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Sunday, October 14, 2018
Aizawl, Mizoram, India
We were told to be ready at 7:00 am to be picked up for breakfast at Joseph and Mahumi Lalnunlluanga’s home which is located across the road from the church building. Joseph is the editorial person who has produced the Fundamentals of Belief booklet, which is really a book rather than “booklet” It is 134 pages long.
All five of us were down in the lobby at seven. But, no one was there to pick us up.  It was raining.  It has rained a lot since we’ve been here. 
One hour passed. David tried to call PC, but there is no answer. Then another half hour passed.  Still no word from the people who would be collecting us for the day.  We were beginning to wonder if all was well.  The time was well spent, however, in discussion among the five of us (Ezekiel, Dave, Jolinda, Bev and myself). We talked about the translation and publication of literature into the Telugu language. But, a more general discussion ensued about how we could reach people with our message and how next we would engage them.  How can we really start a congregation of people of similar beliefs? The empowering element would be people coming to conversion as a result of God the Father’s call (John 6:44, 65), but also what would our part in all this would be. There are millions and millions of people in India.  How does spiritual fishing work here?
Ezekiel has a home with an attached church meeting hall.  Here he holds a meeting with a maximum of 20 or so people on Friday nights and then on the Sabbath.  He and his wife Malika are very oriented to serve and teach and my encouragement was to continue to develop from this small way and pray that indeed a congregation develop.
How ARE congregations developed?  In the United States for decades the process has been one of media (magazines, electronic broadcasting and now the Internet) that has produced the first leads.  In our international areas, more of the spreading of the Word is through families and close acquaintances.  We have found the congregations in Sri Lanka and what we found in Kolasib to have a strong extended family as its member base.  
We talked about the Indian Christian demographic and phenomenon.  First, Christianity is a minority religion comprising only 2.8% of the population but that is still 30 million people!  Anyone can become a pastor and pastors pop up everywhere.   Many are self-appointed and ill-equipped in every way to be a “pastor.”  They gather people together and some wish to make a living of this. Many hope to find a “partnership” with someone in the economically rich countries in the North America and Europe to do their work.  That was quite evident by some of the attending pastors coming to the Beyond Today seminars. In Ezekiel’s city of Visakhapatnam there are 7000 pastors.  In all of Andhra Pradesh there are an astounding 280,000 number of pastors! Another side point about the two countries we visited. India is 80 percent Hindu while Sri Lanka is 71 percent Buddhist.
Ezekiel has translated the booklet on the 10 Commandments into Telugu that is in the process of being laid out with images.  He is working with Peter Eddington to get it to final PDF stage for printing. 
We had more than 50 people come to the Beyond Today seminar at Ezekiel’s meeting hall.  We are hoping that this group will add to the group that is already meeting here on the Sabbath and can truly constitute a church congregation as we know a congregation to be.
Finally, approaching 9 am two vehicles came to pick us and we were wondering about the time schedule. We had to drive three hours to Aizawl for the church meetings where outsiders were invited. We were ready to skip breakfast.  But, no.  We were taken to Joseph’s house where a sumptuous breakfast was waiting for us prepared by Mahumi, wife of Joseph.  The breakfast included a puff pastry that was quite interesting, an omelet. French fries and much the same menu as the day before. There seemed to be a lot of French fries served for all meals.  The fast bread is very tasty. A spirited discussion ensued as though we had all day to just stay here.  I often joke about the fact that we have a space angel that helps us get through tight places in tight vehicles and a time angel that works the clock to make impossible schedules happen.
But, finally we had to seriously get on the road.  For the meetings that was supposed to be either 1 or 1:30 in Aizawl. 
Off we went!  Four vehicles in a caravan. Some of the Mamet brethren who came for Kolasib  services came along, including the Church of God 7th Day elder Lahmangaihkima.      
The drive was spectacular in terms of scenery, the winding mountain road that hugged the mountainside and passing through villages and settlements hanging along the way. Today, the sun is shining.  It had been uncharacteristically rainy the days we’ve been here.  Today was a day for photographic experience!  I took hundreds of photos and video of us on this drive.  A lot of jostling and rocking in the vehicles which take a pounding.  How long do the tires and shocks last?  We don’t want to know.
We do not wear seat belts. In one of the vehicles, there was no front seat belt.  In the second one there was a seat belt across the shoulder, but no place to snap it into place.  It had vanished.  They told us that seat belt were not “necessary.”  I guess a seat belt won’t help if we go off the road and careen a thousand feet down. This is truly “living on the edge.”
One of the safety signs on the road reads: “The road is hilly, don’t be silly.”
I sat in the front seat with PC driving.  We talked about lots of things during the three-hour drive about the United Church of God Mizoram. They have six elders which includes the pastor.  The pastor had actually come over from the Church of God 7th Day. 
PC talked about what we do in the US.  He would love an ABC Sampler here in Mizoram.  We talked about the two ways of determining Pentecost which is one of three issues among the Sabbath-keeping churches. The issues are:
1.     Keep or not keep the Feasts and Holy Days (known to them as “the convocations.”
2.     Passover on the 14th or 15th of Nisan
3.     Pentecost on fixed 6th of Sivan or Counting 50 days from the Sabbath in the middle of the Days of Unleavened Bread. We were referred to as the “counters.”
As we get to Aizawl, the settlements get more densely populated.  From the road the view of the mountainous Mizoram area is nothing short of spectacular with settlements hugging the slopes.  It is an interesting mixture.  I guess one area that I may compare are some of the Alpine villages in Switzerland where it takes special construction engineering to build houses and buildings over nothing.  
We finally arrived in Aizwal about 1:30 pm.  We decided to start the meeting at 2:00 pm now.  All are taking this in stride.  Fortunately, the meeting was at the Esquire hotel that we are in.  We have our old room 101back.  Looking out the window we literally have a breath-taking view as you view settlements going straight down more than a 1000 feet. 
At 2:00 pm we assemble. Some of the Aizawl congregation was there that included some elders from the Church of God 7th Day.   
Again, the topic of interest was the United Church of God and the history of the various Churches of God extant in this region.  They all know each other and have fairly good relations.  This includes PC Lalvuana from Kolasib who is our guide here. I was given a history of this area by my friend in the Church of God 7th Day Bill Hicks who had visited here in 1997 and excitedly told me about the people here. He referred me to George Hnamte of the Church of God 7th Day who is a prolific author dedicated to the Church of God (Seventh Day) movement for decades and a very good historian regarding this region. He is now in his 80’s and could not attend. But his son Isaac and grandson Joseph did come to the two meetings held today.  Both speak excellent English as they had lived in the United States for a few years. The discussions were very friendly.  A few elders did come.
An introduction to all individually was extended. There were a few COG7 elders in the group.  Some of the people there were Sacred Names people and we stated our position quite quickly on this subject.  We do not subscribe to this belief.
The group there spoke about their relationship with “Denver” which is the headquarters of COG7.  Some spoke about the fact that they were keeping the Holy Days and that this was not approved by “Denver.”  I told them that I have these questions asked from time to time and that the COG7 had taken a relaxed stance on this in a resolution back about 7-8 years ago. 
I spoke about the relationship that we were forging with the United Church of God Mizoram and my friendship with other groups, particularly the Church of God 7th Day.   There have been unification talks about people of like faith having closer ties. I told them that I desired goodwill and friendship with all who are peaceful.
I told the group that doctrinal integrity and unity were vital in the United Church of God.  We all have to say the same thing, otherwise there will be problems.  This was one of the pillars for the founding of the United Church of God in 1995.
We spent a few hours talking.  Then took a break for a few hours and then came back to talk more. We then discussed subjects of marrying outside the faith as a particularly increasing problem.  Those that marry outside the faith, tend to leave the faith We also had a discussion about arranged marriages which are still done in India.
Here are some of the people who were present
1.     Mizoram elder V.L. Chhawna – Local chairman and executive vice-Chairman – wife is Lalbiakhluni (Biaken)
2.     Mizoram elder K. Thanguluaia, wife is Zahmintthang
3.     Mizoram elder Liaiana
4.     Mizoram church member and drummer
5.     J. Lalthankima – vice-Chairman COG7 Mizoram Conference
6.     Isaac Hnamte – father George is chairman of COG7
7.     Joseph Hnamte – son of Isaac
8.     Tama Ralte – General Secretary of COG7
9.     Dina Hrahsel – COG7 elder who inquired about contacting Bill Hicks
We learned that there were 42 COG7 congregations in Mizoram.
After the two meetings, our Mizoram group got together to discuss the exciting events of the day.
The evening ended with a lots of photos.
Another exciting day in Mizoram! Tomorrow we leave this area and I’m already overcome with sadness.
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