Mission team branches out with trip to India

August 30, 2010

PLAINVIEW – Dr. Rick Shaw has spent many hours working in the slums of foreign lands, leading teams and sharing the gospel with people of differing faiths. But this summer, Shaw led a small team on an expedition to a mission field which he had never experienced. In turn, he saw and experienced things with which he had never dealt before.

Shaw, director of the Wayland Mission Center, led a six-person team to Bangalore, India, this summer, in an exploration of possibilities to aid indigenous missionaries in their work with the local people.

“When I was praying about it and really looking for direction, I was looking for a place that would be heavily Hindu,” Shaw said. “For almost three years now we have engaged Muslims in Macedonia and Kosovo, but I wanted students to engage Hindu people who are of another world faith.”

Shaw was put in contact with indigenous missionaries, Latha and Suresh, by a foreign missionary with Wayland connections who was working in south Asia at the time. While the missionary and his family had to return to the states for health reasons, Shaw remained in contact with the Indian missionaries who operate ministries and sewing centers for the children and women in Bangalore, Dharmaprui and Chittoor.

“I knew (Bangalore) was about 98 percent Hindu,” Shaw said. “There are a few Muslims, but not many, and very few Christians.”

Joining Shaw in the six-person team was Elaine Heard from Dimmitt, Donna and Roland Hamilton of Quitique, WBU graduate student Kori Bowen and adjunct professor of history Nick Pruitt. What the team experienced was unlike anything Shaw had dealt with in working with people of the Muslim faith.

The trip coincided with a major Hindu festival known as the Day of the Dead. The group witnessed many of the rituals incorporated in the festival, including sacrifice of animals and in a sense, human sacrifice as well.

The group witnessed bloodless sacrifice as young boys and girls were pierced through their cheeks with a long saber or “pitch-fork.” The ritual had a profound impact on Bowen.

“I went from simply knowing that this happens when I am not around to a feeling that these souls are captured in this and there is something holding them to it,” she said. “It is something that is very dark.”

Shaw said the sacrifice is performed on young men and women, generally ages 18-25, but in some cases the victims are as young as 12 or 13. The only requirement is that they have passed puberty. The purpose of the sacrifice is to appease the gods in order to balance Karma.

“It is very unusual compared to anything we see in terms of religion or religious ritual,” Shaw said. “I wanted to observe it. Of course, the Hindu people are so gregarious that they just pulled us right in.”

Shaw said he also witnessed acts of domestic violence, unlike anything he had seen before.

“There was no shame. No holding back,” Shaw said. “I have seen domestic violence, but often I just see the consequences or results of it. I see bruises, of course, even here in Plainview in the elementary schools and the kids we mentor in our Apostolos program. But there, I saw the actual abuse.

“Obviously you have an emotional response to that, but how do you engage it?”

While some of their observations were disturbing, the group also shared in many positive experiences with the people of India. Many of the women and children in India are abandoned. There is little money for food and even less for education. There is no public education system in India and parents must pay to have their children educated. These social groups are the focus of the work done by Latah and Suresh.

Each day, children gather for learning sessions and a meal set up in an “orphanage” operated by the indigenous missionaries. It is here where they hear stories about Jesus and are served, for many, what may be their only meal of the day.

“I taught ‘Jesus Loves the Little Children’ for two weeks straight,” Bowen said. “I really learned the value of children’s ministry because we would do these children’s conference over speakers and adults would stand in the background and listen. Then these people would invite us into their homes to pray. We would pray for healing, pray for money for education, pray for money for food … for money in general.”

Bowen said the local missionaries were able to build relationships with the parents of children because of the trust they built in working with the kids. It is then that they can engage in religious conversations with the parents. Shaw said that while the Hindu people are so tied to their religion, they are still very open to hearing about Jesus. After all, there are more than 330,000 gods and goddesses associated with Hinduism and their religion allows for the addition of more.

“Latha and Suresh have worked in this ministry for about 10 years and they have led many people to Christ,” Shaw said. “But you will notice in the homes of these individuals, they will have a picture of Jesus or an icon of Jesus or something like that, and next to it, they will have a Hindu god.

“With Hinduism they have so many gods and goddesses and they just add Jesus to it because the system allows it.”

Shaw pointed out that this obviously differs from the Christian position, but it is a starting point through which to hold additional discussion.

“For a Hindu that is really well versed, Christianity is a challenge to its core because Christianity is exclusive in terms of the worship of one god,” Shaw said.

As time came for the group to return home, Shaw said Latha and Suresh begged for them to return. And with all the opportunity to share the gospel, Shaw is already making plans for a return trip. He is also working with WBU Associate Professor of Sociology Debra Lavender-Bratcher to determine the best way to deal with and engage the social abuse and violence among the Indian people. He is also working with Dr. Charles Starnes, associate professor of economics, to put the indigenous missionaries in contact with a group that will provide animals for economic benefit to low income people. The group, Heifer International, provides animals to economically challenged individuals in exchange for some kind of nominal payment, many times through bartering. While heifers, or young cows, would be out of the question for the people of India, to whom cows are sacred, the group also deals with goats.

Shaw is hoping to return to India in the summer of 2012 with a larger team, prepared to help in any way possible to further the work of Christ through Latha and Suresh’s ministry. Anyone interested in the program or in joining Wayland’s next trip to India may contact Dr. Shaw at 806-291-1122 or by email at shawr@wbu.edu.