Rain and Unknown Gods: Missive On Missionary Praying

Vultures sat atop carcasses of dead gods. Dry, dusty, and dangerous is May in Rajasthan, India. So even the divine Brahman cows gave up and died because temperatures soared to 128 degrees in the shade as students and I worked in villages near Sawai Madhopur. Ethnographic surveys gave presence in the villages. Being dry season, the village Sarpanches, or leaders, were available to interact through translation. We covered five Hindu villages and two Islamic ones in 10 days.

Drought was so devastating in a village that all wells but one were dry. The Sarpanch walked us to it. I dropped a pebble into the dark hole, counting 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi—no sound of wetness. Seeing desperation on the faces of the whole gathered village during the sound of silence prompted the Sarpanch to speak nervously. “You are Christians, please pray for us to have rain.” Not being one in the miracle business, I prefer to wait for such opportunities. I asked the students and villagers to hold hands, bowed my head to distinguish our mode of praying from theirs, and the translator spoke.

Indian homes have rooftop spaces to cool off in the hot season evenings. Our team was atop our small hotel after an earlier treat of tandoori chicken and dhal. Against the evening sky colors changed from light blue to dark, and there came a single cloud, small and furious, moving quickly toward us. It passed overhead and straight out to the general set of villages where we worked. We wondered aloud where it would go and what it might do.

When departing for India, William Carey (1761-1834) said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!” How often do we prefer to attempt without a prayerful foundation of expectant prayer?

Morning came, and we went to the next scheduled village on our list. People there smiled and excitedly asked us, “Are you the Christians who prayed?” The night before, our little cloud unloaded on their neighbors, now with their wells full to overflowing. Of course, that day we prayed there too.

In small Hindu settings, usually a central temple honors any number of the acclaimed 330 million deities, but usually one deity, facially recognizable, features prominently because they follow the way of devotion, Bhakti. This was part of our ethnographic fact finding. In this village, the divine face was shaved off. When asked which deity it was, the Sarpanch sheepishly said, “We do not know sir because of an ancient earth quake, but we worship the image devotedly.”

Rain and unknown gods were both grist for the prayer this time. 1 Kings 18:41-45 and Acts 17: 22-32 were intermingled. We proclaimed that day a known, loving God whose face is full of love, and who died and rose again proving it. The Sarpanch said, “We wish to know more about this Jesus.” We offered, and he invited us to show the Hindi version of the Jesus film that night. Many sought spiritual counsel afterward; even the translator came to Christ that night.

When departing for India, William Carey (1761-1834) said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!” How often do we prefer to attempt without a prayerful foundation of expectant prayer?