When Bryan Tacker traveled from Texas to Bangalore, India, on a business trip, he had no idea how vast the ripple effects would be. It would have been much easier to skip worship that Sunday morning in such a foreign country, but instead, Bryan hired a driver to drop him off near the location of a church of Christ he had found online. When the driver had been paid and went on his way, there was no clue in sight that he was anywhere near his house of worship. Bryan began wandering the streets of this chaotic town of 8.4 million, but everyone around him was speaking a different language. After awhile he began to feel at a loss of what to do, and even started to consider finding a ride back. But at that moment, Bryan saw a man walking across the street in a pink collared shirt and a tie. Perhaps this Indian man could speak enough English. He caught up to him and tried asking him if he knew the location of the church of Christ. As Providence would have it, not only did the man speak fluent English, but he was in town for the day in order to preach for the very congregation Bryan was trying to find! Shocked, Bryan and this brother in Christ (who had an Indian name, but also went by the name “Billy”), walked and talked together the rest of the way, up the stairs into the church house and worshipped together.
While Bryan was with Billy, he observed with amazement much of what was being accomplished at this congregation, then returned to his home congregation and reported his marvelous story of everything he had observed. So many hearts were moved among Bryan’s church family when he conveyed what he had witnessed, that not long after Bryan’s return, Cedar Park invited Billy to come preach for them to hear the gospel from his own heart, as well as the effective work he and his family were accomplishing for the spread of the kingdom to the glory of God in India. (Here's the link to Billy's sermon) About ten months after Billy’s visit, a handful of brothers from the Cedar Park church of Christ went to see firsthand the good work Billy is doing, including the training of young men to preach the gospel, ministering to a leper colony, and taking care of orphans. (Here is the link to that presentation) They came back and announced among other things, “We're just letting, you know, we vetted it and it's real and the need is real.”
This good work all started years ago, when Billy’s 55 year-old grandfather was the principal at a Baptist seminary in Southern India, and exceptionally influential as a scholar, a writer and professor. Upon studying the scriptures more deeply with a Bible-following Christian, he realized many of the beliefs and practices he had been teaching were either adding to or taking away from the instructions within the divine patterns of the holy scriptures. He knew that if he held on to what he had, he would continue to have a well-paying job, power, influence and financial prosperity. But in this honest and good heart, those things were completely meaningless compared to the very voice of his holy God in writing. So instead, he surrendered everything to align his teachings with the will of God, saying to the man he was studying with that he needed a couple hours before being baptized. He then raced to his office, wrote a resignation letter to his denomination, left it on his desk, then returned to the Christian with whom he had been studying and was baptized.
One of the first things he did after submitting his will to God’s, was to use his funds to buy two pieces of property to build a facility to educate and train young men to handle and preach the word of God accurately. Next door to the preacher training facility, he built the church building in The Square where his grandson Billy now preaches. When Billy’s grandfather died he was 95 and had 25 cents in his bank account. He had been spent for the glory of God in every way. What he left behind was immeasurable in value, including a son who was willing to continue the work that his father had started with the same commitment to keep “scriptural authority as our highest standard” (as Billy put it in the sermon linked above).
In the course of grabbing his father’s spiritual baton, Billy’s father baptized 300 lepers, all considered cursed and outcasts in their culture, but each having a precious soul worth more than the whole whole, in the sight of God (Mark 8:36). In India, lepers get no medical help because the country is so shamed by the disease, that it denies it even exists. No one wants to have anything to do with those infected, and until Billy’s family cared for them, the only way they could eat was to beg. Billy described how some with no fingers or hands must eat out of a bowl on the floor --- these brethren of ours. One of the merciful brothers from Texas who went to visit the congregation in India said, for the first time in his life, he actually woke up in his hotel room crying, having been so touched by the suffering his brothers and sisters in Christ endure. Many of us would do the same.
Sadly, when someone with leprosy has children, the children will often become infected with this horrific, bone eating disease, so Billy’s compassionate father started taking care of the children of lepers so they would not contract the disease, but could instead enjoy good health, all the benefits of being raised in a Christian home, and ultimately be given the opportunity to integrate into society. Over time, Billy’s parents began to open their doors to other orphans, some of whom they rescued from the mafia that uses children to make money in tragic ways, including sometimes even blinding them to get more sympathy and thus more cash when they beg, most of which the mafia keeps.
In one related incident, Billy was driving down the road one day, and noticed a masked man driving erratically. He followed him into a gas station and when they’d both cut their engines, Billy began to hear whimpering in the backseat of the man’s car. Billy went inside the gas station, had someone call the police and quickly gathered some of the patrons to encircle the car while Billy rushed to open the door, lifted a blanket, and was aghast to see drugged children weakly crying. He then heard more crying coming from the trunk. When he screamed to the other patrons that there were kids in the trunk, the driver bolted and took off running hard, and when other men followed him running, everyone realized there were two more cars full of drugged children that had been caravanning. When every driver bolted from their cars, they left the keys in the ignition, so as fast as he could manage, Billy grabbed the keys and opened up the trunks. That day they rescued 18 children.
Every one of the 58 children that presently resides at Billy’s orphanage is treated as the family’s own. Billy’s aged mother willingly cooks for about 12 hours every day to keep the children fed. Each kid has one trunk containing two changes of clothes, their books, a blanket and a pillow. That is all they possess. When the kids arrive, they don't even have birth dates because they don't know when they were born. Billy assigns them birth dates so that they can be celebrated. In fact, the Cedar Park brethren who visited India got to be present when those birthdays were celebrated, and witnessed something they’ll never forget: Every one of the children were given, for perhaps the first time in their lives, a present. Every boy got a ball, and every girl got a doll. Unfortunately, someone miscounted, and they were short one doll. The one very little girl without the doll could not keep the tears from silently falling down her face, but then a fourteen-year-old girl (who had also never had much of anything in her life) stood up in the back, came forward, handed her doll to the younger child and returned to her seat. It was an unforgettable and stunning example of loving sacrifice, but was not a rarity, for these kids exhibit exceptional character. How is this kind of discipline and outstanding behavior taught? Those raising children in The West, should take note, for herein lies the answer to the oversatiated, self-absorbed, hedonistic culture that is taking out our youth. Part of the secret of the peace and joy this Children’s Home experiences is in a predictable and productive daily routine: The children wake up at 5 a.m. From 5:15am to 6am their souls are fed as they have a devotion. From 6am to 7:30, they enjoy one another’s company while doing chores, including washing their own clothes and laying them out to dry. The older girls help the younger girls, and the older boys help the younger boys, forming family bonds. Breakfast is from 8:00 to 8:30. All the kids in junior high and younger are homeschooling at the Children’s Home, but since they don't have the teachers and the capabilities of teaching through high school, the older children go off to school and are back by around 4pm for a little free time, then to pitch in to do chores from 5pm to 6pm. Every night from 6pm to 8pm they learn all they need to know about life and godliness by studying the Bible and from 8pm to 8:30pm they focus on memorizing and reciting scripture, eating dinner afterward, I believe. The younger children are in bed at 9pm and the older ones are in bed at 10pm.
Beyond this full and productive schedule, the focus on teaching these orphans the word of God is even more instrumental in instilling in them the fruits of the Spirit that accounts for their good behavior. In fact, without the emphasis we have in The West of being entertained by empty or even ungodly influences, these children have hidden in their hearts and can recite every comforting, healing word from Psalm 119: 1- 176 “at the drop of your hat” as Billy puts it, as well as 45 additional Psalms and 217 memory verses. And most important of all, God’s word is not a mental exercise for them. It is their salvation, their treasure, their strength and their healing, so they embrace the gospel with their whole hearts.
They give their minds and hearts to God despite the prostitute who lived next door, whose house they could see below from their windows. This prostitute would, from time to time, take bracelets and trinkets and throw them over her walls onto their property hoping to entice the girls, once they age out of the orphanage, to come work as prostitutes. Even still, Billy says, they have never lost any of the souls of their children to her. (In fact, since the building of his Children's Home in 1994, Billy says he's never lost a child. Without exception, every child has graduated and left.) You’ll be encouraged to know that individual Christians who worship at the Cedar Park church of Christ created a charitable foundation several years ago, the Cedar Park Friends Foundation, as a means to do good deeds. The Foundation sent funds for Billy to buy the prostitute’s property. Billy now uses the house for righteous purposes.
To say this beauty that Billy and his family bring to the most vulnerable in their communities is invaluable, is an understatement. But there exists something even more valuable that they are accomplishing, for in their focus on training preachers, they are in essence multiplying to their maximum ability, men who will do all the good works that Billy and his family are accomplishing, to not only create more joyous lives in this world, but for all eternity. Because of the suffering that sin has caused in India, many of the people in the incredibly dense population of India are receptive to the gospel. Last year Billy had 400 men apply to be trained and he selected 14 whom he believed could do the most good. He trains them in a planned curriculum from start to finish for one year before sending them off on their own to go out into the tribal areas of India to start and build up churches that know the soul-saving truth and to teach it to others. Some of the preachers go on to establish more than one church because the goal is to start up as many congregations as they can. This year there will be 50 churches that have been established only by Billy’s training program. On average, they're establishing about 16 churches per year with an average of 30 new souls added each year to each of those churches.
Many of the souls in India, are truly “poor in spirit”, realizing their need for redemption, and when word is out that a preacher is coming to their village, they will show up even in the middle of a forest, filling up small huts until they overflow and spill out in the open. Billy says even if a preacher cannot arrive and begin preaching until 10 or 11pm, receptive souls will wait for him, even after working 6am to 6pm daily. And since they have waited so long to hear his message, they expect to hear preaching for at least a couple hours. Many are baptized routinely after these one night “open-air” meetings. By the time these souls have been added to the kingdom, preachers routinely get home from preaching around 2am. About a month before Billy visited Cedar Park, a photograph was taken (as is viewable online at the link above) of what looked like hundreds and hundreds of people, listening to him at one of his open-air meetings, many of whom are so eager to receive salvation that they willingly will be baptized in a sewer if that is the only body of water available.
God has blessed Billy’s work and His Providence abounds. For example, a woman once knocked on Billy’s door, and when he opened it, she explained she had found a tract on a bus seat that she had been reading with his address on it, and she wanted to come study the Bible with him about what she needed to do to be saved. When he asked to see the tract, he realized it was one that his grandfather had written that had been out of publication for twenty years! She studied the Bible with Billy’s family, repented of the sin of prostitution, and they helped connect her to a congregation his father had founded. That congregation has now warmly integrated this dear, saved soul into their church family.
Billy was asked by one of the visiting brothers from Cedar Park if he had any regrets. He had a few, as we all do. One of Billy’s regrets is that one time, two children came to his door wanting to be a part of the orphanage, but he told them he did not have the funds. “I can feed you tonight, but I can't let you come in”, he said. So he fed them, and they came back the next day. But that time, he said, “I'm sorry, I can't feed you, because we only have a limited supply of food.” So they went on their way. Six weeks later there was a horrific news story about two unidentified children who were found. When Billy saw the pictures on television, he recognized their clothing. So he went down to the police department, identified them as the two children who had been at his door. Tragically, they had been kidnapped by the mafia who had removed their eyes and their internal organs and left them dead. Billy has deep regret about not taking them in, although he did not have the resources to feed them. But then Providence caused something to happen that brought a little comfort to his heart. A few months later, four more girls escaped the mafia, running about eight miles, arriving exhausted in front of Billy's doorstep. They had been kidnapped for about 12 weeks. Billy took those girls in, one of which was the one who had given her doll away in the previous story. To this day, she could not be more happy to be in the care of Billy and his family.
As one brother at the Cedar Park church of Christ put it, “...sometimes, so many things come together to where it's really hard to say that it's not Providence. It's hard to say, like, I don't see how this couldn't be something that God is bringing together.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Another brother said when he arrived in India his prayer was that the Lord would make clear His will by showing, teaching and leading him toward what He wanted him to do in the kingdom. For the first time in his life, he experienced the reality of what Jesus meant when He said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). He and his brothers visiting India, asked, and it was given. They sought, and it was found. They knocked, and opportunity opened --- an opportunity to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another'' (Zachariah 7:9). With donations from individual Christians, the Cedar Park Friends Foundation helps Billy feed his orphans, increases his ability to feed many more orphans, helps him care for more lepers, and enables him to train more preachers. Perhaps other individual Christians reading this will be inspired to do the same in this and other places around the world, after all, we were born for this. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
Addendum: Back in the 90’s when the technology industry was booming, the congregation Mark preached for benefited because of its proximity to such companies as Intel, FEI, Maxim, and Benchmark. One of the wonderful families that came to town for work was Patrick and Aleece Gaughan, and their children. We worshipped and served God alongside one another, camped, took our kids on field trips together and just seemed to laugh a lot in between. When they moved back to Texas, we’d visit them from time to time for a couple days whenever we passed through the Austin area. During our Nomad Quest they invited Mark to speak for the congregation at Cedar Park, and me to speak for the young women. It was during this stay that we became aware of this jaw-dropping story of God’s providence, as we enjoyed our first full week together talking late into the night about both our burdens and blessings by their fireplace, watching thunderstorms pass perched above their backyard. We’ve included this entry to show how much good can be done by individuals helping individuals around the world, all without compromising God’s divine pattern for congregational autonomy. Doing good in this way, which is the way Christians did good in the First Century does not hold us back, in fact, it frees us to be even more effective to His glory.