It is after midnight, actually early Wednesday morning. We just closed the Spirit and Life Ministries 2008 Convention out tonight. I was the closer. The other big guns on the Convention roster had left. I discovered that the last night is when everyone dresses up. So I went and bought myself a sweet-looking Kurta. It is black with white pinstripes. Be sure to check out the picture. (Sorry, I did not have a better picture at posting time.)
So tonight was “honor the special guest the traditional Indian way,” night. Which means that they put me in a chair on center stage, put a flower garland around my neck, put a shawl around me, and then put several more garland wreaths around my neck. I thought that I was going to suffocate from all the flowers. They then asked me to stand up, so as I rose from the chair, I purposely stumbled forward and made a face, as if the weight of the garlands around my neck was too much for me to handle. The crowd howled with laughter, which actually was a great ice-breaker before my message. They also presented me with an artists portrait of myself. The Mallipudi's were great!
I must say that my expectations of India have been exceeded. I don’t know of any place I have been in the world that is more hospitable than here. These are some of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever met. I told Shanthi, (Pastor Prems wife), and his mother, (who runs the orphanage), that I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now that they have spoiled me so for the past week. I have been waited on hand and foot. Every time I turn around, I am being asked if I need something or would like something. This culture is steeped in respect, honor and hospitality – and when it comes to a man of God, they kick it up a notch.
We had a great service to end the Convention. I preached about “Jesus – Your Only Hope.” The people here have no problem accepting Jesus. They are very spiritual. The problem is that he is viewed by many of them as just another god. So we make a point to preach that Jesus IS God, not just a god. The altar call was like a stage rush at a concert. I have truly never seen anything like it. Hundreds of people will nearly run each other over to get prayed for. The staff tries to control them, having them funnel into a “prayer line” at the front, but once the crowd gets so big, it becomes very difficult to control them.
Like the children, the teenagers here have seemed to get a kick out of me. They want to talk to me and have me pray for them. (Most of them are beginning final exams this week and are a bit stressed about it, so they want me to pray). I don’t know if it is because I am one of the few (maybe only) Pastors to get into the worship with the Contemporary Christian Band that has been here all week called “Song of Hope,” or if it’s just the fact that I am an American novelty who stands out in the crowd (whether I want to or not!). Actually, I believe that it’s just that I am so different. The way I act, the way I talk, the whole package. Whatever it is, I have had a rich experience being here for the past week.
Since, this was the last night, it became picture night after the altar call. Everybody wanted to have a picture with me. This was funny – two of the pastors were arguing over who would stand next to me in a picture, so Pastor Prem had to step in and put Shanthi, next to me. That settled that! Anyway, I will be packing my bags and leaving here in the morning – heading for the coast!
Tomorrow: The Night of the Iguana – The Final Chapter!