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Norfolk minister's Indian prayer dream a reality 

Norfolk vicar Rev Canon Simon Stokes and members of his family travelled to India late last year to formally open and dedicate a new House of Prayer built from funds raised by his Sprowston Parish. Jenny Seal reports.

Simon, Vicar of the Sprowston Parish, his wife Christine and daughter Mary travelled to India in October last year for 11 days in order to dedicate a new plant of the Bangalore based Zeal Gospel Church.
The new Zeal Gospel Prayer House situated in a village on the edge of a culturally significant mountain, known as ‘TVM’ in rural Tamil Nadu, was built by funds raised by the Sprowston Parish, which includes the churches of St Cuthbert’s, St Mary & St Margaret’s.
As well as providing a place to worship, the House of Prayer will act as a valuable community facility for the developing village.
Simon said: “It will be a place where education will happen and part of their programme has been giving skills to local women so they can support themselves and their families without getting trapped in the slavery and sex trade that goes on.” 
SimonStokes-ZealGospelPrayerHoSimon has been out to visit the Zeal Gospel Church several times.  He said: “I sort of fell in love with the place and the project, and therefore have been back with different teams. There is just something amazing about being there with people who have nothing but yet want to share everything they’ve got, and are so excited for the Lord.”
Sprowston Parish raised the necessary funds by holding mission evenings and lunches, where people gave generously. Also Simon and Christine celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary and encouraged friends and family to mark the occasion by donating to the Indian church appeal.
Simon, Christine and Mary were special guests at the packed out service of dedication for the new 20m x 15m building, which was still being worked on the day before its opening. Simon recalls the strong sense of God’s presence on the day.
“We dedicated the building and cut the ribbon, and were just starting the service when suddenly out of nowhere we had about 90 seconds to two minutes of a wind,” said Simon. “I stood there thinking this wind was going to rip the roof off and then suddenly realised: ‘was this the Holy Spirit?’. It came from nowhere and then just stopped. It was a very powerful experience.”
A community-wide meal of celebration followed the service and then baptisms in the newly built outside baptistry. Simon said: “It was an amazing privilege to be part of that huge family.”
During the trip Simon, who was registered blind in 1986, travelled with a white stick and a sighted guide.  He said: “I daren’t take the guide dog, because I have enough worries making sure I’m healthy without the dog being sick.” 
He admits there were some particular challenges but jokes: “In Bangalore trying to cross those roads, I think I was at an advantage of not being able to see!” 
Simon’s daughter Mary is currently studying Special Educational Needs at university and during the trip spoke passionately to church groups about inclusivity. 
Simon notes: “I think over the years I’ve been going out, there has been a warming to people with disability.”
Simon’s overwhelming memories focus around the attitudes of the people he met and the contrast with typical Western approaches.
He noted the sense of contentment, pride and an eagerness to grasp hold of opportunities despite such limited resources.
Since returning from their trip, Sprowston Parish have raised further funds to buy a new water bore-hole, which as well as supplying the new building with water will also supply water to local houses. They are now raising funds to buy the pastor a motorbike and a house next door to the new building. 
Simon hopes to return with a team from Sprowston at the beginning of next year.
Pictured top are Christine, Simon and Mary in India and, above, the new Zeal Gospel Prayer House.

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