Thursday, January 26, 2017

Site Seeing: "He Loved Her So Much"

I couldn't resist writing one more blog post.  I understand this falls into the pastor stereotype of talking too much but we had such a good time today that I wanted to share it with you.

Today we saw a couple of sites from the Agra Fort to the Fatehpur Sikri (the city of victory).  But I think the group would agree that both paled in comparison to the Taj Mahal.  It was absolutely stunning.  We woke up really early so we could see it at sun rise.  Here are a couple of pictures:

This is the main entrance to the Taj Mahal (you can see it peaking over the left corner)

Just inside the entrance

A little closer

A different angle

We had a great guide who told us the entire history of the how's and why's of the Taj Mahal. Essentially, this was built by the Emporer Shah Jahan (read Sha Ja-han) as a giant mausoleum for his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal (read Mum-taz Ma-hal).  He built it so that the entire world would know how much he loved her.  Whenever people would lay their eyes on this incredibly beautiful building, they couldn't help but think that he loved her so much.  And it's very clear from the detail and the quality of materials that he truly did love her.

As we were going through the tour, Nancy Dierdorf made the observation that Shah Jahan truly did love his wife but that love ended the minute he died at the age of 69.  It was obvious how great his love was for her, but it couldn't outlast death itself.  And that's when she brought it back to Jesus and how great His love is for us and continues to be for us even after His death and resurrection.  In fact, one could look at what Christ did for you and me and say the exact same thing they say about the Taj Mahal: He loved her so much.

Consider the words of Paul when speaking of a husbands responsibilities to his wife in Ephesians 5, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless."  Indeed, Jesus loved her so much.

He loves you so much and he left more than a building to show His love...He gave His Holy Spirit so that we may receive that mercy and grace in our lives each and every day and so that you may know no greater love than Jesus' for you.

Now there's another part to this blog post.  I'd like you to see the group photo that we took at the Taj Mahal:

You'll notice the entire group who went on the mission trip as well as two new faces on the left side of the picture.  I'd like to introduce you to the Bishop of Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries to India (whitish shirt) and Pastor Peter (black coat).  We've had the privilege of traveling with these two men over our time visiting congregations and let me tell you, they are all about telling other how much Jesus loves His people.

So i'm asking you to pray for them and pray for the many other pastors who, despite an extremely difficult environment, are sharing the wonderful message of Jesus who truly loved and still loves us today and always. 

May you be reminded of His love for you daily

Pastor Joe Behnke

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Day 6: The End...Or Is It?

It's official.  Today was the last day of the mission trip.  Tomorrow we catch a flight to Delhi and for the next couple days we will be doing some site seeing in northern India.  It was a wonderful time getting to know Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries and visiting these congregations.  In fact, over the course of 6 days we visited 9 congregations and made connections with literally hundreds of people in those congregations.  We prayed over many people and even were prayed over by others.  We traveled hundreds of miles in many different directions to share encouragement and the love of Jesus with these congregations. I am exceptionally proud of every single person who went on this trip.  You too should be proud of them.  They were outgoing with the members of these congregations; seeking them out and spending time with them.  They continued to smile even though they were simply exhausted.   They hugged and held every child that would let them. They displayed an amazing amount of patience as time is a fluid concept here in India.  They showed the love of Christ at every opportunity available to them.  I thank God for them and their work over the past week and as we start to close out our mission trip.  But as we do that, we also recognize that there is a temptation.  It's really easy to say at this part of the trip that we are done with the mission part of the mission trip...but are we?

Yes we will be going up north.  Yes we will be doing some site seeing and relaxing after a very tough week.  But we are not "done" with the mission part of the mission trip.  The reason for that is because we will never be done with the mission part of the mission trip.

You see, Jesus has many different commands in the Gospels concerning going into the world with the Gospel.   From Matthew 28:19-20 to Mark 16:15-16 and many others, Jesus tells us to share His message of grace, mercy and forgiveness for us and for the people of this world.  And in these passages you can actually see when we can be done with the mission part of the mission trip

(Hint: It's never).

Here's the thing, the mission that Jesus has called us to is never done.  It goes on and on and during that time God opens up opportunities to share with others the love of Jesus in their life.  And do you want to know what's great about these opportunities?  You don't have to be on a mission trip to actually take advantage of them.  God is opening up opportunities for you right now with your spouse, your friend, your co-worker, your neighbor and everybody else you might know.  He's doing that because He truly wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Now don't get me wrong, I would love for you to come join us on our mission trip to India next year. It will be around the same time of year and we will be gone for the same amount of time.  But you don't have to wait for it in order to do what God has called us all to do.  Even for us who went on the mission trip, God has not called us to wait another 352 days before we actually take part in the opportunities that He has given to us.  He's called us all to be a part of it every day of our lives as Christians.

It's my hope and prayer that we would see these opportunities to share Jesus in our life and that His desire would become our desire: to see all people saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Thank you for following along during our journey.  Because the next couple of days will be hectic with travel, I do not know when the next posting will be.  However, in the very near future I will be posting a collection of our photos from the trip as well as some other information that can help in praying for these congregations and for Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries to India.

God's richest blessings as you join Jesus on His mission,

Pastor Joe Behnke

Day 5: What Are We Doing Here?

I want to begin by apologizing for not posting this entry sooner.  We had a very late night last night after a very busy day.  It began with going to the Moriah School to watch their morning chapel service.  Here are a couple of pictures of the children:

Singing Together

Listening to Esther

It continued with visits to two separate congregations.  We were again welcomed with great hospitality and kindness.  Here are two pictures of those congregations:

Pastor Peter introducing us to the congregation

Sharing stories with the congregation

After we left the congregations, we were graciously invited to attend a wedding for a family friend of Paul and Esther.  Unfortunately, because we enjoyed our time with the congregations during the day we were unable to attend the ceremony.  We were however able to attend the reception.  Here are some of the pictures:

Walking in on the red carpet

The stage is set for the bride and groom to make their appearance

The bridal party coming into the reception with drums playing behind them.

After the wedding reception (12:00 am), we were invited over to the house of our translator.  He has been amazing walking with us and helping communicate with us.  He invited us over so that we could have some black tea and "bless his house".  So all of us went over and crammed into one little room in his little house.  We got to meet his two boys and his amazing wife, all while having some amazing black tea.  We weren't there long as we were exhausted but we prayed for them and their continued ministry as a family.  They were extremely grateful for the short time we were there and were encouraged by our visit.  And as I reflect on this visit and the others over the past few days, I have come to realize that this has been true of the congregations we have visited during our time in India.

Don't get me wrong, we've spent some good time with each congregation but sometimes we had to cut our time with them short because of other visits that need to take place throughout the day.  We always feel terrible about that yet for these congregations they are extremely encouraged by our presence...even if only for a short time.  To explain why, i'll turn it over to Dustin Behr who is writing the next portion of the blog.  In doing this, Dustin will not only be able to explain why the congregations are encouraged by even the shortest of visits, but also explain why we came on this mission trip in the first place.  God's blessings to you and yours!

Pastor Joe Behnke

"Encourage one another and build each other up..." 1st Thessalonians 5:11

One of the biggest questions that I was asked leading up to our mission trip to India was, "what are you going to do?".  I was certain in my answer that we would be visiting other congregations and build relationships with them.  However, what I wasn't so certain about was what that would look like. 

That is until today.

During our visit the the 2nd congregation, the pastor began talking about the importance of encouragement.  He shared with the congregation that we as fellow believers in Jesus Christ were able to encourage one another and build each other up.  He also shared that it was for this reason that we came.  It was for this reason that we traveled over 8,000 miles.  It was for this reason that we rode in vehicles on crooked and divot filled roads to come and visit them.  We came to encourage them.

That may not seem like a big deal.  After all, encouragement from other Christians in the United States my not be very difficult to find.  In India, these churches crave encouragement.  While they are part of group of churches, they are spread out for hundreds of miles.  In some cases, the next closest church would take a whole day to travel and meet other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. However, what doesn't take as long to find is the closest Hindu temple.  In the case with the second congregation, they are bracing themselves for a major change.  Over the past year, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh split into two different states.  In the midst of that split, the state capital became part of the new state leaving Andhra Pradesh without a capital...until now.  They are creating a new capital city that is within a few miles of this congregation.  Because of this, new Hindu temples are popping up all around the church, leaving them in need of  prayer to keep going and to keep the love of Jesus at the center of everything they say and do.  They need the reminder that they are not alone even though it may look that way.  They need the reminder that there are others who believe in the same God they believe in.  In other words, they need encouragement.  That is what we brought and that is the reason why we came.  An encouragement for one another center on Christ's love.  It's something that we can all relate to and understand despite the differences in language, color, and culture.  

Well that and the word "selfie"...(no joke...we have kids come up to us all the time asking for selfies).

But in all seriousness, I ask you to keep these congregations in your prayers.  We have told each congregation that you are praying for them.  You should see them light up with excitement at the thought that someone 8,000 miles away would actually care about them enough to pray for them. So please join us in praying that they would continue to minister in the most difficult of circumstances and that they would find hope and peace in the love of Christ for them.

Dustin Behr

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Day 4: "Do Not Fear, for I Am With You"

Today was more of a relaxed day as we began by going to worship at a congregation that is located on the same campus as the Moriah School and the seminary.  It was a wonderful service of which I had the honor of preaching on John 2 and the wedding at Cana.  For me, what made it a blessed opportunity was not simply because I got to preach but also because members of the team were able to share their story with those who had gathered for worship.  Here are a couple of pictures of them sharing their stories:

Me preaching

Lisa Bell sharing her story

Dustin Behr sharing his story

Madelyn Krinke sharing her story

Esther Dale sharing her story

Among those in worship with us today were some of the children from the Moriah School.  In a previous post I shared that the Moriah school is part of the ministry of Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries to India.  What I didn't share is that part of the schools ministry are to children who have either lost one or both parents.  In fact, out of the 150+ children enrolled at the Moriah School, 30 of them have lost one or both parents.  The Moriah School provides housing, food, and education to the children until they have completed their schooling (through 10th grade).  Here are a couple of pictures of the children during worship and throughout the day:

Singing during the offering

Getting ready for lunch

Waiting to eat

Playing with some new balls that were purchased for the children

During the course of the day I noticed the green colored shirts that the boys were wearing. Apparently, someone had given these shirts to them a little while ago.  On the front it reads, "Marked for Life" with a Bible passage from Isaiah 49:16.  On the back is a passage from Isaiah 41:10 that read, "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand".  When I read the back of their shirt I remember thinking how appropriate that is for these children who have already gone through so much in their short life.  But then I remembered what some of BLSC's members shared during the worship service and it hit me, tragedy is not just found with these children.  Loss is not something exclusive to them.  While their stories are tragic and sad, there are many other stories out there that speak to life in an imperfect and sinfilled world.

Like your story.  When you look at your own story what tragedies have you faced?  What loss have you experienced?  How has it played into your story as a Christian?

That's something I was blessed with today as I heard the people from BSLC.  Their stories didn't end in hopelessness and despair.  Instead, it ended with Jesus.  It brought them closer to Him in their life and from that came hope, strength and the knowledge of a God who is with them and loves them in Jesus Christ.

As these children continue to grow up, they will know that too.  Bible Faith Lutheran  Ministry will do their best to make sure the children know of that same God who brings hope, strength and a love that can only be found in Christ alone.

May you too be reminded of that as you read this blog post.  That your story doesn't end with the tragedies and pains of this life but rather it ends with the promise of God found in Isaiah 41:10...A God who is with you...A God who strengthens you...A God who loves you in Christ Jesus alone.

God's richest blessings to you!

Pastor Joe Behnke

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Day 3: "This is a Good Day in Jesus Christ...Let's Go!"

Today was another busy day as the group split up into two teams to visit a total of four congregations. I wish I could show you on the map where we were again just like I did yesterday.  Unfortunately, some of these villages are so small, that they are impossible to find.  There were no boats involved in today's travel but there was a good amount of time spent in the car as we traveled to each destination. Here are a couple of pictures of what we could see on our way to the churches.

The land was not nearly as flat as it's been the last couple of days

This is the monkey god.  He is believed to bring the dead back to life

The first congregation waiting for all of us to step out of the car

It's very common to avoid livestock on your way to the churches

One of the most unique experiences of the day was while we were traveling to our first congregation and the realization came over the pastor in the car that they had forgotten to bring silverware for us to use.  You see, often times when we visit the congregations, they have a meal prepared for us and it doesn't matter if you only ate just an hour before that...they will give you a full plate.  Well, they do their best to make sure that we have the "western amenities" like silverware to eat the food that has been prepared.  And so as we were driving to the first church he has the driver pull off on the side of the highway to wait for the silverware.  Sure enough, maybe 15 minutes later this motor bike pulls up with a gentleman and his daughter and of course...our silverware.  She brings it to the car and now we are fully prepared for the day ahead.  As different of an experience that it was, I was again reminded of their love for us and how much they want to take care of us.  It would be easy enough to get frustrated that we waited 15 minutes for silverware or that we were pulled off to the side of a busy highway, but things like this have been part of the journey during our time in India and it's important to enjoy the journey while en route to our goals.  Nancy Dierdorf is going to speak to this today as she is writing for the rest of the blog post.  I invite you to enjoy as well as listen to the words she has to share with you as they have an impact not only in India but no matter where we are in this world. Thank you and God's blessings today and always.

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" Psalm 118:24

Our morning routine in India has been to get up, get ready for the day, go downstairs, eat breakfast and then wait in the lobby for the pastors and cars to arrive so that we can get started on our day.  Today as we were in the lobby, Pastor Peter who serves as a seminary professor here, came in and greeted us by saying, "This is a good day in Jesus Christ...Let's Go".  We were excited to begin our day of visits to some of the Bible Faith churches in the area, so we jumped up, grabbed our bags and got ready to pack ourselves into the cars for the journey ahead.

He laughed.

We laughed.

This was the day the Lord had made and rather than rejoicing and being glad, we were going to do everything on schedule and get everything done so that we could meet our goal of visiting these four congregations today.

We missed pastor Peter and God's calling to just simply "be".  We missed the opportunity to rejoice and be glad in the whole day, all of the moments from beginning to end.  And that is the danger that comes sometimes with mission trips.  We become so focused on the tasks and the goals that we forget to simply "be" and enjoy the journey en route to those tasks and those goals.  It was a great reminder from pastor Peter to be present with our new friends and hear their stories.  This reminder served us well as we went out on our visits.

Today we were welcomed as missionaries and showered with love and flower petals.  It's not uncommon for us to come back at the end of the day with a good amount of flower petals in our hair. We were served delicious food and given the seats of honor while others sat on the floor.  They prayed for us and they prayed for you. We were so blessed and humbled and we would've missed out if our focus was on the goal and not the day the Lord had made.

This was evident after the worship service had ended and people were beginning to disperse.  People began to come up to us asking for prayers and for blessings.  Children and ladies came up and asking for healing for sore legs, headaches and body aches.  They wanted blessings for their children and prayers that their school exams would go well.  The last two in my line were two older ladies leaning on each other as they slowly made their way up to me.  One nearly fell and gripped her walking stick for balance.  They wanted a blessing and that is what they received from their gracious and loving God.

This was not part of our plan for today.  This was not how the other visits have always gone.  But it was part of God's was part of the day that He had made and because we were able to simply "be", many were able to rejoice and be glad in it...ourselves included.  

Nancy Dierdorf

Friday, January 20, 2017

Day 2: Built On Grace

Today we traveled quite a bit as we made our way down to the "Island Congregations" as they are called by Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries to India.  These churches are located along the Krishna river and near the mouth of the Indian Ocean.  Here is a picture of our home base (Guntur, Andrha Pradesh) and where we traveled today (Nagaylanka Lighthouse).

The travel consisted of a lot of time in the car and a lot of time on boat.  Yep...we had to take a boat to get to these villages.  And not only did we take the boat, but the cars we rode in took the boat as well.  In our boat alone there were 27 people on board.  I'm pretty sure there is a Garrison Keiler Lake Wobegone story about 27 Lutherans out on a boat... only ours had a happy ending.  So below is the one picture I have that turned out well since my phone is being a stinker.   I'll hopefully have some better pictures from other cameras to post the cars on the boat and us on the boat tomorrow.

Some of the pastors from BFLMI on the boat with us

A long day of travel for sure, but a wonderful day of ministry.  Madelyn and Arlen Krinke are going to be sharing that with you as I promised!  So the rest of this entry has been written by Madelyn and Arlen for your viewing pleasure.  Enjoy and God's Blessings to you as you live in the steadfast and ever-strong grace our God has for you in Christ!

Arlen and Madelyn Krinke

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!" 1st John 3:1

During our time in India, this passage has really come alive for us.  As we interact with the wonderful people here it's easy to see the love that is talked about in the scripture verse above.  We've seen it in the meals prepared for us.  The meal today was incredibly special because we had a picnic with four of the pastors from Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries along with a couple of their elders and church members. The picnic was at a lighthouse right by the Indian Ocean. But this wasn't a simple sack lunch picnic.  They had prepared for us a meal that was made up of crab, shrimp and fish. 

Our meal of rice, crab, shrimp and fish

The table they had graciously set out for us

But they didn't stop with this picnic.  It continued as we visited two congregations along the Krishna river at the mouth of the Indian Ocean.  Where we were treated like honored guests.  They had us sit in the seats up front they had gotten ready for us while they sat on the ground.  They gave us fruit and flowers while wanting and expecting nothing in return.  To us, it spoke to the love of Jesus Christ that is at the center of their lives and how they are able to show true servant hood much in the same vein as Jesus Christ Himself.  Below are pictures of Arlen and the people at the church gathered for a short time together.

Arlen is thanking the people for their generous hospitality and the grace they have shown us all

Leaving the church and saying goodbye

It's amazing the love that has been shown by the people during this trip.  However, it isn't surprising that this is the love they are sharing with us and with each other.  Because that is what this church was built on almost 40 years ago.  Almost 40 years ago, the storm of the century blew through the area we visited today.  The storm surge from a cyclone traveled for 14 kilometers (8 miles) inland due to low land levels.  It killed over 50,000 people.  It was this event that led Paul Dasari's father to the area we were in today and started sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others in the midst of such tragedy and loss.  But it wasn't like he just hopped in his car and drove down there.  It took a bus, a boat, and simple walking to get to these people...usually about a days worth of travel.  He would spend a week with them before heading back home and he would make trip after trip after trip.  Paul's dad was driven by the love of Jesus for those who were hurt and those who had suffered loss.  And that is what the ministry of BFLMI has been built upon ever since.  You can tell because it's part of who they are and it's part of what they do.  May it also become a part of who we are and what we do during this trip and beyond.  We are blessed to work with an amazing group of people who have shown us and shared with us an amazing kind of love in Christ!

Madelyn and Arlen Krinke

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Day 1: We Made It Through the Long Journey

We finally made it.  After three flights, one bus ride, and over 24 hours of straight travel time, we can finally say that we made it to Guntur which will serve as our "home base" for the trip.  It was an adventure to try and make sure that we made each flight on time and that all of our luggage followed us (some of it didn't) and that we tried to rest during the longer flights (some of us didn't).  Regardless, we are here now and while most of the team is exhausted from the travel, we all truly feel blessed to be here.

That sentiment was shared tonight around the supper table as we gathered around some soup, curry and a thin bread that looked like a burrito.  We truly feel blessed to be here because we already are seeing how God is working in the lives of His people here through Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries to India.

As I promised before, I would share a little bit more about Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries to India. Based on what we experienced today, now would be a great time to share with you what this ministry does for the people in India.  Essentially, BFLMI can be divided into three groups of ministries: the 40 congregations and 30 pastors that make up BFLMI, the Moriah School and their pre-seminary/seminary institution.  All of them are working throughout India to share the grace of Jesus Christ in it's many forms and we got to see all of them at work today as we gathered at the Moriah School for a greeting held in our honor.  Below are the pictures and video of the event:

 A message greeted us with flower petals which read, "Hearty Welcome to Dear Missionaries"

After the ceremony spending time with the children and their teachers

Arlen Krinke, a former principal, talking with the teachers of the Moriah School

Visiting a classroom full of children.  They stand because we are honored guests.

A picture of the school from the front of the building

A video of what we walked into this morning at the school.

We were truly honored to receive such a warm welcome from everyone who was gathered there today.  Many of the pastors were present along with all of the children and teachers from the Moriah School.  It was truly a blessed time.  However, as I watched the BSLC group interact with the children, teachers and pastors, I firmly believe that the blessings were truly happening in those interactions because it was there we heard about God working in the lives of His people.

I want to share one of the stories I heard from someone who was there today.  His name is Daniel and he shared about his own life and coming to Christ in the midst of pretty hard times.  He shared with the group that his parents died at a very young age.  It was hard for him to cope and understand the loss he was experiencing.  He prayed many times asking the Hindu gods why they would do this to him but there was no answer.  Finally, with no answers and no help from the gods, Daniel tried to take his own life.  Fortunately for him, it didn't work.  It was during this time that God was continuing to work on Daniels heart.  You see, Daniel had heard about Jesus through some friends and also the loudspeaker that the Bible Faith church in his area played during their services so the community could hear the service and the word.  Through these opportunities, Daniel was led to believe in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  Daniel shared that when he was ready to believe, something strange happened to him.  He remembers an ominous presence filling his body and the room.  Suddenly, before him the Hindu gods he had previously worshiped appeared and were trying to persuade him to not believe in Jesus.  Daniel shared that in that moment words from a hymn popped into his head.  He had heard these words over and over again from the Bible Faith loudspeaker that played during the worship service.  Essentially, these lyrics were, "through the journey of life, there is only one God above all".  And so Daniel kept praying these words in that moment and all of a sudden, the gods were gone.  No more persuasion, no more ominous presence...just peace.  Through this Daniel was not just brought to faith, but he also became one of the first class of pastors that Bible Faith has produced over the years.  But it didn't stop there because beyond that, Pastor Daniel had a brother who was Hindu.  For years Pastor Daniel prayed for his brother and sure enough his brother not only came to believe in Jesus as his savior but also became a pastor for Bible Faith.

It's a great story that shows our God at work through His people here and through Bible Faith Lutheran Ministries to India.  People like Daniel are coming to know who Jesus is for them and that "through the journey of life, there is only one God above all".  May we be reminded of that as well no matter where we are on the journey.  Whether it's 24 hours of travel to get to your destination or simply making it through the next hour, we will make it through Christ and Christ alone.

Tomorrow will be the start of having people from our mission trip tell the story on the blog.  So come check it out!  Hopefully they don't get as long winded as the pastor :)  God's richest blessings to you all from Guntur, India.

Pastor Joe Behnke