Rejoicing in heaven and on earth!
It is such a blessing to watch people change and grow spiritually. Over the months we have been here we have watched two young men thirst for God’s word. We have observed the way they have learned so much from the Bible, with keen questions and diligent searching. This has rubbed off on others around them and has been a real blessing for many. We’d like to tell you a little about them!
Sanjit is a serious 20-year-old lad, from a Hindu family. Through contact with a Christadelphian family living near him, he learned about the only path to salvation through Jesus and he wanted to know more. He regularly visited this family and read the Bible with them, and asked lots of questions. At his own home he also read the Bible daily, looking for answers. Earlier this year he started coming to Kolkata most Sundays – a trip of about 2 hours each way. He joined in Bible study classes and was quick to ask questions. At all times he checked answers with what he read in his Bible. Meanwhile, he was being given a hard time by his family, who wanted him to remain a Hindu. This upset him more and more as he learned about the truth more deeply. One day he came and asked us what would happen to his family if Jesus returned and they hadn’t accepted God’s offer of salvation. He told us he felt very sad about his family because he had tried repeatedly to teach them and they didn’t want to learn. He will continue trying. We felt sad for him too.
When we started holding a mid week Bible class each Wednesday he made the long trip most weeks, even though often there was no translator and we had to fumble through together with our bits of Bengali, his bits of English, pictures, Bible verses and so on. Always he brought questions that had come up when reading the Bible alone each day. At the end of our times together, we always had the certainty of the presence of our heavenly father as he had actively improved our communication abilities. Often Sanjit would be the only one who came to the Bible class, but he thought it was worth it to learn more about God’s word. Finally came the day when he asked us if he could be baptised. With joy we listened (through a translator) to his confession of his faith, and he was baptised at his home-town, Joynagar on July 26. Added to our joy was the joy of the angels! (Luke 15:7)
Bappa is in his late 20’s, and was from a Christian family living about 3 hours by public transport from our flat in Kolkata. Over time he came to see that what he and his parents believed was not what the Bible taught. He gradually spent more time with a believing friend who taught him more and then brought him each Sunday for further instruction. His questions were very thoughtful and his knowledge of the Bible quite extensive. Every week he came with more questions, and there was a lot of searching and discussing to find answers. His parents were not happy with his changed beliefs but he knew that he had to please God not man. In time, he hopes to be able to teach them the truth. We were very happy when Bappa asked to be baptised, and his confession of faith was easier for us as he speaks good English! He showed us clearly what he believed and why. After our Sunday service and lunch on August 17, a happy group of 18 people travelled for about 45 minutes by “autos” (auto-rickshaws) to the home of one of our members where there was a pond suitable for a baptism. Great was our joy, and that of the angels too. We are very happy to have two new brothers who are so keen and interested in the Bible.
More recently we were happy to have two new sisters through baptism into Christ at Contai, a country town a few hours away from Kolkata. Mark heard (through a translator) their confessions of faith, but there was not time when he was there for the baptisms. The following week, on September 4, the two ladies were baptised in a muddy pond (muddy due to monsoon flooding), but they were very happy in spite of the mud. Sins can be just as easily washed away in muddy water as in clean!
Flooding in Contai
Kolkata is situated in the Indian state of West Bengal, adjacent to the country of Bangladesh, and these two areas share the same language: Bengali. Much of Bangladesh and West Bengal is low-lying land, with Kolkata about 9 metres above sea level at the highest point. As a result of this and torrential monsoon rain, flooding is common. This varies from us having to wade through water that is knee deep on occasions, through to people having to leave their inundated homes for days while water subsides. The former is a minor inconvenience, the latter makes life most difficult! It is on occasions such as when we hear that various brothers and sisters have had to leave their homes and stay in some sort of refuge centre until the water has gone down, that we need to act. They need our compassion and they also need our material help. Whatever food they had is sure to be spoiled by the floodwater and they need supplies of rice and vegetables to help them until they are back on their feet again.
This is what happened in August in the area surrounding Contai, close to the Bay of Bengal. Added to their immediate food problems was the work problem. Some of our brothers are farmers, and they were unable to work for a period of days or weeks as the fields were too full of water and the water was destroying their crops! They needed to have material help, and they needed to know we cared. I think that was why two of the sisters on different days rang us to talk to us, even though they know that we have limited Bengali and they have almost no English! The other thing they wanted was spiritual food while they waited in a refuge centre. Brother Swapan was able to fill this need, travelling the 5 or 6 hours to Contai for Bible studies. Jesus spoke in the sermon on the mount about hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5:6) – I think this would fit into that category. In the end, whatever our day-to-day needs are, it is eternity that matters.
Travel in Kolkata and beyond
Because so many don’t have cars of their own, there is plenty of public transport available to get you wherever you want to go in India. Trains, buses, autos, the metro and so on. This is good – but it doesn’t always include great comfort. Kolkata has so many people (population of the metropolitan area of Kolkata is estimated to be over 14 million people) so it is not unusual to see trains with people hanging right out the door, and we have certainly travelled in trains where there isn’t room to put your foot down flat on the floor!
On a preaching trip in August, the train had left before we had even reached the door, and we couldn’t have got on if we’d tried, it was so crowded. This leads to lots of hanging around – we were on that platform for about 2 hours! Once on the train, sometimes the challenge is to get off when you reach your station. Crowded conditions, and people too eager to get on the train before you are off, lead to challenging situations – all part of the ‘fun’ of being in India! We have been blessed by God in all our travels, having been kept safe and being able to get to wherever we are needed!
Six months concludes!
Six months is a long time to be away from home, away from many in your family and away from all that is familiar. At the same time it is amazing how you can look back and wonder where the time went – there is so much to do and time runs out! Now we have come to the end of another stay here, we see how abundantly God has blessed the work in West Bengal and we rejoice in the progress that is obvious. We are so thankful to our loving heavenly Father for all his care of us and of those we have been working with here. If He is willing, we will be back later in the year to continue.
May our heavenly Father bless his work all around the world, preparing it for the time when His son returns.
Love from Mark, Ruth, Heidi, Philip and Laura