Capturing the Heart of India
June 1, 2003 - This is India: A billion people, more than 4,000 people groups. Seventeen major languages, hundreds of dialects. Just about every imaginable religion, relatively few Christians. How could anyone ever reach such a vast and diverse nation with the love of Jesus Christ? Human efforts may fail, but the Bible tells us that love never fails.
by Bob Paulson
Sunday morning at Calcutta Bible Seminary: Children have come from nearby slums to learn about Jesus from the seminary students. As one might expect, the children will hear Bible verses and sing Christian songs. But that may not be the most powerful lesson they will learn about Jesus. The most powerful lesson may be the one that they learn from the actions of the seminarians.
Caring in Calcutta
Many of the slum children have not bathed for days or weeks, so the seminarians help to clean them up. While some students trim children's nails or wash and comb their hair—or even give them a haircut if needed—others scrub the children's dirty sandals.
It's not a scene one might expect to see at an institution of higher learning. But with each child cared for and with each sandal scrubbed, the seminarians honor and emulate the Lord Jesus, who said, "I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:27, NIV). And each act of loving service and care endears these students to area families and helps to win a hearing for the Good News of Jesus Christ.
"The people respect our students so much," says Grace Rajan, who with her husband, Suresh Rajan, runs the seminary. "They welcome them; they treat them as kings and queens."
The students also minister each day after their classes are finished. Children come to the seminary to receive tutoring and help with their homework. While the children are occupied in second-floor seminary classrooms, some of their mothers are downstairs, taking tailoring or adult literacy classes. The seminary has gained such a good standing in the area that representatives from a nearby Muslim village have invited the seminary to expand its ministry into that village as well.
"The Lord has helped us and has captured hearts by these acts of love," Suresh Rajan says.
It is easy to see how such acts of love make people want to find out more about Christ. Perhaps such acts also help explain why the school's denomination, the Evangelical Church of India (ECI), is able to plant churches throughout India. Since 1985, with financial support from ministries such as Samaritan's Purse, ECI has planted many churches and schools such as Calcutta Bible Seminary. ECI Bishop Ezra Sargunam, who oversees the denomination, first committed his life to Christ at 1956 Billy Graham meetings in Madras.
Calcutta Bible Seminary and ECI share several encouraging characteristics with many other Christian communities in India today: They are growing. They are marked by love. They are anchored on the Bible. And their leaders are Indian nationals, not Western missionaries. With those characteristics, the Body of Christ, though still small, is gaining ground in India.
"The Evangelical church is growing all over India, not just in pockets," says Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. "We see similarities between the 19th-century missionary movement in south India and the 21st-century missionary movement in north India. One major difference is that in the 19th century, Western missionaries did the church planting. Here, local people are doing it, in partnership with Christians from all over the world."
The growth has not come without opposition. Wherever the Church is growing, Howell said, Christians are facing persecution. Still, Christians are finding effective ways to spread the message of Christ, demonstrating His love in often extraordinary ways.
Not far from Calcutta Bible Seminary stands the small compound of Calcutta Love Presbyterian Church. The name is fitting, considering the work being done here. The church is part of a mission whose ministries include supporting orphans and widows, distributing clothing, running kindergartens, and sending church planters in boats to share the Gospel on the islands where the River Ganges enters the Bay of Bengal. The Mission also has participated in the Operation Christmas Child outreach of Samaritan's Purse.
The Reverend Sukrit Roy, pastor at Calcutta Love Presbyterian Church, is passionate about reaching lost people for Christ. Roy has seen changes, not only in how responsive people are to the Gospel, but in how many believers are willing to become full-time Christian workers.
"I was discouraged in my heart," Roy says, "because at one time we had 80 million Bengali people, but we could not find even seven Bengali students in the seminaries. But the Lord enlightened me through Matthew 9:37-38. Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. After that He says, 'Pray, therefore, to the Father of the harvest, that He may send laborers to the harvest field.'"
Tears run down Roy's cheeks as he explains: "The Lord opened my eyes to see that my responsibility is to pray to the Father, and the Father's responsibility is to send the laborers. From then on, I prayed—many people prayed—and the harvesters are coming."
Gains in Gurgaon
The churches of Gurgaon had little reason to expect a great harvest when they invited BGEA Associate Evangelist Robert Cunville to hold a Festival of Peace Aug. 16-18 in this bedroom community near India's capital city of Delhi.
The churches were small and were not in the practice of cooperating with one another. Gurgaon was experiencing a rash of homicides and highway robberies. Finally, two days before the Festival, heavy rains hit this usually dry area.
But God was at work, even though people might not have seen it. Vijay Benedict, a popular singer in India's movie industry, provided music for the Festival, which helped to attract many non-Christians to the meetings. Many of the inquirers came from non-Christian backgrounds and had never attended a Christian meeting before.
Six months later, the churches were still rejoicing over the gains made as a result of the Festival. On a Thursday evening in February, a group gathered at the rented building that houses the Bible Believers' Church. Sitting shoeless on the carpeted floor, with men on one side and women on the other, believers sang praise to Christ and listened to preaching from the Word of God.
"God is really moving in India," says Pastor John Philip. "Whomever we share the Gospel with, they are interested. They want to listen to the Gospel; they want to come to church."
Momentum in Mumbai
Christians in some parts of India can minister with little resistance or persecution. Not so in India's largest city, Mumbai (formerly Bombay).
Last Nov. 28, several young men set out to distribute handouts for a Festival of Peace that was to start the following day in Vashi, a community in Navi (New) Mumbai. The men encountered members of an anti-Christian group who attacked and beat them, destroyed 5,000 handouts and abducted one of the young men to question him about the Festival.
Christians prayed through the night, and the young man was released by morning.
Police provided protection for the meetings, but even so, some churches backed out of the Festival for fear of persecution. But God did what seemed impossible, bringing results that were beyond anyone's expectations. When Cunville gave the invitation to accept Christ, people rushed forward—there was no need for a second or third invitation.
"The churches are overflowing now," says V. J. Johnson, secretary for the Pentecostal Churches of Navi Mumbai. "We're getting very good response now. We're praying. By all of our prayers, we are united, one in Christ. And change is taking place in the city."
Other Christian leaders agree that one reason for the growing momentum in Mumbai is an emerging unity among pastors and churches.
"Especially in Mumbai, God is bringing the churches together as never before," says Augustine Pinto, founder and chairman of St. Xavier's and Ryan International Group of Schools. Pinto has helped to foster this unity in Mumbai, and he sees implications for the whole of India. "Mumbai can be a model to other cities and towns in the nation. If something good happens in Mumbai, it will follow in other cities."
It shouldn't be surprising that unity brings results. After all, Jesus said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (Cf. John 13:35). And when Christians take that love and serve the people around them, hearts are captured for Christ.
Pinto's schools provide education for thousands of students throughout India. The schools are unabashedly Christian, but they are of such high quality that many non-Christian parents send their children to the schools. Pinto envisions reaching India by demonstrating Christ's love in practical ways.
"You cannot evangelize India only by having public meetings," Pinto says. "You also need to have education, medical care, social work, agriculture and horticulture. Christians must come with such things—the practical things—and that really makes them the light."