Here's a story from the draft to my next book. I'm looking forward to catching up with Nathan and Lipok in India next week.
It’s early Sunday morning. Lipok and Nathan are traveling down the mighty Brahmaputra River to visit the believers among the Mising people of Assam, a state in northeastern India. They travel by ferry and then on the dirt roads of an island that is home to 300,000 people.
The Mising people live along the fertile riverbeds of the Brahmaputra, which they regard as holy.
They live in thatched houses raised on stilts that provide protection from floodwaters during the rainy season and from wild animals during the dry season. When the floodwaters rise, the Mising pack up their few possessions and move across the river or downstream where stilts have already been erected.
The Mising deal with annual floods, malaria and water-borne diseases. yet they continue to live along the banks and tributaries of their beloved Brahmaputra River.
Lipok and Nathan have been working with the Missing people for three years; they teach them to follow Jesus and make disciples up and down the river system that is their world. One local worker has started three hundred churches in his "stream." He can go where Western personnel can never reach.
When the Mising church gathers there is no printed order of service and no powerpoint presentations. Costs are minimal. A permanent building would be useless along the flood prone Brahmaputra River. The Mising believers’ guide for church is Acts 2:38—47.
They begin a meeting by confessing their sins and repenting. They baptize new believers outside in the river. They teach the word of God, celebrate the Lord's Supper, and pray for the sick. They share their needs with each other and, if possible those needs are dealt with immediately through a gift or offer of help. Worship flows out of a response to God's word. They finish by reminding one another of the gospel and by committing to go out and share before the sun sets that day.
A story like that of the Mising believers reminds us that our experience of church shaped by the world we live in. It also helps us think about what essentials all followers of Jesus share across time and different cultures.