India Diary 4

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Dear All,

Temperature is becoming quite humid here in Goa, they say about 84 last week, not all the time but the occasional day, makes things feel a little damp and certainly saps the energy levels, but generally still very nice.  The difference between here and UK of course is we can fairly accurately say what the weather will be next day or next week, therefore planning is much easier to do.

Had an overnight stay with Frank and Tanya, two friends that live outside of a place called Calangute.  As a business they have taken a lease on a building and they run as a guest house for multi national residence in Calangute. Tanya is also an extremely good interior designer and Frank is involved in Indian silk both here in India and UK, pretty talented couple.   They reside in an old Portuguese style house which they rent, very nice place, it is set in a small plantation of palm trees with lots of earthenware pots of flowers, bougainvillea’s  and scrubs around, the crickets were merrily talking or whatever they do when they make their evening sounds, it felt all very colonial and full of Indian mystic.  Whilst Tanya prepared dinner, Frank and I made the mistake of sitting outside chatting at sundown and for two hours early in the evening we were devoured by mosquito’s, even though we had put on repellent and had the citronella candles burning it did not seem to make much of a difference.  This is the time of the evening of course that ‘mossies’ are at their most active, after two hours they had had their fill of our precious blood and promptly left, then the evening outside was fantastic, so relaxing sat on the veranda until midnight talking and listening to the night sounds from the plantation vegetation and undergrowth.  The following morning after tea and toast on the veranda with my splendid hosts, a young Catholic guy who works at the guest house arrived, by the name of Stephen, who kindly drove me by car to where I could get the bus back to Panjim, the place of my abode.  Stephen who is an active RC Christian told me he had a Priest friend who had influence and could arrange for me to meet the RC Archbishop of Goa, I smiled and said that would be fantastic, as I would certainly like to know more of the RC faith which sometimes can be a little confusing concerning prayers to Mother Mary, the Saints and of purgatory! So his views of how the Indian culture view these things!  Anyway, I will let you know in later diary notes if this meeting transpires or not.  It was a wonderful evening break and the company was excellent with inspired conversation, both my hosts have a wide knowledge of local living in Goa and India in general, so I took away with me much more knowledge and experience of life here in India.  Will try and get Frank and Tanya to come to St Stephen’s and meet with you as they live in Gloucestershire and are home for the summer.  Sunday lunch comes to mind.

You will be pleased to know that my room and the terrace that has been gratefully acquired as an addition, is becoming much more known and active now in Christian fellowship.  People turn up for prayers, a chat and to talk of many topics including the Alpha course of the ‘Meaning of Life’.  Have put the address where I live at the end of this diary note, for those who may be interested to drop a line and maybe send the Church newsletter for information of what you are all up to.  You are a treasured bunch of people whom I love.

Gradually, by word of mouth people are beginning to know what my ministry is (Prayer, fellowship and leader of the Alpha course) here in India, they already know that it is certainly not another Church plant but activities that compliment all Christian gatherings.   They come for fellowship and prayer and occasionally bring a friend with them, so slowly but surely activity is beginning to take place and of course the longer I am here the more it will happen.  Have decided on Alpha in Goa, that insufficient time is left to run a full course, so have started collecting names of those who are interested to register for a course to be run from the end of August of this year, two persons have already committed, the aim is for a course of twelve, with a further aim to then continue the group as a weekly house group gathering for future learning and fellowship.   It is also hoped that there will be a few people on the course that would like to continue and lead future Alpha’s but I will leave that to the Lord to determine.

When I came here this time, I was not drawn to going back to the original Villa that I used previously, this was mentioned in an earlier diary note.  Whilst it had the benefit of being free and fairly comfortable, it was a little too isolated for me to be effective in my style of ministry, especially without having transport, also one of the neighbours was getting a little agitated, as many visitors did arrive for prayer and Alpha training at various times, this activity he (Peter) was not happy with for whatever his reasons, but there is no desire to worsen this situation and cause any distress to anyone so it is felt better not to be there.  In general, where I am now is proving more advantageous in being closer to a town, although I walk most everywhere, it is convenient to be in striking distance of public transport of buses, rickshaw’s, taxi’s and not too far away from the main train station which is about an hour away, also have fairly easy access to outlying villages should I get called or wish to go and visit.  Whilst I now pay for the place I have, there is greater freedom of activities and the owners (Joavita & Antonio) are very happy for me to do Christian work and have fellowship gatherings for prayer, and certainly in the future they are happy for me to run the Alpha courses.  The rent I pay is about £58 a month, depending on the exchange rate, it includes the utilities and it is partly furnished, not forgetting that guests can stay, so with the use of the terrace it is a very good arrangement.  The only downside is the owners are not comfortable for the place to be left unmanned without  someone being there which of course is not really possible yet, so therefore it excludes the 24/7 prayer room that was originally envisaged.  It is felt with all the other benefits, that the 24/7 prayer room will have to be put on the back burner for a later time, at least there is a prayer room facility which is available when I am there and of course the Christian library which is slowly building.  The Lord seems to be opening many doors in encouraging what is happening, and all the Glory really goes to Him.

Contact has now been re-established with Alpha India in Bangalore, Rajesh their development manager is still actively involved so it was great to speak with him again.  Nicky Gumble of Alpha recently paid a visit to India which is rapidly growing in Alpha activity which is really encouraging.  When I was here last time a fair amount of organising had been done in Goa and it was arranged for Rajesh and his team from Bangalore (central south India) to help with events and meetings arranged.  It was great to know this did happen and the feedback from Rajesh was very positive.  Unfortunately little has been done since that time by the people in Goa for a number of reasons, so without judgement, hopefully with the Lords help we can now make further headway.  Alpha is mentioned again in the next few paragraphs as a result of something coming out of the blue so to speak.

Paul Marsh Makhani (Anglo –Indian) a Pastor and Christian author and my friend, who lives in East Sussex has been here in India for the last three months, preaching and teaching.  He spent a few weeks with OM (Worldwide Christian Organisation) in Andhra Pradesh teaching and has then been travelling extensively on preaching engagements throughout India.  He once gave his testimony at St. Stephens Church about a year ago, for those that remember him, he is a very good evangelist and Preacher with fire in his belly.  On a Friday morning several weeks ago Paul phoned me and said “Jim, I am in a place called Kolahpur, South Marahastra, can you get on a bus and come and join me, it’s only about an eight hour journey, I am with a Christian fellowship headed by Pastor Skinnar of – New Life Fellowship, they have a following of about 300+ people, I am preaching on Sunday and it would be good if you could come and give testimony and possibly talk on Alpha”  My reply was ‘when Paul’  he quickly replied “now of course” ha ha  God Bless him.  Anyway when I finally located it on the map. It is a small town just in from the West coast of South Mahaharastra, thought it was a small town but in fact it has 1 million people, ha ha, well it looked small on the map.  Walked to the Panaji bus station (Kadamba) and at the enquiries desk was told that a bus left daily at 1.30pm and would take about seven hours, so I booked a ticket to leave the following day, then phoned Paul to confirm.

Packed sandwiches and fruit, and with pending excitement and some amount of trepidation, which is not such a bad thing, I left my place in the humid heat to walk the 4 kilometers to catch the bus.  What a journey it was, just an ordinary rickety old bus, ticket cost was 160 rupees (£2.50), boarded among the hustle and bustle of the other Indian travellers and I was on my way.  The journey started just fine, driver was a little erratic but ok.  We had a stage coach stop after about two hours then we headed inland from the coast, the terrain started to get more rugged and certainly was more farming land orientated.  At one stage, I looked up to the top of a rather large mountain in a range we were travelling through, could see what seemed like a collection of settlement buildings right at the top of a steep mountain, never gave it much thought as did not think we would not be going there, far too high and anyway it did not seem to have a road, mmmmm not possible I thought.  Gradually the bus started to climb and bits of road started to appear, we kept winding and turning and going up and up, still thinking, no not possible.   On one side when I looked out it was a sheer drop with a barrier to the side of the road, on the other side was a steep mountain wall.  Could feel my stomach start to churn, I have no head for heights at the best of times.  But yes, we were on the road going up, the driver was still a little erratic which made the journey even more scary, we finally got to the top and even the old bus it seemed to me was out of breath and shaking with fear, ha ah or was that me.  Some of the passengers told me, in broken English that we had gone up to 10,000 feet.  The good thing was the air was so clean and fresh at the top, it was very refreshing.  Thoughts went to Paul Makhani, where are you bringing me to. Ha ah.  Have seen such things on TV and films but never thought I would ever experience such a journey.  Suddenly it occurred to be that I eventually had to come back this way and it must be worse going down the mountain road, quickly tried to put it out of my mind and concentrate on what lay ahead with the testimony and the Alpha talk.  Arrived safely at Kolaphur just after 9pm, had been on the bus for just over eight hours by this time with only two stops, so was feeling a little stiff to say the least.  Pastor Skinnar and Paul were waiting for me at the bus station and I was very glad to see them and excited to tell them of my journey.

The few days in Kolaphur were really great.  Pastor Skinnar and his wife Gladys, both from Kerala in South India originally, were very hospitable.  Their church movement had a stone building which they built themselves, downstairs it had a large hall able to have a gathering of 300+ and an upstairs hall able to take about the same number.  Our sleeping rooms were basic but comfortable and we shared bathing and washing facilities.  Some Indian ladies prepared food for us, all of which was really lovely traditional Indian food, and their chapattis were fantastic.  Paul liked to spread local pineapple jam on his, my preference was to dip in the curry, always been a bit strange has Paul!  On the Sunday, I gave a testimony with biblical references in the morning which was translated into Marathi language and in the evening was in English so no need for translation.  Paul preached, which was very inspiring and well presented, he really is a very accomplished Preacher.  Paul, Pastor Skinnar (PS) and I discussed, in some detail, as to whether the Alpha course would be suitable, which was a positive outcome.  It was agreed that I would obtain the required materials, Pastor Skinnar would arrange to get about six matured English speaking Christians together and I would then return and lead them through as many as the actual Alpha course sections as I could, then train them to lead their own groups.  PS was already familiar with Alpha so it made it a little easier.  Subsequent to the visit, have now ordered the materials in English, Marathi and Hindi, on receipt would arrange with PS to travel back to Kolaphur to conduct and lead the training.

One of the questions I asked PS when I was with him, was how they conducted their baptisms, he informed me that they would always go to a river bank and Baptise on the local river, but of late there had been a gatherings of Hindus who became quite agitated and it is becoming all a little too intimidating, so now their group are considering having baptism services within their own building. so will have a purpose built area made.  We are so fortunate with freedom in the UK not to have such difficulties with threatening actions taken on us, but do we really appreciate it!  A point to note here, the Hindu’s and sometimes Muslims only really get agitated when they believe people are being led to conversion to Christianity.  They seem to be ok with visiting preachers and teachers for existing Christian groups but not with any activity open new conversions.  We have to be sensitive and rightfully respectful of this fact.  Normally when Baptisms take place it is only with the very close family members, friends and trusted colleagues that they know.  Normally Hindu’s are peace loving and accept Jesus as another of their Gods, but in any religion including our own, there are always the radical movements that cause unrest.

On the Sunday evening we all had a meal together, then PS drove us to the coach station (side of the road really) for overnight travelling. Paul left first to go north to Mumbai at 9.30 pm, my coach was at 11pm but left at 1am a few hours late to go back to Panaji, Goa.  We all hugged and bid one another farewell, it was a fantastic experience.  We all felt God was with us so much.  Then I thought of that descent down that the mountain, but the feeling soon went, anyway I fell asleep on the coach and passed it without seeing, just as well really.

During my journey in India, I constantly consult with many trusted people, including Alpha organizing to enlist people to help and assist me.  In this, a good bible reference is Exodus 18 where Jethro, father in law of Moses, helps and guides Moses with the word of the Lord.  This applies to many parts of our lives.   We should never worry about appearing foolish or shouting for help from time to time.

My address in India is:
Jim Fisher C/o A.F. Colaco
Colaco’s Villa
220 Altinho Road (Opposite Idea Offices)

That’s if for this time folk’s, so will wish you a fond farewell for now.  Just before I leave, may I apologise in advance for any comments that are made concerning religious matters that you may not find agreeable.  It is not my intention to upset or insult anyone, but just to portray what I see or am told.  In a Hindu country it is inevitable that the Hindu questions do arise, I have many friends who are Hindu and whom I love, so it is not meant as personal affront to anyone.

End of India diary note 4 dated 6th March 2011

God Bless in all you do.

Jim Fisher