A Nagaland Father’s Day…
by Jonathan Haefs
*In 2010, I was on mission in India during Father’s day. The following is a reflection I wrote shortly after what I experienced that morning…
Being away from your family stinks. Being away from your family on Father’s Day really, really bites. Thus, I found myself throwing a pity party as I sat down on the back row of Naga Christian Fellowship in Pune, India… nearly half-a-world away from my beautiful wife and two, precious, little ones.
It was hot and humid inside the old church building. The sound of the worship leader was being pumped through a system that was not fitted for the room we were in, and, as a result, I couldn’t really understand anything that was being sung or said. I found it hard to focus, so my mind occupied itself with thoughts of my family.
I was completely oblivious as to what was happening when the Pastor called for all the fathers to come to the front in order to be recognized. My friends immediately began encouraging me to go forward, but I declined… of course this was nothing more than a sulking expression of my self-pity… in which I was wallowing.
Then, Eddie Aldape, the father of the missionary family with whom I am staying, motioned for me to follow him down the center aisle. What choice did I have now? I hobbled out of my row and began the long, dreary walk to the front of the room. Each step was fraught with agonizing pain as I had just completed a fundraising 100km-walk-a-thon the day before. Further, I was embarrassed to be standing in front of complete strangers… I simply felt out of place.
Then everything changed…
A young Naga girl approached me with a pin of some type. I thought to myself, “Great! A stereo-typical Father’s Day flower.” Yet, as she pinned it upon my shirt I could tell that this was no flower. There, attached to the top of my shirt-pocket, were two decorative spears fastened across one another. Eddie leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Those are Naga spears.”
“They’re what?” I asked. Eddie repeated himself and began to explain to me the meaning behind the small pendant that was resting upon my chest.
Nagaland is a state of Northeast India. The Naga people were originally tribal headhunters and were greatly feared. In the late 1800’s there were a number of missionaries trying to travel into China, but were prevented for one reason or another. Instead of giving up, many brought the gospel of Christ to the people of Northern India.
Some of these missionaries set their hearts upon the headhunters of Nagaland. Without regard for their own lives, these men and women of faith took the Gospel to people who normally removed the heads of outsiders. They shared the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel… many Nagas believed.
As I stood at the front of that church, hearing that story… my eyes were slowly opened to what was truly happening in that room. There I stood, before a gathering of nearly 400 Naga believers lifting their hearts to the one true God… and the reason for it all was pinned upon my chest.
Because faithful men and women of God took the gospel into the midst of danger… because they did not count their lives to be of greater value than the furtherance of the gospel… because they abandoned all this world has to offer for the sake of Christ… because they did not fear the spears of the Nagas… because God worked through them by his power to bring many Nagas to faith… because of all of this, I was in that place… over a hundred years later… caught in the midst of rapturous worship with Naga spears, now a symbol of friendship, fixed over my heart.
I began to fight back tears as I heard a chorus playing softly in the background… “Thank you for the gift you gave.” This song had been playing since I left my seat, but I had not noticed its lyrics until that moment. My heart cried out to the Lord… “Yes! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for the gift you gave! Thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus, whom you gave for the world! Thank you for the gift of the missionaries you sent to the Naga people! Thank you gift of my brothers and sisters with whom I am worshipping right now! Thank you! Thank you!”
My attention was brought back down to earth for a moment as I heard the Pastor read from Psalm 22:4, “In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.” He began to talk about how great of a testimony it was for David to be able to proclaim such words about his forbearers and we should desire that our children be able to say the same of us.
While I greatly appreciated the thoughts he was sharing, my mind journeyed in a slightly different direction. I began to praise the Lord for my faithful fathers in the faith. For those who have taken the gospel in to the deepest, darkest, and most dangerous places on earth. I stood among a church whose very existence testified to the faithfulness of my spiritual fathers… and more importantly… their presence testified to the faithfulness of my heavenly Father.
He is faithful to use his Gospel to transform people… He used it to transform Nagaland… and He has used it to transform me.
In that moment… I realized that I was not away from my family on Father’s day… I was standing in their very midst. I am nearly brought to tears now, in the midst of typing, as I think about the astounding reality that I am eternally bound to these believers through the one Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ. I have never felt the bond of spiritual brotherhood so strongly as in that moment. Jesus’ words from Matthew 12, which I had read that very morning, flooded into my mind…
“‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
I was completely overwhelmed by the sense of family in that room. I still missed my wife and children, but now I missed them for a new reason. I did not miss them because we are bound together on some molecular level by DNA… no. Now I missed them because the very blood of Jesus Christ has cemented our hearts together as part of a world-wide spiritual family with one Father over us all. My heart longed to share this moment, this reality with them.
The Pastor prayed for all of the fathers standing before him and we headed back to our seats. I found that I couldn’t quit looking at the two small spears resting upon my shirt. In them I saw an eternal bond that I shared with these people I barley knew… and I now felt a new, deeper bond with those to whom I am the closest.
I walked all the way back down the aisle, but now I had forgotten the pain in my feet… my mind was occupied with thoughts of my beautiful wife and two precious children. I felt as though my love for them had grown deeper in ways that I did not think possible. At the same time, I was overwhelmed by the fact that this newfound love seemed to be spreading outside of biological boundaries and engulfing all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I shuffled down my row… no longer thinking of myself, for my pity had been replaced by joy. With my stereo-typical smirk, I sat down… surrounded by my family.