The Interim Goan Shepherd

The Interim Goan Shepherd
Since mid-June I have been living in the beach dream of India, Goa. The very name evokes images and smells of the sea breeze, beaches, shorts, sun and sea-food. At least that’s how it’s been whenever I mention it to someone!
“You are where?
“Goa”
“WOW!”
That’s how texts or phone calls generally go, these days, when people catch up.
The newly ordained priest, posted to the Mar Thoma Churches here arrives next month.  Until then, I was asked, whether I would shepherd the flocks at Panjim and Vasco, two regions in Goa. You don’t say no to your head Shepherd. I told him that I would do what he thought wise. That’s what I was ordained for, right? Send anywhere you like!
I have been living in Goa for almost a month now. Life is a different by a world, in comparison to the mega-city of Mumbai.

Finitude

For starters, things are more finite, knowable and definite here. I had written a post on the vastness of Mumbai overwhelming me (read it here).
One church has forty six families and the other, thirty.
You have a definite number of people as your flock.
You know who is in and who isn’t.
You know whom to call and whose numbers you need to have.
You meet 80% of them at church, every week.
You know whom you have met, and exactly whom you have not met yet.
You know who lacks pastoral care and who does not.
This, as a pastor, is important :  knowing whom you are responsible for and knowing well whether you have been able to reach out to them, since the numbers are small and the number of interactions are countable. Through regular interaction (other than by Whatsapp) you know where they are in their life in relationship to Christ.

Slower pace of life

Life here is way slower than anywhere I have experienced, in India. Shops close for lunch breaks and seem to open when they like, probably after an afternoon siesta. Lesser vehicles, even lesser human beings, who do not jostle or hustle by. There’s room for everyone to walk. And I am talking about the capital city, known as Panaji or Panjim.
It really takes a while to get used to.
There are a definite number of prayer meetings which happen at predictable, regular intervals. What this does is remarkable :  Structured time and predictability helps plan your time better and makes more time available for what you want to do. You are not panicked by, “OMG what am I doing in the ministry now!” Everything has its time and space.
I do praise God for this opportunity to be here in the lives of many people. It is a blessing indeed. I am touched and have grown deeper in Christ by the prayers of many, especially the aunties, at prayer meetings. I enjoy preparing and sharing the Word with everyone here.
Since my primary responsibility is the youth ministry, I do long to go back to Mumbai. It’s been on hold since May and I want to plan and reach out to the youth more often. I look forward to being there on the ground and reconnecting with every one.
As you step out of seminary, dear brothers …

As you step out of seminary, dear brothers …

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The sacrament

(A note I shared with our younger brothers at seminary, on the eve of their convocation which was to be held on 17th March, 2017)

Dearest final year brothers at seminary,

We were privileged to be your mentors for a short time, within the limitations of our immaturity and inexperience. And we all are glad that the Lord has brought you this far, only by His grace, and not by our merit. We are happy that you have come this far. You are the last batch of the seminary that we knew well.

As you approach convocation, may the Lord bless you and fill you with His Spirit.The Lord needs servants who read His word and listen to His voice. May He keep you close to His heart just as you have kept Him.

May the humility of Christ in Philippians 2:6–10 be your trademark, your signature, your logo. May His commitment to give the very best to His people be the force that drives you in His ministry.

May the rest he has ordained into the rhythm of creation be rightfully claimed regularly. Don’t forget.

May your families be a blessing. May your love for your future wife be the love of the cross and nothing less. May your children receive the freedom and discipline which the heavenly Father has brought us up with.

May your commitment to the flock he has given you reflect that of David, who courageously tore away the wild animals, yet was gentle enough to play soothing music.

May a new language and new culture that you are placed in be readily adopted as God’s site of incarnation, and be embraced like a mother would embrace her newborn child.

Through daily quiet time, prayer and regular worship, may your ego melt away leaving only the heart and mind of Christ within you.

May gossip and slander be destroyed from your mouth immediately, the very mouth that receives His life giving body and blood.

May your hands touch only what He has given you lawfully. May your eyes see what He reveals to you.

May guilt from sin, be exchanged for eternal love, justified in His work on the cross for us, and a commitment to never repeat the same, in response to His forgiveness and grace.

There is a world out there waiting for a super human priest, but continue to serve him with all the limitations of a human priest — the very likeness of Him who chose not to employ His super powers.

Looking forward to seeing each one of you thrive in His ministry. Prepare well, there is a long journey ahead.

Welcome, my brothers.❤

Lots of love

George.

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Pastoral Ministry : The Journey Ahead to be Fishers of Men

Love in a mug

On the previous day of INTIMATE ’17, the workshop for young married couples and those who were preparing to become one, we gathered around as an organizing team with the resource persons at Cynthia’s house. Her mum and Dad had lovingly opened up their house and heart to host the guests.

The house upstairs where their grand parents lived was opened up as a studio where the art /craft work for the next day were being prepared. Chembur youth had gathered as volunteers under the members of the organsing team – John, Cynthia, Riba and Ansu.

Dr. PC Mathew and Ciby, the leaders of the workshop shared with us that we were doing this for the Kingdom and not one of these efforts would go wasted. “God is no one’s debtor,” PC’s father would remind him in his childhood. As we sat there together as a team, praying for the programme, we prayed for impact. PC had begun by telling us that the call of Christians is not to do great miracles or tumble governments but simply to obey. It was for God to do those things and we were called merely to obey what we were called for. If we obeyed, he would bring everything to pass.

We obeyed.

The Game Changer Project ( The Mar Thoma Youth Ministry of Mumbai) thus far had organised something for a community that needed much attention : young married couples and youth who were preparing to get married.

The love we received from the participants, many of whom had moist eyes, was overwhelming. They had never imagined that they would be so blessed, that they would learn so much and most importantly – that they would not be interrupted by their toddlers ( our brilliant volunteers had been taking care of them). They could not wait to lead a Christ-centred married life.

The organizing team had met just over a month ago to discuss how to go about the programme, given the time constraint and  an only available date of the speakers. The planning meeting which Christina and I hosted went on from 8 pm to 2 am. We carefully lined up everything from the start, from scratch, all the way to the theme and logo, having begun with prayer. It was planned to the tiniest detail.

And God blessed the plans.

Two days before the programme, a parent shared that she wasn’t comfortable with us taking the children to a home nearby (which belonged to one of our members). Since the venue, which was the hall of an Orthodox Syrian church did not have another space other than the Church above – which was out of bounds – we had planned the above.

Till the day of the programme, that was the only loose end. But we knew that the Lord who led this far would lead us forward.  Trust and obey – that we did.

On the day opened up a guest room, that could be used by mothers of infants to feed. At other times, it would be the kids playroom. And the best part –  it was air- conditioned, and close enough for the parents to pop-in, yet closed enough that the childrens’ noise stayed-in. He is no one’s debtor, you see.

The organizing team went into a meditative mood as they set up the garden for the culmination of the programme : the candle light dinner. It looked more beautiful than I had ever imagined.  It was well arranged to the tiniest details – mosquito coils at the foot of the table. Mosquito coils? Don’t won’t to ruin the aroma of the candles and flowers on the table? No, we used mosquito coils with lavender fragrance.  Beat that!

It was just brilliant working with these passionate youngsters who had a burden that young people needed Christ as they entered and lived out their marriages. And God blessed them. I was just blessed to work with them and the volunteers who stood with us.

How do you thank them?

Of course, I thanked them a million times, even in church and in front of their parents. But gratitude needs more.

So far the youth ministry has worked on no / shoe-string budgets and contributions of generous people who pop-up at the right time. And those who worked for it never got anything – of course, they were never expecting anything.

But this time, three years down the line, I felt, that these youngsters ought to receive something symbolic, yet tangible. We need to use our funds to say thank you to our team.

A leader is not leading an organization, but people. He is not responsible for the results, but responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. Take care of your people and your mission will be fulfilled (Brilliant thoughts from Simon Sinek). I have been  huge fan of Jesus’ servant leadership.

And I decided to do so; to express gratitude to beyond words.  So I made them mugs with the poster Cynthia had made and put their names on it, so that they remember this wonderful event till the mugs broke. On doing that, I realise that I should have done this earlier and should not have shied away from thinking whether the Diocese would think it a waste. The Diocese, to whom I had never asked this before will pay this time, and I am sure that they will be glad to since these children are our own and did something for the Lord and His Church.  On harking back, the first ones to receive these mugs should have been the Youth Ministry Ideators, who managed 50 days of lent video editing and uploading in 2015. A committed team of 15 people, these boys with full time jobs did an unforgettable job, which really helped launch the youth ministry forward. They were invited home for a get-together, during the infancy period of the ministry. We won’t forget it.  The same team also organized the Walk With Him Concert and mission tour with the Rapture band, entirely planned online and executed on ground. The Lord was gracious and that has been the highest attended programme for youth in the past two years. Each of them deserved at least a mug and that is on the cards too. We remember, that despite the rains and a flooded Mumbai, around 500 youth turned up!

God has given us wonderful youngsters right here in Mumbai and my heart is moved by their sincerity and hardwork in the name of the Lord. I pray that the Lord uses them for His glory wherever they are.

I take the mugs to INTIMATE ’17 team today as we gather to settle accounts. I hope they smile, and would do things like these again for the Lord.

I fondly remember and thank God also for the Youth Ministry Ideators who have been by my side over the past two years.

Imagining another life

If not a pastor, what other vocation could I imagine myself in? A picture from a news piece in the latest The Week magazine, set off fireworks in the brain centre for imagination.

The picture was of an editor who had been working with HarperCollins India.

I can imagine myself as an editor. Sitting all day with books and manuscripts. Reading through draft after draft in an office/study room by a window. Everyday. Meeting writers with potential as well as well-known ones, discussing their writing.

A room full of books. Reading various works, reflecting upon the world, being thunderstruck by ideas, watching storyteller after storyteller weaving their narratives as they firmly grip the reader by their imagination until they emotionally choke… Just a few things I imagine. Of course, there will be work pressure and deadlines like any other job. Perhaps even travelling to various meetings and conferences – all part of the daily life. Somehow, the office seems to be cozy, with lots of coffee, whenever you need!

I have tried imagining myself as a musician. Somehow, it doesn’t work well for me. I love music, I play it, perform it and more often teach music at Christian youth gatherings. I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to do so. But something about the musician life cannot be done full time. I have read biographies and write-ups on musicians and bands most of which convey the busy life of performing and travelling which eventually takes over your creative time and steals away your energy to be saturated in learning and inspiration. One needs to learn and grow spiritually and physically. One has to find time to read and reflect, learn and study discerning the signs of the times and respond.If music performance takes over the input time, then the output will suffer. In my experience it is very difficult to keep up your routine while you travel.

Having said that, I believe there is no greater influencer like music. It is a powerful medium that can express a passionate message in words and tune combined. I know that. Everyone believes it. Just imagine the number of tunes that were perpetually on replay as we grew up. We internalize the messages songs carry.

Every community has its songs and music. From religion to road-shows during electoral campaigns music is everywhere. Human beings are basically rhythmical beings and music, powerpacked with tune can form bonds even change lives, keep faith alive, bestow hope and express emotion. It is a great medium to embed a message. I have an experience to testify to this. 

I was entrusted with the task of leading sessions at the vacation bible school held by the Mar Thoma Syrian Church Sunday School of Sharjah. 1500 children were a number I had never led prior to this. It scared me to bits wondering how on earth I would minister to them, and hold on to their attention. Don Thomas, the VBS leader in the year prior, was very encouraging and constantly assuring me of his prayers. I had recently been worried and down at that time, overwhelmed by the vast area of my ministry and the sheer scope it had. On sharing that with Dr. Mary George, a counsellor and psychologist, who had been actively participating in the youth ministry, she encouraged me to use my talents of cartooning and rapping. I never considered myself as good at them but had fun when I was inspired to explore them. Whatever you are passionate about is in important part of you – and therefore – part of your ministry. That indeed was an eye-opener. Being an introvert I was too shy to use them and hadn’t even considered myself or my material worth using in that way! Sharjah VBS was an opportunity to minister for the Lord Jesus through my rap. The children jumped along and we enjoyed rapping four-line summaries of each day’s teachings and verse, wrapped around a “hook”, or chorus if you like. Nearly everyone in your visual horizon would join in. Pack along actions for the hook and everyone’s praising God with full body involvement. I hope the children remember the hook – Jesus is the king of my life.

But I’m unable to see myself as a full time musician, somehow.

But here as a pastor, working in a fledgling youth ministry, you get to do it  all for the glory of God. 

Clapton’s guitar

It is so difficult to be the loser.

I like winning, although it hasn’t be the way of things with me.

Jesus’ affinity for the last, the least and the lost is about the only thing that is currently keeping me going. You find it in “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus” by Robert Farrar Capon. He says, death and losing is about the only way in which God can bring His salvation into our lives.

Which then is a good thing. Am I a successful youth chaplain?  Whatever that means! Currently, by the parameters of the world, I am not successful. Leave those parameters. This is what I would like:

I would like myself to be a wonderful instrument in His hand. I’d like to imagine Him as Eric Clapton and me, his guitar.  That way, a meaningful ministry. Something that would touch so many lives that they see what God sees in them.

I am sure God reads my blog.

God became audio-visual and came online among us

It’s like in those self-help books.
I shared my vision, and they caught on to it. What amazes me is that there was hardly any resistance.  Every youth, every pastor, every person I spoke to was for it.
I am talking about the Online  Great lent devotion series by the Mar Thoma youth of Mumbai. It is a blessing to see a group of people who take on to the vision and make it their own. They have begun to own it. As instructed by stalwart Chaplains like Samson achen, Bensy achen and P.C. Mathew, I got a team of leaders who were ready to work behind the scenes,  day and night for this purpose. I am so blessed to work with them. Through it all, I feel the invisible hand of God guiding us through the process.  He’s the one who makes it happen. Praise be to the One and Only.

My intention was to take the Word of God where you will definitely find the “unreachable” youth of today – Online.  They are there. And once they get the link to the devotions, they will definitely watch it when they can.

Am I making them lazy to take time to read the Word of God? Honestly,  I don’t intend to. But I hope to reach the Word of God and a thought along with a ligw application tip, wherever they are.  You know, if I could reach close to 500 youth in six months,  in a single day we are reaching from 800-1000 youth with the devotions.
I am ordained to share the Word, teach God’s Word and to initiate people to the Sacred Mysteries of God through the sacraments.

I am trying.  I am really trying. Only if I knew how. I am doing my best.
Lord, I am sincerely trying.

(If you wish to join the online lent devotion series which lasts 2-4 minutes each day, go like our Facebook page : www.facebook.com/youthministrymumbai

Or search for ” @Lent ” on youtube and subscribe to the channel. We’d love to hear from you if it is a blessing)

Can you relax?

Late morning, almost noon. It’s calm outside, although the ceiling fan which is going nowhere but in circles is raking up a storm.

The bookshelf beside the bed is still dusty. It has been, every time you visited this house.  But the rest of the interiors are beautiful.

You lie there on the bed. You relax.  Do you allow yourself to relax ? Never completely.  Are you capable of relaxing completely?  I don’t know.  There is always something that isn’t complete. That thought is the carpet of your subconscious mind. You keep stamping on it mercilessly,  never paying attention.  Will I ever be complete? One day.

So why not enjoy the moment?
I’m scared.
Of what?
Of resting too long and becoming lazy.  I’m quite capable of being that.
But your seminary life showed that you hardly compromised!
Yes. But these thoughts were in the back of my mind.  I feared so but it didn’t happen.
So why not now?
(A brooding silence).