: moving a maximal load under the most rigorous resistance; to stick with an objective and push through sacrificially, rather than yield to one’s physical and mental instinct to quit in difficulty.
I sit here at my desk looking at the photograph, nine thousand miles from the site and wishing I were there for this month’s amazing dedication.
Through months of Covid surges, lockdowns, sleepless nights and days of hard work, juggling responsibilities requiring diving wisdom like that of Solomon, our dear friend Dass and his community finished the beautiful building, the Teach the Word to the Nations Bible College & Training Center in the fields outside Kolar Gold Fields. Like a true visionary, Dass purchased this acreage several years ago, and when we first visited it was still a dream. Nevertheless, by faith, they had begun planting fruit trees and a guard shack for the days when the training center itself could begin. Neal and Danette Childs and I stood on the backside of the property on a little slab of concrete where bricks were made, and we prayed over the land and the plans. This would be a place where trades could be learned, like farming, brick making, even sewing…while pastors and community leaders could take biblical studies to another level, enjoying conferences and comradery, strengthening the expansive network of leaders they serve.
During my time in the Arkansas Mission, an Israel trip with the Arkansas Jewish Federation, we got an up-close-and-personal look into the Arava and Negev, where thriving Israeli projects were creating a better future for young families choosing to settle there. We toured research facilities, farms, centers of innovation, and throughout each visual lesson, my thoughts turned to the men and women we co-labor with in Niger, India, and ‘the uttermost parts of the world.’ My heart’s goal: to introduce them to this side of Israel, a lighthouse that shines brightest at home and beams to nations. Commission Fields set a course at that time to bridge Israel to India.
In the earliest weeks of 2020, having set a time to bring core India leaders into Israel, we met with headwinds of resistance. I’ll never forget the press and the struggle, one that seemed to follow the parsha of the Egyptian exodus during the weeks of preparation, and I said to my friend over coffee, “We will bring this group out of India and into Israel, and the spouse, and the sons, and the powers that be must let my people go!” We laughed enough to break the intensity I was feeling in all the preparation.
Bringing the Indian brethren to Israel was not just for a religious touring experience, but for face-to-face meetings and impartation from leaders in Israeli agri-training at AICAT*. The visas finally came through, and the trip materialized as planned and paid for. More than visiting sites in Israel, which is in itself unforgettable, Dass and co-leaders were exposed to Israeli ingenuity and good old-fashioned chutzpah, which would later hold them in good stead. Within less than a week of our return from that trip, the world closed its doors in Covid, and I had to just thank God we all hadn’t been stranded somewhere far from home! We all went from the after-glow of ten days in Israel into our homelands’ darkest hours. While US citizens enjoyed some forms of governmental support and benefits during those “unprecedented times,” our brethren did not. Without hope of employment, income, or even of food, the Christian community in South India hung in the balance. Dass got busy.
Taking from his resources, he negotiated for fresh produce and rice and sustained his 85-family community for a year. No one went hungry there. He continued to pay some salary to our teachers, who did their best to furnish lessons for parents who had to keep children out of school for two years. He hired as many unemployed day laborers as possible, and worked little by little constructing the parts of the dreamed of training center – starting with the dining hall intentionally designed to resemble Abraham’s tent at the well…a site in Beersheva that resonated deeply with us all. Dass continued, laying the main building foundation, bricking, adding classrooms, painting… and finally by this year, his support and ingenuity helped them finish the electrical, allowing them to open their doors to a wonderful new facility. Neal & Danette, who were first to visit India with me years ago, were appropriately there for the Dedication, and I had to settle for attending virtually.
Can you remember the feelings you experienced during the months of sheltering in place, of being isolated from your community, with fears of the unknown or of what was next? Imagine those fears, concerns, and challenges in a country where ultimately millions died and were scarcely able to be buried in some places. Imagine the weight of leading a community, opening your church doors at 4am so that believers could alternate coming in for an hour of prayer, feeling the moral responsibility for the widows and children, making ends meet for an entire neighborhood. When people were hospitalized, Dass and Ruth visited and cared for them, even bringing home relatives because there was no room in a hospital. For weeks, they cared for a stroke victim who could find no medical care because of Covid’s toll on hospital staffing….all while continuing… Continuing to preach and to pray, continuing to lead and encourage and visit, continuing to feed and support widows and the fatherless, ministering while standing in front yards to avoid contact inside homes, continuing to recruit, hire, train, and pay workers to keep moving a building project forward. To keep moving forward in an unrelenting desire to live. I call that maximum effort.
If you read my book, When Meaning Goes Missing, you may remember my focus on the idioms of speech during WWII and reference to my all-time favorite WWII movie, Twelve O’Clock High. General Frank Savage [Gregory Peck] has to test the limits of his pilots until they’re able to break through German air resistance and hit significant targets. Beyond fatigue, the pilots and their leaders fight through the limits of human mental and physical endurance, proving what many learned in the Second World War – people are capable of extraordinary feats of heroism when they are encouraged and inspired, and when they defeat the forces of fear and hesitation. When one counts himself “as already dead,” he gives his life without measure.
Looking at this beautiful picture of a finished building reminds me of that maximum effort, and I see Dass’ spiritual and mental fortitude, with an exertion of effort beyond anything they’d endured before, producing the results of a new center to impart that very spirit. This is not just a place to learn, but to instill similar values in younger leaders. Community forward in a maximum effort. Such achievement is not for the pampered but for the pressers, who advance a cause and complete an assignment because of an inner strength. For this writer, such strength is realized in the grace of God, who doesn’t always remove the challenge but does willingly step into the middle of it with you. In His Supreme love, He will guide, supply, and edify to the utmost those who look to make a difference, who are yielded and ready, who will look to Him.
The other pictures that rev my engines are the ones in between here and there, in Israel’s south at Kibbutz Grofit, where progress surges forward at long last – the bomb shelter for Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center! This active construction site is a promise made and a pledge fulfilled for the vulnerable, special needs Israeli children via a wonderful relationship between JNF-USA**, Jewish Federation of Arkansas, and Commission Fields. Since 2018, we’ve fundraised and now see the results of construction since the May 2022 groundbreaking of this important facility. Throughout numerous challenges in Israel, our friends there ever-labored to secure permits and work through regulations. Week in and week out, leaders persisted, donors donated, and now the builders build a multi-purpose safe place of learning that students there will feel comfortable in, not fearful to go when sirens sound, because it will be brightly painted and furnished as a fortified classroom. Again… Maximum effort with all involved in seeing this through!
I’ve had the joy of seeing each step in this journey, from Dass and the pastors sacrificially giving rupees toward this bomb shelter in 2018-2019, though none had ever even visited Israel. On the merit of Scripture coming to us from the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, on the merit of all we receive as believers from Hebraic roots, they gave to a land they love like their own, and in turn reaped miracles of life and supply throughout the darkness of pandemic. Sowing into the construction in Israel, they have reaped buildings of their own.
And that’s leadership. You see a need and fill it; you see potential, and cultivate it. You see a future, and build for it.
Many thanks to our friends in the Arkansas Jewish community, and to you our CF friends and partners that made the $150,000 a reality for the bomb shelter. It is PAID IN FULL!!! Thank you, Agape Church Little Rock, for helping us finish strong through the generous offering instigated at Night to Honor Israel in March 2022. Thank you, dear monthly partners and churches like House of Study and Family Church Bryant that invested with us beyond our own borders to bridge Israel to nations.
The sparks continue.
Our 2020 Israeli guide, Daniel Jacob, was touched in seeing our community’s support for Dass and his community, so he shared his vision for a community garden in Nofei Prat. Our partners warmly responded, and in spite of pandemic challenges, Gan BeShalom broke ground in November 2020 and was for the most part completed by September 2021. This is a beautiful communal garden for training youth in local farming from olive trees to herbs. Our young gardeners installed drip irrigation, built a pergola, and helped community leaders with fencing, digging, and planting. While the world fusses over West Bank issues, you’ve been a vital part of another great project, a garden of peace between our two communities. All was done by the onset of the shemita year. When planting resumes and the land has its Torah-prescribed rest, we will add a small vineyard. Maximum effort by Daniel and Tsofiya, their family and friends. We raise a glass in “L’Chaim! Next year in Jerusalem!!”
So what’s your Maximum Effort? In your life and walk, what does it take? Fighting through an illness, recovery time, or treatment phase? Overcoming financial loss or working your way out of debts? Overcoming the death of a loved one? Navigating significant change that rocks personal identity and security? There’s seemingly no end of it in this life. We ever-deal with difficult people, we struggle with purpose in our jobs and careers or lack-thereof. Things happen that may demoralize us, but we don’t have to be defeated.
Read the Apostle Paul’s words, from one who took ‘stripes above measure,’ who advised our labors in the Lord are not in vain, and who reminded us “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not us.”
"We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord that His life be manifested in us….therefore do not lose heart…” – 2 Corinthians 4: 6, 7-9, 16.
"My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in Him." – 1 Corinthians 15:58
There will be times you feel disheartened, but don’t be discouraged. Don’t count yourself out. Map out a plan. Stay in the Word of God. Hold on to Heaven. Just continue.
Neal & Danette Childs of RUN International with Pastors Dass & Ruth in Kolar at the Teach the Word to the Nations Bible College & Training Center, June 2022. Neal addresses graduates and I gave a charge virtually. Above/other photos courtesy of Eva Lange, Red Mountain Therapeutice Riding Center, Grofit, Israel (fortified classroom construction photos) and Daniel Jacob & his community at the Gan Beshalom celebration day in Nofei Prat.
*AICAT: Arava International Center for Agricultural Training, located in Sapir, Israel. Students from partnering nations like Cambodia, Kenya, and many others complete farm- and business training to return to their communities to begin thriving farms. Director Hanni Arnon generously shared her time and staff with us during our 2020 visit.
**JNF-USA: Jewish National Fund, USA. The historic organization that has been planting trees and much more in Israel for over a century. We are blessed to have great representation in the Southwest Region by our dear friend and colleague Reagan Weil. My sincere thanks also to our friends in Jewish Federation of Arkansas.