Mike Ogle had no idea what to expect when he left the relative comfort of taking mission trips with Cornerstone Community Church in Albia to Mexico and in the U.S. to visit a mission in Koembatore, a fairly rural area in the middle of rain forests in southern India.
“It was a check mark on my bucket list,” he said, preparing Sunday to travel with two others from Cornerstone on his sixth visit to the mission.
On his other trips, he has taken daughter, Carrie Selby, son Michael, Trevor Barlow (twice), Christine DeMoss (this will be her third), and this time Christine’s son, Zach, a senior at Albia Community High School.
“I had zero expectations when I went the first time and certainly no thought of six trips,” said Ogle, a long-time Albia businessman.
The 11-day trip starts Thursday with flights to New Delhi and a very long drive to Koembatore.
The mission is part of the work of Open Bible of India, a mission that raises up Christian pastors to plant churches in the predominantly Hindu India. About six percent of the population of India is Christian, about 14 percent Muslim and the rest Hindu. And over the past few years the government of India, largely Hindu, has placed the church under persecution (although the official stance would claim freedom of religion in the world’s largest democracy).
There are three main pieces to the mission in southern India including a girls home which houses 35-40 orphaned girls, a boys home (also housing 40 orphaned boys) and a 40-acre farm that once housed a Bible college and school. Unfortunately, the three-legged stool is balancing on one leg. The government forced the boys home to move because of Indian law and clear cutting of the rain forest surrounding the farm about seven years ago caused elephants to run wild and literally knock down the buildings on the farm. The farm was abandoned.
It has been a slow process to return the mission work to the farm and relocate the boys home. “The biggest problem with our loss of the boys home is that it turned out dozens of pastors,” said Ogle. Mission leaders in India are working to get the proper permits to build a new facility while supporters like Cornerstone in Albia and across the United States are raising money to build the home once the government comes through with the permits.
“The farm is beautiful,” said Ogle. “Sort of a Jurassic Park. We’ve raised money to place an eight-foot electric fence around the farm to keep the elephants out and the goal is to bring life back to the farm.”
The mission is driven by native pastors and church people like Ogle, DeMoss, Barlow and the rest of the congregation at Cornerstone do things to help the local church leaders. “The mission is filled with talented people,” said Carrie Selby. “It takes two weeks wages to replace strings on a bass guitar, so we take bass and guitar strings and cords for electric instruments.”
The money raised by Cornerstone has helped dig fresh water wells and build structures. Right now the congregation is raising $50,000 to build the boys home.
The three traveling this year will take everything they need for themselves in carry-on bags and the three 50-pound bags will be filled with items for the ministry…like children’s vitamins, for instance.
This year on the return trip, the bags will be filled with hand-made bags made by locals to be sold at Mustard Seed in Albia. The proceeds from the sales will be returned to India and the people crafting them.
“You don’t go with an agenda,” said Barlow. “We trust the leadership and take their direction in helping the mission work.”
DeMoss echoed that sentiment. “We fly under the radar,” she said. “We ask the people how we can partner with them. Often times we’re not boots on the ground workers, but we’re asked to get others excited.”
“I know that they are serious about getting the farm going and we’re going to help them buy cows to help make it productive again,” said Ogle.
Selby reminds her dad of the Bible verse he has embraced when asking himself “Why am I here?” “It’s in first Samuel,” said Ogle, “Where Jesse sends David to check on his brothers who are on the front lines fighting the Philistines. David asks, ‘Is there not a cause?’ And God’s answer is to defeat Goliath and lead the Israelites to victory.”
The truth of the mission visits to India is that it has impacted Cornerstone probably as much as it has the people they are ministering to in India. “We’ve always had a heart for missions,” said Ogle. “This has become something very special.”