Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

A lot has happened since I last updated. We had a great Christmas in Bangkok. We got to spend some time with one of the other YWAM Oxford backpacker teams that was also in Bangkok at the time. We had a gift exchange and shared communion together. It's a lot different than what most of us are used to and for most of the students it was the first time being away from home for Christmas so there was definitely a little bit of homesickness going on but it was very good, in it's own way.
We spent two nights in Kanchanaburi and spent a day at the Erawan National Park. That was definitely my favourite activity that we've done so far. The seven teired waterfall was absolutely gorgeous. It was like a jungle trek to a tropical paradise that included a waterpark. It was great! The bus ride to and from Erawan was an especially good time for meeting other travelers and sharing the gospel. Another little treat that I got that day was getting to talk to a South African girl who is teaching English in Bangkok (one of four English teachers we met that day). Having lived in South Africa for three years it is always a joy to hear the accent again and I am reminded of how much I love that country and the people.
A couple nights ago we took a sleeper bus north to Chiang Mai, which arrived at 4 am. We have been absolutely loving it here so far and it has already become the place that we have had the most fruitful ministry. Tonight our hostel is having a free barbeque on the rooftop bar and supposedly there will be fireworks going for much of the night so we are praying that this will be a great opportunity for reflecting with people about the last year, talking about hopes and dreams for the year ahead and hopefully sharing a bit about what life is all about. (Jesus.)
Tomorrow, Jan 1, we are going to have a day of prayer and fasting for the nation of Thailand. We will meet at regular meal times and focus on three main prayer points: Religious (Thailand is 95% Buddhist and the rest is a mix of Hindu and Muslim), political (all of Thailand is united in their love for the King but he is in failing health and it may only be a matter of time before the clash between the red shirts and the yellow shirts comes to a bloody climax) and social (human trafficking and sex slavery have become rampant in Thailand due to a mix of poverty, greed, lust and lack of education and work opportunities for the lowest classes of society). It would be awesome if some of you would be willing to join with us in praying for these issues on the same day. Even a few quick prayers here and there would be greatly appreciated. God loves Thailand and He is eager to move on behalf of this nation.
Thanks for your prayers and support!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Alive and Thriving

Right now I am sitting cross legged in a free internet cafe, wearing the ubiquitous Thai fisherman pants, sweating profusely, waiting patiently for the banana pancake vendors to come out for the late night crowd and enjoying being in a room where half of the people have dreadlocks halfway down to the floor. Everyone on the team has been adjusting to Thai culture quite nicely. Well, technically what they've been adjusting to is backpacker/hippie/budget travel culture that just happens to be thriving in Thailand right now but, as they say in Bangkok, "same same". Luca may even be getting a little bit too comfortable as evidenced by the fact that the two of us decided to hazard the infamous 10 baht tuk tuk ride the other day in an attempt to find a cheaper market for buying Thai (tourist) clothing. The ride really should have cost 50-100 baht but the idea is that you can ride almost for free if you are willing to stop in at a few of the driver's friend's shops and pretend to be interested in their merchandise for a few minutes. This leads to good connections for the driver and sometimes even gas coupons or a small commission. When taken with a good attitude and a little bit of street sense it can be quite a colourful adventure but I definitely wouldn't reccommend it for most. The whole team took quite well to getting lost in Chinatown the other day, even after walking for hours in stifling heat wearing flip-flops that were falling apart. Taking the Phrao Chaya Express (a big water bus) back to our area of town was an added bonus. I was having such a good time that I may or may not have even frolicked down the street for a bit. We try to eat as cheap as we can so we tend to wander out into the sidestreets and head for slightly more authentic Thai food. Fruit salad and banana pancakes are still a staple but we've all tried some pad thai, various curries, mama noodle and of course lots of fried rice and stir fry dishes. Everyone has been in good health so far and the meals have been sitting just fine. (Although, at one point Luca was "dying... almost" while eating a particularly spicy red curry. You know it's hot when it makes his nose bleed.)
We are getting a little bit more into the swing of the backpacker ministry, although we are far from satisfied. We have had opportunities with different people each day and have met people at our hostel, on the street or at various tourist attractions. Mostly we have been meeting people at our hostel and then inviting them to join us in checking out the city. Sharing meals with people is always my favourite way to be able to take the conversation to a deeper level and we have been able to do that a few times over the last few days as well. I won't try and list over everyone's names right now but I'll highlight two real quick:
Jenny is from the States and currently living in Berlin, studying photography. She is in Thailand for three weeks and has about two left. We spent most of the day with her yesterday (she didn't mind getting lost in Chinatown too much either) and she left for Chiang Mai today. She is "not religious" but we were able to share a little bit about our faith with her and I'm praying that we might see or her again or that one of the other Thailand teams will bump into her and be able to continue planting seeds.
Roberto is from Spain and is nearing the end of his eight month travels, which he mostly spent learning English in Australia. We spent several hours with him today, checking out the Grand Palace together. He grew up going to Catholic school but it was "not for him"... understandably. He definitely seemed open to further discussion on spiritual matters and he will be in Bangkok for the next few days so I am praying that we will be able to meet up with him again as well.
Having traveled solo before, I how lonely it can get at times and how much it means when other travelers are friendly and take an interest in you. This is an incredible opportunity for us to reach people who may be more hardened to the gospel in their home environment. Pray that we will have open ears and eyes in the Spirit to be able to see those who are lonely, beaten down and oppressed. It is for such ones that Christ died and they are the ones that He has sent us out to call to His wedding feast.
Thank you for all your prayers and support! God bless, and merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

And so it begins...

We arrived safely in Bangkok on schedule and managed to get to our hostel by about 2:00 am local time. Thank God for good flights and a few mini miracles along the way. (Qantas airlines actually booked us a free flight back to New Zealand for Jan 10 just so that we would have proof of leaving Thailand within our 30 day visa restriction. It was quite unusual. We ended up not needing it at the border but it was a very nice gesture on their behalf and we can easily cancel the flight now that we are in the country.)
We all slept well and have had a great first day in Thailand. We definitely felt the spiritual heaviness when we arrived and some of the team were feeling particularly burdened. We started the day with some great fruit salad with yoghurt (only 30 baht!) and then went to a nearby park (the same one we spent Christmas in last year on our layover) and spent some time in worship. That was definitely the turning point in the day and it only got better from there (for me anyway).
We split into pairs and started exploring the city a bit and keeping open ears and eyes for whoever God would bring along our path. Malori and I were technically looking for a good hostel to spend Christmas in but we kept getting "distracted" by a whole bunch of great witnessing opportunities. I'm running out of time so I'll keep it short.
Pray for Guiton, from Sweden. He is heading home today after four months of travel in Southeast Asia. We had lunch with him and talked for about two hours. He was very touched when I prayed for him and asked for God's blessing on his return home. We exchanged email and he might be able to get us some contacts in Chiang Mai.
Pray for Maria, from Spain. We bumped into her a few times and she was practically begging us to stay in the same hostel as her. We didn't get as much time to talk with her but we exchanged email with her as well and plan to get together with her for a meal as soon as possible.
Pray for more open doors. Pray for good health and safety. Pray for spiritual protection and discernment. Pray that we would be united as a team and totally focused on obeying God no matter what the circumstances.
That's that for now. As we see signs all over Thailand saying... LONG LIVE THE KING!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flight Details

Another week down and one more to go until we leave for Thailand!
We fly out of Christchurch on December 19 at 3:05 pm.
We arrive in Sydney for a brief layover at 4:25 pm and then fly out again at 6:05 pm.
We arrive in Bangkok at 11:10 pm.
All times listed are in their local time zone so I'll let you figure out time zone conversions if you want to pray at exact times while we're traveling. From when we leave Oxford to landing in Bangkok the total travel time is about 18 hours. It will probably take about another hour to get a taxi to our hostel, which we are planning to book online beforehand.
Check out the "Thailand Travels" link on the right to follow our team blog while we're there. (I will still be making personal updates on this site.)
Also, if you're interested, you can see pictures of our team on my facebook page.
Thanks for your prayers and support!

Friday, December 3, 2010


Week 9 of this DTS has just ended and we leave for Thailand in exactly two weeks! (Sat, Dec 18.) My team is getting really excited and the final preparations are starting to fall into place.
So much has happened over the last few weeks that it's hard to know how to summarize. One of the big highlights was week eight when we had Mark Parker teaching on the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Everyone had opportunity to lay burdens down at the cross, confess sin publicly, let go of shame and guilt, praise God without inhibitions and basically do whatever they needed to do to make Jesus Lord of every part of their lives. Six students were baptized in Ashley Gorge and we ended the week by having communion together. The change in people's lives is evident and has continued to be walked out. Not everyone is struggling less but everyone is more quick to repent and seek reconciliation. This is what discipleship is all about.

Here's a quick update on my financial situation:
Everyone on my outreach team is paid for in full but in the rest of the school as a whole there is still about $12,000 that still needs to come in. (That number was over $20,000 a few days ago so praise God for that.)
Through a series of mini-miracles that happened back home (car insurance refund, lost wallet found and some Christmas gifts) I have juuuuust enough money for my outreach. I also have a plane ticket as far as L.A. after the DTS is finished... beyond that I am waiting to see how God provides. All glory goes to the All-sufficient One for bringing the money in just when it was needed and I have complete faith in Him to do the same in the future.

Thanks for your prayers! Keep lifting up the students and staff on this DTS and the nations that we will be inundating with God's love two weeks from now.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Week 6 of this Backpacker's Discipleship Training School, halfway through the lecture phase, and the time has finally come to reveal outreach teams! We have all been waiting with eager anticipation and spending time in prayer and fasting to seek out God's heart (His passion, love and longing) for the people that He sends us to. We are forming outreach teams a little bit differently than we did last year. We are focusing on sending out larger amounts of small teams rather than a smaller amount of large teams. The outreach team that I will be leading is exactly half the size of the one that I was a student on last year. My team consists of myself, Malori (24, Oregon), Luca (18, Switzerland) and Becky (18, BC). We will be spending eight weeks in Thailand. Out of 66 million people in Thailand 94.6% are Buddhist, 4.6% are Muslim and only 0.5% are Christian. Thailand is notorious for being a haven for human trafficking and sex slavery. Check out StopTheTraffik for more info on that. I urge you to get involved. Drugs come cheap and easy in Thailand despite the fact that even possession of a small amount will get you life in prison. Approximately 14 million foreigners visit Thailand every year. Our main focus will be reaching out to the backpackers that are traveling to Thailand in droves. They are seeking enlightenment by experimenting with Buddhist meditation and teaching. They are looking for adventure, excitement and any sort of pleasure that they can use to anesthetize the pain in their hearts. Their lives are defined by short term relationships and a world without consequences or responsibility. They are in bondage. They are in darkness. They are desperately crying out for something more, something real.
The vision of our team is to proclaim freedom, peace, love and hope. True freedom is found only in Jesus Christ. We go to worship, to intercede and to show God's love.
Our tickets haven't been booked yet but we will be leaving in mid-December. Start praying now. Thank you for partnering with me so faithfully. Your prayers are powerful and effective. There is a lot of preparation that needs to be done over the next few weeks and I am still waiting for full support to come in. Praise God that He has provided enough each step of the way.
Stay tuned to hear the answers to your prayers over the next few months.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Reason That I Live

I guess it's about time for another update. Every day is packed so full that it's hard to know where to start. A brief summary: Last week Mandy Hudson gave teaching on the Holy Spirit. It was a really powerful time and opened many eyes to the reality of God's presence and power in our everyday lives. It was by far the most well-rounded teaching on the Holy Spirit that I have ever heard and for some of our students it was the first they had ever heard. The teaching was well interspersed with prayer times and prophetic actions. A few students received huge revelation or healing while others struggled to feel God's love at all. Whatever the experience, I believe everyone came away with the desire for more.
Right now we are midway through Dalton Lifsey's teaching on the Pursuit of the Knowledge of God. Dalton is the associate director of the Tauranga House of Prayer so he speaks out of a depth of personal experience that really backs up the intense message that he preaches. His first message really shook everyone up and was so convicting that about a quarter of the school started fasting immediately afterward.
It is so refreshing to be reminded of how worthy our God is and how little anything else matters. In Luke 14 Jesus talks about the cost of being His disciple. He goes so far as to say that "any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple".
Sometimes I feel like I've given up a lot to be where I am right now. When I compare it to the plight of the persecuted church really it is nothing at all and yet I would be a fool not to ask myself "is all this really worth it?" It's an important question but somewhat misleading. My eyes of flesh hinder me from seeing reality. I should rather ask myself "is He worthy?"
And then the answer is yes, it's always yes
Imagine that you are in the throne room of Heaven and you ask one of the four living creatures or the twenty four elders who sings praise to God unceasingly whether they think what they are doing is really worth it. I imagine that they would have this to say:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."
"You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."
"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!"
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!"
That's the reason that I live. That the Lamb who was slain would receive the reward of His suffering.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life is Crazy God is Good

The focus of this week was an introduction to backpacker ministry. Every year millions of young people leave the comforts of home behind and go on a spiritual journey to "find themselves" through experiencing different people, places and cultures through worldwide travel. Every backpacker has their own story. Every backpacker has their own reasons for traveling. Every backpacker is searching for something. Unfortunately, few ever find it. This people group is almost entirely unreached. Less than 1% of all backpackers follow Jesus Christ. Our goal is to reverse that trend. We realize that backpacking is more than just a physical journey but also a spiritual one. We want to see that journey take people into knowing who God is and finding fulfillment in Him.
I've done my share of backpacking and I have found that no matter where I go the one thing that ties all backpackers together is longing. We all long for something... something more, something different, something real. It's the feeling you get when you see the sun rising over the Himalayas and you weep for an hour and you don't know why. Or when the moon casts such a bright reflection over a still lake that you feel sure you could walk across it and never break the surface. Or when you're driving along a bumpy desert road in the back of an open jeep and all you can see is sand and dust stretching out in every direction but you can't help but smile and whisper "it's beautiful". It is that feeling that defines the life of a backpacker.
These are my people. My heart breaks for them. They are so desperate. They are so hungry. They are so lost. My Father longs to bring them home and give them rest. O God, have mercy.

One of the things that we did this week was split into smaller groups and spread out into nearby hostels for one night to give the students a taste of what the backpacker lifestyle is like and practical experience on how we can reach out to them. I was with a group of eight that stayed in Akaroa, a beautiful little town on the coast. The high season hasn't really started in this area yet so we only met a few people but it was a great first experience for the students. (No one in my group had ever stayed in a hostel before.) Pray for Roman, a young German on a working holiday visa. He's running out of money and having trouble finding work. Pray that more Christians would come across his path and show him true generosity. Thank God for Fraser, the hostel owner, who gave us some really good discounts and even gave us directions to a secluded bay where we got to see a whole flock of rare little blue penguins!
This Friday afternoon was our first official day of evangelism in Christchurch. I am co-leading a team that hangs out in the cathedral square. It is the main hub of pedestrian activity in the city and hundreds of people come through every day. Several members of our team played guitar and sang worship songs, others used chalk or signs with questions like "do you believe in healing?" to start conversations, some hung around the life sized chess board. I was very encouraged to see each student cling to Jesus and step a little bit further out of their comfort zone. Personally, I just hunted down people who were sitting alone on park benches and awkwardly started conversation. Besides one elderly Asian man who didn't speak a word of English I had quite positive results. I was particularly excited to meet Hirosh, a Japanese man who left home seven years ago and has only been back for two weeks in that whole time. He spent two years working in Egypt, two in Australia, traveled India, Thailand... I lost track of all the rest. He just arrived in New Zealand two days ago and is looking for a sheep farm to work on. I'm trying to find some Christians near Oxford that might take him in.

Life is crazy. God is good. I need your prayers.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Spring is Coming!

This is an exciting new season that we are moving into at YWAM Oxford. We just finished week one of the Backpacker's Discipleship Training School (BDTS) and the new batch of students are pumped and ready to go. It's a real blessing to see their hearts so eager for God. The fruit of our last month of prayer, intercession and worship is evident.
During our first evening of worship one of the songs that we sang had this line as the chorus:

Chains be broken
Lives be healed
Eyes be opened
Christ is revealed

God spoke to me very powerfully through that and confirmed His call for me to be here right now. Those four simple lines describe the reason that I am here so perfectly. When I initially felt God calling me to staff this DTS the term "chain breaker" kept on popping up again and again in my mind. This is my prayer.
Isaiah 61 is one of the passages that God has given me for this time. Both for myself and for this DTS:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
You shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.
"For I the LORD love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring the LORD has blessed."
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.

It is such an honour to be a part of what God is doing on the Earth. This has been a busy, busy week. Here's a few of the things that I have been up to. Last weekend was spent driving to and from the airport and welcoming new students onto the base. Our welcome barbecue was on Sunday night. Each of us staff has a few areas of responsibility. Some of mine are organizing base and community work duties (and hopefully inspiring a good work ethic), being the house monitor for the guy's residence (the ghetto), and helping to plan the weekend activities. We haven't started our full schedule yet but next week I will also be co-leading a bible study group, leading a Friday night outreach in Christchurch (which I still need to plan, oops) and leading a small group of three guys (hopefully getting some one on one time with each of them as well). There are a lot of logistical things to get done but the first priority is always to be discipling the students. The school could be really efficient and well run but it would be worthless if lives were not eternally impacted for the Kingdom.
Thank you to all of you for partnering with me in prayer. As I told the students in my testimony on Friday, I would not be here if it were not for those who have dedicated themselves to praying for me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prepare ye the way...

DTS officially begins on Sunday, October 3 but students already begin trickling in tomorrow, Thursday. The last three and a half weeks have been spent laying the foundation for the school. An average day looks something like this: The morning begins with about an hour of personal devotions, an hour or worship, an hour of praying for the students, school and each other, and then if we have any time left we'll throw in some teaching and/or planning. Afternoons are generally spent preparing the base physically: Mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, vacuuming, making beds, fixing anything that's broken and generally making sure that the base is spotless before the students arrive.
The most important thing that we have been doing is seeking God's vision for this season and how we fit into it. Keep praying for student's hearts to be soft to the work of the Holy Spirit and obedient in laying down their lives.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Let Freedom Reign

It's another rainy day in Oxford. My washing has been out on the line for several days now, just begging for a patch of sunlight.
This first week of orientation has been admittedly dull. We have had very few duties beyond getting acquainted with the base, learning about YWAM history, structure and values and bonding as a staff team. Tomorrow morning we start getting into the meat and potatoes of defining vision for this school, assigning roles and preparing for the arrival of students. Pray that God would give us unity, that we would have one mind, one vision and one purpose. Pray that God would begin preparing the hearts of the students that will be arriving in October. Pray that our eyes would be lifted upward and outward, to see the greatness of our God and the ripeness of the harvest that He is longing to reap.
One of the best days this week was Thursday when a few of us had the opportunity to go into Christchurch and help clean up some of the earthquake damage. Physically we were not able to do much but even to touch the lives of a few people with an expression of Christ's love and compassion is a huge honour. A lot of people were more shaken up by the earthquake than they first admit. God is reminding us of the foolishness of placing our hope in the things of this world that will pass away. Pray that the church would rise up with acts of love to comfort hurting people and with a prophetic voice to speak truth into the lives of those who have no hope.
Perfect love casts out fear. He makes all things new.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

He is Worthy

On September 3, 2010 Barbara, from the Oxford Baptist Church received this passage from God during her time of prayer and worship:

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

On September 4, 2010 at approximately 4:30 am Barbara's house was right at the epicenter of the seventh largest earthquake in New Zealand's history. (Even larger than the earthquake that devastated Haiti earlier this year.) It reminded me of Amos 3:7 where God assures us that "Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets".

God was speaking to me a lot this morning about the nature of true worship. I have often wondered what it really means to worship "in spirit and in truth". I still wonder. Perhaps that is a form of worship as well... standing open mouthed, staring blankly, wondering what on earth is going on... yet choosing to acknowledge that God is in control. And He's good. He's very, very good.
I find that I worship God most intensely and honestly when I am in a state of turmoil, confusion or pain. It is much easier to forget our desperate need for God in those times of "humdrum prosaic happiness". There was a line in one of the songs that we sang in worship this morning that said something about not letting our memories replace Your presence (speaking of God). It really struck me. How often do I rest upon the memories that I have of experiencing the intimacy of God's presence rather than striving after Him afresh? I know that to grow closer to God will require everything that I am, no half-hearted measures will do, so I find myself naturally remaining stagnant. Comfortable.
I long for the day when I can cry out along with Job, from a place of deep pain, turmoil and confusion: "though He slay me, yet will I praise Him".

He is worthy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Next Step

I like walking barefoot. It reminds me of who I am. It keeps me grounded, so to speak. In ancient times it was a sign of poverty or even slavery. Today it is a physical reminder to me that I have given up everything to become a bondservant of Jesus Christ.
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. In some of His last words to His disciples Jesus said that He no longer called them servants but friends, for a servant does not know his master's business.
All throughout my life I have felt a call. Something that I could not describe or fully comprehend. I still don't understand all of God's purposes but He fills me in with the appropriate details when I need them. Something that I can never seem to work out is this concept of being both a servant and a friend. How can the Eternal God of all creation call me His friend? Somehow I find it so much easier to think of myself as a servant. As a servant I can just do what I'm told but still remain somewhat aloof. However, being a servant is no longer enough. God is calling me beyond that. Not only that but he is calling me to carry others on my shoulders.
I'm terrified. Coming face to face with the Living God is a serious thing. It's true that no man can see God and live. I must die. I must die daily. Only then can Christ live in me and work in me by the Spirit of power from on high.
Two weeks from now my master's business is taking me to New Zealand, where I will join the staff of the Backpacker Discipleship Training School (BDTS). I am wildly excited about this. I'm excited to see how God works. I'm also excited to see how the rest of the necessary funds will come in. I still need approximately $5,500 Canadian dollars over the next six months. I will need about half of that within the next two weeks.
It's quite humbling to know that I can't do this on my own. Thank you for standing with me. Please join me in praying for God's glory to be revealed. Pray for the students, that God would begin preparing their hearts for all that he has for them over the next six months. Pray for the leaders, that God would unite us by His Spirit and give us unconditional love for each other and for the people that we are ministering to. Pray that all the funds would come in, for myself and others. Pray that the million little details of the next two weeks would fall into place and that Our Father would keep my focus on Him, through all circumstances.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Back on Base

Team Sherpa is back in New Zealand! Sort of... six of us got in last night (Thursday) and Gabriel and Kaison will be flying in on Sunday night. Their lives for the last few days have consisted of running around between embassies, consulates, police stations and the airport. It is quite the tale. Unfortunately I don't have time to tell it in much detail. We were quite sad to leave them behind at the last minute when we flew out but we have witnessed a succession of mini miracles (mildly supernatural events, as Kaison would call them) since then. They've had some really cool witnessing opportunities while they've been there and Kaison now has the privilege of being the first person that the Mumbai consulate has ever issued an exit stamp to without proof that he entered the country legally. (The funny thing is that we accidentally entered the country illegally the first time and had to cross the border back into Nepal and then back into India again.) It was such a novelty for the Indian government that they even got them to sign the guest book.
As for our half of the team, all of our travels went so smoothly and efficiently. It was great to meet up with two of our other YWAM teams in Bangkok on our 12 hour layover and then all fly back to New Zealand on the same flight.
It's been almost 24 hours since we got back but it still feels kind of surreal. It's like coming home. Everything is so clean and fresh and peaceful. I took a real shower. I washed my laundry. I drank from the tap. I'm breathing air that isn't thick with smog or marijuana. Is this real?
It's Friday afternoon right now and we will be resting all weekend. Monday morning we begin a final week of lectures and preparation for "real" life. I think we're going to need every minute of that.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I just got the latest news from Gabriel. Kaison was able to get his temporary passport but the Indian government will not let Kaison out of the country without a full police report from the station in Hospet. (Which is where he lost his passport.) Hospet is a two day journey from here and not really a feasible option. Also there seems to be some sort of complication with flying out of Mumbai rather than Delhi. Our flight is scheduled to leave in about thirteen hours. Basically, we're praying for a miracle.

Day Fifty Two: Mumbai

Is this seriously our last day in India? According to our plane tickets, yes. But it hasn't quite sunk in yet.
Our travels from Gokarna to Mumbai went about as well as could be expected. We got to try out some new methods of travel that we haven't employed yet. The first, and most exciting by far, was in the back of a jeep to get from Om Beach to the Gokarna train station. From there we caught a general class train to Margao. (Those are the ones you see in the pictures, with all the people hanging off the back. Fortunately it wasn't that crowded.) From there we caught a sixteen hour sleeper bus up to Mumbai. I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the bus was. The bunks were several inches too short for me to stretch out fully but they were almost as wide as a twin size bed. I was quite delighted... until I realized that it was meant to be shared by two people and spent the rest of the night squished up against Anthony. (Who's 6'5'', the poor fellow.)
Mumbai is quite a bore. It's big and dirty and somewhat hectic, though it's nothing compared to what we went through up north. We were all glad to only spend one night here. Praise God that Kaison's temporary passport renewal application seems to be going smoothly. (He and Gabriel are still at the consulate right now but last we heard it was going well.) The rest of the crew just took off for a day at the orphanage and I stayed behind to spend my last day in India prayer walking through Mumbai.
We're all going to meet up at the airport at 9:00 pm and fly out at 1:00 am. We have another loooong layover in Bangkok where we will meet up with two of the other YWAM teams and then we will all fly back through Sydney and on to New Zealand together. We should be back in Oxford within the next 48 hours. Please pray for safe travels. (And that no one would get left behind. That always sucks.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day Forty Nine: Debrief

Team Sherpa has been reunited! Hurray! The Hampi team surprised us by getting here about eight hours sooner than expected and barging in on our morning devotional time. It was a joyous day and we spent a lot of time sharing stories from the last week and were all very encouraged by the fact that God has so richly blessed our decision to split up last week.
We're still on Om Beach, surprise! (None of the other locations that Nicki, Gabriel and I were checking into worked out so our top-secret debrief location turned out to be right here!)
Today and tomorrow we're having our official "outreach debrief" time. So basically we're attempting to process everything that we've gone through in the last couple of months. It's good to look back over the good times and the bad and see God's hand at work through all of it. Our desire is to see lasting change come out of our time here. Not only in the lives of the people that we've been witnessing to but in our own lives as well.
On Sunday, Lord willing, we'll head up to Mumbai where we'll be spending a little bit more time than expected so that Kaison can figure out his passport details. The rest of us will probably help out at an orphanage that some of Anthony's friends have been working at for a while.
Then, Wednesday at 1:00 am we begin the long journey back to New Zealand for our final week of debrief.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day Forty Six... ish: Just a Quickie

I'm still alive! Nicki and I have been really busy the last few days working out our final travel and accommodation details. I will try and give more of a full update tomorrow. We're still at Om Beach right now and it has been a really great time. We've been spending lots of time with Roman and Einar. Then, surprise, surprise our friends Lucy and Rachel showed up AGAIN. This time with new friends Jim and Ed from Vancouver. In addition to all that we've gotten word that the other half of our team ran into Sam for the FOURTH time this trip. On my next update I'll try and give more specific details on all these people to pray for. In the meantime, thank God for lots of fruitful ministry and cheap beach huts. Pray that we would be able to work out the travel and accommodation for our final week. (Which has been a huge hassle for the last few days and hasn't quite been resolved yet.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day Forty Two: Where to now, God?

So Panaji was pretty dull. It was very hard to meet people and we literally did not have a single meaningful conversation. After a day and a half it was clearly time to move on. Still, we had no idea of where to go next. The question we asked ourselves last night was: "are we okay with just showing up at the bus station in the morning and asking God which bus to get on?" The answer was a unanimous resounding "yes".
It didn't turn out quite that dramatically, we had a general direction in mind. We've heard quite a few people mention how nice Gokarna was. We didn't really know exactly where it was but we knew that it was south and that we needed to head through Margoa wherever we ended up going so we headed there first, praying that we would meet some people along the way.
Sure enough, in the Margoa bus station while I was looking around for information about Gokarna, Petra befriended Oman and Ina, two German guys who were also heading that way and we ended up spending the rest of the day with them, shared rickshaws and got beach huts right next to each other. We were also able to meet a few Dutchies along the way and, get this, an English lady traveling BY HERSELF with THREE children! (Ages 9, 3 and 1.) Some vacation eh?
Gokarna is awesome so far. We arrived around supper time so we haven't seen much yet. We are actually staying about 9km out of Gokarna at Om Beach. It's literally just jungle, beach huts, restaurants and piles of backpackers. That's it. It's paradise. Well, actually, that's the name of the next beach down.
Yesterday we read through some of our notes from two months ago when we prayed about some of the locations in India that we thought we might be going to.
Here's some of the things that we had:
A vision of coastal fog, covering up spiritual bondage.
You may not necessarily know where you're going.
You will see something different and refreshing.
How badly do you want team unity?
It was weird to read through those things, which we had pretty much forgotten about, and realize that all of them had been fulfilled. The spiritual haziness of Arambol, our last minute travel decisions, spending a whole day wandering through grand cathedrals in Old Goa and praying hard for the rest of our team, though we are currently apart.
Speaking of the rest of the team, we just got an email from them about ten minutes ago. Gabriel, Katie and Kaison (and Theresa, the German girl who's traveling with them) just arrived in Hampi after their overnight bus broke down several times and ended up dropping them off 14km from their destination. They managed to get there somehow but apparently they were too late to get the ferry across the river so the spent a night in some back alley. On top of all that Kaison lost his bag that had all his valuables in it, including his passport.

Praise God for a great day of travel, for us anyway, and for all the great witnessing opportunities we've had here already. Gokarna looks like it's ripe for harvest.
Praise God for the great health that our team has had. No one has been sick for over a week! (Side note, pray for Kent, on the other YWAM India team, who is currently in the hospital, in Delhi or Jaipur I think, and is passing blood.)
Pray for continued passion and purpose for these last few days of outreach and much fruit.
Pray for the other half of our team, who have had a rough couple of days.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day Forty: The Great Divorce

As misleading as the title of this post may sound, I couldn't resist stealing the name of a great C.S. Lewis novel. It makes me feel wiser.
Our plans were slightly reshuffled yesterday and Nicki ended up switching to the team heading south through Goa. So early this morning Nicki, Petra, Lydia, Anthony and I took the bus to Panjim (Panaji) and this evening Gabriel, Katie and Kaison will catch a sleeper bus to Hampi.
Panjim is the capital of Goa and besides being a convenient place to make day trips to Old Goa (which was the Portuguese capital until it was abandoned in the 1500's) there really isn't much of interest here. We did a little bit of exploring this afternoon but haven't met very many travellers at all. We're thinking about seeing a Bollywood film tonight and then probably checking out Old Goa tomorrow. Where to next? Only God knows. Literally though, only God knows. We seriously have no clue.
I just bought a book called "Jesus Lived in India". I had never heard of it before coming to India but many people that we've met seem to believe that Jesus spent much of his childhood here, studying under Bhuddist and Hindu teachers and, after "surviving" the crucifixion returned here to live to an old age as an Indian guru. It all sounds like bullhonky to me but I figured I'd better get an idea of where the ideas come from so I can converse intelligently on the topic.
I'm a little bit confused about what day it is... I think some of my previous posts were dated wrong... I might go back and changed those at some point. I'm pretty sure this is our fortieth day of outreath though.
Keep praying that God would prepare the hearts of the people that He wants us to impact during our time here and that He would lead us to them. That He would give us the words to speak and live out His life through our actions and attitudes.
Pray also that as we "put our ears to the ground" here in Panjim that God would give us clear direction on how long He wants us to stay and where we should go next.
Praise God that everyone's health is in top form even after the stuffy bus ride this morning and lots of walking around in the hot, hot sun.
Pray that our team would remain united in purpose, prayer and power despite the fact that we are separated temporarily.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day Thirty Six: Some Changes

I think that one of the things about this whole experience that will have the most lasting impact on my life is the testimony of all the radically different believers that we've had the privilege of meeting on our travels. What a joy it is to be able to travel all over the world, sit down with people you've never met and with whom you have almost nothing in common, and be able to worship and praise the same Lord who has saved us all.
Yesterday we spent the afternoon with a community of christian hippies living here in Arambol. I never really got the whole story on what exactly they do here but I have no doubt that they are a huge witness here. The light of Jesus shines through them so strongly. We heard some rumours that they usually meet up for worship somewhere around here on Sunday afternoons so we set off in search of them and were greatly refreshed by our fellowship with them.
Then in the evening we had our bonfire on the beach again. A few people went to an open jam session at one of the cafes. A few others went clubbing. It was a great night. We had lots of good conversations and we're meeting a few of the same people to take a hike to a nearby lake this afternoon. This last week we've been taking turns giving mini "sermonettes" so I'll top off the day by preaching on the beach this evening.
On Wednesday we are splitting into two groups. Gabriel, Nicki, Katie and Kaison will head for Hampi, which is east of here, and Petra, Anthony, Lydia and I will head south through Goa. Praise God that we have such amazing team unity that we are actually going to miss each other terribly for this week. It is a testament to God's sustaining power that we still love each other after this long together and the only reason we are splitting up is because we believe that is what God is calling us to do for most effective ministry in these last days. We plan on meeting up again in Hampi or possibly Mumbai... or maybe somewhere else... that's the way backpacking goes. If nothing else we'll meet up in Heaven one day.
Thank you for your continued prayers!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day Thirty Four: Goodbye Ordinary Life, You Sucked Anyway

I am amazed again by how easily life becomes "normal" wherever we go. Arambol feels strangely like home. It's amazing that we've already spent... how many days here? They all sort of blend together. Most of our days so far have started with early morning prayer walks on the beach, sometimes with some sunrise worship thrown in there. (Not worshiping the sunrise mind you, that would be a silly mistake, but the one who created it.)
The mornings and afternoons have been quite different each day. We've made a lot of friends here so we all split up and go to hang out with whoever we planned on meeting that day. Whether it be for swimming, slacklining, cooking courses or just sharing meals and playing games together... whatever we can do to convince people to spend time with us... mwuhaha. This afternoon Katie and I headed down to the juggling convention in Mandrem. At least, they called it juggling. Really it was any sort of hippie circus act you can imagine... and possibly more. They had a bunch of workshops going on so Katie spent a lot of time working on her fire poi. I tried my hand at some new juggling tricks and did a little rope walking but mostly hung out in the bar area trying to strike up some conversations. Unfortunately everyone I talked to was quite unresponsive and it never went anywhere. It was really quite a depressing day to be honest. The atmosphere was the most spiritually oppressive that I have felt so far on outreach. I felt like my mind was really clouded and I had trouble thinking straight. I kept trying to pray but my mind kept drifting and going blank. It was really weird. I knew that it was something spiritual but I couldn't quite place my finger on it. That's the way it is with New Age spiritually, I think. It dulls the senses and leaves you dazed and confused. We had been planning to stay the whole day but decided that it would be more profitable to spend our time back in Arambol, where we've had open doors all over the place. As we walked out of the compound I could tangibly feel the cloud lifting from my mind. A weight was off my chest that I hadn't realized was there. On the 4 or 5 kilometer walk back along the beach we ran into our friend Paul, who is a perfectly ordinary man leading a wildly radical life. He is a firm believer in Jesus and is seeking hard after God's perfect will. It was so refreshing to walk along the beach at sunset and get all worked up talking about our mutual passion. Which is to love God and love people. It was such a strange contrast from the rest of the afternoon, and left me so thankful that God has given me the life that he has and the opportunity to share it with others.
Which brings us up to the evening I guess. Again, they've been different each day. Quite often we've started fires on the beach near Cocoloco, which is the most popular dance club, and just welcomed people to join us and enjoy having a chinwag together. We usually stay out quite late, I got to bed at 1:30 this morning, but we often have the opportunity for a quick nap in the afternoon. Anthony, Katie and Lydia are planning to go out with some local fishermen at 3:00 am tomorrow. I think they're crazy... but kind of cool as well, I will admit.
All right, time to hit the beach again. Keep praying!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day Thirty One: Hippie Heaven

Well, we made it. Two days, one tuk-tuk, one train, two taxis, one plane and six or seven bus rides later... we have finally arrived safely in Goa. Have you ever been curious about what it feels like to be a sardine squished into a little can? Come travel in India and you will soon find out. The illusion of personal space has been shattered forever.
I think Bilbo said it best, "It's always an adventure, stepping out your door. You get your feet on the road and there's no knowing where it may take you."
This journey has certainly been an adventure every step of the way. Last night, while I was brushing my teeth and looking up at the stars through swaying palm trees, I got to thinking about some of the crazy places that God has taken me and I couldn't help but marvel. "Wow, God, we've had some exciting times together. You're really cool. My life would be so boring without you."
(Yes, mind blowing I know. Life always seems to be the clearest when I'm brushing my teeth.)

Goa is a small Indian state on the west coast. It was a Portuguese colony for many years so it is traditionally Catholic and has quite a different flavour from the rest of India that we've seen so far. It is rightfully famous for it's beaches and has become a bit of a hippie paradise in the last five decades. Arambol, the little town that we're staying in now, consists mainly of beach huts, bars and open markets. One out of ten people is Indian (probably a shop owner). Four out of ten have dreadlocks. Three out of ten are old Russian men in G-strings. Five out of ten haven't had a "real job" in years, and never intend to again. Two out of ten are naked. Ten out of ten are spiritually seeking. So, basically, this is the place to be for backpacker ministry.
Gabriel, Nicki, Lydia and Anthony are renting a room in a house owned by two Russian ladies and Kaison, Katie, Petra and I are renting two thatch huts on the beach. (Being in missions is hard work, really, it is!)
We have been really encouraged by how easy it is to get into spiritual discussions here. Anthony and I were walking down the beach yesterday, looking for the juggling convention and not really intending to meet anyone, and we got into three great conversations just with people who happened to be walking in the same direction. There is definitely an ease and openness here that is not found in a lot of other places in the world. That can be a good thing and a bad thing at the same time but either way it is definitely a huge opportunity. I would describe the spiritual atmosphere here as "foggy" and/or "hazy". Both in the sense that it's vague and also that it is very deceptive and hides the real dangers that are lurking beneath the surface. Picture a cloud of marijuanna smoke that's lulling people to sleep and convincing them that everything's all right and there's nothing to worry about. When really they're adrift at sea with no land in sight. That's basically what Goa is like.

In other news, Gabriel has been really sick the last few days and apparently he got up in the middle of the night, headed over to the communal fridge, sprawled out on the floor and was eating some curd when the two Russian ladies found him, held him down and stuffed him full of something that he described as looking like black sand with chunks in it and now this morning he feels tip top!
In a completely unrelated incident, I unexpectedly got my ears cleaned out by some random Indian guy on the beach yesterday. Those guys are fast. By the time I realized what was going on he was already displaying heaps of wax that he had pulled out of my ears and demanding payment.
Kaison is still determined to get some fresh coconuts and managed to get half way up a tree this morning. We celebrated by setting off some fireworks that Anthony picked up for 5 rupees.

We're planning on staying here for at least a week and then maybe taking off for Hampi, which is a big climbing hotspot, or maybe somewhere else in Goa. Pray that God would give us clear direction on how long He wants us to stay here, where He wants us to go next and clear direction for what sort of ministry we should focus on while we're here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day Twenty Six: Agra

Our last few days in Varanasi were quite enjoyable. It's hard to believe that we were there for nine days. The time went by so fast. We had lots of great opportunities for sharing the gospel. Keep Lily, Sam and Simon in your prayers especially. We spent quite a bit of time with each of them. (I think I may have already mentioned Sam, we met him in Pokhara and, lo and behold, he turned up in Varanasi too. Praise God that he has decided to kick his Marijuana habit.)

Our 13 hour train ride to Agra turned into a 19 or 20 hour ordeal due to delays caused by fog. So we've been here for a few hours now and just had enough time find our hotel and settle in. Since today was cut short we'll probably extend our stay here to three days instead of two. This is the halfway point of our outreach (hard to believe, I know) so we're going to take some time to evaluate and discuss what we've been through so far and set some clear goals and vision for the next four weeks. Of course, while we're here we might pop into the Taj Mahal for an afternoon... maybe.

The area that we're in now has given us a small taste of reverse culture shock after coming from Varanasi. There are hordes of tourists and everything is quite westernised. We feel oddly out of place. The flavour is still definitely Indian but a boring, sanitised version. I feel like a homeless man who's stepped into the Disneyland of the Asian subcontinent without any interest in riding rollercoasters or eating cotton candy. Such places are where the worlds two most uninteresting and unoriginal people meet. Those who are only interesting in selling and those only interested in consuming. Blegh.

Our next stop is Goa. Which, if today's train is any indication, may take several days to get to. Regardless, I'm excited to get back amongst my backacker brethren. Apparently there's a big juggling festival going on while we're there. Heck yes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

An Average Day in Varanasi

Our days are loosely divided into thirds. One third is dedicated to team time (worship, intercession, planning). One third is intentional "ministry" time and the final third is free time. Though with our type of evangelism the lines between ministry and free time often blur.
The way that each day is arranged changes from day to day but we've been starting most days at 7:00 by pairing up and prayer walking up and down the Ganges for an hour. Then we have personal devotions/breakfast until 9:30 when we will usually meet up again to discuss whatever is going on that day. We've really bonded well as a team and we all really enjoy these times of just hanging out together. Depending on whether we're praying or singing during that time it may go on for an hour or two or three. After that we pair up, pray together for direction and go and do whatever God gives us that day. One of the most intense days was when God clearly told Katie and me to go down to the Ganges and pray for miraculous healings. That was a new experience for us and we both went in great fear and trembling. If I see no greater demonstration of God's power than this I can see already that he has completely changed my heart. That I, Ben Sherwood, would stand in the middle of a busy street in Varanasi, place my hands on a man with no arms and pray that they would grow back... who but God could ever convince me to do that? Or to look into the eyes of a beggar and truly be able to say that I love him with all my heart and wish him a good day? I'm not like that naturally. Men don't change by themselves. It just doesn't happen.
But I digress. Most days our focus is more on the western travellers that have come here as spiritual seekers. Their souls are so ripe for the picking. They are desperately seeking truth and they are trying everything out in their search to find meaning. Most of them settle for a new-agey mixture of anything and everything spiritual and try any kind of drugs they can get to help anesthetize the pain in their hearts. Basically all we do is talk with them, eat with them, share our testimonies with them. It's pretty straighforward really.
Several days ago we were fortunate enough to meet Michael Graham (who we had never heard of before) and he gave us some little booklets with his testimony in English and Hindi. So we've been handing some of those out, as well as Bibles, to those who are interested. He spent 28 years deep in Eastern spirituality so his testimony speaks directly to where many of these travellers are at right now.
If we have any time left over, and we're not currently engaged in serious conversation, we sometimes meet in the evening for public worship or prayer. One or two nights ago we took communion together by the Ganges. That was an interesting night.

Keep praying for:

-Continued health and safety. Everyone is feeling pretty good today, as far as I know, but just about everyone has been sick at one point. Praise God that the worst I've had is a two day cold.

-The seeds that have already been planted. Compared to Nepal we've met so many more people here and I can't take the time to list them all. (Even if I could remember all their names.) We are especially thankful that we've bumped into some of the same people on multiple occasions and been able to spend significant amounts of time with them.

-God's continued guidance on the best ways to reach out and show His love.

-The rest of our travels. The next of which will be a night train to Agra on the 13th/14th.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Impressions of India

It's a bit overwhelming at first. It's true what they say, that nothing can really prepare you for India. Everything hits you all at once the moment you step into it. The sights, the smells, the sounds. All indistinguishable in one great blur as you stumble about wondering what in the world you've gotten yourself into. The first thing that stood out to me was the chaos of trying to get transportation to the place you want to go at a price you're willing to pay. Usually I'm arguing with at least five or six bus, taxi or rickshaw drivers all at the same time.
Gradually, as the initial shock wears off, you are able to begin noticing individual details. The burning in your lungs from a mixture of smog, incense and marijuana. As you walk down the street the pleasant smells of spices and fresh fruits wafting from the innumerable roadside stands mix freely with the pungent aroma of raw sewage running through the gutters.
You get used to the constant honking of horns. The streets are every bit as crowded as you've imagined. From large buses to little cycle-rickshaws and everything in between. India has it all. They drive on the left side of the road officially, but that seems to be a fairly general guideline. Right of way goes to the person that wants it the most. This makes busy intersections quite exciting. I've spotted a few traffic lights here and there but never any that work. They have sometimes been replaced by traffic police but their power is limited to how impatient people are to get to their destination. Somehow it always seems to work and, despite all the honking, no one ever really seems to get too angry. It's a giant, chaotic, deadly, colourful dance. Then there's the holy cows of course, who are the wild card players. You never can be too sure what they're going to do next but they're unavoidable in India and if you can go twenty steps without running into one you've probably stepped in twenty cowpies to get there. I've only been run into once so far (by a cow, that is) but our local cow, Bessy, that always hangs out near our hostel has taken a personal dislike to Kaison and takes a swipe at him every time we go past. It's quite hilarious.
Then there's the people. There are a lot of them. About a billion I think. That's a lot. We can't really hide the fact that we're westerners so the offers for drugs, boat rides and silk shops are pretty much incessant. All of our conversations are interspersed with regular outbursts of "No boat! No rickshaw! No hashish! No helicopter! No money!"
The kids here are delightful, even though they start begging or selling as soon as they're able to walk. They generally speak good English and we've had lots of interesting conversations with them. It's encouraging to see the simple joy and innocence on their faces, in contrast to the despair and hopelessness that is evident everywhere else. The little boys have an appreciation for good facial hair and they often tug on my beard (yes, it's long enough to tug on now) and call me "baba".
The sky is always full of kites and the kids are real experts at handling them. It seems to be a national pastime. With cricket being another one, there's usually a game or two going on in any open area.
Hindus come to Varanasi for the holy river, and to die here if possible. There are several burning ghats where bodies are burned and the ashes put in the river. I won't go into all the details except to say that it is quite a dark place and the people are full of despair. While standing about two meters from a burning corpse I had a lengthy conversation with a man who works in the "hospice" there. His job is to take care of people who have come there waiting to die. By "conversation" I mean that I mostly prayed to God for words to say as he gave me a monotone description of all the rituals that must be performed for each body. I have never seen such emptiness and despair contained in one man's eyes. Looking into them was like looking into the pit of hell. I tried challenging him with a few questions about what he believed but he dodged them swiftly and carried on with his monolouge. I tried changing tack and told him a little bit about the hope and peace that I have in Jesus Christ but that went nowhere fast and the conversation ended with me walking away with him yelling after me and calling down curses from the gods.
There is so much bondage here. The air is thick with it. We've been starting every morning with 7:00 am prayer walks to bathe the city in prayer and true worship. We continue to take up the full armour of God each day and He has kept us within His blessing and protection each step of the way. To be honest, I was actually expecting a lot more spiritual opposition. But hey, it's early days yet.
Perhaps my greatest surprise is how easily I've become at ease here. I was thinking about how strangely at home I felt yesterday as I was sitting by myself in a little roadside cafe, enjoying a small pot of coffee, reading about Sadhu Nitenyana and his search for the Eternal Guru and exchanging travel stories with the Dutch couple sitting nearby. It is such a blessing to take the presence of God with us wherever we go. To be at peace in all circumstances. To know joy in suffering. To have hope for the future. To take each step in faith and to approach life from a place of true rest. God is good. I love Him more each day. If nothing else, India has shown me what depths of mercy and grace I truly have in Christ.
That is enough. That is more than enough.

Day Twenty-Two: Varanasi

Well it's been exactly one week since my last post and boy, what a week it has been. We're taking another Sabbath today which is why I've finally found enough time to be able to get on the internet for a little while.
Praise God for a safe arrival in Varanasi. The two day journey went pretty well, all things considered. The border crossing at Sunaili was a real mess but we managed to get a bus down to Gorakhpur. Unfortunately we were unable to get the night train that we had been planning on so we crashed at a really grungy hotel near the train station for a couple hours sleep before the 5:30 train left the next morning. It literally took Gabriel and me all night to get the tickets for that train. We managed to sleep for a few hours here and there in between getting sent from counter to counter trying to find someone who spoke English and could get us the right tickets. Everyone gave us a different story about where we needed to go or what time we needed to get them by and what paperwork we needed to fill out and so on. It was a little bit frustrating but we did eventually manage to get them at about two or three in the morning.
So we arrived in Varanasi at about 11:00 am, took taxis down to one of the ghats (which are the stairs leading down to the Ganges) and let everyone hang out there while Petra, Kaison and I went in search of accomodation. As per usual, all of our first choices were booked up and we spent most of the first two hours trying to shake off an extremely persistent hotel tout who kept on following us everywhere. Kaison ended up chasing him down the street yelling and shaking his fist. Even with such violent tactics it still took a few minutes to get rid of him. That guy was the most persistent but there were dozens of others offering boat rides, hashish, temple tours, rickshaws, peanuts... anything you could possibly imagine. So after a few hours of that, and not finding anything available within our budget we returned to the group thoroughly exhausted and feeling rather hopeless about the whole situation. We decided to all keep walking further north up the ghats and see what we could find there. Almost immediately we passed a group of hippies who stopped and stared for a minute and then asked if we were a YWAM team from New Zealand. Long story short, we've met up with a worship DTS that's based out of the North Island. We had no idea that they were here but they had met up with another one of our teams that had been here a few days earlier so they knew our names and a little bit about us. They were able to hook us up with a sweet place to stay and show us good places to eat and exchange money and so on. It was just another example of God pouring out blessings on us when we least expected and most needed it. We haven't hung out with them too much since then, since the focuses of our ministry are quite different, but several nights ago all nineteen of us took a boat up and down the Ganges singing praise and praying together. Amid all the idol worship with incense and chanting and the clanging of bells there is such a lack of true worship in this place.
Hm... well that's a very brief description of our first few hours here... so I might try and update a little bit more later today. Thanks again for your prayers.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Day Fifteen: Worship

Today we began the third week of outreach by enjoying another Sabbath. This morning we rented two canoes and paddled around the lake for a while then hiked up to the World Peace Pagoda on the other side. We walked around the temple praying and then set up right at the entrance and sang worship songs, read scripture and basically ruined the atmosphere for everyone who was looking for enlightenment through Bhuddism. We got the usual amount of odd stares and the older generation was quite curious as to how our little speaker could produce so much sound. Nicki hit it off real well with three young boys and one of them in particular was quite interested in hearing about Jesus. Anthony had one of our backpacker Bibles with him so we gave that to them and they were really excited to go home and read it so that they could pass it on to their friends.
Somehow the focus of our time in Pokhara kept on gravitating towards worship. Meeting Chieran (the hostel manager) was a huge blessing and it turns out that my initial estimates about the small number of believers in Pokhara was a translation error and the church is actually growing quite fast. It's not hard to imagine why when you hear the testimonies that these guys have. We spent New Year's Eve with a small prayer group and got a massive feast out of the deal and then on Saturday we attended a church service with about forty or fifty members. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a guy that spoke pretty good english and he translated a few bits and pieces for me. It's really humbling to see how much faith and passion these little Nepalese guys have. Most of them live very simply (the pastor is a taxi driver) but they all want to work harder so that they will have more money to give to the poor. They are so hospitable towards us and genuinely stoked that we're here. Being able to worship and pray with them will definitely be the thing that I remember most fondly about Pokhara.
In other news, Anthony has fully recovered and we had a great time celebrating his birthday a day late. Keep Petra and Katie in your prayers, they both have colds. Thank God that my health has been tip top so far (and that it will remain so).
We're starting the trek to Varanasi early tomorrow morning. It looks like it will probably be one bus to the border crossing at Sunaili, then one more to Ghorakpur, then probably a night train to Varanasi... or something along those lines. Pray that I will be able to find the quickest and most efficient means of travel without putting everyone through too much tribulation on cheap busses.
Two more people to pray for specifically are Sam from Australia, who will be doing some travelling in India as well, and Frith from New Zealand. Those were probably two of the keenest people that we've met so far. Oh yeah, also Vicki from South Africa, if you're still on your knees. She just got a job at a parahawking company here and she's planning on travelling the world for two years and working as she goes. She had supper with us two nights ago.
I think that's about all for now. Pray that God would prepare the way before us in India. I think we're all ready for some good curry. We've had about as much chowmein and momo as we can take.