A fine looking man of medium height sits down behind a drum in the front row of the seating. The start of the Church Service is a few minutes away. He flicks through a song book, searching for a song to sing. Finding the desired song, he calls out the name of the song and number, and begins to beat the drum while singing.
Gradually the people sitting behind him in their wooden pews join in the song. Soon, many are singing, some with eyes closed. As my eyes scan around the large church building I see more and more children, young people, adults, gathering for this New Year's Day service, 2017.
A sense of anticipation builds, as more and more people fill the building. The children bunch up together in the pew chatting quietly. Older women sitting at the front sing and pray. It seems to be the place reserved for them. Many are wearing a white headdress. There is a character and dignity about them as they sing and worship.
The song comes to its end and the man leading the service stands up to greet everyone. He reads from a Bible in their mother tongue, prays, and introduces the next song. Again I scan the church to see that more people have filled the pews. There is a sense of worship as the song is sung in a language I don't understand.
After some time, the preacher stands and begins his message. I hear 2 Corinthians 5 mentioned, with the emphasis on the love of Christ that compels. He speaks with passion and heart.
However, my mind wanders, thinking about the things I am observing, and the privilege of worshipping at this place.
I recall that the tribal people from the neighbouring hills brought the Gospel to these parts over 100 years ago. I think of New Zealand Baptists, who worked in this area and had lived in this village for a number of years. As I look around, I consider the fruit of their mission orientated lifestyle, their love for the local people, their teaching, and work. I think of the prayers, and giving that people far away in New Zealand contributed to the mix.
But I also consider that fruit isn't just represented in this church building. It's in the God honouring environment of the villages of this area. The fruit is in the succeeding generations whom I have met and now are serving in positions of influence in government and church roles. It's in the teachers who are in turn preparing the children for the future.
My attention is drawn back to the speaker, who in concluding his message suddenly speaks in English, summarizing his message for the benefit of my wife and I. He speaks about the love of Christ, and the motivation for mission. Something about mission is deeply inspired in this church.
It was the love of Christ that brought people to this village with the Good News. From heaven it came and has become connected to the lifestyle of the people in this village, and then from here to other villages and communities.
The service ends and we make our way out of the building. Some twenty minutes later, we are sitting around a plastic table in a temporary outdoor dining room set up in an open school field for the New Year's Day feast. Rice, dahl, pork, vegetables, chicken, are all on the menu, and we gratefully enjoy the meal with friends, while one of the Church community helpers stands ready to attend to any request.
While chatting with one of the leaders, we learn that they will feed about eight hundred people that day. We also talk about the Church's centennial two years away in January 2019. I'm informed that New Zealanders are expected. Kiwis are part of the story of this church, and not just one or two. A significant number from New Zealand churches have taught, given medical help, prayed, given, visited, encouraged or shared time in this community.
I think that somehow, in the sovereignty of the living God, he has brought together two peoples, two communities to share a relationship of mutual respect and honour. A relationship enjoying the love of Christ that compels us to go.
-Story from South Asia