Trips to India are always very exciting and eventful, as you can imagine. As I prepared to go to India this time, my to-do list included the ninth graduation ceremony of the Koinonia School of Ministry, checking up on the girls at the Girls Home, visiting Dr. Swati at the Koinonia Medical Clinic, meeting with the KSOM faculty, and doing ministry at the Koinonia Fellowship church in Pune. Along the way I hoped to find the time to sit and talk and catch up with my mom and dad and other family members.
Because these trips keep me so busy with teaching, meetings, prayer, fellowship and taking care of ministry business matters, I have always prepared for them with prayer and with an ear and eye for what The Lord would have me hear and see. While my day-to-day activities are similar, on each trip the Lord shows me something unique. This trip was even more unique than most.
The story of a friendship
Years ago, when I first came to the US, my first stop was Bradenton, FL where I spent a month at a Christian retreat. I met a brother named Ted from Sarasota who took me one weekend to a church pool party where I met James. In our conversations, James learned that I was headed to Elim Bible Institute in Lima, NY. He was excited to tell me that his brother Randy was also planning to go to Elim! I did not think much about it at the time, but now I wonder, was my meeting with James a coincidence, or a divine appointment?
Three weeks later I was in my room at Elim, trying to get adjusted to my new surroundings. As all the freshman students were arriving, Randy walks into the room and introduces himself. As soon as he said he was from Sarasota FL, I asked if he had a brother named James. You can imagine his surprise. The story of our friendship begins there.
Looking back, I can recall the many conversations I had with Randy and my two other roommates – Peter from Canada and Curtis from Washington, DC. We talked for hours – in our room, at meals in the cafeteria, during and after class – about the Lord’s call on our life and why we were at Elim. I remember at the Orientation Session they told us if we made it through the three-year program we would experience death, burial and resurrection. I was shocked. I thought college was going to be fun! Soon after classes began we all met an outgoing 16-year-old named Theresa. It did not take long before I developed a genuine interest in her, but that is a story for another time.
Why did God bring me to Lima, New York?
Randy, Peter, Curtis and I were typical Bible College students. I certainly thought I had a vision for why God had brought me to Elim. The dreams or visions I had seemed lofty and at times unbelievable, even to me, but if you know me now, I was even more confident in my stupidity back then. I thought that not only was I “all that and a bag of chips”, as Pastor Ray would say, but that God had a purpose for my life and He was going to use me mightily. I remember sharing my visions about the lack of leadership in the Church at large in India. I had a deep, driven desire to equip men of the highest caliber to handle the Word of God, to train them to pastor and shepherd the Church in India.
As the school year progressed, however, this honeymoon period soon ended; my excitement became more subdued. Life at school became routine. Going through the grind of Bible School “got old.” I did not realize at the time that my death to self was in progress. The Lord began to strip me of everything I was. I was uncomfortable, not fun to be with; at times I felt I had lost the purpose of my life. Even though these struggles were internal, they had begun to manifest themselves in various ways. I remember one afternoon between classes I was so undone that I felt that I was living a lie, that these truths I was proclaiming were just fables, and that I was unfit for whatever this life of ministry was going to bring. It seemed to me that afternoon that I was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, for all the wrong reasons.
A chance encounter that changed everything
I decided to take a walk down to the only decent-sized store in downtown Lima, a one stoplight town. On my way back, I saw this old gentlemen sitting on his porch in a rocking chair. I had said “hi” to him on my way to the store. As I was passing by, he said, “Young man, where are you from?” I said, “India.” He said, “Come up, have a seat.” He asked, “What is The Lord showing you these days?” I thought, if he only knew. I was irritated that he even asked me that question! The old man began to share with me how each man of God must come to an end of himself. He must lay down his life and give up everything he wanted in order to be used by God. He said, you do not tell God what you want, He tells you what He wants you to do.
After 15 minutes of that, I excused myself. I walked up to the school telling myself, what a bunch of hogwash. But that afternoon and evening everything changed. God had put a finger on my life and I had a decision to make: either follow Him with my whole heart, soul or mind or get off the horse and go do whatever I desired. The burden of this conviction was heavy; condemnation was looming around the corner. I remember kneeling down next to my bed and weeping and surrendering. I did not have much to say, just tears and emotion. When I got up and cleaned up and looked at myself in the mirror, I felt even worse. Not only was I lost, but I no longer had that vision and dream. Looking back today, I see that everything was different from that moment on. The Lord needed to empty me so that He could fill me with a renewed sense of who He is. I realized that all I needed to be was faithful, diligent and prayerful.
From small beginnings
Randy, Peter and I became close friends over those three years at Elim. Randy and I were inseparable. Randy worked a lot to put himself through school, but when he was around we would do everything together. It was the Lord that had brought us together. When the first Christmas came, I had no place to go, Randy invited me to go to Florida and be with his family. I felt at home with Randy’s family.
Our college careers flew by, we all grew up a lot. Our lives took a similar course. After graduating from Elim, Randy went on to pursue a degree, and so did I. We were the best man at each other’s weddings. Randy settled in Virginia with LeAnn and I settled in Rochester with Teresa. Randy began to pastor in Virginia and soon I was a pastor and working full time.
Ten years past and I felt like none of the things that I thought God had spoken to me about were happening. At times it was discouraging to get up and go to work when my heart was to serve The Lord full time. Then God brought Pastor Ray and I together at Koinonia Fellowship. I am so thankful to have met this man who desires The Lord more than anything. It was after I met Pastor Ray that things began to change. We started recording videos in our living rooms to edify the flock in India. Next thing you know we were going to India, and now, well, The Lord has done what only He can do.
I said all that to say this: the things that I thought God had called me to do, those things have indeed been birthed, but God has done so much more than I could ever have imagined.
Randy has been to India and served at KSOM twice in the past eight years, but this year we were in India together. Randy also brought his son Uriah with him; it was blessing to see him adapt to the culture, food and people of India.
As Randy preached the commencement message and charged the KSOM graduates, I did everything in my power to hold myself together. This day had seemed so far away so many times through the years after Elim, and yet God reminded me that He is faithful. I remember the words of that great hymn: Great is thy faithfulness. Only The Lord can put an Indian and Mennonite together as friends, only The Lord can call and do much more than what a man can imagine. I give ALL the glory to him.
I don’t know what The Lord has in store for us in the future, but I don’t need a reason to serve our mighty God. My prayer is that you will be encouraged after reading this small part of my life and know that it is the same Lord at work in your life and in your circumstances. He is the same yesterday, today and forever and He will never leave you or forsake you. Trust, delight and know that He is Lord.
In His Service, Pastor Ben