he sad eyes of hungry children begging for food, sick babies crying pitifully, the wafting of open sewers, smoke-flavored food cooked over an open fire, sleeping in a hammock, seeing snakes hang from the rafters of thatch-roofed homes that contrast drastically with the mansions of the elite, noisy streets where the lanes are a mere suggestion of where you might drive, I had experienced it all as a missionary’s kid. So what could be all that different with this mission trip to rural India?
To share the gospel in an evangelistic campaign was a dream I’d always held close to my heart. The opportunity arose, and I was privileged to join Pastor Jon Clayburn. We were able to team preach, taking turns every other night giving the sermon and the children’s program. The nurse in our team, Evelyn Holdren, taught practical ways to treat common illnesses and prevent some of the rampant diseases many accept as inevitable.
Real Prayers, Real Answers
Each night the crowds swelled until we had between 600 and 700 people attending. Some people came by foot; others rode, packed together on flatbed trailers pulled by tractors from four other villages. Bible workers had labored hard preparing the fields for harvest. These dedicated men and their families have few luxuries, and not even shoes, but their faces glowed with the love of Jesus. They worked to create their own Bible studies, memorizing an impressive number of texts. After all, when you don’t have a concordance, knowing the material is essential.
On one of the first nights as I listened to the special music, someone pulled on the scarf of my Punjabi outfit. A woman holding her 2-year-old baby girl motioned me to step outside. The baby screamed as she clawed at the air for every breath. I put my hand on the baby and was horrified to sense a very high fever and feel her little chest rattle and shake. The baby’s face was turning blue, and the mother begged me frantically, “Madam, please, blessings my baby.”
I put my hand on the baby’s heaving little back and prayed, “Dear Lord, please help this baby get better.” She calmed down a little. Then I thought, This baby has no chance at any kind of medical care. There is none in her village, and even if there were, her mother couldn’t afford it. So I prayed, “Lord, I admit that I don’t have the faith I need, but for the sake of this little girl and her family, for the sake of her village, please heal her so they might know there is a caring, all-powerful God in heaven.”
Instantly, as if a breaker switch had been thrown, the baby quit crying and fell into a peaceful sleep. Her little body cooled down, the rattle in her chest stopped, and air flowed freely through her lungs. Overwhelmed at what I had just witnessed, I turned around to hide the tears welling up in my eyes and spilling down my cheeks.
One of the village elders was a fighter. He was short but muscular, and it was rumored that he had taken down three men at once. The deep lines in his face told of a hard life. He believed in the God of heaven, but that knowledge had not yet transformed his life. The Hindu priest did not want us to come to his village, but he was finally persuaded to give us two nights, after which he intended to close down our meetings. Two nights went by, three nights, four nights, and each night both men sat a bit closer to the front, drinking in the words of salvation they heard. Their faces softened, and frequent smiles broke out on their normally storm-clouded faces.
The village elder was soon parading us around as if we were long-lost friends, taking us to families in his village so we could pray with them. Toward the end of the meetings the village elder was baptized, and he demonstrated that he was a changed man by throwing a meal of rice and dahl (a lentil stew) for everyone. Spending a small fortune, he bought and cooked more than 70 kilos of rice, only to discover it wouldn’t stretch far enough to feed everyone. He asked that all the people from the other villages be fed first before feeding the people from his own village. The next night he cooked more food so he could feed his villagers. When Jesus comes into a person’s life, there’s no room for prejudice.
“Please, Madam, blessings my son,” the father pleaded. Speaking English better than most villagers, the man said, “His hand and arm not work.” He showed me the boy’s stiff arm with curled-up, skinny fingers that refused to move.
“Can you squeeze my hand?” I asked the little boy, using gestures he would understand. His sad brown eyes looked into mine as I wiggled my fingers into his awkward little fist. He grabbed my hand with his good hand and squeezed hard, but his curled-up, little fingers wouldn’t budge.
“O Lord,” I prayed, “this boy and his father must be visiting tonight; I don’t remember seeing them before. I don’t know what they know about You, but they have come asking for healing. If it’s Your will, heal this little boy; fill him with Your love.”
Before I finished praying I opened my eyes. I looked down at the little chap and saw something I’ll never forget: Holding his hand in front of his face, he slowly wiggled those previously atrophied, stiff fingers. The look of amazement and wonder left no doubt that this was a new experience.
I don’t believe I ever finished that prayer, except to squeak out an emotional “Amen.” The God of the universe had stepped into that field in the little village and had taken note of a little boy’s hand.
Each night at our meetings we asked for decisions for Jesus. Joy lit up people’s faces as they held their hands high in commitment. As they prepared for baptism, they had to make other decisions. Idols had to be disposed of, shrines in homes had to be torn down, and rituals to their gods had to be stopped. The fear of retaliation from their gods was very real. Until now they made offerings to their gods in order to appease them. Now their gods would be angry since they were being traded for the one true God.
As people went into the water to be baptized, the struggle was unmistakable. They took off their charms and looked at them for a few seconds. Some were tempted to put them in their pockets, just in case they might need them. Then a determined look crossed their faces as they hurled the charms as far as they could into the lake. When the new believers splashed out of the water, no one needed an interpreter to understand the look on their faces. They were free for the first time in their lives. Free from the fears that had ruled their lives for so long. They were now children of the heavenly King. They weren’t just from a particular caste; they were royalty, and they knew it.
My friend, Tim Bailey, was standing on the bank of the irrigation ditch, praying for each person as they sloshed their way out from the muddy waters of baptism. A little old woman kept pulling on Tim’s arm excitedly, chattering away while she pointed at her eyes. Calling over a translator, Tim was astonished at what he heard. The woman said she had been blind for a long time. But once she put her hope in Jesus, when she came out of the waters of baptism she was rewarded with sight.
Finally, the day came to say our goodbyes to the villagers who had become like family. We shed many tears as we promised to meet them in heaven. As we boarded the bus, joy bubbled up in our hearts as we thought over the events of the past few weeks. A deep sense of purpose had been kindled in our hearts. Regardless of our careers, gender, or age, our mission was to tell the world about the soon-coming Savior. Sadness engulfed us, knowing there was the possibility of never seeing these beautiful Indian people again on this earth. We would deeply miss the translators, taxi drivers, and missionaries we had come to love. We had traveled to this far-off land, some as friends, some as strangers, but our hearts were knit together by a common goal and experience of leading souls to Jesus.
For my return trip, I felt impressed to wear my best Indian Punjabi outfit. Arriving in Los Angeles, I was standing in line to get a much longed-for salad.
A tall, pleasant, older gentleman tapped me on my shoulder, curious about the origin of my outfit. He noticed my Bib1e and said, “Hey, that’s a great Book . . . the best!” He then invited me to eat at his table.
“What gives with you?” asked the man.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, why are you so happy?”
“Well, I suppose it’s because I just got back from a trip to India and had some wonderful experiences,” I said. I told him about the miracles I had experienced, of the people coming to know Jesus, who cut off their charms when they were baptized. Several times his eyes filled with tears.
“I have a good marriage,” he began. “I’m involved in my church, I love God, I’m an entrepreneur, and I make a good living. So why do you seem more satisfied?”
“You’ll never know true happiness until you do exactly what God wants you to do,” I told him. “Maybe God wants you to continue with your business. Or, maybe He knows you’re at the point where you could sell your business, live off the interest, and work full-time in some type of mission work.”
After the four-hour layover and a flight together, the time came to part. The man shook my hand, his eyes filling with tears. “Meeting you was an appointment set by God,” he said. “I would never have noticed you except that you were wearing that Indian outfit. God took over from there. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. I have a lot of things to think over, but I think I’m going to put my business up for sale. It’s time to go for broke for the sake of the gospel.”
Mission trips change lives. Those who participate come back knowing that God can do anything, not just in theory, but in practice. You’ll see poverty that will tear at your heart and hopelessness that all the wealth in the world cannot solve. You will be humbled to know that God is eager to use anyone who is willing to be His hands and feet to reach a hurting world.
Your priorities will be rearranged. Friendships that last for eternity will be sealed.
And when we get to heaven, we’ll have friends from far-off lands who will say, “Thank you for giving to the Lord! I was a life that was changed.”
Karen Taylor Glassford is a homemaker and mother of two who lives in Redlands, California. For more information about mission trips to India, contact Robert Robinson at [email protected]