As my time here at India Rural Evangelical Fellowship (IREF) winds down, I find myself reluctant to leave (despite my battle with the plague). My spirit has been rejuvenated by the depth of faith I’ve found here.

I’m also leaving strangers who quickly became friends. I’m leaving students who I want to see grow into adulthood. I want to see their lives unfold. Most importantly, I want to see the contrast between the circumstances into which they were born and the life they ultimately lead. I want to see the impact of their newfound faith!

While most will probably marry early, have a few kids and live quiet lives, I’m convinced that many here at IREF are destined to be changemakers. They’ve been given the intellectual and the spiritual tools to change the world!

“Before I came to IREF, my life was different,” one college student told me. “My mind was different. But when I found Christ, I finally learned what it meant to love another. If I ever forget Christ then I have forgotten my life.”

They’ve been empowered not only by their academic achievements but also by the new life found in Christ. They’ve been given a self-confidence (and self-worth) they never knew existed, and IREF has played a central role in uncovering that potential.

“(IREF) is like the ship of Noah,” another told me. “It’s paradise, like the Garden of Eden.”

The kids here at IREF astound me, and their faith inspires me.

Unlikely Elevations

I’m surrounded on all sides by a passion for Christ, and what a change that is!

Rev. Rebba came down with a serious illness last year and was in dire need of medical attention. His family wanted to fly him to the States for treatment.

“I wanted to stay in India,” he recalled. “The power of prayer is here.”

Indeed it is. Everywhere I turn, students are asking me to pray for them, whether it’s for an upcoming test or a sick family member.

Where is this faith and zeal back in the States? Sure, plenty of people claim Christ, but lip service overshadows true service.

Is it any wonder why so many in the Developing World are leading lives of true faith in action? Is there any question why they’re now the primary changemakers?!

All around us are folks that can teach us about faith.

I chatted with a young pastor the other day who spoke of the difficulties he often endures.

“Sometimes, (village people) beat me, but God is with me,” he said with a smile. “I travel from place to place with nothing. Sometimes, I’m hungry. Sometimes, I sleep outside. But I do it because I want to understand the troubles of others. And I know God will provide if I’m really in need.”

If that’s not an indictment of faith, I don’t know what is.

While so many of us First Worlders are preoccupied with anchoring our identity in materialism (at the expense of faith), individualism (at the expense of community) and isolation (at the expense of open doors and open arms), a man is travelling to villages in rural India trusting God for everything.

“…Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5)

The pastors here in India face hostility and persecution, yet they continue on, powered by their faith.

With great intention, we should be spending time with these professors of faith. They’re all around us, though we may have to drive out of our vinyl neighborhoods to find them. Our community of believers must not be homogenous.

Trust Fall

The faith of the poor is a blessing to us all, which is why IREF has me feeling so inspired. I’ve been given a vital reminder to “trust in the Lord with all (my) heart and lean not on (my) own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)

While I’ve always valued my sense of reason, I’m reminded that I need to lean on God at all times, in big things and small. For those of us bestowed with cushy surroundings, such dependence is often difficult to swallow. No need for a constant trust in God for things when I’ve got these plush digs…when every earthly desire is fulfilled.

Our own understanding says that we earned our lot in life, that we, in fact, deserve it. Or worse, it says that we are capable of running our own lives, and only need God when things really get sticky.

“…Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight…” (Jeremiah 9:23,24)

Humble Mountain Movers

Though it’s easy to feel warm and fuzzy about the little world “we’ve made” for ourselves, every one of us need to realize how very hard we must work for our faith, and how very intentional we must be. We must fight for it, and we must learn from those with less – our teachers in faith, whose dependence on God should be envied by us all.

She may be poor, but she is rich in faith. We must fight for the same.

The kids here at IREF, those rural believers and those travelling pastors…they’ve all been schooling me in faith since I arrived. And their passion and devotion have strengthened my own.

I may be leaving my professors of faith here in Andhra Pradesh, but more await me at Sewa Ashram. And I’m ready for the continuing education, despite my ongoing (mis)understanding.

Intimidating Transition

I’m now tasked with preparing for the opposite end of life’s spectrum. My next Indian destination is up in northern India, about 45 minutes outside of Delhi. It’s called Sewa Ashram and serves as a rehabilitation facility for the “poorest of the poor” here in India…in other words, some of the most impoverished people on this here Earth of ours.

Truth be told, I’m a bit reluctant to go. My mind is a bit intoxicated on all the hope I’ve found here. The folks at IREF have energized me. They’ve inspired me. And these kids are so full of life and promise. I’m not sure my mind is ready for the demands that accompany the daunting issues I will surely confront at the Ashram.

But for the time being, I’m simply relishing this oasis of faith I’ve found here in Andhra Pradesh. My mind and spirit have been blessed by all that’s happening at IREF.

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Next Steps
    • It’s easy for any of us to get complacent in faith, to lean on our own understanding and to boast in our earthly achievements. But I want you to ponder the blessings of your life. I want you to cultivate a grateful heart, and give that gratitude straight to God.
    • What does your community of believers look like? Who are the professors of faith in your midst? If you’re struggling to come up with names, you need to do something about it.
    • The brothers and sisters at IREF need your help in a variety of ways. While the poor may be blessed in faith, if you’re reading this, you’ve also been blessed aplenty. Give back. Here’s how.
    • Pray for the church. Pray for those in the West. Pray for a renewed spirit of passion and commitment. Pray for those in the Majority World. Pray for ongoing protection, guidance and strength.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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Comments

  1. Catherine Bell said... 

    Reply

    March 3rd, 2012 at 10:35 am  

    What a declaration: ‘I want to stay here; the power of prayer is here.’ Challenges us, as you say.

    Praying with you as you move on. Barry found faith and life at Sewa Ashram when he visited a year or two ago; his encounters were memorable. I know you will find God there too.

    Blessings – and protection from ‘the plague’. Catherine Bell

  2. Laura Stump said... 

    Reply

    March 25th, 2012 at 5:48 pm  

    Thanks, Stephen! (Sorry it took me so long to read this article…but the timing was better!) I’ve been having a lot of conversations these days with our traveling brothers and sisters here on the border about life in the U.S. Some of them who have grown up materially poor and relocated to the U.S. have a sense of the spiritual poverty that our culture tends to perpetuate.

    I know there’s a lot more to being in relationship with God than simply offering lip service, but it’s still so refreshing to hear people reference God in everyday occurrences–“How did you sleep last night?” “Great, thanks be to God!” or “May God take care of you” instead of “have a safe walk home.”

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