On January 9, I embarked on a three-and-a-half week trip to visit members in various parts of Asia. After traveling for approximately 24 hours I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand at 12:30 a.m. on January 11. After a few hours of much needed sleep I enjoyed lunch with our member, Fil Olimpo. Fil is a magazine editor for several publications in Bangkok. Originally from the Philippines, Fil has lived with his family in Thailand for several years.
Shortly after lunch I returned to the airport for a flight to Hyderabad, India. After several hours of delay, my flight arrived in Hyderabad at 1 a.m. on Saturday, January 12. I was thankful that upon arrival I was able to locate both of my bags. On a previous trip to Hyderabad a lady had taken one of my bags by mistake. After leaving the airport and discovering that she had the wrong bag, she assumed that I must have her bag. However the airline personnel and I had no idea what had occurred and we filed a report assuming the bag was mishandled in Bangkok. It took almost two weeks to unravel the conundrum. The lady would not return my bag which she had taken by mistake until the airline assured her that they were in possession of her bag. By the time she returned my bag, I was in New Delhi 800 miles from Hyderabad. Thankfully I received the bag the night before departing India! So whenever I arrive in India I breathe a sigh of relief when I retrieve my bags. After a few hours of sleep I had the pleasure of conducting a Sabbath service with our members, Dr. Ali and her two daughters, Arjumand and Nargis. Dr. Ali is a long time member of the church (baptized in 1960 in Bricket Wood, England). It is always a joy to spend time with Dr. Ali, Arjumand and Nargis. Dr. Ali has set a wonderful example of faithfulness.
On Sunday, I flew to Vijaywada en route to Chirala to meet G.P. Samuel and members of a group known as the Church of God. I first met Mr. Samuel in March 2005 and during the course of several meetings he requested that I visit his area and meet members of the Church of God. The Church of God in Chirala was established by G.P. Samuel in 1982. Their stated beliefs are very similar to those of UCG. In fact they have requested to be a part of UCG. Most of the members of this group are a part of Mr. Samuel’s extended family. I was able to spend a couple of days fellowshipping with them and had the privilege of visiting most of the members in their homes. There is also a small group meeting in Sampath Nagar which is located approximately 30 minutes by car. Mr. Samuel has spent a few years visiting this group traveling by bicycle. I was very impressed with the sincerity and humble attitude of the members of the Church of God. I look forward to returning for a future visit.
On Tuesday afternoon, January 15, I returned to Vijaywada and flew to Chennai for an immediate connection for Calcutta. In fact the airport personnel retrieved my bags from the baggage wagon, radioed to the check-in counter that we were running with luggage; the check-in counter had already printed my boarding pass and baggage tags and presented them to me before we had reached the baggage screening machine. I was then escorted through security, bused out to the plane and they closed the door as I stepped aboard! I traveled to Calcutta to visit and baptize Mr. Tarun Ghosh. Mr. Ghosh has been corresponding and counseling for baptism since September 2005. After completing our counseling on Wednesday, I had the privilege of baptizing Mr. Ghosh in the Hooghly River. The Hooghly is one of the distributaries of the Ganges and is considered sacred to Hindus, and its water is considered holy. Hindu belief holds that bathing in the river causes the forgiveness of sins and helps one attain salvation. Most Hindu homes will contain a vial of water from the Ganges. People travel from distant places to immerse the ashes of their kin in the waters of the river; in fact one can view funeral pyres located at various spots along the river. So as Mr. Ghosh and I approached the river for the baptism, individuals taking ceremonial baths or washing their clothes paid little to no attention to our actions. (In East Africa I have often witnessed as many as 50 curious bystanders watch a baptism before continuing their journey along a road paralleling a river or stream). After the baptism Mr. Ghosh and I enjoyed a light lunch and toured some of the streets of Calcutta—a city governed by the Communist Party and known for its congestion, overpopulation (approximately 15 million) and pollution. But the city is also known as the City of Joy and is described as a city of love and warmth, sorrow and despair, dreams and hopes, poverty and squalor, grandeur and glory. Anyone having the opportunity to visit Calcutta will find it a most stimulating experience and Mr. Ghosh is certainly a beautiful light in this city.
Thursday, January 17, I traveled to Delhi and spent an enjoyable evening visiting with Mr. Mathew George, a Good News subscriber. Friday I traveled to Moradabad, a city located approximately 100 miles (four hours by car) east of Delhi. Moradabad is known as the city of brass and has the distinction of being the biggest exporter of brass handicrafts in the country. With a population of one million it is a very densely populated city. It was established in 1600 by prince Murad, the son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) and as a result the city came to be known as Moradabad. It is predominantly Muslim. Nestled in one of the neighborhoods of the city is the home of Mr. Robinson Yusuf and his family. The Yusuf family has been a part of the church dating back to the 1980s. The family operates an English medium school in their neighborhood. We were joined on the Sabbath by Mr. Dalchand, a long time member of the church from the village of Milak Qazi. After a very enjoyable Sabbath service and delicious lunch of north Indian food, I departed with Mr. Dalchand to his village. Traveling through the villages and countryside of north India is always a memorable experience and visiting Mr. Dalchand’s village and home was a delight. After the visit I continued my journey to Agra—a five hour drive by car. Along the way we passed through beautiful fields, an atomic power plant and crossed the Ganges River. Often the trees were full of Rhesus monkeys and green parrots and the fields were dotted with peacocks some of which were displaying their iridescent plumage. During the day I was joking with our members, as they were bundled up wearing jackets and I was wearing a short sleeve polo shirt, that they didn’t appreciate the cool weather. However before reaching Agra I had to ask the driver to stop so I could retrieve my jacket from my luggage. A cold front was blowing in over the Himalayas that dropped the temperature to 32 degrees Fahrenheit for a few evenings.
Sunday, January 20 I spent the day in Agra with our member, George Samuel. I spent the morning with George and his wife, Shobha, counseling with Shobha for baptism. In the afternoon we held a Bible study at Mr. Samuel’s home with a group that meets with him on the Sabbath. It is really hard to put into words the experience of being able to discuss God’s word with individuals who possess a sincere desire to know and live the truth in an environment where Rhesus monkeys jump from limb to limb in trees filled with vibrant colored blooms, while camels pull carts laden with everything from wheat to steel and elephants amble down the road carrying their lunch in their trunks. This landscape is further enhanced by green parrots and multi-colored pigeons gliding past to alight on the Taj Mahal. On the steps of history, God is preparing a few people for the future.
On Monday, I returned to Delhi by car and flew to Pune, a city with a population of approximately 5 million located about 100 miles east of Mumbai (Bombay). I had the pleasure of spending the evening with our members, Prakash and Sara Mandora and their little daughter Osin. Tuesday I flew to Bangalore to visit a couple of Good News subscribers and Wednesday traveled to Madurai, located in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Our member, Simon Daniel, lives in Madurai and I enjoyed spending Thursday with him discussing future possibilities for the work in India. Mr. Daniel is a lecturer in English literature at American College.
Friday I flew to Sri Lanka and enjoyed a wonderful Sri Lankan dinner of chicken curry and hoppers with our members. On the Sabbath we gathered for services and fellowship at the church hall in Mt. Lavinia near Colombo. Please remember our Sri Lankan members in your prayers. Sri Lanka has been suffering from armed conflict with the Tamil Tigers since 1983. The recent flare-up with the conflict has had a devastating effect on the local economy. The rate of inflation is approximately 17 percent while the wages of the average worker have not increased. Also as the national armed forces are pushing the terrorists from their strongholds, the terrorists are retaliating by hitting softer targets within the country. On the Sabbath of February 23 while our members were attending Sabbath services a bomb was discovered on a bus in Mt. Lavinia. The passengers were evacuated before the bomb exploded but 18 bystanders were injured during the explosion.
On Monday, I returned to Thailand and spent a few days with our member, Fil Olimpo and then continued on to Singapore. I had the opportunity of spending the Sabbath with our brethren in Singapore. The congregation is ably pastored by Jeff Caudle from New Zealand. Mr. Caudle had asked that whenever possible, as I transit through Asia, to visit the members in his area. It is always a pleasure to spend time with our Singaporean brethren; I have had the privilege of meeting some of them as early as 1981. As are many of our brethren around the world, they are a real joy to get to know.
On Sunday, February 3, I accompanied two of our members, Samuthiran and Clement Lim to visit our members living in Batam, Indonesia; Edward and Lilik Simanjuntak and their daughter, Bellinda. We left early Sunday morning and took a fast ferry across the Singapore Strait for approximately 12 miles to the island of Batam. By the time we arrived in Batam it was raining and as we traveled by car to the Simanjuntak’s home the rain intensified to a downpour but it did not dampen our fellowship. Edward runs a private school teaching English. He showed us his classroom adjacent to his home and related how God had blessed him with many students. Lilik served us some delicious Indonesian food and we relished the opportunity spent together. Unfortunately the few hours that were allotted for the trip passed quickly and we had to return to Singapore for the evening. By 4 a.m. the following morning it was time to depart for the airport and return home.
Getting to know our brethren in Asia is a wonderful opportunity. I realize that it is impossible for many of our readers to personally meet and fellowship with our scattered brethren so I hope this and similar articles will provide an insight into some of their lives and environment. Please remember to pray for them and their circumstances as they pray for you. I send you warm greetings from your brethren in Asia!