A horribly early start, packing, breakfasting and gathering in the hotel foyer to be picked up at 8.15am in order to be at church for the service at 8.30. I felt very pious being here at such an ungodly hour. Normally I need anaesthetic if I’m to engage the world at this time of day. But in minutes we were worshipping enthusiastically and noisily, and I was discovering experientially, not merely theoretically, that the Lord never sleeps and was here, now, at this very godly hour. Actually, two and a half hours.
In the Methodist church to which I belong it normally takes coercion and threats to get people to sit near the front of church. Here, the women push and squeeze to find space to sit on the floor at the front, colourful stoles raised to cover their heads. It’s men and older ladies or late-comers who use the chairs. More and more people drift in, and eventually downstairs is almost full, with more on the balcony, probably close to 300.
An hour or so of vibrant worship, led joyfully by the pastor’s wife Deborah, who has a strong and melodious singing voice. I wished I could understand Tamil. The singing was accompanied by much enthusiastic clapping, no sign of British reserve here. At least I could take part in this. Gosh, this is tiring work though.
Eventually the singing stops, and Pastor Kevin introduces the visiting team members and invites us to the dais. We were each bestowed a necklace of deep red roses, which I found were unexpectedly damp and cool. We were very honoured, and loudly applauded. The friendliness and kindness of these folks is very humbling. Returning to our seats, I donate mine to a small child in arms, who objects with loud cries of fear at being confronted by this bearded, pale alien. Her parents laugh, I’m unsure whether at their daughter’s protest or my anxiety at unsettling their beautiful child.
I don’t know what it is about these Indian children, particularly the girls, but they’re stunningly lovely with soft skin of the shade aspired to by tanning-shop-inhabiting teens and twenties in the UK.
The service continues with more singing, scripture, and a sermon from Sharon on Christ breaking the bonds of our commitments to false spiritual authorities. Very appropriate, resulting in a significant number standing in request of specific prayer. Good stuff. The enemy will be mightily miffed today.
The service concludes with a blessing, and then everyone is invited to seek prayer, from Kevin or Deborah or team members – which they do in great numbers, young and old. It’s very humbling to have people queuing for you to pray and bless them; grannies, granddads, parents with children, and youngsters on their own or with a friend. Some then move on to other team members, why, I’m not sure. Perhaps they aren’t impressed by the quality of my prayer, or doubt its effectiveness! But personally I have no doubt that if answers come, it will be my prayer that moved the Lord!
So the end of our visit draws near. Another team lunch, this time at a restaurant, another curry for me, together with Kevin, Deborah and family. The food during our trip has been outstanding. Deborah has cooked lunch almost every day, and with the possible exception of the sheep’s brain on day one, we’ve had food of the highest quality and not overwhelmingly spicy either.
We’ve all been greatly blessed by being here, meeting the team for the first time, and meeting these dignified, charming and open hearted Indian people. And far from least, seeing Christ’s transforming presence at work, bringing help, healing and hope for people at the margins of society. Nothing new there then – Christ the same, yesterday, today and forever. Thank you Lord.
To sponsor a child in Chennai take a look at this page: https://www.grassroots.org.uk/projects/india
or go direct to the Credit Card sponsorship page here: https://www.grassroots.org.uk/shop/sponsor-child-today