Steve Smith teaching The Old Testament in India
In October 2014, 2015 and 2016 Steve Smith, a member of St Barnabas’ congregation had the opportunity to travel to India to help in teaching young church leaders in the Old Testament. Steve told us how this visit came about:
“For a number of years, a friend The Rev’d Richard Burningham, has been invited to visit Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India to teach the bible. I had spent much of 2014 in personal study working through the Old Testament and was unaware that Richard’s theme for his 2014 visit was ‘The Way Through the Old Testament’, and was surprised when he invited me to join him in India to help with the teaching, though probably not as surprised as he was when I said ‘yes’!”
So what were the highlights of the visit for Steve?
“There was so much for me to take in as I was living very deep within the culture and I faced many personal challenges as well as experiencing many wonderful things. One Sunday, I attended a service at the Life Centre which included eight adult believer baptisms and the testimonies of those taking part were very moving, amazing and powerful. One girl had been sold into people trafficking but an anti-trafficking group had been able to free her and she had become a Christian and told us how her life had been so radically changed following her encounter with Jesus and how she had experienced healing, forgiveness and acceptance. For others it was evident the high price they had paid to follow Jesus as for some if them their families would reject them because of their faith in Christ and leaving behind the old family gods.
“Another highlight was a visit to the Blue Haven Children’s Home, a Christian-run orphanage which has been run since 2005. As soon as I stepped through the front doorway, I could sense the love, peace and joy. From a material perspective, it struck me that there were things the Home might not have, yet my outlook was soon changed after speaking with young people there (ages range from 7 to 18) as it was clear that what they were receiving and experiencing were the most important things, more important than many material possessions, and that their lives and outlook expressed what they were receiving as they are healthy, confident, polite, enjoying their education, look after one another and have a great sense of fun. Dolma (17) came to the Home when she was 10 after which they discovered she had contracted Tuberculosis and so the Home raised the necessary funds for Dolma’s treatment as well as praying for her recovery. Dolma was extremely ill during this time and told us of how she lay in hospital bed number 20 and how the patients in beds 1 to 19 had died while she was there; it’s hard to contemplate how this poor young child felt during this time, particularly as doctors had given up hope for her. But God heard the prayers of His people and Dolma survived and today is an elegant young Christian lady with a very gentle spirit. I saw photographs of Dolma and others when they arrived at the Home and looking at them today it is difficult to think they are the same people – the transformation has been amazing.”
How did Steve find the teaching?
“I have no formal training and have never really taught in front of a group before and there was the added complication of translation, particularly as I wanted my sessions to be interactive. Naturally, there was much for me to learn, but Richard was very supportive and encouraging and Naresh, our translator, was not only very competent in translation but also demonstrated great humility in translating for me as he is clearly a very able and experienced teacher. My task was to give an overview of the Old Testament, the storyline that pulled together the different books and accounts beginning with Creation and leading to John’s announcement of the coming Messiah in the New Testament. It was as if I was showing the students plans or blueprints of a building, while Richard was taking them into the rooms to show them the detail by looking at individual events of the bible.”
How did the experience affect Steve and does he have any plans to return to India?
“The experience has affected me on many levels and this is an excerpt from some my notes while in India: ‘…Most of the students come from materially poor backgrounds so giving up three weeks of their time is a great sacrifice to them, but they do so willingly, joyfully and whole-heartedly with a clear love of the Lord and His people. I had come expecting to give, but I have received; to bless, but I have been blessed; to teach, but I have learned. The work here can be summed-up in one word – faithfulness…'”
Richard Burningham, 2015:
We have 39 students. Most of them have become Christians in the last 5 years from a Hindu background and are in their 20’s or 30’s. Only three grew up in Christian homes. All the rest are from Hindu backgrounds. We have farmers, carpenters, labourers, shopkeepers, a business man who sells food snacks, a door to door salesman and a cook who works in a hotel. We have teachers and students and many who work for the church as a livelihood. We have 5 women though one has had to go back home because of ill health. Another younger student had to return because we were told his parents were fighting and he as the eldest son needed to go back to look after his younger brothers and sisters. The mother suffered mental illness. They are all low caste village people from simple backgrounds but keen to learn and grow in their faith.
“My original plan was to cover the Old Testament story from the Red Sea to King David but my mind kept being drawn backwards in the story. As a consequence I got stuck in my preparation in the desert. Well we have only now got to the Red Sea! Since we have a completely new set of students this is no problem and has meant we have been able to teach the whole life of Moses in depth. The frustration has actually turned into a blessing as we focus on the great and central Old Testament story of the Redemption of Israel from slavery of Egypt. We told the story of original Passover when the Israelites painted their doorways with the blood of the sacrificial lambs. As long as they stayed indoors their lives were spared. As the story is told in the Exodus account the parallels with the Jewish Passover ceremony (the Seder) and the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples become obvious. We closed with
a simple celebration of the Lord’s Supper breaking bread and drinking the wine.
“The ‘Way’ for the Israelites in Egypt, the ‘Way’ for Jesus and his disciples and our own ‘Way’ now with Christ seem profoundly linked and form a deep bond between us all and Christ. In between whiles I am reading a book by my previous tutor, Martin Goldsmith whom many might know. He has recently written a book called ‘Storytelling’. Hinduism, like Christianity, is also based on great epic tales about Rama and Shiva and Vishnu. But for them it really does not matter whether these stories actually happened in history or not. I tested this out in class and asked whether they thought these stories really happened and the characteristic Indian shaking of the head up and down as well as sideways illustrated clearly to me that they did no know nor did it really matter!
“Martin writes, ‘hidden in the folds of these wonderfully exciting stories lies a great wealth of Hindu beliefs….’ He goes on to say that this kind of thinking – that it does not really matter whether these events happened in history – has penetrated much modern philosophy and theology, so that many modern theologians and post-modernists have adopted the same way of thinking. I have to say as I re-read and tell these Old Testament stories and the life of Christ which they foretell, I am convinced afresh that we are not here talking about myth. These events really did happen and if they did not our thinking is fairy tale: nice stories for children but not for basing our lives upon. The wonderful thing is that these students are also convinced these events really did happen and that God has so acted in history and have grasped that through these stories we are united in Christ.
“It has been a great support having Steve here teaching alongside me. He has been taking us through the story line of the Old Testament. He has got the students to work in groups and summarize in clear statements the story line of
each book. They are really enjoying doing this work and it will be most helpful having a document (in Hindi with the translation of Naresh) which takes us all the way through the Old Testament – a piece of work which is theirs and which they can be proud of. It is great to see Steve doing so well and enjoying the students.
“Persecution of Christians in this part of the world continues to be a problem here. One of our students, Daranveer was telling us how on Christmas day last year his church was attacked by a gang of political activists and police. They threw out and destroyed all their musical instruments and equipment and all the worshippers ran away. They had prepared all the food and it was wasted. There were about 80 worshippers. Now they worship in smaller house groups and the church is growing! I am told this kind of thing happened to many churches but the church continues to grow. Spirits are also is an issue which comes up most years. One girl, PreKa keeps falling down when we pray or there is worship. We continue to pray for her and her peace of mind. We think that whatever has been bothering her has gone and she is now at peace.”
Steve Smith, 2015:
“On Wednesday we moved our accommodation to the training centre. They are building an extension at the headquarters and it is becoming a building site. So we are now living with the students. We have our own comfortable rooms with toilet and shower. We eat with the students at lunch and have breakfast and supper with the manager and anyone else who happens to be here.The course has been running a little over a week now and the students have completed some good work and have ended the week on a high. I finished a session on the Pentateuch this morning after which the rest of the day was free to them so they could enjoy a break after a busy week and be refreshed for a test on Monday!”