The reason we came to India

Sunday. St Patrick’s day and my birthday. When we planned this trip and we realised that it would coincide with my birthday I thought what a place full of wonder to end my 40th year in. My lovely sons where less than enamoured by the fact that I wouldn’t be celebrating my birthday with them, even strongly suggesting that I couldn’t come. I’m here. I won that one.

Today was the day we travelled to India for. The opening of the church building in Jankapurim that Vineyard Church Dungannon, our fantastic church, financed. I woke this morning excited, looking forward to seeing it. 5 years ago when we dreamed of Leaving a Legacy for our children and our town we also committed to giving away 10% of the money raised in that campaign to this church and their building project in Jankapurim, Lucknow, India.

We drove through the slum and pulled up in the middle of it. We walked around the corner and there it was. In the middle of the slum this immaculate 2-storey building squeezed between its neighbours, with bright white walls and an ornate red metal door. It was love at first sight for me. Pastor Selphi introduced us to his church as he showed us around the building. We all gathered outside and then Pastor Selphi dedicated the building, Stephen prayed and the people began to sing and worship right out in the street. That’s a memory right there.

Jason and I cut the ribbon with Pastor Selphi and then as we walked in everyone followed us singing in worship as we walked up the stairs to the first floor where the church service was about to begin. The sound of their voices spilling into the streets. I had the Delirious song “Open up the doors and let the music play let the streets resound with singing,” playing in my head. This was my favourite part of the day so far.

This church LOVES to worship. With only an Indian drum and 2 tambouines you should hear and feel their worship. I couldn’t understand a word of it, but I could feel and sense it. Full of life, and energy and directed straight to God. It filled my heart, and I imagine brought God great delight.

This church also loves to pray they prayed for lots of people and I had the privilege of praying for their women leaders. After Jason’s message we had ministry time and we had the opportunity and priciledge to pray for many of the people. And after we’d finished they presented me with a birthday cake. I was very chuffed.

In the past few days we have got to know Pastor Selphi and his team more and just being around them you get to see their hearts for the people in the Jankapurim slum. What makes my heart glad is that our church’s support has now provided them with a base, right smack in the middle of were people live and go about their lives. A place where they have planned to do women’s meetings and have a sewing school. A place where they can train pastors. We haven’t provided a church, they are the church, an ecclesia already here that just needed help in having a home.

I know that I know that they will love their community with the love of Jesus, they will continue to extend mercy and help to the poor and needy right on their doorstep.

Tonight as I get ready to celebrate my birthday with Jason and our 2 dear friends Stephen & Carol, the reality of being miles away from home is hitting. I may have insisted with my boys that I was still coming to India regardless of whether it was over my birthday or not, but maybe they knew their mum better than she knows herself because truth is I miss my beautiful sons. I miss being loved and cared for by them today. I miss my birthday hugs and kisses. I miss the special attention from them that I get on my birthday. I hope they store it all up for me.

Maybe I’ll have a second birthday on Friday.

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India part II

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Apologies to begin.  I have been attempting a daily blog but my first world problems of intermittent wifi and a fight with Evernote that I did not win mean that I have failed.

We arrived mid morning on Thursday to our hotel which every day is becoming more like the one from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  We napped, freshened up and Jason took us downtown in an Auto Rickshaw.  I so want one and every time I come to India I’m more convinced that I ‘need’ one.

Thursday evening we travelled to a village outside of Lucknow with Pastor Selphi.  It was an amazing experience to drive from the city to the country as the sky turned from day to dusk.  Our eyes couldn’t take in all the scenes that we passed.  Makeshift stalls that became homes at night selling everything imaginable, the most bizarre so far was a man with a tiny stall selling euphoniums, just 3 of them neatly hanging on the wall of his stall.  People everywhere, walking, on bicycles, scooters, in rickshaws, cars, lorries.  No traffic lights, no indicators just horns and a lot of common sense and grace for other drivers and the traffic keeps moving!! We have not been in a traffic jam yet, a couple of traffic ‘pauses’ but no jams.  And there are thousands of vehicles.

At the village children who soon became glued to Carol and I’s sides greeted us.  Pastor Selphi lead us to where we would have a service , in a little yard of a believers house.  People came and peeked at us from the rooftops of other houses around.  Slowly people started to come, a plastic sheet was laid on the ground and Carol and I sat down among the women and children, the women were a little shy with us, the children were not.  We sang songs in Hindi – I say ‘we’, we hummed along and clapped and soon it was dark.  Jason spoke to the gathering in the yard and Selphi translated, more heads peeked over the roofs and the electric light flashed on occasionally in the house beside us.  It’s easy to picture Jesus here.  The scripture becomes alive and tangible in this place. And as we prayed for everyone and the children multiple times there was such a sense that Jesus was there.  My lasting memory of this place is of 2 little girls one full of life and mischief called Jaavee and another who’s name I didn’t get who had 2 deep scars on her face.  I prayed and prayed and prayed that they would fade and disappear, but when I left they still had not, but I will continue to pray for her.

Yesterday (Friday) we visited the OM base for the first time (Jason’s 5th time).  I had the privilege of speaking at the staff prayer meeting and we were joined by another team visiting from Queen’s Park Baptist in Glasgow who we instantly connected with.  Carol and I were told that our women’s meeting was actually a baby shower for 2 of the OM staff wives that we were delighted about, and then I was asked to speak a message from the bible about mothering.  Which is great except I had a talk prepared about the woman who anointed Jesus with oil. Hey ho, a quick talk writing session at lunch time resulted in a shorter talk than I’d originally planned and a slot of great top-tips on being a Mum from Carol – again unscheduled but this is India were flexibility is essential.

In the evening Pastor Selphi invited us to have dinner with his family.  It was a privilege to come to their home and meet his wife and 4 daughters.  He told us his testimony, a powerful story of God in his life which was ignited by someone giving him a bible.  He’ s been beaten, backmailed, and only recently threatened with death again, and still he is resolute in bringing the good of Jesus to people.  I was humbled.

This morning we travelled to Jankpuram slum area.  This is the area where the church building that our church has funded is located.   We were dropped off at a one room building in the slum, when we walked in there were 17 children waiting for us.  They showed us the work they were doing, then they sang for us, I quickly realised that we’d be expected to do something so Carol and I decided to teach the kids Great Big God, then we played a game with balloons and then Pastor Selphi asked me to tell the children a story.  It was a joyful experience in the middle of a place where I honestly don’t think I could live.   I told another story and this time Stephen played Goliath and a little boy David. We bought them treats, prayed for them and visited some of the local church families in the area.

We got to hear some heart breaking stories as we met people.  People living in unbelievably difficult situations.  Women widowed, left to provide and care for children.  Mothers forced to prostitute themselves to feed their children because their husbands where alcoholics. One of these mothers was 16.  I got a chance to share the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman with 3 families who live in a house made of mud, with dirt floors and they were drinking in every word as I told them of the love and mercy of Jesus who longs to forgive not condemn, to rescue not persecute.  As I leant down and doodled in the dirt the scripture has never been so alive to me.

There was a 13 year old girl in this home blind in one eye, waiting on an operation, the pastor with us explained that it she needed the operation urgently as she couldn’t see well enough to be able to keep herself safe from attack, it took a second for the realisation of what type of attack he was hinting at.  I have no words… only tears.We didn’t want to leave this place.  A place of lack, of pain, of unbelievable poverty where hope is almost lost, a place that surprises you by how emotionally you become attached to its people. I choked back tears the whole time.  Telling myself how dare I indulge my tears this was not about me, this was about us bringing Jesus to these precious people.

I found today more difficult than any other in my previous trips to india. I think its because I’ve read the Half the Sky how to change the world book.  I could see the signs of poverty and from the statisics and stories in that book join up the dots to the awfulness that people where living in.  But more positively too I was looking with fresh eyes searching for solutions.

Day 1 travelling to India

In the queue at security in Abu Dhabi Jason got chatting as he always does to the man next to us. Turns out he’s English been living here for 3 Yrs on his way home and then on to another job oversees. In the short 5 mins we were talking he drops in the conversation some of the truth beneath the glitz of Abi Dhabi. He said that he had visited ‘labour camps’, his words, outside of the city one of which has 65000 men in it. He saw 16 men share one shack with a toilet. Mainly people from other countries. As I sit here in an unbelievably hot aeroplane on my way to Delhi I’m wondering just how many of those men are there by choice. I don’t mean the lack of choice due to poverty as terrible as that is. My question is how many are there against their will, enslaved, bought and sold by others as slaves? How many thought they were going to a better life or to provide for their families only to beaten and forced into slave labour with no hope of escape.

Maybe I’m just tired and hot and my mind is getting carried away. Or is it possible that this random conversation with a man from Yorkshire unearthed again the deep work that God is doing in my heart to see the captives freed. I can guarantee that I’m going to dig a bit further and try and find out. My memory is poor but I do recall a documentary about the boom over here and the amount of migrant workers from india and the surrounding countries who came for work and then find themselves totally trapped especially in recent years when the boom bust. I’ll try and dig it up when I go home and attach a link.

The problem is that the more God confronts me with the huge problem of slavery and trafficking the more the need inside my head and heart to do something about intensifies. This is not just an issue of women enslaved in prostitution although that’s the big earner for those who deal in people. Boys and men are kidnapped, abused and forced to work for the profit of others too against their will.

One of my hopes for this trip is more accidental, coincidental (or as our friend DD says God-incidental) encounters that point me to the heart of the Father who is among the broken and the captive and the poor and the weak and the hungry and the distressed. I want to find Him there and then I long for him to wreck me – all of me. To wreck my mind which needs to comprehend. To wreck my soul that longs for my comfort. And to wreck my heart that would rather not feel the pain of others thank you very much.

Pray for me too that I can keep my heckles under control. At the same security gate we watched a security staff member be openly rude and disrespectful to a woman travelling on her own. Funny part Jason started whispering to me as soon as he saw it ‘Chelle we need to get past this guy and get our plane, don’t react!’ He knows me well. He knows the heart that beats inside my chest. He also knows the lioness in me that can jump to defend the weak and sometimes cause a row in the process.

India here I come

We leave for India first thing Wednesday morning. I’m almost packed. The laundry for all 5 of us is close to complete. Tomorrow’s to-do list is standing by. Passports. Visas. Money & cards. Insect repellent. Innoculations. Talks almost there. And then this morning I realised that I had omitted a very important detail – we need people to pray for us. I’m frustrated by my complacency. Maybe its because it’s a smaller team. Maybe because this is my 3rd trip to India and Jason’s 5th. Maybe there feels like way more urgent people and situations to pray for at the moment. Whatever my excuses, its a large, gaping omission.

My request to you is; would you please pray for us? Below are some ideas to get you started, but please just pray for us. Prayer at its simplest, is simply being with God. My ask is this, when you are with God over the next week would you remember us? Ask the Father what we might need, ask what we can give to those around us and then simply trust that He is a good Father who hears your prayers and who will respond.

Prayer list:

  • for the team Jason, Stephen, Carol and I (Michelle)
  • safe travel, easy connections, and God moments that we wouldn’t miss as we travel
  • we long to see God do the miraculous
  • give us ears to hear and words to say that bring life, hope and faith.
  • my heart breaks for the women of India, I’d love opportunities to serve them
  • for the people that we get to serve with in India
  • for the church there
  • that our 3 sons and Carol & Stephen’s 3 daughters would be healthy and happy without us
  • no sickness

Each day I’ll write a small blog (internet and time permitting) and what I’d love is some interaction. So please comment, ask questions whatever and I’ll try my best to respond.

My friend Clare prayed for me tonight and it was precious, but it reminded me that we need your prayers too please. It’s in Jesus presence and power that we long to go, not in our strength.

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. Zechariah 4:6b

I’ll keep you posted.

I love how our lives and loves are intertwined

“I love how our lives and loves are intertwined”. I wrote those words in a text to a close friend a couple of weeks ago. They’ve stuck with me.  They describe February.

In February I have watched and observed how the people that I’m joined to have cared and loved each other and extended that to the the people that their lives touch, that in turn touch others lives. The connections are so interwoven that in my mind its like a crazy diagram linking people together that ends up looking more like a kaleidoscope than a neat chart of an organisation.  That’s how I’d describe our church this past month – a kaleidoscope of lives and loves intertwined. We are facing heartache from many angles and time and time again I hear the stories of the church stepping in with prayer and consolation and genuine love for each other. Texts, cards, anonymous rhubarb crumbles on the porch, prayer ambushes in coffee shops, tears spilled, fasts observed, hands held and silence shared.

And people just calling at the door to see if they can do anything.  Somewhere from my childhood till here the habit of ‘dropping in’ has almost disappeared. Almost… but in a crisis, in a time of unbelievable pain and tragedy our hearts overtake the part of our heads that say ,”you can’t just land on someone’s doorstep, how presumptuous, that’s what our parents generation used to do and even they aren’t that rude anymore.” We assume that we’ll be intruding, that our presence at the door will be an annoyance, when all the while our hearts are burning to just see the person, look them in the eye and offer to help. What I’ve heard from the people in anguish is the overwhelming sense of being cared for, not feeling like their lives are being intruded, but actually deeply touched that someone would risk the embarrassment of just turning up unannounced or uninvited. There’s an incalculable gift in hugging, absorbing tears and simply nudging people to Jesus for all they need.  Because truth is, in every circumstance, in every moment, in EVERYTHING, Jesus is all we need. Always. Everytime. Jesus.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who  have been called according to his purpose.

This is the official text for February 2013 in my world. Jason said it well on Sunday leaning into this text. For me it means we trust our Father to do good especially in the difficult, traumatic times when only God could do good. We trust that He is still in control, even if it feels like our lives have literally been turned upside down and inside out.  We remind ourselves of His faithfulness before and lean into His faithfulness now not when it begins to feel more manageable but right in the middle of the hurricane of pain and devastation. It always the right time to lean into back into the arms of our Father. Always. In every situation.

In the middle of the grief and heart-breaking news of February we said goodbye to a family that has been part of VCD from the very beginning. Letting them go also revealed an intertwining of our lives that goes unnoticed most days. The number of people who I love who love each other too. This kaleidoscope of interweaving lives is exactly how I dreamed church could be like before we planted VCD 9 Years ago.  Their goodbye is a happy-sadness, the pain comes from loving and sharing and attempting to disentangle them just enough to let them go to their next adventure, to another family/church/community. We let go just enough so they can also become intertwined into another kaleidoscope of lives and loves in Canada.

These are a few of my favourite things.

Here’s a  list of my favourite things from the last 7 days.  It’s an exercise in gratitude and appreciation.  Because I’m a linear thinker we’ll start from last thursday, which strictly means 8 days but hey ho here we go.

Last Thursday was the last evening at the NLC, the National Leaders Conference for the Vineyard Churches UK & Ireland.  This year was my favourite favourite one.  I loved the teaching, I loved worshipping together and I love that I’m apart of this growing, messy, vibrant family.  I loved the hugs, the tears, the laughing (as usual we, the Irish, were by far the most raucous), I loved feeling connected. I loved listening to some of my most loved people in the world, some on, most off the stage.  I love that I belong to this tribe.  Not the best, not the most trendy, not the only, but my tribe that I love and have the joy of belonging too.

My favourite thing about Friday? Coming home to our boys, to a clean house (both Mum’s did a shift with them) and to large pot of my Mother-in-laws Irish Stew. Every Irish Mother has her own version, Sylvia taught me hers but when she makes it, it’s better somehow.

Even though I had a sermon to write on Saturday, I managed a nap in my favourite chair in the snug. Perfect spot don’t you think? That was my favourite part of the Saturday.

Sunday! I loved Sunday. I preached about something I absolutely love to do; worshipping Jesus and then we worshipped Jesus. I can’t quite believe that preaching is one of my favourite things to do, but it is.  I fight with myself when I’m in the writing stage of the week and there are times when I hit walls of self-doubt when I’m up there, but mainly I feel the most alive when I’m speaking about Jesus, to my church. Can you believe this is my job? Me neither.

So Sunday gets 2 favourites, the second was a tasty Indian dinner with friends that we love, dreaming about our trip to India next month. And yes you WILL be hearing all about the trip as it unfolds.

Monday’s favourite moment was making a weekend dinner on a Monday night that my boys all loved. Considering that we are raising boys with discerning palates and a readiness to offer their opinion, this was a good result.

On Tuesday morning I had a real treat, I woke up to snow, drove through the beautiful snow laden Northern Irish countryside to see one of my dearest friend for coffee and a real-life catch up. We see each other sparingly so when we do the time is precious and the conversation reserved for the bare truth lavished with the grace that exists between loving friends. B.L.I.S.S.

Yesterday, Wednesday was community. I love our small group.  I love each and every one of this eclectic group that gathers in our house on Wednesdays. I love the banter, the easy conversation and the moments when we gather round each others lives and invite Jesus to come and do His work as we pray.

Today we had the privilege of meeting with other church leaders from a variety of denominations.  Extended family. Words of encouragement. Connection. Cheering each other on. What’s not to love about that.

Have you noticed a theme or 2. Family. Love. Friends. Food. My heart is fuller at the end of this post quite simply because I’ve viewed my week through the lenses of gratitude and appreciation.  It sounds like a cliché but I live a truly blessed life everyday and yet there are many days when I fail to realise it. Maybe I need a new pair of glasses with the 2 lenses inserted for everyday use.

I set you a challenge. You do the same. List your favourite things of the last week, and see how much more full your heart is after you’re done.

PS you can listen to my sermon from Sunday by clicking HERE

My ‘one thing’ for 2013

My  husband did a great talk at the start of January which in a nutshell challenged us to choose a ‘one thing’ to spend our lives on this year.  I loved the text from Nehemiah 6:3 “I’m doing a great work, I can’t come down” I was very challenged to determine what my ‘one thing’ would be, my great work that I would not leave this year.  Jason had gave me a preview of the talk before Christmas so my usual list of  “things I need to work on” was high on my mind, but there literally was ‘one thing’  that kept niggling at me all through Christmas.  On the morning of the talk I was hoping that God would highlight something else so I could put off tackling this one for another while.

What is it? My ‘one thing’ for 2013?  I want to say less. To speak carefully, truthfully and with words dripping with grace.

I battled for years to find my voice but now that I have it seems like a floodgate has opened and there’s a lot of rubbish flooding out with the gold.

I need to to stop gushing and filling in the silent spaces and saying things that don’t need to be said. Even and somedays especially the stupid things that just clog up the airwaves and make it difficult for others to be heard.  I feel sobered. To be honest I feel chastised.  Not by anyone in particular, but chastised by myself.  I disappoint myself when I say too much.  Sometimes its literally just an opinion, or a sentiment or a suggestion too far.  I need to park sooner rather than not drive at all.  And maybe that’s the difficult part.  To be almost completely silent would be easier.

The nonsense flows easily like heavy rain down a spouting.  And yet the heavy words, the important words that should and must be spoken literally stick in my throat sometimes. My throat constricts physically and I can’t get them out, more accurately I can now that I’ve learnt to push through the bottleneck and release the words to the air.

I don’t want to just become more calculated in what I say.  I wonder could our pursuit to understand the mechanics of communication have made our communication less authentic.  Its helpful to increase our skills of listening and understanding, but in trying to say the right thing in the right way we can sound scripted and stunted.  But our hearts know the difference don’t they?

I love and hate in equal measures the truth ‘that out of the heart the mouth speaks’  I love it because its true and means that if its authentic communication that I’m after then I allow my heart to speak and that will do the trick.  The part I hate is this, the condition of my heart.  Aghhh.  You see I know my heart.  And even though my spirit has been made completely new, at best lets just say my heart is a work in progress.  I am only too aware that the words that spill from my mouth, the careless, undisciplined, unkind, unloving, hard, stinging, poisonous words originate from my murky heart.  They fight for space and position with the kind, loving, gentle, encouraging, challenging, peaceable words that also flow from my heart.

I conclude my heart should be my focus rather than carefully measuring every word I speak.  If I only allow myself to speak the words that I feel others will approve of then they are false.  If I concentrate on the condition of my heart then chances are the words that flow will be more pure.  Good that I know a great heart surgeon, who’s more than willing to transform my heart when I let Him.