Despite thirty years of overseas ministry, regularly including India, teaching and attempting to demonstrate the principles of systematic Bible preaching, each journey leaves me wondering at God’s marvellous plan to call in those who are being saved to live forever [1 Corinthians 1:18].

I am thankful for people praying for a carpet of grace unfolding before my journeys. India’s sudden requirement of a negative PCR test for travellers from Singapore in January, 2023 put pressure on my timetable and questioned access to India. The flight from Sydney to Singapore arrived early, so despite having to change terminals, there was time to get to the clinic for the PCR swab. At 2 30 am the next morning a negative result was recorded. The Lord knows what he is doing.

Although at home in India, as much as anywhere else, this journey took me to Siddipet in Telangana State for the first time and allowed me to share in an amazing network of ministries across the State. On the first day 75 men gathered from around the region to explore the topic: “What is preaching and how do we do it?” Their keen participation [not to be judged by time of arrival], and willingness to extend the programme in ongoing discussion afterwards, was matched by warm appreciation of our time together. It was the largest men’s meeting so far in the Siddipet Church.

During college vacation young adults and teens came from around the region to share enthusiastically in studies on the “Bible Basis of Mission”. Indian culture inhibits questions from youth, especially to a teacher, but this difficulty was overcome in the fellowship after the final session. One brave young man did cross the culture divide and ask me how long it took to prepare the overviews of Old Testament Revelation. He had never experienced anything like it before. All feedback is vital for worthwhile service, but an email from a 13-year-old after youth meetings in Siddipet was especially helpful: “ also am finding myself not praying everyday. Even though I have so much time for everything I just forget to give time to God. I want to spend time talking to God but just don’t (if that makes any sense). Trying to change that.” Pray for this young man as he wrestles with every believer’s problem.

The second Sunday required a very early start for a drive to Hyderabad for Services at Emmanuel House in English and Telugu. After lunch there was a three+ hour drive to Karimnagar via Siddipet where we collected Pastor Prakash. My education in driving was extended as this 70+ brother seemed to consider the excellent Telangana roads an opportunity for rally driving like none I had experienced before in India!

Though I found teaching by zoom throughout the COVID years restrictive, the value of this form of communication is evident in the way Siddipet Church shares teaching and fellowship across their centres; and maintains contact with students across the nation. While teaching on principles of evangelism at Koutala 240 Km from Siddipet, the series was still projected to Siddipet and to 150 people at Karimnagar, and included students and others away from home. Koutala in central India is the site of Nazareth Mission Hospital and School in the East of Telangana developed under the vision and hard labour of Pastor Prakash. Staff and others were most appreciative of personal [as opposed to zoom] teaching over two days. Follow-up questions also flowed freely in the zoom sessions. A well organised, highly enjoyable Christian school reminded me of the safe, ordered school environment of my childhood so long ago. No blackboard jungle at Nazareth. Grace and efficiency exemplify the Gospel of Christ. A married couple, Doctors Sumith and Sheila, are developing medical services in remote areas and bring to bear a strong, gentle Christian compassion to every occasion.

When returning from Nazareth to Siddipet we brought Ayaansh, a 5-year-old boy and his father and sent them on to Hyderabad. The boy is in imminent danger of blindness. A network of Indian and foreign ophthalmologists, perceiving such need among poor village people and working with Nazareth Christian Hospital, arranged for urgent surgery to be undertaken in March. Please pray for Ayaansh and give thanks for good and godly professionals working internationally to help in times like these.

A 4 am check-out from accommodation in Singapore together with a good tail wind for SQ241 delivered me to Sydney by 6 pm on Friday 3 February. There was time for thanksgiving on that 235th Anniversary of the first Christian sermon in Australia. On that occasion Richard Johnson preached to 11 ships loaded with convicts and carers on Psalm 116:12. After the challenges of 8 months at sea in ships no bigger than river boats Johnson posed the Psalmist’s fundamental question and answer: “What can I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?” Given opportunity for a fresh start, physically and spiritually many of that first congregation under a tree in Bligh Street never looked back. No wonder modern Australia is discouraged having fallen prey to a mythological revision of its roots since 1788. Let us pray for a parliamentarian brave enough to pose the question of Psalm116:12 again.

   – Rev. Tom Halls