Dispatches: India 2023
Mission: North India 2023
By Gary Fallesen, Climbing For Christ
Thursday, June 8
Members of our team visiting the Church of St. John in the Wilderness in Dharmashala on Wednesday: (left to right) Pastor Lakwinder, Matthew, Brandy, Gary, Rohit, and Elaine. The church is the oldest in Himachal Pradesh, dating to 1852. Below, Grace being introduced to the church in Jammu on Monday.
Team members returned to their respective homes after more than a day of flying. Grace landed in Denver this evening and then had to drive with her family to Canon City, CO. Elaine and I landed in Rochester, NY to finish our latest around-the-world trip (ROC-Chicago O’Hare-Colorado Springs-Denver-LAX-Seoul-Kathmandu-Delhi-Amritsar-Doha-Boston-ROC in the last 37 days). Brandy and Matthew returned to Calgary and had a 2 ½-hour drive back to Crowsnest Pass, AB.
Today was Brandy’s birthday – her longest birthday yet (35 ½ hours with travel across 11 ½ times zones) as she touched four countries on her special day (India, Qatar, USA, and Canada). Happy birthday and many blessings to Brandy!
Mission: India coming on the heels of Mission: Nepal meant that this double expedition lasted 23 days. We have a lot to unpack – and not just dirty clothes and gear from our duffels – as we reflect on this journey and discern what God has showed us, taught us, and wants us to do (or not do). We are grateful to those who prayed for us through this long, sometimes difficult trip. We are hopeful that we glorified our Father who sent us.
Wednesday, June 7
Standing by the pool at Dharmashala. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
To warm up for sitting on airplanes for 27 or more hours, we rode with Rohit’s family and the families of two friends for 2 ½ hours to Dharmashala in Himachal Pradesh. Rohit wanted to take us to the mountains after several days ministering in the lower lands. We had lunch and then, the big attraction, was stopping at a public pool in Dharmashala, a Buddhist stronghold. Then back in the van for another 2 ½-hour drive before we had to drive two hours to the airport.
Before starting back to North America, we prayed for Rohit’s family and the family of one of his pastor friends. The workers here need much prayer as they face spiritual battles and persecution filtering down from a Hindu nationalist government.
Nothing but hassles and security checks at the airport before our 3:30 a.m. Thursday flight. Nothing like finishing a long journey with a middle-of-the-night flight. I suggested we fire our travel agent (it’s me). On a more serious side, we have much to reflect on and pray about after this survey and the Mission: Nepal that preceded it.
Tuesday, June 6
Mountain view from the roof of Rohit’s house. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)
We crossed the bridge over the Chakki River from Punjab into Himachal Pradesh and Rohit said, “Welcome to the land of gods and goddesses.” A larger-than-life Shiva statue stood watch.
For those who see a demon around every corner, Himachal is the place to be. Because there are demons around every corner. Rohit has seen “evil spirits with my own eyes.” He has had demonic confrontations. Hindu families, he says, all have their own gods.
Even the animals are said to attract evil spirits, which is probably why one cow (a god in India) tried to ram our car as we drove past it in the road.
We visited a family of believers in Himachal. Their incredible witness will give you a taste of what goes on in this mountain state:
“They were all demon possessed,” Rohit said, and the family agreed in unison. “They bought a baby monkey to protect them from the evil spirits. He was tied to the door so the evil spirits could not come into the house. But the baby monkey bit every member of the family. It cost them 20,000 rupees to get vaccinations.
“They asked me to come. I prayed over them and that same day every member of the family accepted Jesus and was baptized. Brothers, sisters, everyone. They were all delivered.”
The evil spirits were washed out of the house by the waters of baptism. The family became the first of the nearly 200 believers in the area. Those 200 or so followers are broken into small groups and meet secretly in their houses to worship and study God’s Word.
This family made us a delicious Indian lunch and then we had a time of fellowship. I shared a lesson on Psalm 121, one of the life verses for my family and His ministry of Climbing For Christ. Elaine then taught them about being “the only Bible some people might ever read” and showed them Gospel bracelets. Each family member put one on his or her wrist, and then took more to give to friends.
Trying Gospel bracelets on for size.
“We can die for Jesus, but we’ll never leave Jesus,” said Shallu, one of the wives of Ashu, the family patriarch. (He was married to two women as a Hindu and both wives and their children remain with him now.)
After leaving this family, we drove near to the property and house C4C is helping Rohit purchase for his Himachal prayer meetings. He met in the same rented place from 1999 until two years ago, when the landlord evicted him. He has been looking to buy property since and a deal has been made, but Ashu advised him not to take us to look at it because it would raise suspicions with the neighbors.
“I believe that place will be a blessing. I hope we see revival,” Rohit said.
We returned to Rohit’s house in Punjab and were greeted by numerous members of the church. Matthew tended to Rohit’s wife, who has had some health problems on and off for several months, while Brandy, Elaine, and I prayed for Nirmodh and Simmi Gill. They are the parents of 21-year-old Alex, who died last November. Alex was part of the worship team and traveled with Rohit to do Bible training. The church at Pathankot continues to mourn his absence and his parents are grieving. They requested prayer because they love the Lord – and can function today only because of Him – but miss their son dearly. We prayed and will continue to do so.
Monday, June 5
Women in prayer during worship. (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)
Prayer was the theme from the moment we walked into the small church in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The writing on the wall said, “Prayers go up. Blessings come down.” During my introduction of our team, I talked about the greatest blessing: Jesus. We each then encouraged the 50 or so brothers and sisters jammed into the small second-floor room located in a Christian colony in the predominantly Hindu area of Jammu.
Matthew taught about the “three greatest commandments”: Loving the Lord with all our heart, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and (not really a commandment) the Great Commission. He focused on the triune God and the characteristics of each One and identifying our strengths and weaknesses in regard to those characteristics. Are we good at being in the Word and growing in God, good at loving others, and good at GO-ing? He had the church break up into little discussion groups.
Afterward, we led them in a time of prayer.
Matthew teaching with Rohit translating. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)
Rohit comes from Jammu. He lived near the Pakistan border (his one grandmother was Pakistani) and it was there that he was baptized at the age of 17 against his father’s wishes. He further alienated himself from his family by going to Bible college. His parents had nothing to do with him. But later, when they and other family members accepted Christ, they were supportive enough to arrange his marriage to Anjleen. The couple have been married 17 years and have two children, 15-year-old Vishvas (which means “Faith”) and 3-year-old Anna Rose.
We have met many of both of their families along with the Church family in Punjab and Jammu. Among today’s stops was a visit to Rohit’s older brother’s house for lunch, which included – among other things – delicious Afghan chicken made by Rohit’s college-age niece. After that, we stopped for momos and birthday cake at the house of Anjleen’s younger brother’s family. His youngest child was celebrating her second birthday. The whole family then came to worship with us.
Happy second birthday to Charvin, here with her parents and family.
While we are listening to the stories our ministry partner is telling – many of them beyond incredible – we also are listening for God’s voice and direction in the work here. That is the purpose of a survey trip. Rohit is keeping us busy meeting family and friends, and preaching, teaching, and praying, but we are keeping our eye on Jesus as we seek to GO where others aren’t.
A map showing Jammu and Kashmir, Indian territory which borders Pakistan and Pakistan controlled Kashmir. The two countries and China have been fighting over Kashmir since the mid-20th century. It is considered the world’s highest battleground 20,000 feet up in the Karakoram mountain range of the Himalayas.
Sunday, June 4
Worship at Rohit’s house church. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
A normal Sunday in Rohit’s ministry begins with worship at the church in Himachal Pradesh in the morning and concludes with worship at his house in Punjab in the evening. But since flooding took out a main highway bridge and the N Gauge railway bridge between Himachal and Punjab, many of the believers from Himachal Pradesh have been coming to Rohit’s house for worship.
Soon, though, Rohit will own new property in Himachal Pradesh and resume worship there. God has provided funding through Climbing For Christ to make this purchase, which should be completed after our short stay.
This morning, we joined the church in Hindi worship. The people were very excited to meet us. I shared a brief testimony and story about God birthing Climbing For Christ, and then taught on abiding. After worship, numerous people came forward for prayer, including a young woman on fire for the Lord who is undergoing chemotherapy for whom we asked for healing.
Gary preaching, above, with Rohit translating. Below, Grace prays for a little boy whose father asked be made “a great warrior for God.” (Photos by Elaine Fallesen)
Rohit keeps pointing out things Climbing For Christ support has helped. As we drove through his village, many Sikhs passed by. He said they know him because of the COVID relief C4C provided. One day, a Sikh man went to temple to get help for food; someone asked him why he went there. “Go to the church,” the man directed.
The Church is known for its love and support. Even as Sikhs persecute Christians.
We experienced their love and hospitality as one family cooked us lunch (dal) and another, inspired by the message, invited us to dinner (momos) at their house. Many more came and went, happy just to sit with us, and after just one day together already they were talking about “when you come back next year.”
Gary helps Geeta up after she emerges from the water of baptism in the Chakki River.
The highlight of the day for me was the baptism of Geeta, a 25-year-old woman whose mother was baptized previously by Rohit. I sat with Geeta and took her through a lesson we use on baptism, during which she read Scripture and responded to questions enthusiastically in front of about 20 witnesses. Then everyone went down to the Chakki River, which flows from the mountains in Himachal Pradesh. While the witnesses sang “This is the Day,” I prayed for and then immersed Geeta in the river.
We returned to Rohit’s house to celebrate communion. Eighteen people shared in the Lord’s Supper.
Saturday, June 3
Gary is welcomed to India by ministry partner Rohit. This was their first meeting in person.
It seemed like a simple enough day: fly over from Kathmandu, Nepal (marking the end of Mission: Nepal 2023) and get situated in northern India. Then travel travails kicked in. A delayed flight out of Delhi and a van that stalled and wouldn’t start again at a police checkpoint (and again later at a gas station) turned the evening into early morning. All under a full moon. But we arrived safely, which in a country that is grieving the deaths of hundreds in a three train crash (in eastern India) is saying something. We thank God – always – for safe travel, even if it isn’t uneventful.
Rohit, a pastor friend of his, another brother in Christ, and Rohit’s 15-year-old nephew greeted us enthusiastically when we landed late in the state of Punjab. They welcomed us to India in the state where Sikhism was born. There were many turban-wearing Sikhs on our flight from Delhi to Amritsar. The Sikhs persecute Christians here because Jesus is a threat to their false religion. We will learn more in the days ahead, especially when we start meeting Sikh background believers in Rohit’s ministry.
The Dalhousie hill station in Himachal Pradesh. (Photo by Rohit)
Ministry partner Rohit was teaching from the Book of Jude on Wednesday, May 31 in Amritsar in the northern India state of Punjab when out the window he saw a plane landing. “I was thinking of you coming to Northern India,” he said.
It was a flattering thought.
We are GO-ing to northern India for the first time on Saturday, June 3. This is a survey trip for Climbing For Christ, walking in the Spirit and asking for eyes to see what God may have for us to do in India’s Himalayas.
Rohit has been a C4C ministry partner since the start of the COVID pandemic when we were blessed to help him, his ministry, and others serving alongside him in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir. “We have helped more than 100 pastors’ families,” Rohit said, providing food and in some cases medical treatment during the pandemic.
We also helped fund construction on four church buildings.
“Since this is first time we are going to meet each other (in person), I am praying that we may grow more in our relationship to serve the Lord in better ways,” Rohit said on the eve of our arrival from Kathmandu, where we were conducting Mission: Nepal 2023.
“There are still many souls awaiting, together reaching such people so that they may see the love of Christ. I am committed to take God’s Word to the people in a deeper way. I hope that your trip to India will give us new directions, new ways to serve our Lord.”
Map showing northern India states of Punjab (yellow) and Himachal Pradesh (red), and the union territory of Jammu (green) and Kashmir (blue).