On 15th of August 1947 India was granted independence from Great Britain (or is it declared independence from?) And so we gathered in the parade ground in front of the chapel for independence day celebrations. The children danced and sang songs, the local Police Chief unfurled the flag and we joined in joyful Indian nationalism. Even the mosquitos expressed their pride in their country of origin by feasting on the only British male there.
Ajay (name changed) did a great job while speaking about what it means to be a patriotic Indian – he spoke from 1 Peter 2 about the qualities needed to grow a nation and pointed to Christ as the only way to produce real moral change. The Police chief seemed to like some of it and wants to come back and chat about it more.
Two things have made me reflect on independence recently. Yesterday the passage I was given to speak on was Ephesians 5:22-31 = wives and husbands! I’m sure that I made a few gaffs as I stumbled over applying Ephesians 5 to Indian culture. As I thought about ‘leaving and cleaving’ I mentioned how individualistic we are in the west. Indians have a much stronger sense of how marriage relates to the wider family. Two points from the passage that I don’t think I pressed home hard enough were that husbands need to learn to love their wives the way they want to be loved and that the submission of wives is entirely voluntary. I was told afterwards that many Indian men do not know how to show romantic love to their wives. (Emily is always telling me that I need to grow in this area so I should have remembered to stress it.) However, I did stress that Paul does not tell the husbands to force their wives to accept their leadership – in India most people grow up learning discipline through beatings. Children watch their fathers beat their mothers and then their mothers beating them. So the whole experience reminded me that studying the Bible involves two things – 1. Doing the hard work in the text. 2. Doing the hard work of listening to the local culture in order to apply the text correctly. Different verses leap out at us depending on where we are from. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh,” is just as jarring to an Indian ear as, “wives submit to your husbands,” is to a western one. Especially in the villages a new wife will be expected to move into her husband’s home – along with his parents and other siblings. Therefore, well before she thinks about whether she wants to submit to her husband or not, she is confronted with the expectation of submitting to her mother-in-law (this is how we cook in this house!) and also her husband’s older brother and his wife. Hence therefore Paul’s words strike right against Indian culture when he tells husbands to leave their father and mother and start a new (independent) family unit.
I have also spent some time with local church planters. Listening to their struggles they all seemed to share similar stories – they long for independence… a decent salary, good building to meet in, freedom from persecution etc. I shared with them that although the circumstances in the UK are very different the issues are exactly the same. As they listed the issues they faced it sounded exactly like the book of Acts to me: no money for f/t pastors, no buildings to meet in, persecution, persecution scattering the church, problems with administering gifts… I do not want to minimise their hardships which are very real but I shared with them that the grass is always greener on the other side. They envy our resources in the west, we envy their church growth in the east. The human heart (west or east) longs for independence because we think we can fix all our problems. However, God wants us to surrender our independence and trust solely in Him – both in marriage and in church planting.