Global Gathering 19 – India
Having the Global Gathering in New Delhi was a bold decision in a country where less than 3% of the population is Christian. The hope was that holding the Global Gathering in the capital would encourage the government of India to be more visible in promoting religious freedom.
However, bureaucratic government regulations and unexpected costs led the Indian planning committee to suggest a venue change from New Delhi to Damoh, India. The World Convention board approved this change in September 2016.
The move to Damoh called for great effort from the Indian committee, led by President Ajai Lall. The staff of Central India Christian Mission (CICM), other ministries in Damoh, and many volunteers worked tirelessly to transform the campus of CICM into a welcoming place for over 3000 visitors from 29 countries and 21 Indian states. The hospitality of the Indian Christians was overwhelming, from the gracious welcoming ceremony each person received, to the accommodations and excellent food.
The Gathering began Thursday evening, January 12, with a plenary session held in a beautifully appointed tent, lit by chandeliers, with a large banner behind the stage with the theme, “God Breaks Down Walls to Build Bridges.” The parade of flags from the 29 countries and 21 Indian states of those present began the Gathering, accompanied by the song, “He Reigns.” Hosts Indu and Ajai Lall welcomed the attendees, followed by a traditional welcome dance by students from the Nursing School of Central India Christian Mission. Government and ecumenical guests gave greetings, followed by citations presented to Robert K. Welsh of the United States, Lyndsay and Lorraine Jacobs of New Zealand, and Leonard W. Thompson of India.
After lively singing, led by Indians, Ajai Lall spoke on the assembly theme, identifying three walls that Jesus came to tear down: the wall between head and heart, the wall between faith and action, and the wall between traditionalism and truth. Brent Liebezeit of Nelson, New Zealand, was the second speaker of the night, giving a rousing call to remember that Jesus is God with us. He ended with an invitation to allow Jesus to lead us into a revolution that takes us beyond borders to tear down walls of guilt, shame, and failure.
“Jah masih ki! That’s the Hindi phrase all participants learned on the second day of the Global Gathering. It means, “Praise the Lord!”
And there was much to give praise for on Friday of the Gathering. The day began with a greeting from Richard Howell, General Secretary for Asia Evangelical Alliance and Vice President of World Evangelical Alliance. Howell encouraged all present to be part of the Global Christian Forum. His greeting was followed by the plenary session with speakers Jeff Fife of Brazil and Andrzej Bajenski of Poland. Fife urged those present to build bridges to those who do not know Jesus and bridges among Christians. “To build bridges, we must have a servant spirit.” Bajenski had a brilliant twist on the Gathering theme, reminding us that there is a good wall, the wall that surrounds the New Jerusalem, with gates that admit the holy people of God into his Presence.
The afternoon provided three concurrent sessions for women, men, and youth. At the Global Women Connecting meeting, Sheela Lall challenged those present to unite to break walls of darkness, hurt, and fear. Abhineeta Matney presented the Aatma Vikas ministry as the service project of Global Women Connecting. David Eubanks and Brent Liebezeit spoke to an overflow crowd of youth. At the men’s session, drawing from the story of the woman at the well (John 4), Dave Stewart showed how Jesus educated the Disciples in love. David Henry urged social change brought through seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Late afternoon brought workshops focusing on unity and mission throughout the world. Before the evening session, there was a cultural program of traditional Indian dance. Evening worship included recognition of long-serving ministers to India. Denford Chizanga brought a message of peace with God in the midst of storms from Mark 4. Usha Rees called those present to bridge to others in love, saying “Stop judging how far people still have to go, and start celebrating how far they have come.” Friday was a full day of blessing. “Jah masih ki!”
Saturday morning began with a greeting from Ajay Singh, the state minister, who was honored for his protection of the Christian minority in India. This was followed by a joyful presentation in song and dance by children from the children’s home in Damoh.
Radical love seemed to be the theme for the morning session, Josh Howard called all to a renewed Restoration Movement that restored radical love, radical generosity, and radical unity. LeRoy Lawson followed with a reminder that God translated his love into body language through the incarnation and he asks us to embody that same love. With Jesus as the bridge to God, Lawson asked us to be the ramp that leads others to the bridge.
At noon, several persecuted Christians from different areas of India gave their testimony to a small group of those from outside India. One woman told of the attack where she was repeatedly raped and her husband was killed. A man told of being beaten unconscious, only to wake in the hospital to find his wife had been murdered. All because they would not renounce their Christianity. There was even testimony from a man who once persecuted Christians, then became one himself, and now plants churches in northern India. Such stories of faith moved the hearers to tears and to prayers thanking God for the courage of these believers.
Afternoon were the second sessions of the youth, men’s and women’s fellowships. Lydia Soko from Zimbabwe spoke to on “Loving the Unlovable” and Esline Toamavute from Vanuatu spoke on “Reaching the Unreached” on the second afternoon of Global Women Connecting, followed by a time of jewelry making and henna tattoos – trade skills learned by students of Aatma Vikas. In the men’s session, David Clayton and Vivert Lall eloquently presented on the cost of entering the kingdom and the covenants God has made with his people. Leonard Thompson and josh Howard spoke to the youth.
In the evening, after a marvelous cultural program of Indian dance, Cynthia Peacock gave a greeting from the Mennonite World Council. Then Dave Ferguson reimagined the Prodigal Son story, helping us to feel the Prodigal’s fear of rejection by family and neighbors. He then urged that our churches say, “In this place there will be no rejection,” and who back up that claim by feeling it, telling it, and living it. The picture of a jigsaw puzzle was used by Oscar Muriu of Nigeria to reveal the apostle Paul’s teaching on gifts and unity from 1 Corinthians 12. Just as the puzzle pieces must be different for there to be a picture, so God has given different gifts to each part of the church. This forces us to work together to be the beautiful picture God paints. Muriu brilliantly applied this to the local, national, continental, and worldwide expressions of church. Each has a gift from God. that must be used to benefit all.
“Dhanyavaad” That’s the Hindi word that sums up the final day of the Damoh Global Gathering. Dhanyavaad means “thank you.” And there was much to be thankful for on the last day. The local church in Damoh joined the attendees on Sunday, swelling the crowd to over 4500, joining in lively singing, insightful preaching, and heart-felt farewells.
Ajai Lall, the President of the Global Gathering, explained the corruption, increased costs, and extortion from the media that made it impossible to have the Gathering in New Delhi as originally planned. The move to Damoh seemed like a series of impossible tasks—finding rooms for the 3258 who registered, providing meals, and creating meeting spaces. But by grace and the hard work of Indu Lall, Lashi Howard, the staff of Central India Christian Mission, and others, God worked the miracle of Damoh. The preacher for the morning, Jeff Vines, told stories showing how only Jesus can explain suffering, meet the deepest desires of the heart, and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
As is usual in our Global Gatherings, the highlight was communing through the Lord’s Supper with Christians from 29 nations and 21 states of India. Our worship was followed by a fellowship meal provided by the Damoh congregation.
The Damoh Convention was historic in many ways. It was the first in Asia. Those from outside India were amazed at the quality of the preparations made for them–meals where Christ was shared among the nations, the smiles, handshakes, and photo sessions with our Indian brothers and sisters, the encouraging words in music and sermons, and the clear call to tear down walls and build bridges. At the end of each Global Gathering, attendees will call it “the best.” But the Gathering in Damoh was without doubt a turning point in making us truly a World Convention.