By Christal Haner and Justin Hanneken - Ends Cycling Crew
I sat at the back of the newly-built retreat facility and watched as six different village churches gathered together to worship and celebrate being together. All the people were sitting on mats on the floor as they sang to the sound of drums and tambourines echoing off the tile floor and concrete walls. The music was loud but the clapping and singing were louder.
As I sat there my mind kept drifting to this one thought: bring MY peace. It seemed like a strange thought to have in the midst of the loudness and chaos that swirled around me. "Bring MY peace," again louder still in my head contradicting everything that my senses were currently being exposed to. So I sat and prayed and waited.
After the singing we had an opportunity to come up and share who we were and why we were there and it was in that moment that I knew what I was going to do. I shared about the storms that life brings our way and how we all have them but God desires to speak to us in our storms and quiet our hearts. He brings a peace that doesn't make any sense at all into the darkest of our troubles. I shared a song that I had written years ago about bringing the peace of God with us and as I sang it I could feel the chaotic atmosphere in the room change. It was like all of the stress and troubles of the collective whole just melted away in the presence of the PEACE that the Lord brought into that place.
After the word brought by my brother Justin and more singing at the end, what was left was pure JOY. The children got up and began to dance for us and show us their talents. It was a time of laughter and smiles and snuggles. As I sat on a mat to be closer to the action, I was immediately surrounded by little girls who wanted to touch my hair and my clothes and my skin. While I usually don't like to be pawed on, I found myself just embracing the moment as these young girls just soaked in getting to be near someone so different from themselves.
One of the girls that just latched on to me was named Aartie. There was something different about her; she was bolder, more self-assured, and definitely not afraid to be all up in my face. She knew she wanted to be my friend and somehow I knew I wanted to be hers. We talked through hand gestures and broken English and hugged goodbye like we were long lost friends. I thought that was the last I would probably ever see of her but it turns out God had other plans and the very next day Aartie's story would transform the way we saw her and the youth of her village forever.
The following morning our small team connected with David R. - a faithful friend and brother who is planting churches in Tamil Nadu state. His work takes place primarily in rural areas, and has existed for several decades. During our time with David, he told us we would be visiting a new church plant to "cut the ribbon" and pray for the service! Surely this was an exciting opportunity, but we had no clue what we would expect - and then we saw Aartie.
Aartie greeted us at the door of our van and led us by hand to her front yard where the new church structure was standing. She was filled with excitement and joy as she showed us around. When we asked our translator how the church began, we quickly found out that the church's story begins with Aartie's story. This 12 year old girl started a prayer meeting with 2 of her friends in the front-yard of her home. Over time she began to go around and gather the village children to join them in their time of prayer. That prayer meeting grew to 40 kids coming and a church was planted! David helped with the funds to build a metal structure with a roof to serve as their church building and protect them from the harsh elements. Now, the building exists - and even without a pastor on staff, the group continues to meet, sing and praise God together! He is building His Church in India and He's using Aartie to do so!
For years, New International has valued Global Youth Ministry as one of it's 5 core themes and that theme is the heartbeat of who we are as a ministry at Ends of the Earth Cycling. As we listened to Aartie and the youth of her village recite Psalm 136 we were once again reminded that truly His mercy is great as He continues to use young people - and we choose to give Him all the thanks and praise and stand in awe of his goodness.