Built on Christ the solid Rock: Recovery and Unity in India

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

Matthew 7:24–25, ESV

“Welcome home,” the Rev. Sam Thompson, professor of Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil (CTSN), India, announced in the newly renovated lecture hall. “Welcome back home to your seminary.” 

For the first time in some fourteen years, pastors of the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) gathered together to participate in a Pastor’s Refresher Course (PRC). Previously, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) provided for annual PRCs to bring together pastors from the IELC for theology and conversation. 

For more than decade, however, storms of division within the IELC prevented these pastors from gathering together. The storms battered the walls of friendship and trust among them. The streetlights of transparency and truthfulness to the Word of God no longer stood to bathe them in the light of fellowship. 

And yet, on Aug. 13, 2019, they gathered under the banner, “The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). God worked through a storm of a different variety to create this opportunity. 

A Powerful Storm

On Nov, 30, 2017, the cyclone [hurricane] named Ockhi raged over the CTSN campus, picking apart historic buildings, some nearly 100 years old and constructed of sand and clay. Ockhi uprooted and threw nearly forty trees around the campus. During the storm, seminary students fled from damaged dormitories to safer buildings. 

The storm forced the faculty to cancel classes and send students home. With fallen power lines, homes and classrooms leaking, plumbing issues and more, the campus was no longer safe for students and families. They feared that the chapel was a total loss. The Luther’s Rose-engraved teak paneling that lined the chancel appeared to be beyond repair. 

The faculty came together and began restoring the campus. When the students returned to campus, they participated in the work, too. CTSN contacted LCMS Disaster Response and began a fruitful relationship. 

Rebuilding on a Solid Foundation

For a full explanation of the repairs and phases of the work, listen to Thompson talk about it in this episode of the LCMS Asia podcast: 

The Rev. Dr. Sam Thompson discusses the renovation of the Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil campus.

With support from LCMS Disaster Response, the seminary has completed phase three of the restoration process. While some housing units still need repair, classrooms and public spaces are complete or in the final stages of completion. 

See the repairs for yourself in the video below. Thompson and the Rev. Dr. Ross Johnson, director of LCMS Disaster Response, also offer a word of thanks to donors and supporters: 

Rather than build on the sand, the seminary sought — where possible — to build with stone and granite, which are relatively cheap in India. For many of the walls, multiple layers of paint and plaster had to be removed before restoration could begin. Rather than build cheaper structures of sand, the seminary used the resources entrusted to them by LCMS donors to repair the buildings so that the walls might stand as a place to train pastors for the next 100 years.  

Rebuilding on the Word of God

Within these newly renovated walls, Christ through the Holy Spirit began to guide the pastors of the IELC toward unity in and through the Word of God. 

As the conference opened, the Rev. Dr. D. Christu Das, principal of the seminary, said: “This is not the place for politics, but the place for fellowship and leading from the Holy Spirit.” In keeping with the theme, he also said: “This PRC is the place for building the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” 

And so the pastors of the IELC began rebuilding upon the Word of God. The primary speakers sent by the LCMS were the Rev. Dr. Detlev Schulz from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; the Rev. Dr. Edward Naumann, LCMS theological educator to South Asia, and Johnson. 

The lecturers provided a solid foundation, grounded in the Scripture, upon which to build a new peace and unity in the IELC. 

Besides lectures, the pastors from all three IELC synods took tea together, ate together, worshipped together, and communed together. With help from the LCMS guests, they also dedicated renovated rooms and buildings for service in the church. They discovered unity upon Christ, the solid rock that the gates hell cannot prevail over (Matt. 16:18).

Refreshed and renewed in “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” the pastors returned home. While not all the problems of the IELC can be solved in a single conference, when pastors gather together around the Word of God, instead of power plays and political maneuvering, they gather around a solid foundation, built on the Rock of Christ Jesus, instead of sand.

The storms may come. The rain may fall. The wind may blow and beat. But the house built on that Rock will not fall. 

Roy S. Askins

The Rev. Roy S. Askins now serves as managing editor for The Lutheran Witness the official publication of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.