by Jonathan Settel
The flight from New York to Frankfurt , about eight hours and some minutes, was uneventful. I got to know Jonathan Bernis (“JB”), Director of Jewish Voice Ministries International, better as we shared our lives in the verbiage of two people who have known each other for some time. Three hours in the Frankfurt Airport produced nothing but more fatigue and a feeling of dread at the ‘second coming’ of the next 9-hour flight to Bombay. We arrived in India at about 3:00 AM . We received our luggage and were met by our traveling entourage. Our "bus" was really more like a large cart with an engine. Our bags and personal carryon pieces were put on top and roped down securely. It was now close to 5:00 AM. As our friends loaded the bus for us, children (like little field mice with earrings and nose studs) appeared from nowhere and everywhere. They scurried about with their hands out begging and pleading for anything. Every once-in-a-while, the men who met us would take a switch and beat them back but eventually they would return with the same pathetic, hungry look burning in their eyes.
One of the leaders with our group had a digital camera and took the children's’ picture. They were delighted and amazed that they could see themselves immediately in the viewfinder. This seemed to give them a moment of real escape from the intense hardships and stark actualities of their lives. It was deeply moving watching children as old as my own beg for a penny, a drink of water, a smile…I thought to myself, “Why are you up at this time of day? You need to get ready for school, have some Cheerios… Did you do your homework?” Soon I was to understand that this was their “homework” and their school was the street, and their lessons were survival.
The ride in the carriage was astounding. The roads, two lanes all the way, put us in a world of surreal horrors. We passed shanty after shanty. Some had straw roofs and were next to filthy rivers where the people "bathed" and beat the smell out of their clothes. They had roadside stands where they served coffee and special strong tea mixed with boiled milk. High in caffeine content, the tea (called “Chai”) was a definite plus to weary travelers.
Part of the “sport” was in the driving. From the British they got the infamous left hand side drive. They would pass on the right and it was a game to see just how close they could come to hitting or not hitting an on coming truck. Many of these trucks were so overloaded that they took up their lanes and part of ours… The result was a drive on the shoulder of the road, which happened to be populated by bicyclists, “pedestrians” and a water buffalo or two. Somehow the driver managed to avoid all concerned and I, who was sitting in the front seat, had a view that would make digital imaging a thing of the past. There were few cars but many, many trucks and tractors and the ever-present motor scooter and bike.
Breathing the air was too a challenge. Particles of dust, carbon monoxide, and human filth coated the oxygen. As I inhaled, all I could do was pray that the God of Heaven would keep me fit for what lay ahead.
In the city, the transportation was mostly three-wheeled motor scooters that were covered with a recycled “schmattah” (rag) of unearthly radiance. Affixed to the front of the 18-wheelers were lights that blinked and shone in multi-colors. I actually could make out florescent shapes of smiles, open mouths and toothless grins on the huge grills that bore down upon us (Indian people, it seems, enjoy decorating their modes of transportation with Las Vegas style signs and wonders)... Instructions on the backs of most vehicles pleaded to those behind to… “SOUND THE HORN”! It was an announcement that you intended to pass. The visual surrealism blended with the cacophony of blaring horns and screams from passing transports. This caused some emotional electricity in the “bus” among us. Our driver was particularly adept at passing on blind hills and double-line corners. Somehow, he had it timed to the millisecond just how much space and time he had to “make the pass.” Eventually it became a game. We rated the pass from a “1” to an “11”… The fun began at “8” when we weren’t sure how the driver was going to make the move to beat the oncoming traffic. A “9” left us an inch, give or take a millimeter or so, between the vehicles. A “9-½” was the most fun as we could feel the atoms of the passing vehicles caress each other. A “10” and we were off the road only to see the horns and nostrils of a horrified water buffalo bearing down upon us.
After arriving in Vijayawada , we checked into our hotel to rest for our first evening’s event. An hour’s ride playing bumper-cars and chicken brought us to the wide open space of our outdoor auditorium. A couple of thousand people were already there listening to a local Indian group playing Christian music. It was not the Christian music that you and I are used to hearing. On the contrary, it was reminiscent of the oriental music of the middle east. I was immediately delighted and homesick for my beloved Israel . Out of this came a new expression of our Sh’ma (Deut. 6:10 ) (perhaps many of you will hear it this summer or when I come for a visit).
Everything was so different in India . The poverty and the lack of knowledge were frightful. There were signs on the roadside for everything. Huge billboards show youthful Indian women sipping Pepsi; couples chatting on cell phones; announcements of coming events in towns and villages. Amazed, I thought to myself . . . Why not add a sign, “DO NOT DRINK THE WELL WATER UNTIL YOU HAVE BOILED IT!” Families in rural India have no running water in their homes. The women will go to a common well and pump water and bring it home for multiple purposes. The water is polluted. But a simple 5 minutes under heat would take care of this problem. Boiling the water is not a difficult thing, but someone has to teach them. How many lives would be saved with this simple addition to these myriads of posters? I thought if just one person benefited, a family could be spared from the untold horrors of Cholera, E-coli diarrhea, Hepatitis A, Schistosomiasis, and Typhoid fever. Would it not be worth it?
The thatched huts and the stinking sewage running alongside the homes bred diseased diseases These simple, humble people don’t know the way it could be for them. Crippled children and people line the streets begging for work or food or money. Rickshaws fight for space on the streets with buses, trucks and motor scooters. No traffic lights exist on corners so it's every man for himself. I just do not understand why it has to be this way in a world where there is so much money, so much technology and so much "Christianity"..
One morning, I shared at a meeting under a tent. Many pastors were there with their wives. The men were on one side and the women on the other. I spoke on the “Blessings and Curses” (Proverbs 31:10-31). This was a first for most of them. I thought to ask, "How many of you have Bibles?" A few, maybe a third raised their hands... The rest did not have Bibles. I thought about the work of the Bible Society and groups like this one. I mentioned that these Bibles were free. The interpreter, with a panicked look on his face, told me there was no such thing as "free Bibles" in India ... My thoughts were, “Is there any way to change this?” I asked our host, Pastor John Winston, if there was a need for free Bibles. He nodded his head. I said I would look into this. I welcome any thoughts or suggestions.
The last day in India was long and difficult! We were up at 6:00 AM ; we had breakfast and loaded the "bus." JB and I rode in the specially rented ‘car’ with Pastor John and the rest were in the surried machine.
The first stop was a village about an hour from the hotel, on the way to Hyderabad , another six hours from our beginning. The roads ceased to be paved and children worked in the cotton fields bending their backs with their mothers. Water buffalo crowded us off the "road" many times and women smashed the dirt out of their clothes by filthy streams. At last we arrived and the entire village was out to greet us in their "Sunday Best." Beautiful Saris and silk clothes covered over the shoeless Indian women and female children. Little boys wore ties and starched shirts over tattered pants and muddied feet. They were all there. We arrived to dedicate a church, the only one for many miles. It was a very big event for the village and Pastor John had worked very hard to build this church. To teach these folks about Yeshua was not that difficult. For Hindu’s, the more gods the merrier. Trees, leaves, cows, and rats fit into the ‘god’ collection.
Pastor John was seasoned. He had done this 70 times before and this was to be his 71st church planting. As JB and I were led to the building (about a hundred yard walk from the bus), the villagers lined our path and dropped flowers and leaves on us. They beamed with joy and simple delight. The music they provided had the sound of 1920. They were megaphones. Out of tune and out of step, their dedication to the Lord and appreciation of us swept over me. At our feet, the women would put cloths and materials so that we would not have to walk on the dirt. The cloths they put down were their bed linens… right off their beds. The little church was bare of seats or pews, so everyone sat on the earth floor. They had a ceremony of dedication and instructed me to pull the curtain that covered the plaque that they had made from iron and metal especially for this occasion. It read... This church has been dedicated to the work of Jesus Christ by Rev. Dr. Jonathan Settel. I stood and looked at this plaque dumb and moved to tears. JB squeezed my shoulder and congratulated me on my new ordination in the middle of India where the sewage ran on the side of the road but the hearts of the people were as pure as the heart of our Lord whom they had been taught to love with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their might.
It was time to leave. JB prayed for the new pastor and I sang the Aaronic Benediction. Off we went to yet another new church. Pastor John Winston now celebrated his 72nd church opening. Once again, there was a plaque with my name on it as Rev. Dr. Jonathan Settel; by this time JB was having some fun with me. He asked, “So, JS, how does it feel to be ordained and have two churches named after you in rural India ?” JB smiled with the knowledge that tears were welling up inside me. I would later ask myself if this was one of the reasons why the Lord let me live through my subdural breath with death… “For such a time as this?”
We left and headed to the orphanage that Pastor John Winston runs which is supported by Christians from Scandinavia and Ireland . There were over two hundred children; boys and girls ranging from 6 to 16 residing there. Some of them had been with us for the evening outreaches in Vijayawada . They met us in uniform, each representing a different age group. I saw the little ones who had learned the Messianic/Davidic dances, dance to my music. They all surrounded us. They surprised me with a heart-filling rendition of ‘Ay Ay Ay Ay...Tzion!’ And then they sang the whole song for us. Can you imagine how this sounded? There were no words to describe the scent of their voices… Like lilies of the field brimming with honey… Such was my perception of their Hebrew melodies sung with all their love. They had fallen in love… Not with me, not with us; but who we Israel and the Lord was in us. They wanted to be part of it.
There was one child, Naomi, who spoke some English and was fluent in need and desperation. In her eyes I saw a life without worldly hope, I saw a history of a people who still practice the caste system, where women are treated worse than cows, and the only thing that does give them hope is Yeshua. The faces of the children represented by little Naomi remain with me now as I am making my way to Sydney , Australia .
After we left the orphanage and we had touched and blessed as many of the kids as we could, we stopped at Pastor John Winston's home. His grandfather was also a pastor and committed Christian. He had taught his children and their children a love for the Lord and a love for Israel . Pastor John has accomplished, at least in my eyes, more than most do in a lifetime, and he is still young and I pray has much left to do. He has become my friend and I look forward to doing more to bring joy and Shalom to the poor of India . Through them I saw the fulfillment of Zechariah and the passage where it says, "Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew saying, 'We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'" (The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic Text Zech. 8:23)
Once again, I witnessed the truth of the scripture . . . "For the Torah will go forth from Zion and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem ..." (Isa. 2:3). I felt that the Lord had a plan, and a purpose for this trip. It all ties into my brush with death and the seriousness of what Sharon and I are all about; what our work has become and the limitless path that lies before us. I think of the amazing God we serve and am overwhelmed at what he has brought us to reach this point. His love is awesome indeed.
Because of this incredible journey, we have come to a point where we are looking for a commitment of $20.00 a month from 300 people. Sharon and I have been led to pray the Lord’s provision in this way for many reasons. But one is that there are 300 people amongst those of you who will read this who would like to actively participate in the ministry of SIM. There will be many trips and opportunities coming up where your support will allow us to take you with us on these journeys. Three hundred people at $20.00 a month is small in number, but very large in purpose. If you are interested in becoming a member of this partnership, please Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . If $20.00 is too much for you, then any amount is welcome and will put you on the partner list. If the Lord is leading you for a larger commitment, then we welcome that as well.
Only The King knows what lies ahead for all of us, but I do know that we must be willing to go through this small opening to get to the huge opening on the other side. I was part of a team that brought Israel to India …that brought the Jewish Messiah to a people who had no idea about the power of this Jewish King... that had never heard His heart or His Jewish Voice.