First Impressions By Larry W. Peebles November 18, 2016 16.44
The place appeared dark and deserted. We had driven 4 or 5 miles off the main road on a very dark and narrow road not wide enough for cars to pass without both cars pulling off the road to allow room to get by. Fortunately there were not many vehicles to pass. Except for the lights of our vehicle, there were no lights. Suddenly in the middle of nowhere in south central India, the lights of our meeting place appeared. On the grounds of an old abandoned 18th century church, our advance team had set up a stage, sound system and lights, and had spread the word of our meetings on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to present the gospel of Jesus. This was an area where the gospel once had life years ago. Unfortunately it had died except for a few small scattered churches. God had big plans. My first impressions were about to change into lasting impressions of those three nights.
- Light overcomes the dark. As John 1:9 says- “The true light that gives light to every man [Jesus] was coming into the world.” [Emphasis mine.] When the lights of the meeting were turned on, people began to come from all directions, literally walking out of the darkness into the light. They walked through the entrance of the gates in the wall surrounding the old church grounds, and sat down on the ground in front of the stage to hear the message of the meetings. They came by the thousands from miles around. Some shared the cost of the small 3-wheeled taxis that operated in the area. Some came in large tractor drawn trailers that had been arranged to pick up at strategic points. Some traveled by bicycle or motorbike, but most walked. Jesus was prepared to meet them. Songs of praise were sung, the gospel of the good news of Jesus was preached, and all were given the opportunity to give their hearts to Jesus, and to make Him the Lord and Savior of their lives.
Jesus said in John 8:12- “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” This was a dark, forgotten and spiritually hopeless place until the light of Jesus came. John 12:46 says- “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” I cannot recall a more graphic example of light coming into darkness as I saw these three nights. Poor people who had nothing, who were physically and spiritually starved, suddenly had all they would ever need. They heard the message, believed, and walked home as new creations, full of Jesus and full of joy and hope. We could see it in their faces. They would never walk in the dark again.
- Life in the valley of dry bones. My friend John, who has been to India many times, and whose ministry had received this invitation to come, preached the main message all three nights. I asked him before we went out to the meeting location for the first time if he had the title of his Friday night message. He said he thought he had to preach the story of the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel Chapter 37. In that story, the Lord showed Ezekiel a valley full of dead dry bones and asked him if those bones could live. Verses 4-6 say “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
As John preached that message, I listened and kept looking at that old 18th century church building. The roof had failed, and the windows were out. It was dark inside. The doors were fixed shut. There was no way to know when it had last been used. To the extent it had once represented the gospel of Jesus established in this region, it had long since died and dried up. But as John preached, life was returning to this valley of dry bones. The church grounds were lit up and alive with people, music and the word of God. Hope and help had returned. Jesus was walking by. These people were not forgotten by God, who had orchestrated this whole weekend. God had provided the grounds, and the finances for the lights, the music, and the transportation. He had made the arrangements between a local ministry and two men from halfway around the world to come and preach that weekend. One might ask “How can you be so sure God had a hand in all this?” Easy, check the local weather.
- The local weather report. As we boarded our flight to India, the last email from the local ministry said to pray over the weather. The remnant of a cyclone (hurricane) off the east coast of the country threatened our outdoor meetings. We never thought of canceling the meetings. We got on the plane and we prayed. We called back home and had people pray with us. We prayed every day we were in the country, and we prayed each day before leaving for the night meetings. We drove through rain to get to the Friday night meeting, but the grounds were dry at our location. We drove through heavier rain Saturday night, but again our grounds were dry. Our prayers were being answered. We drove through heavy rain Sunday night, and even pouring rain going home after the Sunday night meetings, but our meeting was dry. After Jesus calmed the storm when He and the disciples were in the boat, the disciples asked (Mark 4:41)- “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him?” I know the scripture, but its meaning became real.
Two weeks after we returned home, John received the report on the meetings from the local ministry, and shared it with me. All the local churches in the region had received an influx of hundreds of new believers. The pastors in these small forgotten churches reported that the new believers attending their church all said one thing. The people knew that Jesus was real. No one other than the one true God could have held back that rain from our meeting grounds. We did not watch the local weather on television, nor did we consult a local weather app. Apparently the rain had come down everywhere by the buckets full, but we were dry. Our lights, our sound equipment and stage, and the grounds where the people sat would have all been ruined by heavy rain. Many of the people would not have even been able to travel or attend in heavy rain. They knew the supernatural hand of the one true God had held it back, and they were amazed. In the process, God backed up our message to them of how He loved these people so much. He wanted to connect with them and show them His love, care and concern. He was real, and could show them the way and help them. He would forgive their sins, and come live in their hearts. Who is this God? The One who even the winds and waves obey. He was the Creator of the universe, yet He knew their names and loved each of them.
My first impressions of a dark, dry and dead place were wrong. When Jesus was praised, preached and His presence celebrated, everything changed in an instant. As I now think back on these meetings, I can only see light, life and the love of God poured out on His people. Jesus came and walked among the crowds, estimated at five thousand for the Saturday night meeting, probably ten thousand for all three nights combined. Many were saved, and so many lives were eternally changed. Psalm 16:11 says – “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” God is true to His word, and true to His people. He was not about to let a little cyclone drown out His Light and life-giving Word.
My prayer is that everyone who reads this will come to know the one true God—the One even the winds and waves obey. It is not necessary to travel half way around the world to experience Him. He comes readily to all those who are desperate for Him.