Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Journey of faith- Part 3 ( The Struggles and the trials)

Part 3 The Struggles and the trials.
A Brief History of Word of Grace Church 
This June we celebrated 10 years of God's faithfulness to us at Word of Grace. We are in awe at what the Lord has done and how HE has sustained us thus far. 
Here is the second  part of the script of what was shared at our celebratory evening. ( I have added a little more detail here to make it more understandable). As you read it, my prayer is that you will have faith for your situation, to know that in this journey of faith, you NEVER walk alone. If you are a pastor, or involved in a church plant, I hope this  post will be a special blessing to you because this is a story of a BIG FAITHFUL GOD who never lets us down. To connect with PART 1 of the story, click here and for  PART 2 , click here.

The Struggle, the Dark Age: a lot that is written here  was not shared at the celebration,( where the focus was on the celebrating the faithfulness of God and not going into unpleasant details) but we have included it here to make the story more complete

John Hosier on his trip to us said  “One of Satan’s ploys to attack church plants is to create irreconcilable relational differences and to prevent the church from being rooted and established”.

Sadly in the early years we faced this and we were buffeted by wave after wave. But God strengthened us and gave us the grace to have faith and to persevere and to just hold on.

No sooner had we kicked off as a church plant, that Newfrontiers India faced  a huge crises in the apostolic leadership. The whole leadership was dismantled and that had massive bearings on all of us. All the leaders of the various Newfrontiers India churches had their own pains and hurts  to deal with as a result of being under a very legalistic, authoritative and abusive style of leadership. However, there was now this huge vacuum of apostolic leadership for a while that left us in a black hole of not knowing what the future would hold for us as a movement .
 This also had a massive affect on each church leadership of which we were spared in some ways – we being a fresh plant. However we had inherited a group of people that had their own issues between themselves and we were now responsible to get this ship sailing smoothly. Unfortunately that was not to be and we were probably too naïve about Satan’s tactics of causing relational disharmony and driving them to irreconcilable differences.

Before we knew it, we were being accused to saying things we never said, and all kinds of slants and twists being put to statements pulled completely out of context. If this was not enough, we were being slandered to people outside the church, to the pastors in the city and even accused of a lack of integrity in financial matters. That we were naïve is an understatement.  But we thank God that even in that , God was guiding us to do certain things that helped clear ourselves of these false allegations. It was a shocking, painful and lonely time as there was literally no one who stood by us or expressed confidence in our integrity .

Terry  and Wendy Virgo
 However during this time there was a new apostolic team being set in place under the guidance of Terry Virgo. We had Alan Preston ( current Elder at the Church of Christ the King, Brighton) come alongside us and give us oodles of encouragement , expressing much confidence in my leadership and integrity. That was balm to our souls. God sent angels from time to time to aid us, strengthen and encourage us. We are amazed at the faithful hand of God upon us . Every time an accusation relating to finance was levied at us, God would shovel a huge amount of money into the church through the most unexpected sources. It was His way of saying “ I trust you with my money”.

But during the struggle, we also got support and encouragement from afar. God placed us in the hearts of people from the Netherlands, the UK and Dubai who came like angels and helped us.

 I’m so thankful to Roger Cox  who was the Pastor of the Newfrontiers  church in Dubai, Wout & Lydie Geurts and their pastor Gert Hijkoop  who is the pastor of Wijnstok Gemente in the Netherlands,  Onno Westrate from the Netherlands and Tim Brown one of the elders of The Coign Church in the UK who came into our lives and prayed for us, encouraged us and helped us in different ways.

This was also a time when we had hit our lowest point in our personal finances. With rising costs of living and a pastors salary that was meager( and stuck with no annual increase because we were lost in a vacuum) we just could not make ends meet. We felt God remind us of a sermon we heard on the widow’s oil and Elijah where Elijah asks the widow “what do you have in your hand” – and from that a miracle flowed.
Wout en Lydie Guerts

We felt God lead us to a tent making enterprise of hand- made greeting cards ( a skill Navaz  is gifted at) and later into all sorts of printing. God sent help from quarters we least expected. We are deeply indebted to Wout and Lydie Guerts who helped us ( Lydie helped with designing cards and getting us orders from Holland) establish the business and sharpen our skills. Because of the business, this young church plant, with barely a handful of people was financially self supporting very quickly.

So in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. As we were buffeted by the wind and the waves, we drew strength by holding on to the call of God and trusting in His faithfulness. We learned to cast all our burdens on Him and to depend on him alone.
During this time it seemed like God was opening “doors unexpectedly into areas and opportunities of harvest ..”

Bible study in the prison
Bible study in the prison

Colin with Pradip in the Prison.
During this time we joined with Pradeep Waghmare of  Freedom Foundation in the Yerwada Jail where we were involved in eye camps, ecg camps, toiletry distribution etc. We had a cell group in the prison where the gospel was preached and the bible was studied. Several years later we had the joy of baptizing an inmate who was in on a Life Term but was released before his term ended.

We also were involved with working with women in the Red Light area as well for a year or so.  We provided medical assistance and ran a Life Group in one of the brothels in the heart of this area.
Life Group in the Red Light  along
with some folk from Church and
Nigel Ring.

In the soverignity of God both these projects drew to a close and we felt we needed to plug all our energies into establishing the church before getting into social ministries that are good but very demanding on ones time, energies and resources. David Stroud whom we met at a Leadership Conference advised us saying healthy strong churches will have healthy strong ministries and that building a strong church base ought ot be our first priority. And that is what we set out to do.


Middle Years

During this turbulent phase that Newfrontiers India was going through,  Terry Virgo put in place a team to help bring healing and hope. On his behalf,  Guy Miller brought in his team and I’m thankful for that.

Alan Preston

Alan and Marian Preston
During the Dark Ages it was Alan Preston who was a part of Guy's team and who we were relating to ( whom I mentioned earlier) expressed confidence in us and stood by us. We are indebted to his support and his pastoral insight and wisdom as he guided us through many a tricky situation, of gossip, slander, lies etc etc.

Having come alone to Pune i.e with no church planting team or even  one other couple to shoulder responsibilities, everything was down to us. We were the Serving Team, the worship Team. Teaching. preaching, hospitality, life groups, prayer groups etc etc was all down to Navaz and I. We would set up for Sunday, pack everything, and get to work with a toddler strapped in a harness. Andrew as young as 7 years , pulled his weight, handling the overhead projector, then graduating to playing the bongos and by the age of 10 he was on the drums. As Jessica grew older she learned to handle the over head projector and later the DLP along with the laptop.

All was not bleak though – we kept sowing into the community, we made a lot of friends in the neighborhood and slowly the number of people we were praying for grew and grew. And we did see fruit.  God would give us divine appointments with people that we met at super markets, fast food shops, school concerts etc. A friendship would establish and over the years we have seen these people come to faith and become a part of the church. We praise God for that
For the initial years we had amazing growth of 50% . But we also lost 50% each year as Pune is a very transient city where people get transferred in and out  in their jobs very quickly.. As a result the church struggled with just 25-30 people for a few years. There was this huge battle for the first fruits and to establish this church plant. Each year there was a 50% turnover of people. The same numbers but different people.  It almost felt like running on a treadmill. Lots of effort evangelizing, training, discipling,  but we didn’t’ seem to be going anywhere. But like God sent us angels from out of India, we also had angels from within India.

Kenneth and Yasmin
I’m thankful for Kenneth & Yasmin  who were amongst our first fruits of evangelsim, It was wonderful to see them saved along with several others. They were a great strength to us even though they were very young Christians. Kenneth's financial astuteness and understanding of accounts helped fend of crazy allegations and put very sound systems in place.

Nikunj Singh
Ravi and Lessica Bontha
 We also had Nikunj Singh who came in later who was such a pillar of strength and took responsibility for setting up on a Sunday morning along with a few other.
We are thankful to Ravi Bontha who began to catch a heart for the church and served so diligently and with great love for the church.

Pete, Liz and their three children at their home in Pune
with some of the youth.
  Then came Pete & Liz  Harwood for a brief spell as they felt they wanted to come and serve this struggling church plant. God brought all these people at different times to encourage us and give us a lift and show us that God had not forgotten us.  These people along with Navaz and myself formed the core.

We are also thankful to others like  Rajesh and Sunita, Keith and Roopa, who carried responsibilities and served faithfully while they were with us.

Over these years various people prophecied that there was a great harvest comming and that we are not to give up, but wait for it and that God is going to flood us with resources in time to come. Like Noah we are to get the ark ready. So we stuck in there with hope and patience awaiting the fulfillement of those words.

I’d like to acknowledge a handful of people who have not just stayed with us many years but have contributed to the strength and growth of Word of Grace.

There are 2 ladies I’d like to acknowledge this evening – Sulakshana who came to the Lord at Word of Grace but inspite of being the oldest has not let her grey hairs keep her from enthusiastically serving the church and loyally staying with us  inspite of being exposed to a lot of bad stuff that happened.

There’s also Joyce Pillai, this young, gifted lady who came to us a few years ago when we were a small group and has stayed on . She is an anointed worship leader with a beautiful voice and  has a great at  heart for reaching out to people. Thank  you Joyce.

Then there’s Anand and Sailaja who have been faithful and loyal through the years. He is now leading a Life Group and is a budding teacher and who have a great heart of hospitality.

Pune Pastors

 During this very tumultuous time I am grateful for the connections I had with the city pastors. I’m thankful to them who were very welcoming and quickly gave me the right hand of fellowship when we just came to Pune. It was Pastor Balchandra who first sought me out and I’m thankful to him. I’m thankful to these men of God for including me and for their friendship -  Ps. Raju Thomas, Rev, Makasare, Ps Sudhir, Ps. Joseph Pawar, and Rev. Madhu Surwade among many others. There are other city pastors here who I have subsequently got to know - Ps Ranji Babu, Ps Abraham, Ps. Milind & Ps sunny. May I request all the Pune Pastors who are here to stand. We want to recognize you.
(Colin invites Ps. Joseph Pawar who is the convenor of the Christian Leaders Prayer Fellowship in Pune to say a few words.)

During this time, Navaz had many opportunities to help lead various worship bands in the city and lead worship at various joint churches events. We are very grateful to Vilas Samudre who encouraged and recognized God’s anointing and gift in Navaz.

We had just entered our 7th year of being in Pune. Slowly we began to see a more stable group emerge – the outflow had decreased and the group was getting more cohesive. As we had prayed we started to see more local people  join the church and that was a good sign. Was this the beginning of the tide turning at last?

( TO read the concluding part of this series :Part 4, click here )

1 comment:

  1. Excellent well written article. As I have said before, Colin, you are a gifted evangelist. The skills that you bring to the table are an asset to WOG. The one time that I accompanied you to the prison cell is still etched in my mind. Hope that the next decade see you and Navaz reaching out to more people. Congrats on staying the course for the last few years!