Thursday, February 28, 2008


The train pulls into a station about an hour and a half from Repalle. It’s a little after 3:00pm on Wednesday, 9 January. The station is in a little commercial area of Cherrapalli. The IREF (India Rural Evangelical Fellowship) van is waiting for us. We maneuver around a few trucks, a bus, a bunch of little three-wheel taxis and innumerable bicycles. Soon we’re into a residential area and soon after that we’re heading out into the countryside.

This is the true beauty of India…at least of south India. There are things of architectural beauty in the cities but the dirt and sheer mass of humanity mask something of that charm. There are the unique beauties, like the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, etc, but those are few and far between. It is south India’s rural countryside that can seduce both eye and heart. Mile after mile of brilliant green fields of rice and beans. The rice stacked into house-sized stacks. Coconut palms, date palms everywhere. Nature always looks peaceful and clean. It even smells clean!

The vistas are so very familiar. Memories and feelings begin to flood back. The Spirit moves my mind and heart to prayer… “Lord, give me a passion for these people! Make your name great this week. Be gracious and merciful to change hearts and save lost Indians. Use me as you see fit to reach your chosen ones.”

The outskirts of Repalle. I still recognize the route after five years. I’m stunned by a huge picture of myself smiling down from a gigantic billboard. There is Emmanuel Rebba on my left and Dave McMahon on my right. Where in the world did they ever find that picture?

Boys are lined up on both sides of the narrow street. The van drops us off and we are expected to run the gauntlet from here. Each boy has been armed with two handfuls of flower petals. They are supposed to toss them into the air over our heads like confetti. Indian boys are no different from American boys. We are soon pelted by sweet-smelling balls of crushed flower petals! We make the turn and head for the main gate! Huge banners! Hearty Welcome Rev. David Moorhead. There’s John Paul Rebba. There’s Evangeline. We’re through the gate and into the girls’ side where we receive a softer, gentler pelting from college girls all the way down to first years. The heavy floral garlands around my neck are getting very heavy. They’re very wet. I have been well and heartily welcomed yet again to IREF’s Gospel Fields.

Lydia Rebba, the matriarch who is now in her mid-nineties, rises from her chair to greet me. I lift my hands before my face as she does the same. I take her hands in mine and nearly shout over the din, “Lydia! It’s so good to see you! Thank you for having me back again. I love you!” The venerable old lady pulls me down and almost purrs my name into my ear… “Murrrrrrrhead!”

Monday, February 25, 2008


Our neighbors’ house burned down this morning.

The sirens woke me up just after 6:00 this morning. At first I was a little annoyed because today is my day off and I stayed up late last night because I knew I could sleep later today. The kids were already up getting ready for school. I looked out the front window and saw the fire truck across the street. I wondered why it was there. An ambulance pulled up so I thought maybe someone had a heart attack or an accident or something.

We turned on the local news on TV to check the weather and they reported a “massive house fire on Emmons Street in Caledonia.” I began looking out all the west side windows but couldn’t really see anything. The TV newsperson said they were sending a crew to Caledonia so I thought maybe I should go see what was going on. I threw on my clothes and walked up the street.

It was five houses up. A beautiful Victorian that the owners have been fixing up for a couple of years. It’s been on the market off and on for a long time but with the depressed housing market in Michigan it hasn’t moved. When I got there it was still very dark but the flames were leaping out the eaves from the attic. It wouldn’t be long before the roof was engulfed.

We don’t have hydrants on Emmons Street. They just put new water down Main Street, one block to the south. New hydrants all along there. Strangely, the hoses from Main were all flat as could be. No water there. Turns out the new hydrants were frozen up. More and more tankers/pumpers began pulling onto our street. They were coming from all the towns around us. Obviously they were having trouble getting enough water on the fire. The two people who live there were standing on the street talking to the police. Their dog didn’t get out. They were able to save nothing.

I stood on the sidewalk with my neighbors watching as the roof finally collapsed in on the house. It was rather quiet. As the sun began to rise it was apparent that all was lost.

All kinds of thoughts go through my head at times like this. It’s not my house but it could have been. Only by God’s grace was it not my house. How quickly things can be gone! How attached am I to things that will burn in a second? Why do we play the game, “What would you save if….?” Why do we invest so much time and money into stuff and so little into people? How would I be acting if this was my house? Do I really believe that this world is not my home and that my home is not my world?

Our neighbors’ house burned down this morning.

Thursday, February 21, 2008



“Let us strive to speak fluet English”

The train just started to move out of a station on the way north where we stopped to let off and pick up a few passengers. That’s when I saw her. An older woman in a ragged sari with her skirts tied up. She had one of those Indian brooms. I’m not sure what they are made of. Just a handle with a bunch of “sweepy” sticks tied to it. She was sweeping dirt and dust on the platform.

The entire train station was surrounded by nothing but dirt! She could finish the platform and go back and start again! It would be just as dirty! It certainly struck me as a monumental waste of time.

This thought came into my mind: It’s just like people who try to clean the sin out of their own lives. They can work at it all day every day and never make a bit of progress. The moment they think they have made themselves clean they can look back and see they are just as full of sin as before! We can never sweep our own lives clean of sin. We don’t need a better broom. We don’t need more time. We need to be picked up and placed in a different world! We need God to come in and not only sweep us clean but also remove all the dirt that surrounds us. Only then can we be clean.

Then, on the other hand, think how dirty the platform would become if she didn’t sweep it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


It seems like there are countless tracks and platforms in the venerable old Victorian train station. Gratefully, all I have to do is follow the leader rather than try to figure out which platform is mine! Heyer Paul is racing ahead, keeping an eye on the eight bags. Perhaps he thinks the red shirts might run off with them?

I’ve noticed some men dressed in black, all black. Most have some kind of colorfully fringed black lungi (the men’s wraparound garment) with a long black shirt. Some just wear black pants with the black shirt. Some wear no shirt but are wrapped in black shawls. All are barefoot. All wear three or four horizontal white stripes across their foreheads. It is obviously some Hindu thing but I have never seen anything quite like it before.

Suddenly my ears are assaulted by that typically Indian form of communication, the portable loudspeaker. Someone up ahead has actually set up a sound system on the rail platform. As we draw closer I can see that it is a very large group of the men in black. They are seated cross-legged on the concrete surrounding one who must be a guru of some kind. They are rapt in their attention, almost ecstatic. It sounds, by its tone, like some kind of challenge or encouragement. I pull out my camera and snap a couple of quick pictures before a slight sense of unease sneaks over me. I slip the camera into its case and I step onto the train.

Dee tells me they are on a pilgrimage. They are heading down to a jungle in Kerala. When they get a little closer to Kerala they will abandon the train and walk the rest of the way, many miles. There are many rules governing their pilgrimage. Obviously, their clothing. But also diet rules and sexual abstinence rules. Dee says there are many, many more. They travel into the jungle and camp there for awhile. Then, on the appointed day, they all hike deep into the jungle seeking the light. If they have faithfully executed their pilgrimage they will see the light. They believe there will be a manifestation in the form of a little pinpoint of white light that blinks in the darkness of the jungle. If they see the light then their sins are forgiven.

“So, Dee, how many of them ever see the light?”

“All of them! Everyone know there is a man in the heart of the jungle with a very bright flashlight!”

It’s really not funny. People going through all the motions of religion pursuing something they know is phony while maintaining some charade of significance. I had two thoughts. One, that’s why I’m here in India. Two, it’s not all that different from the quackery back home!
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Thursday, February 14, 2008


The van pulled up to deposit us in front of the central train station. Swarming men in red shirts, both young and old, some obviously strong and powerful and some very decrepit. White people with large, heavy luggage! An opportunity to make many rupees. They are always willing to pay. Big smiles. Heads bobbling. Then Heyer Paul Rebba stepped out of the van last. The smiles suddenly disappeared. The white people, obviously incapable of haggling for themselves, had brought their own Indian negotiator! The money would not flow as easily now.

Eight bags. Eight! Count them again. Eight! No! Count them louder! Still eight! Another red shirt comes to help count. Holds up all five digits on one hand and the thumb, index and middle fingers of the other hand. He agrees. Eight! Heads bobble. It is agreed. All parties settle on eight bags.

Red shirt, “1,000 rupees.” Heyer Paul, “200.” Red shirt walks away. Turns around. Comes back. “Eight bags! (I thought we had already decided that!) 1,000 rupees!” Heyer Paul, “200.” (Right now there are about 39 rupees to an American dollar.) Red shirt’s hands fly into the air. I can’t understand a word but I argue his case in my mind. “I have a family to feed! A wife! Kids! What would the missus say if I moved eight bags for less than R1,000? Look at you in your nice western shirt and pants and white friends! You haven’t worked hard one day of your life! You won’t even miss R1,000! Get your whites to pay for it! Look at them! They don’t even know what I’m saying!” Heyer Paul says nothing.

A new red shirt arrives. Younger. Bigger. More bossy. Thick four day growth of beard. Must be a higher up. He takes over the negotiation. Five minutes later we’re walking through one of the busiest train stations in the world, Chennai Central Station. Small groups of people squatting in the middle of the station eating something or just waiting. People sleeping on the floor.
As we walk I lean over to Dee Rebba, our Indian friend, and ask what we ended up paying for our eight bags. R400. About $10!

Friday, February 08, 2008


We arrived at Detroit Metro Airport on January 7 more than two hours before our flight to Frankfurt. What we found was a line longer than any airport line I have ever seen! It stretched out past the Lufthansa area through the British Air area and all the way through the KLM area! There was an overwhelming sense of depression and discouragement. No chance for aisle seats! Doubtful that we can even sit together.

At the front of the line, over an hour later, two agents signal to me at the same time; a young man and a young woman. It flashes through my mind that I have to choose between them instantaneously. No time to think. This will have to be instinct. Which one of them is more likely to have compassion on their elders? I head straight toward the young woman!

She is business-like but friendly. Mac stands as tall as his 6'5" frame will stretch. "If the flight is overbooked, is there any chance you could bump us up to business class?" She quietly says, "I'll see," without looking up. She finishes tagging our luggage and hands us our boarding passes. Mac asks about the bump and she quietly says, "It's done."

It's done! It's done! At that moment the two most beautiful words in the English language! Business class! The depression is gone! The discouragement is gone! It's done! Business class! A seat that reclines with leg rests! Good food! Great service! A private movie screen! At that moment I love Lufthansa! Long live Lufthansa and our loyal German allies!

We veritably fly down the terminal with wings on our heels. Who cares that our gate is about a mile away! We're in business class! The microphone clicks on, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are ready to board flight 178 to Frankfurt. We will be boarding first class and business class passengers first." That's me! I'm a business class traveler today! I get to board first and sit in that lovely seat even longer. "Guten tag, mein herr. Welcome to Lufthansa's business class." Oh, yeah! this will be good!
Mac and I settle in and look at each other and just start laughing. We both feel a little guilty. Kind of like interlopers or wedding crashers. There are about 25 movies to choose from. Some of them are still in the discount theater in Grand Rapids! I see two that I really wanted to see but missed in the theaters.
No bag of nuts in business class! We had hot appetizers and cheese. Then...salmon! Chocolate cheesecake for dessert. Lights out. Movies on. Arrive in Frankfurt at 5:30am. The pilot proudly announces that we have arrived 30 minutes early. Seven hours and ten minutes. Thanks a lot! I get in business class and they set a speed record to Frankfurt!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I'm trying to decide if I am really going to get back to this blog. I've been back from India for a week now. Last night was the first that I slept through the night without waking up several times and wondering where I was! Three weeks and ten and a half time zones always work tricks in my head!

We had an excellent ministry time. Five days of speaking at a collegiate youth conference in Repalle, Andhra Pradesh. Three days of evangelistic preaching in a village called Kishkindapalem. The Lord called many, many people into the Kingdom. We baptized over 75 students in the Krishna River. Hundreds responded to the call to follow Christ in Kishkindapalem.

Visited many village churches and encouraged the brothers and sisters there. Preached at New Year celebrations and harvest feasts in village churches. It was just a great trip.

God granted me good health the entire time I was in India. I'm always grateful for that huge blessing!

I'll try to put up some of the little journal entries I wrote while I was there. You know, kind of work my way back into it slowly!

Thanks for stopping by.