Orissa Report

This blog is coming to you from Visakhapatnam, India where I am spending the night after completing a fabulous conference in Semiliguda, Orissa. Tomorrow I will travel to New Delhi and be there for a few days before returning home. P.G. Vargis, the founder of Indian Evangelical Team (IET), asked me not to say anything publicly about the location of the meetings in Orissa until they were completed. Having just completed the conference, I am free to talk about them now.

The Orissa Peace Festival in Semiliguda, India was a huge success, surpassing everyone’s expectations. The state of Orissa has been the site of violent persecution of Christians and Semiliguda has seen several Christian workers and missionaries killed in recent months and years, including the much publicized martyrdom of the Australian missionary and his two sons. Yesterday I had breakfast with a group of pastors who were beaten last month for preaching the gospel in Orissa.

Choosing Orissa for the site of a major Christian leadership conference was a daring step of faith, but P.G. and I felt it was time for a breakthrough in Orissa, and as the site of several martyrdoms, Semiliguda was a spiritually significant location to hold the conference. Initially we had planned to accommodate a thousand pastors and leaders for this five day conference, but when several thousand more expressed a desire to attend, the plans were altered to make the conference grounds a kind tent city with the attendees sleeping, eating and living at the site. In the end we accommodated around 3,500 on the grounds and put 500 in nearby hotels.

Although this was a leadership conference and not a meeting open to the public, some of the people from the town of Semiliguda came to the conference grounds on the edge of town at night out of curiosity. On Friday night the police told us there were 7,000 people present and Saturday night we had more than 8,000 people!

Beginning the first day the police set up their own tent on the grounds and stationed 70 policemen at the site. None of the IET leaders regarded this as a good thing. The police in Orissa are usually active participants in the persecution of Christians. But P.G. had an idea from the Lord and invited the police chief to a special ceremony where he was honored with a garland. At the ceremony the police chief said, “People think I am anti-Christian, but I’m not. I was educated in a Christian school.” He then gave his officers a strict order to allow the meetings to go on without harassment.

Nevertheless, things remained tense and P.G. and the senior IET leaders kept a wary eye on the crowd and the police. I was never allowed to sit on the platform and was never introduced as a preacher. P.G. would say that he and his wife, Lilly, and his daughter, Grace, were the preachers. They would get up, speak for five minutes, and then P.G. would say he had a friend he wanted to introduce and bring a “greeting.” P.G. would introduce me as a friend bringing a greeting, and then as he handed me the microphone, he would whisper, “Preach for an hour and a half.” We did this twice a day and every evening. So three times a day I would bring a 90 minute “greeting.” I was told the police were wondering, “Who is this greeting man?”

Because several thousand local people were coming at night, the evening meetings took on the tone of an evangelistic event. The last three nights I preached strong evangelistic messages, and then would turn it over to P.G. who would lead the crowd in a sinner’s prayer.

Even the name of the conference — Orissa Peace Festival — was a deliberate euphemism so as not to evoke hostility. One morning I woke up at 5:00 and the Lord gave me an evangelistic message I called, “Ten Things the Bible Says about Peace.” I believe it was very effective. In the daytime sessions I primarily taught on faith.

Today as we made the five hour drive from Semiliguda to Visakhapatnam, P.G. told me he thought these were the most powerful meetings he’s ever been in. I can’t tell you how happy that made me!

Thank you for praying for me and the conference and a special thank you to the Joseph Company for underwriting this awesome event. Only heaven will reveal all that has been accomplished this week.

I’m tired, but happy.

As I was checking into the hotel here in Visakhapatnam, the bellman said to me (and I quote), “Sir, you need to rest now. You look wery tired.”

I think I’ll go for a walk on the beach, and then get something to eat.

I’ll tell you more later.

Thank you, Jesus, for a great victory in Orissa!