Guest Post by Ann Johnstone
It seemed a crazy idea right from the start, and my friends and family told me so! After all, I had never met Lilly Pushpa and her son Babu. My only contact with them had been by email. A year earlier Lilly had seen my name and contact details on a US web site that was a resource for house churches around the world. And so began a year-long correspondence by email.
I really knew very little about Lilly and Babu except that they had started up a number of house churches somewhere in central India with very few resources. I told them I would pray for them. They wanted me to come to their village and speak to their house churches. Then my son Michael, his wife Suzan and their young family were due to leave Australia to work in India and so I decided to accompany them. Our family had spent three years in India some years previously, so it has always been a second home to us.
Whilst planning my Indian itinerary, I believed God was directing me to spend some time in the village where Lilly and Babu lived. They gave me the details, and it seemed I would have to travel by train to Rajahmundry, a decidedly non-tourist area, and from there take a bus and finally an auto-rickshaw. No problems! So I planned my journey.
I emailed Lilly and Babu that I was going to visit them and they were very excited. They would meet me at the station and accompany me to the village. To me it seemed quite straightforward; but not to my friends and family. They had all kinds of reservations. “What if you get to the station and nobody is there?” … “What if Lilly and Babu don’t really exist? After all, all you have is an email address. You don’t even have a picture of them!” Yet somehow I knew that all would be well. After all, it was God who was leading me.
Yet there were times when I was just a bit nervous. When the train neared Rajahmundry, the people in my carriage appeared to be placing bets as to whether I’d be met by anyone. I stepped off onto the platform with my backpack and scanned the crowd. How would I recognize them without a picture? I stood there waiting … and praying.
Then suddenly out of the mass of people came a voice, “Hello sister Ann. I am Babu!” and I was met by a large middle-aged woman and her adult son, both beaming with happiness. We embraced and set off together on our journey to their village. First, however, I waved to the people on the train to assure them all was well!
And thus began three of the most amazing days in my memory.
After a cup of chai we took a bus and then an auto-rickshaw out to the village, arriving after dark. There I found about ten of the local home church leaders, both men and women, waiting to greet me. Some had come a long way on bicycle. After a simple meal I spoke with them and encouraged them for around thirty minutes. I was impressed by their humility and gentleness.
I didn’t sleep much that night as it was hot and very humid. Although there was no air conditioning, there was a ceiling fan which worked while the electricity was on (about half the time). I shared a room with Lilly. She was very protective towards me.
The next day we had three combined meetings of the house churches, all on the roof of Lilly’s home. I met more of the leaders, and was asked to speak at each meeting. As I cannot speak Telegu, only English and Hindi, Babu translated for me.
For two or three hours that afternoon Babu took me around to each of the houses in the village. Some were very primitive dwellings, but everyone was so eager for me to pray for them. I was constantly struck by the similarity to Jesus’ day, with its similar flat-roofed buildings, poor people, especially children, flocking around me, all wanting prayer … prayer for healing, prayer to bless their families, prayer for protection (there is some opposition to the work they are doing in the village).
There were children everywhere, all wanting to see me, have me pray for them and teach them some songs, which they learned quickly and sang lustily. A couple of times I hid in the house for a brief rest but the children were peering in the windows, waving madly! Babu told me he had never seen anything like it.
From the start I was particularly drawn to the humility of Lilly and Babu. They are real servants at heart. Before I left two days later, they told me they wanted to give me a special blessing. They sat me down on the bed and brought in a basin and jug of water. They then knelt down and bathed my feet very tenderly, and then dried them with a towel – I must confess I was deeply moved.
So the journey that had begun so tentatively, and with little encouragement, was a wonderful experience. Next year I am sure I’ll be going back to that little village. I can hear the children calling me.