163 days is close to 6 months. Could you imagine calling and inviting a community to fast and pray for 163 days…? and that they would actually join you and do it? Silas, the pastor of the Namchi Vineyard, was once a political rebel and one of the leaders of a resistance group in the 1980s in the district of Darjeeling in Northeast India. Kalimpong is a hub area in the district of Darjeeling. Ben Isaacs, a now fellow Vineyard pastor in Siliguri, India, grew up in Kalimpong and recalls the terror this uprising, led by the resistance group, created for his family and that area. He remembers bombings, riots, gun shots, terror and fear for weeks and years. He recalls as a young boy, a moment where Silas stood outside their family home, machine gun in hand, stoking the uprising with terror and fear. It was a few years later that Silas had his own encounter with a living Jesus, when he was captured and thrown in the mud pit; left to be drowned and shot to death. He wasn’t shot and didn’t drown but that story is for another day.
Silas, now a Vineyard pastor and part of the Leadership Team of the Himalayan Vineyard region, had felt God invited his church community to purchase a piece of land to create a home in the center of the city of Namchi, India in the State of Sikkim. Sikkim is one of the 29 states in India and was its own country until 1975 when it joined India. The piece of land they first had identified was caught up in the middle of a husband and wife battle. He wanted sell and she did not. While they began to pursue other parcels of land the Chief Minister of the State, a practising Hindu, was planning to put into law that all non – Hindu or non – Buddhist temples could only have up to 15 people in a meeting space. This law, in consideration, would set them back substantially, if it went into rule. They identified another piece of land that would suit their needs. However, the church had no funds in waiting towards this purchase. They simply had a sense that God wanted them to have a home. They first contacted their partner church in Canada, the Cornerstone Vineyard in Winkler, Manitoba to see if they could help with giving them $40,000 Canadian towards the land. That was the cost initially. The Cornerstone Vineyard had a unfolding God story of their own at that time. The City of Winkler, Manitoba had approached them about trading their land to the city to build a new Fire hall on it. In exchange, the City would give the Cornerstone Vineyard their old land, the old Fire hall and $400,000 in cash. They said yes. The Cornerstone Vineyard received the request for the $40,000 from Namchi about the same time they had received the $400,000 from the city. As they prayed in Manitoba, it seemed God was inviting them to give their 10% tithe to the Namchi Vineyard for their land. By the time they received the money from Canada in India the price of the land had gone up significantly. If they put the $40,000 down on the land they would now need an additional $80,000 within 6 months or they would lose the land and the money they put down. Welcome to India! India does not function with mortgages or credit. Land is purchased with bags of cash or with cash sums over a short period of time. There is no ability to pay off land over years or through interest loans. Silas, felt God invited them to say yes, though he knew the risk was great and land prices were rising quickly.
I remember when Silas came to meet with Nathan Rieger and I in Bangalore, India in November, 2013 and told us the story to this point. He had, I believe, until February, 2014 to come up with the rest of the money or they would lose the land and the money. Silas asked us if we could rally the Canadian Vineyards to help him come up with the remaining $60,000 needed. Nathan and I spent time talking to Silas about considering other parcels of land, other options to get a mortgage or credit and pay for it over time, like we do with land in Canada. Silas, in his disarming way, smiled, laughed and though he heard us, it seemed he knew that wasn’t God’s answer for them. The Vineyard conference in Bangalore ended and we all went our separate ways. Silas and Noel Isaacs, leader of the Vineyard in the Himalayas, had many exchanges over the phone after that time. They would weep together, pray together and sometimes just have long silences on the phone as they didn’t know what to do.
The Vineyard communities in Himalayas prayed and joined their faith to God’s invitation for the Namchi Vineyard during this time. From among their own pockets, over those days of prayer and fasting, they gathered $20,000 Canadian towards the remaining $80,000 needed for the land. But February, 2014 came and went and they had no answer. The owner gave them one final extension. With 30 days left until the final extension was up, the Namchi Vineyard had half of the money they needed. They prayed and fasted for almost 133 days by then but the answer they were waiting for, $60,000, had not yet come. Would it? Had they been presumptuous and foolish? Had they heard God? The owner of the land gave them until the end of April, 2014. If they did not have all the money by then they would lose the land and the $60,000 invested to date.
During that time, the 5 year elections for the state of Sikkim were in process. The Chief Minister (what we call a Premier in Canada) and his party were up for re-election of the state. The Chief Minister, who’s government headquarters was in Gangtok, was on the campaign trail during those months. Earlier that year, Silas had organized a gathering of pastors in Namchi, and during that time gained stature in the community. Though Silas didn’t lead one of the biggest or more known churches, he and the Vineyard community had received recognition for their grassroots work in the city. The Chief Minister, a practising Hindu, invited Silas to come pray for him to win the election. The Chief Minister and his party had ruled for 4 terms, 20 years, but their re-election seemed unlikely this time. Silas accepted the invite and came and prayed for the Minister with 3 friends. In Kingdom fashion God had a word for the Minister, and Silas chose to pray in such a way that he shared that word in his prayer. The Minister visibly moved by the prayer, thanked Silas. As Silas departed the minister asked him about his need for the church property. Silas told him they needed $60,000 more to keep the land and that they were believing God would provide. The two went their way after that exchange.
The elections occurred on April 12th, 2014 in the state of Sikkim and the Chief Minister and his party were re-established in power to lead the State again. Silas had not seen or heard from the Minister since he prayed from him that day almost a month earlier. Silas didn’t expect to hear from either now. He was the Chief Minister again. With a week before the deadline for the land and the faith of the community growing weary after nearly 163 days of fasting and prayer, Silas received a unexpected phone call from the Chief Minister’s office. The Chief Minister had wanted Silas to come to an event and meet with him afterwards. Silas went to the event and there was a line-up of people waiting to talk with the Minister. Silas caught the eye of the Minister, who motioned for him to wait around. Silas awkwardly waited, unsure for what. When he saw the Minister, he was asked how he was doing and how the process for the land was going. Silas updated the Minister with their continued waiting. The Minister then asked Silas to wait a minute as he left the room for a second. He returned moments later with a duffle bag of cash (remember its India) and said that he wanted to give this money to Silas and the Vineyard church as a gift to buy their land. This is the same Chief Minister who wanted to put into law that non – Hindu’s and non – Buddhists couldn’t have more than 15 people at a church gathering. Silas is of course was stunned and shocked. He didn’t see this coming from the Chief Minister.
The Minister turned to Silas, after handing him the duffle bag, and asked him why the Vineyard people don’t like him. The Minister responded to his own question by saying, “Tell them I am a good guy”. Though unorthodox and somewhat odd, Silas believed, because of their prayer, the gift of money was from God and accepted it. He then carried the large duffle bag of cash to his vehicle. When Silas arrived home and counted the money there was the equivalent of $60,000 Canadian in Indian rupees in the duffle bag. Silas quickly phoned Noel on his cellphone to tell him what happened only moments earlier. Upon hearing the story, Noel and his wife Dona, fell to the floor in their home in Kalimpong weeping, knowing God had provided. With days left they paid off the land and the Namachi Vineyard had a home and a heck of a story to tell. Who knew what 163 days of prayer and fasting could do!?! Apparently God did!!!