoke good English. After an hour of talking with Joshua, Arthur, Janice and Anita she decided to allow us to hold a service. She also wrote a letter for Arthur and she gave us a list of the needs of the prisoners so when we return or when we send funds they will be able to get that which is most urgent. 

When she finally gave us clearance to enter she told the nationals that we were not permitted to talk about religion or mention Jesus. We, of course, cannot hold a service without sharing the love of Christ. The enemy was clearly working hard to keep us from preaching the cross because he knows that the moment the light of the gospel is proclaimed he and his demons will be forced to flee. 

I began the service with the IGL presentation and Jamie served as Emcee. After we started the service the officer told us we had to keep the service to 20 minutes. I decided to by-pass the testimony and have Lois jump right in with the short sermon. She shared a message on the love of God and when she finished I decided that we weren’t going to let Satan interfere with our service – we were going to continue without his interference – so I shared the gospel and then Fred, along with Joshua, did the altar call we were able to get the altar call done but we couldn’t do a healing prayer because we were told again that we had to finish. There were 318 women in attendance with about a dozen children. There was a great response from the women but because those who made a commitment to Christ stood up it caused all of the women to stand so they could see what was happening. Because of this we weren’t able to get an accurate count of salvations.  We brought bananas for the children so we distributed them and then we left. After the service I went back to the OC’s office and thanked her for allowing us to share with her inmates. She thanked us, as well, and asked us to come back again. Arthur stayed behind after we went outside to complete some paperwork with her and she wrote him a letter of recommendation, stating that she was glad that we came in and brought the message of encouragement to the ladies.  It took about a half hour after the service was over for Arthur to talk with the OC. 

After the service we went back to the hotel to freshen up and then went out to dinner. We thought we were going to a restaurant nearby the hotel but we wound up at the same restaurant as the night before. When we got inside I realized that Rhonda and Lois weren’t going to eat there but we were already inside so we stayed and fed everyone else. We watched three young boys doing the dishes in a corner of the restaurant by wiping the leftover food into a bucket and the wiping the plates. I don’t know if they used any soap or water. The boys were filthy and their clothes were covered with food and dirt. With their permission I took a photo of the three of them. There were two older Muslim men that apparently owned the restaurant. They sat by the cash box and kept track of all of the food and drinks that were being served and oversaw all the operations of the restaurant. As we were eating there was a call-to-prayer outside and Rhonda and I considered that they should be stopping their work to pray toward Mecca. 

After we all ate we went to McDonalds for Rhonda and Lois to eat. Jamie didn’t eat at the restaurant, either, so he stayed with the ladies and GVT. 

After they returned to the hotel everyone except Scott took a motor-rickshaw ride into town and did some window shopping and exploring. Rhonda wasn’t feeling well so she and Greg went back to the hotel on a bicycle rickshaw. The rest of us followed after about another hour on bicycle rickshaws, too.