Saturday, May 31, 2008

Back to Kathmandu

Greetings from Kathmandu again,

It seems like a long time since the last time I posted. This is probably because a lot has happened in the past few days.

Little did we know when we planned this trip to Nepal that we would be here to witness history. On May 28th the newly elected Congressional Assembly voted almost unanimously to declare Nepal a democratic republic. What this means is that the reigning king (who assassinated his father, mother, and brother in bloody fashion in the royal palace back in 1999) has 15 days to vacate the palace and the current 230 year old hindu monarchy has come to an end. The nation of Nepal has been under monarchy rule for more than 450 years. As you can imagine...the people of Nepal are elated and the celebrations went on in the streets all night long all over Nepal. May 28th has been declared a national holiday and will be celebrated like we celebrate Independence Day. Hopefully this declaration also brings an end to the violence that has dominated this nation for the past ten years. Bomb blasts and killing have been common place for the past 10 years. The pastors we have been working with are also hopeful that the new government will keep its promises of freedom of religion. Before 1952 there were no Christian churches in Nepal. Between 1952 and the late 70's there were only underground churches. According to a 2007 survey it is now estimated that there are around 2,700 Christians churches in Nepal. Until 2006 the nation of Nepal was the only nation in the world to have Hinduism as the official and national religion. Now Nepal has no official or national religion. The most recent census reports that the population of Nepal is 30,000,000. Statistics tell us that less than 1% of the population is Christian and with many areas and villages of Nepal still with out Christians witness...the fields are white for harvest. Just as Paul prayed for open doors to preach the Gospel so too do we pray for open doors.

We arrived last Tuesday afternoon and left early Wednesday morning for a three day trip into the hills and mountains that are West of Kathmandu. Pastor JB is originally from this part of Nepal and knows many people there. There are eight other pastors in Nepal that have been working with Pastor JB over the years. You can tell that these men all have a great deal of respect for Pastor JB and his sons. Pastor JB first heard about his Savior when he picked up a small tract that had been thrown into the streets by a soldier to had taken them away from someone who was trying to hand them out. At that time it was illegal to openly evangelize in Nepal. JB was brought to faith through the Word of God and it cost him dearly with his family as he has been ostracized from his father now for many years. This family has endured many hardships such as being arrested and detained as they have tried to proclaim the Gospel. But the Lord has been faithful and given them the strength and courage to carry on.

We had the privilege of meeting and visiting with four pastors who Pastor JB works with. Two of these pastors he baptized years ago when they were brought to faith. While the distance to these places was not far, the amount of time it takes to travel there was very long. We probably averaged about 30-40 KM/hour as we wound our way up and down mountain roads that seem to have been built for one way traffic but somehow they manage two way traffic with all sort of vehicles, including very large lorries (trucks) making their way through. We visited the cities of Hetauda, Bharatpur, and Butwol. We attended and taught at special church services that were arranged since we would be there and we also visited and taught at a couple of house churches. My impression of the four pastors we met is that they are very sincere in serving the Lord and have truly humbled themselves before the Word with a great desire to increase their knowledge and understanding of it. It was a joy to meet and visit with them.

The trip was grueling, long, and sometime frustrating as we sat for long periods of times as traffic was brought to a stand still in the middle of no where for no apparent reason. But the beauty of these mountains is breath taking. Rajan (pastor JB's youngest son) kept telling us that we hadn't even seen mountains yet. He tells us that here in Nepal mountains have snow on them year around and not just at the top. Picture in your mind the pictures you have seen of Mt. Everest. These are what they call mountains. What we refer to as the Rocky Mountains, are just very big hills. Way back in these "hills", straight up it seems, are villages that are only accessible on foot. Pastor JB and his sons have made trips back into these hills to spread the Gospel. While pastor JB says that his work is now encouraging and training pastors due to his age, his son Rajan has a real burden to take the Gospel to these unreached areas of Nepal. (The picture shows the "hills" that Rajan was explaining to me. The real Himalayan Mountains tower above the ridge you can see but with the haze and clouds we were unable to see "real" mountains.)

Here in Nepal worship services are held on Saturdays since this is the one day of the week when businesses are closed. So we attended the worship service where Pastor JB and his sons serve. There were about 85 in attendance. I was given the privilege of preaching for the service. This afternoon Raju and Rajan took us to see some sights around Kathmandu and we did a little gift shopping for my family.

Tomorrow we will meet from 8 to 4 with Pastor JB, his sons Raju and Rajan, and the other eight pastors they are associated with. Pastor Ude and I will lead them through a series of presentations that will outline the faith and doctrine of the CLC along with our history and the mission work of our body. Following this presentation all of these pastors will meet for a few hours to discuss what they have heard and what their next step will be. Pastor JB and his sons have already decided to initiate the beginning of a Lutheran Church body in Nepal and are confident that these other eight pastors are committed to this as well. Pastor JB and his sons have a very sincere desire to build a church body founded upon a strong Scriptural/doctrinal foundation. They have witnessed the problems of other congregations and church bodies in Nepal who have not had thorough theological training and they intend to avoid this pit fall by seeking this training from the CLC and then spreading it through out Nepal. They really have thought this all through and have set God pleasing goals. We await the Lord's direction and leading in this as in all things. What a privilege it is to be in the Lord's service!

Just one more full day in Kathmandu. On Tuesday morning we are planning to get up and leave the hotel by 4:00 am so we can drive to a point an hour or so East of Kathmandu to watch the sunrise over the real Himalayan Mountains and hopefully we will be able to see Mt. Everest if it is clear. Then we will head back to Kathmandu in time to catch our flight back to India at 2:00 pm.

Please pray for these men and their God pleasing goals.

In Christ,
Pastor Ohlmann

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Made it to Nepal

Greetings from Kathmandu,
Just wanted to let everyone know that we made it safely to Nepal. We exchanged US dollars for Nepal Rupees, purchased a gift for Pastor Raju's mother, ate a wonderful supper at the pastor's house, and spent about two hours getting know each other, discussing the schedule for the week, and introducing each other to the various ministries of our two church bodies.

Tomorrow we will leave at 8:00 am for a three day trip into the surrounding mountains where we will visit several village congregations and their pastors. Pastor Raju will not be able to join us since he is finishing up his classes and has final exams on Friday for his BS degree in Health Care Management. The picture shows the family we will be working with. Pastor JB was converted to Christianity from Hinduism against his family's wishes several years ago and has been in the full-time ministry for the past 11 years or so. Both of his sons Raju and Rajan are also active in the ministry. Pastor Raju serves as the chairman of their Christian organization. Their #1 goal at the present (in their own words) is to gain depth of learning in the Theology that is lacking in Nepal so they can in turn impart this knowledge to other pastors and students who want to prepare for the ministry. Included in their long term goals is a Lutheran Bible College. In the picture from left to right...Pastor Raju, Rajan, Rama, Pastor JB.

I'm not sure if I will have internet access for the next couple of days but I will update the blog when we return from visiting the mountain villages. Please keep this opportunity to assist in the spreading the Gospel in your prayers!

I talked to Beth and the kids tonight...they are doing fine.

In Christ,
Pastor Ohlmann

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A day of rest in Chennai

Greetings from Chennai (Pastor Ude's apartment with internet!),

We spent most of Friday with me meeting with Jyothi and Nireeshana Benjamin discussing the work while Pastor Ude worked on computer problems. It was a day well spent.

In the evening we stopped off at a place called the Pizza Corner for supper and then headed out to a CLCI congregation about 45 mintues away. The first congregation we stopped at showed us the current condition of their prayer shed, as they call them. This is where they meet for worship. Their prayer shed had collapsed about two months earlier. This particular prayer shed was constructed by setting four large posts in the ground at the four corners and then they dug a trench between the posts and set several small sticks upright between the large posts. The bottom of the sticks in the trench were then packed with mud to keep them upright. The stick walls were then packed with mud leaving small openings for airflow. The roof was constructed of bamboo rafters that were then layered with either straw. I asked Jyothi what it would cost to rebuild this prayer shed and he estimated about $250.

We then traveled to another village a few Kilometers away where there was another prayer shed of the same type of construction but it seemed to have more support logs set in the walls rather than at just the corners. But you could see that the mud waddle walls were not in good shape and were begining to lean in. These types of buildings require constant upkeep I would imagine. About 70 people packed into the prayer shed. Following the singing accompanied by drums, that is broadcast over loud speakers (which serves as a sort of call to worship for the village), the service began. Pastor Ude and I were both given the opportunity to share the word of God. There is just such a love of the Gospel in these small village congregations. It is hard to put your finger on what it is...but you can just tell that they are hungry for the Word. I preached on the story of the raising of Lazarus and before I began I asked how many had heard the story and almost all of them raised their hands. As we were driving back to Guntur I was asking Jyothi about the pastor because he looked very familiar to me and seemed to remember me. Jyothi said that he had graduated from the seminary a few years back and remembered me from when I had taught there a few years ago. Then Jyothi went on to tell us that this particular congregation was started by this pastor after he finished seminary and that all the members were Hindu converts. When this pastor was sent to this village after seminary there was no Christian church and no Christians in the village. I asked Jyothi to give me a rough estimate of how many CLCI congregations were in villages with no other Christian witness and after thinking for a couple of minutes and running through the many villages in his mind he said probably 60% of the villages with CLCI congregations had no other Christian witness. Praise the Lord for opening the doors of opportunity for our brothers of the CLCI to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ! And thank the Lord for moving the hearts of KINSHIP sponsors who assisted this pastor and many others with their financial resources so that they could attend the CLCI seminary to be properly trained for the Gospel ministry in these heathen villages of India!

Our car was repaired enough to make the trip back to Chennai. The engine needs rebuilt and continues to overheat so our driver Kumar kept the speed at 60 Kilometers per hour (about 37 miles per hour) the whole trip. We also had to stop to let it cool down a couple of times. Which reminds is funny sometimes the expressions they come with here since English is not their native tongue. Our driver speaks good English and that is a real blessing. But when we pulled off the road to let the engine cool down, he said: "we must find shadows to park" instead of saying we need to find some shade. It made me smile.

Anyway, we are safely back in Chennai. Pastor Ude has a bad head and chest cold so we are going to take it easy today and maybe run a few errands. Tomorrow (Monday) we meet with some pastors from the BELC. On Tuesday morning we head to the airport to fly to Nepal to meet with Pastor Raju for a few days.

Thanks for your prayers.

In Christ,
Pastor Ohlmann

Friday, May 23, 2008

CLCI 10th Seminary Graduation

Greeting from Guntur again,

Last night was quite a usual CLCI fashion (as past Mission Helpers to India know) the CLCI compound, when decorated for a big event is a beautiful sight at night. The large court yard is turned into an outdoor sanctuary with a large stage at one end with a colorful backdrop and canopy. On the backdrop was a large banner that announced the 10th graduation of the CLCI seminary and the theme for the night written in Greek, English, and Telegu: Speaking the Truth in Love. The trees and buildings are all draped with lights. It turns into a magical place in the midst of the dirt and grim and poverty of this developing nation.

After about two hours of pastors, seminary students, and graduates taking turns singing Gospel songs in Telegu over the loud speakers that can be heard several kilometers aways and the Sunday school children of several near by congregation singing and performing action songs, the service began with V.S. Benjamin's youngest son, Nireekshana, opening with prayer and the invocation. Graduates and guests and a few hundred members from surrounding CLCI congregations were welcomed.

V.S. Benjamin, who is very close to 87 years old now was also in attendance. He is really starting to show his age. While he needed the assistance of his sons to get up the steps to the stage he was still eager to deliver a sermon and perform the laying on of hands of each of the graduating seminary students with great enthusiasm.

Each graduate has already received his assigned congregation and so this service serves as graduation and ordination. Each graduate was brought on stage as V.S. Benjamin anointed the head of each graduate with oil as all the seminary professors, Pastor Ude, and myself laid our hands upon their heads and prayed for the Lord's blessings upon the man, the ministry, and the congregations they have been called to start or serve. V.S. Benjamin then embraced each graduate and gave him a kiss on the forehead as he sent him off into the ministry.

After sermons from Pastor Ude and myself...Pastor Ude had the honor of handing out certificates of completion to 10 graduates of the CLCI correspondance course in theology. I was given the privilege of distributing diplomasa and gifts to the 14 graduates of the CLCI seminary. This is the largest class of graduates thus far.

Following the distribution of diplomas, all the CLCI pastors who were in attendance were brought on stage and honored for their service to the Lord with a handshake and shawl. Then the teaching staff of the seminary was honored with the same, and finally Pastor Ude and myself were given a shawl and a gift and thanked for being present on this special night.

Following the benediction...everyone was informed of the "love feast" that had been prepared and all 1200+ attendees were fed a meal of chicken biriyani. It seems that it was enjoyed by all. Pastor Ude and I were invited into Jyothi's home to eat a meal prepared especially for us by his wife. We ate (not too spicy) chicken biriyani and chicken livers. It was good. (click here to watch a slide show of the graduation: )

I am thankful that the Lord allowed me to be here for this special event. It was eleven years ago this summer that I first visited India. At that time the CLCI proposed to the CLC Board of Missions the idea of starting a fulltime seminary. The Board of Missions granted their request and by the grace of God the funding for this Gospel mission work came through the offering of God's people in the CLC-USA. Over the past ten years I have witnessed God's gracious had at work as many improvements have been made in the CLCI seminary with addition of a new and larger classroom needed for the 38+ students currently enrolled. Two men have also been added to the teaching staff. The orphange duties that Jyothi once held have been transferred to his brother Nireekshana so that he can dedicate himself fulltime to the preaching and teaching ministry as he still preaches and conducts outreach efforts in areas where there is little or no Christian witness. It was also a joy for me to see the faces of men who are now full-time pastors in the CLCI that I have had the privilege of teaching and encouraging over the years that I have visited the CLCI. As the Lord continues to bless this effort we continue to pray that the Lord would send more and more workers to the CLCI seminary to prepare them for the great harvest of souls here in South India. Next year, the Lord willing...the CLCI will have 12 graduates. Current enrollment for next year is currently 38 with seven more slot to be filled from the abundance of applications they have received.

Today I meet with Nireekshana to discuss Mission Board business. Tonight we visit a congregation. If our car is fixed by tonight we will return to Chennai tomorrow. If not...we will probably take the train because we have a flight to Nepal to catch on Monday...and I don't think they will wait for us. :)

Your prayers are appreciated!

In Christ,
Pastor Ohlmann

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Waiting in Guntur

Greetings from Guntur,

Guntur is the closest big town to the CLCI seminary and orphanage. We arrived yesterday afternoon after a long drive. The past week has been spent in an off the beaten path part of India. Although, not much of India is not on an American's typical path. But Kadapa (or Cuddapah as it is sometimes written) is near the middle of India. Folks with light skin color just aren't seen here much. The owner of the hotel we stayed at recognized me right away from my stay two years ago. We also had a young man stop us while in the shopping Bazzar to ask where we are from. He said: "we are not used to seeing foreigners here, in Hyderbad or Bangalore yes but not here in Kadapa...why are you here when it is so hot?" Our trip was a bit hampered by an overheated car. The small Fiat that we are renting began to overheat and so that meant no more air conditioning for the rest of the trip. We also took it very slow. The temperature outside was around 110 degrees. But, like everyone here...we survived. We got to the edge of Guntur and there was Jyothi and his two nephews to greet us. As soon as Kumar (our driver) turned off the engine steam and smoke began to roll out from under the hood. We waited for awhile and then rode with Jyothi to the hotel. A mechanic wired the fan to bypass the thermostat and we will try to make the 8 hour trip back to Chennai on Saturday. Please pray for a successful journey back.

From Kadapa we traveled 1.5 to 2 hours one way each day to visit and train pastors in three other districts of the BELC. Pastor Victor is the chairman of the Kadapa, Rayachotti, Rajampeta, and Kurnool/Allagaddla districts. He is quite a go-getter. He is an older man in his late 60's but has more energy than I do. He drives his motorcycle over some of the worse roads imaginable to find men from village with little or no Christian witness to train to be pastors. He has approx. 60 pastors/evangelists under his tutelage. Thank the Lord for dedicated men like Pastor Victor.

Today is a bit slow since Jyothi and the other are busy getting ready for the graduation tonight. It begins at 7:00 pm and will last well into the night. I don't expect to get back to the hotel until after midnight. It should be quite an event. This will be the 10th anniversary graduation of the CLCI seminary with 14 men graduating! Pastor Ude and I have the privilege of distributing the diplomas tonight and giving a brief sermon and words of advice to the graduates. I will give you the details tomorrow.

Please pray for Beth and the kids. Beth has four little ones at home with the stomach flu.

In Christ,
Pastor O.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Good Morning from Kadapa

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I am doing fine. It is Sunday morning here in Kadapa. This is where I have been for the past couple of days and will be here until Wednesday. We taught in the Rajampeta district yesterday, which is about 1 hour drive from here. Today we will attend church in the Rayochoti district, which is also about 1 hour from here but in a different direction. After church we will have a bit of down time and then we will meet with the pastors of that district for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Then another 1 hour care ride back to Kadapa.

Your prayers are a comfort and encouragement and much appreciated.

In Christ, Pastor O.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Made it to Chennai

Greetings from Chennai,
After a couple of days of flying I made it safely to Chennai. My flight arrived right on time at 4:00 am. The flights and layovers were uneventful, which is always nice.
Pastor Ude met me at the airport and took me to his apartment where I am now. We have a few hours to rest up and clean up then it's off to run some errands around the big city of Chennai. We will leave tomorrow and head north. We will spend an afternoon/evening visiting in the Nellore district then off to spend 5 days traveling through and teaching at two of the more distant pastoral training districts of the BELC.

Not much has happened yet so not much to report. Just wanted to let everyone know that I made it here safely.

Beth and the kids are doing fine at home. Thanks for all your prayers.

In Christ,
Pastor O.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Journey #8 begins

Greetings in the name of our Risen, Ascended, and Reigning Lord and Savior!

On Monday, May 12th, 2008 I will leave St. Louis around 2:00 pm for my 8th trip to India. I will be traveling to India alone this time but will meet up with Pastor Ude when I arrive. I have a very busy 3 1/2 weeks planned. This is the tightest I have ever scheduled my time in the field. Please pray that the timing works out and the travel goes smoothly. When I arrive in Chennai I will have just part of a day to exchange money and get ready for the next few weeks of travel, teaching, and activity.

Pastor Ude and I will travel by car to visit and teach in two of the most distant districts of the BELC. After I have visited these two districts I will have visited all but one. I have made similar comments before but each time I think I am close to visiting all the districts of the BELC the Lord opens yet another door/s of opportunity to train more pastors and more districts are opened up by the time I return the next year.

Following a week with the BELC we will travel by car to the CLCI seminary where we will be guests for the 10th anniversary graduation of the CLCI seminary. 14 men will graduate and enter the full-time Gospel ministry. (The Lord is Good!) Following a couple days of visiting congregations and discussions with the leaders of the CLCI we will return to Chennai where we will catch a plane to Nepal with a short lay-over in New Delhi.

We are traveling to Nepal to visit a young pastor who contacted the CLC several months ago to inquire about pastoral training in Lutheran Theology. Over the past 8 months I have had the privilege of leading this gifted and dedicated man through a correspondence course in Lutheran Doctrine and we have exchanged many, many emails. His desire is to establish a Confessional Lutheran Church Body in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal. There are 8 other independent pastors who have the same desire and have appointed this man as the president of their fledgling church body. They are small in number but mighty in the Lord. They each work a full-time job to support their families while serving more than one congregation and regularly conducting outreach efforts in villages where the Gospel has not been told. They are also interested in conducting training seminars for other pastors who are interested in finding out more about Confessional Lutheran Theology. Work has already begun on translating the correspondence course we went through along with the CLC Statement of Faith into Nepali. These men are currently studying materials that have been sent and writing a series of doctrinal essays that will be discussed when we are there. This group of men has asked for only one thing...that we come to train them and others in the truth of God's word so that they will be better equipped to preach and teach the Saving message of Jesus Christ! Praise the Lord for what apparently seems to be a wide open door for the spread of the Gospel in a nation that counts only .5% of her population as Christian!

I stand in awe of the Lord's goodness when I consider the opportunities that are ahead of me in the next few weeks. Please ask the Lord to bless this trip by granting good health, safe and efficient travel, and that the Gospel message may be proclaimed. I would also ask that you keep my family and those I serve in the congregations in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas in your prayers.

In Christ,
Pastor O.