Feb 25 2013
On the Chair Next to You

Each Sunday morning, Kumar sits on a folding chair, waiting for the rock band to start up, and the preacher to give a seeker-sensitve sermon. The chairs are partly filled, in a school gymnasium, just outside Washington, D.C.

He's a small man, from Chennai, India, and here, in the rows for the audience, he's part of someone's Big Vision. Like many others, the church start-up has a visionary, who hopes it becomes the next Big Thing, even hoping to buy 40 acres in suburban D.C. (Anyone got a half-bil for that?)

And Kumar, who's 36, drives each day to his office job at Sun Microsystems, where he spends a lot of time checking urgent email from very far away.

Friday night, I walked with Kumar, and our mutual friend, Woody, to a crowded Whole Foods Market in Alexandria. I made a salad about four times bigger than his, but when we got back to the hotel room, it took him a couple hours to finish. I kept asking questions. He kept answering.

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Kumar was on a crowded bus in Chennai, India. He heard God's voice. "Unmistakeably," he says. I heard God say, twice, 'Seek Me.' That was it. Twice."

Just "Seek Me"?

"Just 'Seek Me'. And I knew it was God, but which God? I was Hindu. Was it Vishnu? Calli...? No idea. I just knew it was God. Somehow, I knew it. Unmistakeable."

And Kumar isn't the gullible type. He has multiple advanced degrees in Aero Engineering and Physics, for starters, from the M.I.T.-equivalent in India.

He studied and researched, but just wasn't satisfied that it was one of his familiar gods, and eventually found a friend with a Bible -- a "good luck charm" -- and traded a textbook for it. He started reading, got confused, but eventually was pointed to Jesus.

He became a Jesus-follower.

Costly decision.

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His parents weren't happy. They scheduled an arranged marriage. Kumar met his wife-to-be on Friday, told her and his parents on Saturday about his Jesus decision, and got married on Sunday. "They thought it would blow over," he says. It didn't.

Six months later, there was an intervention. Her family, his family, neighbors, friends -- 150 people strong -- all telling him to repudiate his faith. He refused.

His parents, fearing for their reputation, said he should leave the area immediately. They would tell everyone that he was dead.

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Kumar took a job in the states. He drove to a big church building. "I didn't know what else to do," he says. "Nice cars everywhere. I liked that."

He walked in, and was taken aback. "It was a fancy church, and everyone was a black person, and they were quite animated. They were walking on their chairs around the room. I was confused, but they were happy.

"They had a testimony time, and I like microphones, so I got up and told them, 'I am so happy about Jesus! I do not want a Mercedes or a BMW! I want to go back to India to tell people about Jesus!' Everyone applauded me! I was the center of attention! But I had just lied! I did not want to go back. Actually, I did want to be rich. I did want a Mercedes."

But some brothers took him to a room and prayed with him, that his return to India would happen. "I did not want to go back to India..."

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A few years later, he went back to India. Kumar took his vacation from Sun, and headed over... with no plan. He just went door-to-door, and told people about Jesus.

The first day, 45 people decided to become Jesus-followers. How'd THAT happen?

"I don't know. I just went door to door, and neighbors would introduce me to others, and I was amazed."

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Kumar still takes his vacations, two weeks a year, and heads to India. But things have grown. From those first 45, and from his trips over the past seven years...

More than 100,000 conversions. 139 communities. More than 100 pastors. Model orphanages for children suffering from AIDS Schools for Dalit children, the lowest-of-the-low in India. Shelters for little girls, now rescued from prostitution. Food. Medicine. Jesus.

They want to name projects after Kumar. He does not allow them. He spends hours every day, after work, praying and communicating and wondering what the next move is. He doesn't raise financial support. Not his style.

"God always provides. Children are dying in a project, because all we have is rice for them, and not much. Woody gave us some money for a down-payment on four acres with hundreds of coconut trees, and then several families who know us each called me, unaware of what we were doing. 'God woke us up last night, and we can't get you off our mind. Here's five thousand dollars...here's a thousand dollars...we got the forty-thousand we needed to buy the land. I am always amazed."

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"Kumar...I don't get it. We made a quantum leap in your story. 45 people decide to follow Jesus, and now more than 100 thousand. Wha...? How...?"

We sit at our table in our hotel room, and Kumar starts laughing. I laugh, too! -- and then, I realize, he's not laughing. He's crying, and he can't speak.

"So many have died..."

Who has died?

"So many of our pastors, so many of our people..."

I look at Woody, who knows the stories, and he bites his lip and nods.

"They are beaten to death, they are killed, because they are talking about Jesus. It happens all the time in India, but the country is very concerned about image, very concerned about foreign investment, they pretend it doesn't happen.

"They are the reason this growth has happened. Their blood. I ask God, 'Why do you let this happen to these people who love you?' They have nothing. Our pastors are not paid. There is no money. But I realized, God is releasing them, at last. They have nothing, they are beaten, they are hungry, they live on the ground, in the streets, and God finally releases them to go home."

Pause. And I can't talk, either.

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Woody, who met Kumar at that seeker-sensitive church in suburban D.C., says I should let Kumar eat his salad. He's right. It's getting late.

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If you're reading this on a weekday, Kumar is sitting in a little room at Sun and doing his job, and answering far-flung emails while he prays. And on Sundays, he sits on a folding chair in a high school gym, and hears about the church's big plans. It will be costly, but just think what could happen, with a new building!

He admits he wonders sometimes...

"They have now added us to their missions budget. They give $1,000 per year. I guess I am happy for that, but..." and his voice trails.

But...the church has other priorities, and a Big Vision for another affluent suburb that, need we remind, needs Jesus, too.

 

Feb 17 2012
Why are Young Christians Leaving the Church?

Here's a conversation with David Kinnamon, author of You Lost Me, addressing the disconnect between American consumer-church culture and many young believers.

Click HERE to listen!

 

Sep 07 2011
On Dealing with Crazy Christians

This was written for a Christian radio industry site, and certainly isn't for everybody.  But it might mean something to you, too, in your realm.

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Dear Other Radio People,

First of all, thank you for your work as an Other Radio Person.  This is the hardest kind of radio to do, this “Christian radio” thing.  Most of us who’ve done other formats figure that out, the first time we say something that didn’t… come out… quite right.  We figure this out, subtly, because when we say something the wrong way in this format, someone calls and tells us we are masters of deceit, leading thousands of people to eternal punishment.

In another format, when we mess up, we’re just stupid.  And that’s it.

Anyway, I’ve had to deal with a lot of crazy people, and crazy people can take it to a new level of crazy when they dish out regular-brand crazy with a heapin’ helpin’ of Bible-talk.  Radio friends have even asked me, “How do you handle it?”  And I admit, I’ve gotten frustrated with people.  I wish they’d go away, but only after replacing their “‘Fireproof’ is the finest film ever made!” selves with chai-sipping N.T. Wright fans.

In other words, I wish they’d go away, and I’d be left with more people like… me.

That’s a problem.  If this is ministry, it’s not about me.  Nor is it about my elitism, my biases, or my desire to feel superior to the people who call to wrap up every discussion, every question, no matter what, with “Jesus”, “The Bible”, or “God”.

So here’s what I remind myself:

1)  These people are family.

Because they are.  Growing up, I said things many times that embarrassed my much-cooler brother.  But I was always his brother, and the church is — truly — family.  I’m glad he put up with me, and still puts up with me.  Family is like that.

2)  They’re family, but I will not let these people define Jesus for me.

Yes, there are horrible legalists in the world, and some of them listen to Christian radio.  But while they may embody a particular American church subcultural type, they are not the total picture of the word “Christian”.  The “median” Christian, statistically speaking, is not even American.  She’s a poor woman in Africa, and hasn’t heard of Casting Crowns, Night of Joy, or WWJD? bracelets.  Fine things, all, but I’m not going to confuse our products and subculture with Jesus.

3)  Some of these people are new to the faith.

And they’re excited about it.  They should be.  And they just turned on a Christian station, and they’re elated.  The songs are speaking to them, deeply.  They didn’t even know music could be like this!  They want to hear more about God!  And then I come on, and I talk about Jesus — or about what my dog ate last night.

There’s a reason for this.  The dog thing is life, too, and I’m going to represent life, highs, lows, and even the amusing mundane, on the show.  Christ fills everything with meaning! — but I’m not going to hold it against the listener, who may be a new believer, from not getting it just yet.

You and I have no idea how long that caller has been a believer, or if she even is one.  She may be merely playing church on the “church station”, and know no better.

4)  The church has always been full of freaks.

And thank you, Lord, for that.  Otherwise, I don't get in. 

I don’t know who said it first, but the Church has been described as H.C.E.:  ”Here Comes Everybody”.  The whole motley lot of us, sprinting and jumping and limping and being wheeled and carried in on a gurney.  Cool, uncool – doesn’t matter.  Just glad you’re here.  And it’s been that way since Jesus hand-picked his first disciples.

So why would we expect any different?  ”But some of my callers and emailers seem kind of simple and needy, and, even more so than typical people, and — ”

Well, Jesus’ message has always appealed first to the needy.  Always.  Don’t be shocked, and don’t be surprised, either, when you visit a doc’s office, and the people inside seem sicker than those outside.  Makes sense.  So we can quit reacting to it.

5)  Diminishing them is just a way for me to feel superior.

And I’m not.  And you’re not, either.

Thank God.  Here comes everybody, including you and me.