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Baker Visits India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines

During the last part of October and the first half of November, I had an opportunity to travel to India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The purpose of the trip was to visit with the Church of God (Israel) in northeastern India, Good News subscribers in southern India and Sri Lanka and the Filipino ministry.

Group in India Seeking Affiliation With UCG

I have been corresponding with the Church of God (Israel) since July 2001. United Church of God was contacted by the executive secretary of the Church of God (Israel), P.C. Lalvuana, in 1998 requesting more information on our fundamental beliefs and information about affiliation with UCG.

The Church of God (Israel) is located in Mizoram, a state in northeastern India. International travelers are required to obtain a restricted area permit in order to travel to Mizoram. I was able to obtain such a permit through the efforts of the Church of God (Israel). Mizoram is a beautiful area comprised of steep mountains with the highest peaks reaching more than 7,000 feet in elevation.

By U.S. standards, the roads are narrow and are a series of hairpin curves. At times while traveling, I peered out the window and realized that the edge of the road dropped off for at least 1,000 feet. During my first road trip in Mizoram, I got carsick on the way to the capital city, Aizawl. I had to travel to the capital in order to register with the police.

The Mizo people were incredibly hospitable and are a close-knit society. They originated from southern China and their language is from the Tibeto-Burmese family. The Mizos came under the influence of the British missionaries in the 19th century, and now most of the Mizos are professing Christians. Some of the Mizos think they are descended from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Some have converted to Judaism and have migrated to Israel. One of the beneficial results of missionary activities was the spread of education. The missionaries introduced the Roman script for the Mizo language and formal education. The result is that a high percentage—more than 95 percent are literate—the highest rate in India. See the accompanying sidebar for a history of the Church of God (Israel).

I arrived in Mizoram on Friday, Oct. 25, and was greeted at Lengpui airport by Mr. Lalvuana and Mr. Lalbiaksanga and other elders of the Church of God (Israel). I also had the opportunity of meeting the chairman of the Church of God (Seventh Day), Mizoram Conference, George Hnamte, and his son, Isaac, at the airport. After registering at the police station in Aizawl, we proceeded to Kolasib, located approximately five hours north of Aizawl.

When I arrived in Kolasib Friday evening, I had the pleasure of meeting other members of the Church of God (Israel). On the Sabbath I had the opportunity to speak to the Kolasib congregation, explaining the history of United and God's plan of salvation as revealed through the Holy Days. The Church of God (Israel) holds four services on the Sabbath—Friday evening, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening. Each service is about one and a half hours. I was very impressed by the biblical knowledge of the whole group.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, I had an opportunity to meet with the elders of COGI and discuss their desire to affiliate with the UCG. Sunday afternoon I spoke to the Kolasib congregation on repentance and faith and Sunday evening I spoke on the subject of baptism. On Monday, Oct. 28, Mr. Lalbiaksanga, Mr. Lalvuana and I traveled to Aizawl and visited the Church of God, Sikulpuikawn. We had a very enjoyable visit and discussed the subject of the Holy Days. The Church of God, Sikulpuikawn observes the Sabbath but does not observe the annual Holy Days.

After our meeting with the Church of God, Sikulpuikawn, we stopped by the office of Mr. Hnamte. Mr. Hnamte began keeping the Sabbath in February 1967 and officially incorporated the Church of God (Seventh Day), Mizoram Conference, in 1972. Mr. Hnamte also observes the annual Holy Days. He completed the 58-lesson Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course in the late 1960s and early 1970s and wrote many letters to Pasadena concerning the proper date for Pentecost. He felt Pentecost should be kept on Sunday as opposed to Monday as was our practice until 1974. After a short but very pleasant and informative visit with Mr. Hnamte, we returned to Kolasib.

Tuesday, Oct. 29, I had an opportunity to tour the town of Kolasib and continue my visit with the COGI members. We were scheduled for an evening meeting but unfortunately one of the members' homes burned down, which also caused a loss of electricity to the town. On Wednesday with sadness I had to bid farewell to Mr. Lalvuana and members of the Church of God (Israel). The members are some of the most hospitable people that I have ever met. I left Kolasib with many wonderful memories of a very sincere, zealous and dedicated group. I look forward to helping develop our relationship with the Church of God (Israel) in the future.

Visiting Southern India

I then flew to Chennai in southern India. Prior to my trip I informed some of our Good News subscribers in southern India who had requested a visit from a minister that I would be in Chennai Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Appointments were arranged for these two days. Unfortunately it flooded in Chennai during that time and travel was very difficult. Many individuals were actually stranded on buses and trains Thursday night and could not reach their homes. I went to a friend's house Thursday evening for dinner and had to wade through water above my ankles in order to enter his house. Unfortunately by Friday his house was flooded.

Thankfully I was able to meet with three individuals during these two days. Two of these individuals traveled a great distance (one traveled 13 hours by train) to meet with me during these flooding conditions. One subscriber read positive comments about the Good News magazine in a Tamil language religious magazine, requested a copy from the home office and has been receiving the magazine for the past two years. We had an enjoyable conversation about the Trinity and the fact that God is not calling everyone now. As we parted he made a financial donation to the Church.

One individual who requested a visit by a minister sent me a telegram informing me that he would not be able to make the trip because of unexpected circumstances. The following day he also sent a financial donation to the Church via telegram. Another subscriber has been receiving the Church's literature since the 1980s. He completed the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, but the church stopped sending him literature in 1992. One day while searching the Internet he saw the Good News magazine and contacted the home office asking why the Church had changed its name. Another question he asked was, "What is a splinter group?"

I was reminded of a very important lesson during my visit to Chennai. The torrential rains frustrated me, but most of the people in Chennai were very happy because without the rain, they will have severe water shortages during the dry season. I was reminded of a Psalm 118:24 which states, "This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Sometimes we need to be a bit more accepting of what God has provided for us. I was inconvenienced by the rain, and so were the inhabitants of Chennai, but they realized how much they needed the rain. Sometimes an inconvenience for us can be a great blessing for someone else! Therefore we should follow the admonition of the apostle Paul of "giving thanks always for all things" (Ephesians 5:20).

Sri Lanka and the Philippines

I left Chennai on Saturday evening, Nov. 2, and arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, at midnight. I visited and called many former members of WCG during my stay in Sri Lanka from Nov. 3 to 7. From 1985 to 1990 I directed the Ambassador Foundation Project in Sri Lanka and was a member of the Colombo congregation and pastored the congregation in 1989. During my visit I was encouraged to see many of my friends still striving to follow God's truth. I received a number of requests for literature and one proposal for a Youth Corps project.

I departed Sri Lanka on Friday, Nov. 8, at 2 a.m. and arrived in Manila at 1:15 p.m. This was my first visit to the Philippines and I was excited to meet the Filipino ministry and members. The purpose of my trip was to meet the ministry and discuss future plans for the work in the Philippines. I had an opportunity to speak to the Manila congregation on the Sabbath and enjoyed the wonderful fellowship of the brethren following the service. Saturday evening was spent with our elders and their wives in Luzon, Rey and Cynthia Evasco and Eriz and Teresa Dizon.

Sunday I departed Manila for Bacolod City and enjoyed the afternoon and evening with our elders and their wives in Visayas, Florante and Lina Siopan and Norman and Teresa Julag-ay. During the visit I was able to view the meeting hall used for Sabbath services by the Bacolod City congregation.

Monday morning I departed Bacolod for Davao City, which is located on the island of Mindanao. I spent Monday afternoon, Tuesday and Wednesday with Ed and Lorna Macaraeg and their family. Tuesday, Nov. 12 I was able to view the Davao Feast site and the SEP site. Tuesday evening the Macaraegs hosted a dinner, which gave me an opportunity to meet some of the Davao City brethren and Rodrigo and Reynalda Florencondia, an elder and his wife who also serve in the Davao City congregation.

During my visit to the Philippines I was very impressed with the dedication and commitment of our ministry and membership. I am looking forward to my next visit to the Philippines and would like to encourage our brethren to consider the Philippines as a possible Feast site in 2003. We will once again have three Feast sites, one in Luzon, one in Visayas and one in Mindanao. I think you will be as impressed as I was with the beauty of the islands and our members and their wonderful hospitality.

Singapore and Thailand

I departed Manila Thursday, Nov. 14, and enjoyed a wonderful Sabbath with our Singapore congregation, Leon and Reba Walker and Jeff Caudle. (See December 2002 issue, page 5.) Originally I was scheduled to meet an Indian national in Singapore on Friday. I have been corresponding with him for more than a year, and he had requested counseling for baptism. He grew up being taught the truth from Mr. Armstrong's writings by his father, but he and his father have never met a minister or attended a Sabbath service. He had been hoping to be residing in Singapore on a temporary work assignment during my trip, but unfortunately he had to contact me via E-mail during my trip to inform me that his paperwork was still pending.

I left Singapore on Sunday morning and traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand. While transiting through Bangkok, I met up with David Hannaway, a deacon in the Salem (Jefferson), Oregon, congregation and traveled up to Chiang Mai with him. Dr. Hannaway, professor and Forage Project Director of Oregon State University, was traveling through Asia assisting some of the Southeast Asian nations in his area of expertise.

During my visit to Chiang Mai, I was able to observe two ABC graduates, Bonnie Turner and Heidi Hanisko, doing a tremendous job teaching at a small English language and vocational institute. I was given the opportunity to address the students of the institute and share some of my experiences on similar projects in Thailand and Sri Lanka.

I returned home Nov. 21 exhausted but very inspired by the wonderful experiences. On this trip I was reminded that God is involved in a worldwide work of preparing His people. I feel very humbled and blessed to have a tiny part assisting in that work. UN

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History of the Church of God (Israel)

In the early 1970s a Mizo preacher came to Kolasib, Mizoram, India, from the state of Manipur. No one is sure which church he belonged to. He preached about the seventh-day Sabbath, Pentecost (Sivan 6), the Feast of Tabernacles and abstaining from unclean meat.

Beginning with this visit, three or four families in Kolasib began to observe the Sabbath and these two Holy Days. (Mr. Lalvuana's mother, Selthangi, was one of the founding members.) These families also kept Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. They adopted the name Church of God (Israel) somewhere between 1973 and 1975.

Beginning in the early 1990s the group began keeping Atonement and the Feast of Trumpets. In 1991 they published their first Statement of Doctrinal Beliefs (24 points). In 1993 they revised their beliefs to include child dedication (a ceremony that we refer to as the blessing of little children). At this time, they also rejected Sivan 6 Pentecost and began counting to determine the date.

In 1994 one of the elders of COGI suggested that they change their name to United Church of God. In March of 1998, they received a Directory of Sabbath-Keeping Churches. After receiving the directory, they wrote many Sabbatarian groups in the United States requesting a statement of their doctrinal beliefs and compared them with their own doctrinal beliefs. It was at this point that they contacted UCG. They were surprised and encouraged to learn of the similarity in beliefs of COGI and UCG.

The Church of God (Israel) is a very organized group of approximately 253 members. They have congregations located in six villages in Mizoram. Each congregation has a local board. Two representatives are selected from each congregational board to form the governance of COGI known as the Executive Board. The current chairman is Elder C. Lalbiaksanga.

The Church of God (Israel) has published many biblical papers in their own language such as their Statement of Beliefs, the proper reckoning of Pentecost and an annual Holy Day calendar. Periodically they publish a newsletter entitled Zion Reporter. They have also published a book entitled War Between Jerusalem and Rome. The Church of God (Israel) also produces a Sabbath school curriculum for children and adults. They publish and issue certificates for baptism, marriage and child dedication. They have written and published guidelines for ministers giving outlines for ceremonies such as marriage, child dedication, Passover service, funeral and ordination of elders.