Saturday, February 27, 2010


We slip our sandals off outside the entrance to a Hindu temple in the city of Trichy. This particular temple doesn't compare in size to the gargantuan temples in Tanjore. But it's huge compared to the tiny, street-side shrines where miniature idols sit with a few candles burning at their feet, or flowers strewn at their base.

The stone floors feel cool to the soles of our feet. These stones have been smoothed to a patina by centuries of people walking over them. The walls and floors of this particular temple are a dull charcoal colored stonework, not the lighter sandstone of more elaborate temples. Intricate markings are engraved on the walls, a Hindu script we can't understand. Wide, round pillars hold up the roof that covers the outer area where Hindu devotees congregate. The day's fading sunlight doesn't penetrate into the corridors. The dark walls soak up the light, making everything dim.

In the outer area an elderly woman lies on the floor. This isn't strange. People sleep outside on the ground all over India. Then her strange position catches my attention. She's old. Has her family just left her here? At first I thought she had just raised her head from her almost fetal-like position to stare at us. Then we realize that her awkward and painful position--of holding up her head and shoulders---hasn't changed the entire time we've been viewing this outer room. Is this suffering of her painful position supposed to appease an inanimate god?

At the threshold of the inner temple we're stopped by a notice painted on the floor, "Only Hindus Past This Point." Without stepping on the threshold, we dart quick glances inside and move on. From deep inside, the flash of gold gleams in the midst of flames. But it happens so fast I have no idea what god I've just glimpsed in mystic splendor.

An incensed Hindu priest wearing only a cotton lungi that covers him from his waist to his ankles, and a stream of marigolds across his bare chest, rushes over to us. He's worried we'll enter into the place where his god sits. Moses, one of our guides, assures the agitated priest that we will not intrude.

As we stroll through the temple I'm struck again by the contradiction of what I've seen in so many movies. So often Hinduism is held up in North American media as such a joyful religion. Yet as I look around this temple--and others in the days to come---I'm not seeing any joy. The woman lying on the floor in a travesty of worship has no smile on her face. Her features writhe with pain. The Hindu priest is angry and resentful, and yet we have done nothing to insult him or his place of worship. There is no sound of laughing children. The children wait silently with their parents to walk into the temple. I can't help but compare this to the singing and riotous laughter I'd heard only the night before at the children's Bible Camp program.

Moses and a number of other India Bible Camp staff take us out to the sprawling grounds of the temple, to a large area surrounded by high stone walls. Our bare feet sink into deep, course sand. I expected to smell flowers or even incense in a Hindu temple. Instead I'm suddenly shrinking back from a rank stench.

Moses tells me that we are close to a spout where from inside the temple, ghee is poured out. Ghee, an expensive milk product like clarified butter, runs along a narrow canal inside the temple and out. Wealthy Hindus---even poor ones who sell all they have---sacrifice this expensive food product to the gods. Each year, for centuries, millions and millions of gallons are sacrificed. And for centuries the gritty sand along these temple walls has soaked up the smell of this ghee as it has soured.

This particular temple may be physically darker than others. But the only light I see is in the faces of the men who act as our guides---Pastor Antony Muthu, Pastor Hendry, Moses,and Thomas. Christians of Tamil Nadu.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The doors of our air-conditioned vans swoosh open.

As if we're visiting dignitaries our 11 person team from Canada is delivered to a small, open-air church under a corrugated metal roof. A small mountain of kid-sized sandals sits close to a wooden beam holding up the roof. The constant honking of Indian traffic behind us is covered up by the pulsing sound of music. The voices of hundreds of children singing fills this tiny church in the center of the bustling city of Trichy, home to 1,139,000 people.

Not missing a beat in their up-tempo song, the children turn to watch the vistors come in. Their dark brown eyes grow round with excitement. Approximately 200 children sit on rugs, thick blankets, and bamboo matting on a floor of deep, clean sand.

We sit down to watch a camp follow-up program on couches specifically brought in for us. It's one of hundreds of follow-up programs going on in this district alone.

Tamil Nadu's evening air feels like warm silk. Our bare feet sink into the cool sand where the scattered rugs don't quite meet. Fluorescent lights hang from the ceiling so that the little girls's saris and churidars dazzle like an array of flowers. In contrast the boys wear mostly western clothes, short-sleeved shirts with shorts or long trousers. The children tuck their bare feet in as they sit cross-legged on the rugs. They sit so obediently, but like children from all over the world,every ounce of their nervous system strains to jump up and rush toward the visitors--to touch us--to make us their friend.

Our cheeks hurt with an exquisite pain smiling at the kids. We're only matching their wide grins for us.

The counselors--teenagers and youth in their early twenties, along with the pastor--run the program. The leaders and specially chosen kids from the congregation lead in the dance sequences. Each song, newly written by India Bible Camps each year, holds the children rapt. This year's scriptural theme, Victory Through Prayer is ingrained in each new song and deepens the children's understanding of faith in Christ.

My breath is taken away when children are brought onto the shallow stage to dance to various songs. The Indian style music, heavy with the beat of tom toms, and each willow-like hand gesture and foot movement holds traces of ancient India. In my spirit I feel the Lord's smile on this worship of Him so enriched with Indian culture.

At the end of the program the pastor instructs the children, "Stand up. Go to the visitors and tell them, 'Jesus loves you'."

Two hundred children rush toward our team with smiles and laughter. They grab our hands and each one tells us, "Jesus loves you. Jesus loves you."

With tears streaming down our faces we take each small hand, and say over and over and over to them, "Jesus loves you."

Can a person fall instantly in love with so many tiny faces at once?

As we leave and are about to get back into our waiting vans, the pastor beams with joy over the children.

He catches my hand before I can step into the van. "Pray for us. We cannot have church during the monsoon season. Heavy rains wash into the sand floor, making it dangerous with the electrical wiring. Pray for us, that God will provide the funds for a proper floor and roof."

Looking back on a sea of beautiful children's faces, I promise. "Yes, I'll pray."

If you're reading today, I hope you'll join me in that prayer for this pastor and his church in the city of Trichy, but also for the many other needs in so many other humble churches in India as well.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

GOD STILL USES RAINBOWS--Guest Blogger, M.L. Tyndall

Do you ever wonder if God is hearing your prayers--after years of praying--for your kids who aren't walking with the Lord? I asked my friend and fellow writer, M.L. Tyndall to share her heartaches for her kids, and the way God encouraged her to never give up praying.


For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.
2 Corinthians 1:20

One day last week, I was walking on a trail behind my house, deep in prayer. Every Monday I fast and pray for my prodigal children. I cry out to God for their salvation. I quote scriptures He has given me. I bind the enemy. I remind God of the promises He’s put on my heart for them. But on this particular day, instead of things getting better in their lives, their situations had become much worse, and I found my faith waning.

You see, over the past years, God had promised me through Scripture and through His inner voice that my kids will be in His Kingdom. But the years pass and things don’t get better and I start listening to the nagging voice of the enemy.

As I was walking along that day, I heard God’s inner voice again saying quite clearly to me, “Turn around”.

I did. And there stretched across the sky was a rainbow. Not just any rainbow. An entire rainbow from start to finish, enormous and beautiful. I froze, numbed by the sight.

Then I heard the Lord say to me “Like the promise I made Noah, my promise to you stands firm. Just believe.”

I started to shake. Tears filled my eyes and I would have dropped to the ground on my knees if there hadn’t been a mud puddle at my feet! I continued walking, but this time instead of pleading with God, I praised Him, singing and nearly dancing down the trail! When I turned around to head home, the rainbow was gone—vanished without a trace of its beauty. And I realized that God had to get me up on that hill for my walk at that precise minute, that precise second in order to see that rainbow and give me His message. He is so good!

No matter what you’re facing today: sickness, a prodigal child, lost loved one, financial problems, marriage problems, etc... remember God is willing and able to work all things out for your good. I encourage you to search His Scriptures for a promise that pertains to your need and then recite it, cling to it, and seek confirmation from God. Submit to Him.

And then believe!


Oh thank you MaryLu for sharing such a beautiful encouragement from the Lord. The Lord has used the beauty of rainbows to lift my heart when it was broken too.

And rainbows aren't the only way God encourages us. He uses writers like MaryLu as well. I've just finished reading her latest book, The Raven Saint .

In The Raven Saint, between crying with laughter over the one-eyed cat, Spyglass, I found my favorite M.L. Tyndall hero--Captain Rafe Dubois, debonair and seemingly despicable. Maybe it was Rafe's savory French accent added to his dark, swashbuckling ways as he kidnaps Grace Westcott with the intent of selling her that did it for me. How often in a Christian novel, where ALL propriety is met, can you find a heroine literally carried away in such a romantic story? Not often. But in The Raven Saint you can.

As Grace and Rafe's tender love story grows, you taste the briny sea on your lips, feel the heat of the sun that dazzles like diamonds on a turquoise sea, feel the gentle breeze blowing through coconut palms, or experience a squall out on the open Caribbean. You feel Grace's despair as she fears Rafe will really sell her into slavery. And what does he do with all that money he steals? She soon senses he has a heart that cares deeply for the hurting and the poor, just like she does.

In my opinion M.L. Tyndall has surpassed herself with book 3 of the Charles Towne Belles series. Grace Westcott is a heroine that in my mature years--when I think I am so terribly wise--I can truly identify with. In book 2, I identified my early life with that of Grace's sister, Hope, relating Hope's experiences to how the Lord healed me when I'd failed so miserably, casting my wild oats. In The Raven Saint I see my current sins in Grace, a tendency to peachiness, a lack of true grace towards others, even though in many other ways Grace has great spiritual depth and is filled with God's Spirit. But no matter how far we've come the Lord has so much more to teach us, as Grace learns.

MaryLu teaches these deeply scriptural lessons within a delightfully light adventure.

I heartily recommend this book. It's fun, tender, romantic, exciting, and yet scripturally true. Bravo, MaryLu.

Here's the cover of The Raven Saint to help you find it in your local Christian book store or online.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

INDIA--DAY 2-- Worst and Best Train Trip of My Life

Antony had a good plan. Take the Canadian team on a real Indian train for the 6 hour journey from Chennai to Trichy. No special compartments. No special treatment. We all eagerly agreed. Antony booked the seats for us, so we could all sit together, giving Antony a chance to share his burden for his country. And we could experience the real India on a mode of transportation that the majority of nationals use.

I think I was the most excited of all. A real Indian train, rumbling through verdant green rice paddies, banana plantations, coconut palm groves. After all, 2 of my missionary heroes, Amy Carmichael and Dr. Ida Skudder had at different times traveled on this very train system at the beginning of the last century.

Our team arrived at the station. Sure enough the train was on India time—45 minutes late. But this only added to the charm. We laughed and found seats on the platform, an overhang to shade us from the sun, and sat back to watch India stroll past. My eyes couldn’t get enough of the women’s exquisite saris in every shade of the rainbow, dotted with sequins or fake gems. Bangles tinkled on the little children’s ankles. Many men wore Western-style clothing—crisply tailored slacks and shirts. Still a number of men wore traditional South Indian clothing—a lungi—a sarong with a longish shirt overtop.

As much as we wanted to take in the beauty of the Indian culture, and tried not to stare impolitely, I found the children round-eyed with curiosity at the sight of us. Then the children’s large brown eyes crinkled with laughter. What funny people we must have looked to them.

At last the train arrived and we quickly bundled in. I kept my giggles to myself. Could this train possibly be one left over from when the British were asked to leave India in 1947? No. It couldn’t be. The windows didn’t have any glass, only steel bars to protect us. But with the peeling paint, the general grubbiness and lack of care, I allowed my imagination to take flight. Maybe Dr. Ida Skudder travelled on this very train.

Antony, and Jerald with speed and outstretched arms, shepherded us along the narrow aisles to our hard, upright seats. But there were other people sitting there—in our numbered seats that clearly matched the tickets Antony had purchased.

Our little flock of white folk stood around, letting Antony take care of everything. It was so nice to let someone else worry about the details. How I wish I would relax that way all the time with God. So often there is nothing I can do to change my circumstances. Yet I fret. Why can I not just do like I did in India, and let the Lord who knows better take complete charge?

Antony’s well-laid plan didn’t turn out quite the way he—or we—had expected. Our team was split up and sent to different sections of the train. Some of us had to perch uncomfortably on the end of a seat mostly taken up by others who stridently claimed it was theirs. Any discomfort of ours was minimal making us laugh. One of the well-dressed Indian ladies in the section where I sat showed her indignation by sticking her feet out on the floor so far, my team members had no place to put their feet. I watched the sweetness and patience on Cheryl’s face, Hilary’s kindness, and Judy and Caroline’s overtures of friendly conversation to the Indian ladies.

Judy with the Indian ladies.

On my side of the compartment I had the same problem—a man who also insisted on stretching his feet all the way out so that I had nowhere to put my own. I confess I’m not as sweet as Cheryl or Hilary. I shuffled my feet so that the man across from me got the message. I had to put my feet somewhere!

So often we get an idea of what God wants us to do. We lay out the plans. See schematics in our heads. And then the Lord allows those plans to be altered . . . to show us something He wants us to see.

At home in North America our people look for spirituality. They reject Christ but want a mystical experience, thinking they can find the spiritual truth they are looking for in Hinduism. Hollywood movies popularize that type of thinking. But I didn’t see God in the face of the average person on that train. The people in our section who didn’t allow us much space seemed to me just as self-absorbed as many North Americans. Just as self-absorbed . . . as me.

Antony wanted us to see the real India so we could share the burden he carries for his people. He planned well, but the Lord changed his plans, and blessed them better than we could imagine. The Lord allowed us to see the burden weighing heavily on His heart .

As the train swayed, sellers swaggered constantly up and down the narrow aisles. They carried their wares—chai tea, nuts, fruit—desperately trying to scratch a meagre living. A blind beggar in threadbare clothing, shook a few coins in his metal cup and slowly inched his way along the aisles. Outside various stations people crippled or exhausted lay in a heap of skin and bones on the cement platform. A great weariness cloaks these people, a hopeless acceptance of a bad fate.

These were the faces of people starving for God. And He is yearning for them to come to Him—-to know the difference between a hunk of stone and the true and living God. He doesn't want them to live with hopeless fate, but hope in Him and His son.
Matthew 11:28 And Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."