Secunderabad, India. A breeze teased a response from the thin fabric panels of a red and orange Maharajah tent where a small congregation sat cross-legged on the ground, their arms raised in a song of praise.
Watchers stood outside, some curious, a few frowning, their arms folded, listening carefully. A kid goat ducked under a silken wall and ventured among the worshippers, almost skipping in time with the joyful music.
The church had welcomed me with the gracious custom common in the Far East — a garland of fragrant flowers, almost as exotic as the saris of the women who presented them.
To that gathering of fellow Christians I brought greetings from my church in Canada. In turn, they told me about their church, and what God was doing among and through them. One young girl listened carefully, grinning, her dark eyes a deep and clear joy-pool. Her sister explained that until very recently, she could hear nothing.
They didn’t have much else, but those I met that morning had a trusting, enthusiastic faith. And as have other Christ-followers living in cultures hostile to Christianity, they had seen God at work in ways unfamiliar to most Western Christians.
After the service, the pastor pointed to a vast outcrop overlooking the city. “See that rock? Once a week, we pray up there.”
“Who?” I asked, imagining what was up there — wild dogs and hogs, vermin, snakes, trash….
“Oh, all,” he responded. “The whole congregation. We pray for our city.”
I visited other congregations and homes. Everywhere, the theme of prayer repeated itself. One pastor had built a prayer room onto his home, open for community use at any hour. The same man told me he prays from five to six every morning, seven to eight every night, and fasts two meals every day; choosing a spiritual meal of prayer instead.
“What does your women’s ministry do?” I asked church leaders. Over and over, I heard: Pray. Study the Bible. “That’s all? I asked. Yes, they said. “No activities?” No, they said. “How many come?” 50, 60, 100, they said.
Each morning, an Indian travel-mate rose and read her Bible. Then she prayed. Over that busy room of women preparing for the day flowed the gentle cadences of her Telegu tongue as she lifted her morning greeting to her beloved Jesus.
Of all the things that impacted me on that tour of observing how my Christian brothers and sisters in India practice their Christian faith, this element of prayer — and the results I observed — affected me most.
“The devil has no problems with people reading the Bible,” said the Indian leader of a prayer seminar I attended earlier this year. “But he shudders when they pray.”
I don’t know about you, but I know I need that reminder. And we all need this prayer:
Father… forgive us this day our daily omission. Deliver us from apathy. Make us willing to do the work of prayer. And connect us not just to our faith, but to You.