I met Suresh on Sunday morning, January 29, 1995 in Hyderabad, India. He was a student in the School of Evangelism and was to be my interpreter at a small church gathering that morning.
It was last November that I had received a phone call from my friend and colleague Rev. Steve Arrick asking if I was interested in joining him for a visit to India. We were invited by The Bible League (formerly The World Home Bible League) to see for ourselves the work of church planting and evangelism being accomplished in that ancient and populous country. I had been to Europe and Central America, but never to the Far East. I knew that this was a rare opportunity and eagerly accepted the invitation.
We were part of a group of more than 20 people, led by the Executive Vice President of The Bible League, Mr. Willis Timmer, who arrived in the large city of Madras late Wednesday night, January 25th. Our stay in India, a week that I shall never forget, had begun.
Waiting for us at the airport in Madras was Rev. John De Vries, founder of Mission 21 India. These two agencies, The Bible League and Mission 21 India are working cooperatively as partners in India, planting churches, distributing Bibles and teaching students in the Schools of Evangelism. The following morning Rev. De Vries explained to us their strategy. India is a third world country of staggering complexIty. It is the second most populous nation on the planet, with nearly 900 million people. This is about equal to the total amount of people in both North and South America living in an area 2/3 the size of the United States. 40% of the population—over 350 million people—is under the age of 14. There are 4,635 distinct people groups divided into 6,400 castes. When added to this equation the fact that there are 1,639 languages spoken, 16 of which are officially endorsed, not to mention the hopeless bondage of the Hindu religion, one begins to understand the many factors contributing to India’s complexity.
At the same time, however, we must not forget the power of our Almighty Savior who conquered Satan, death and hell and who has and continues to set the captive free! It was Inspiring for me to personally witness this very conviction among those involved in this ministry in India.
With this conviction firmly in place, the goal of The Bible League and Mission 21 India is to plant churches in every village in India. Rev. De Vries pointed out again and again that when considering church planting, we must “think maps, not blueprints.” In other words, rather than building a church structure and trying to figure out how to fill the building with people, we must follow Christ’s example of Luke 10 where He sends out 72 of His followers, two by two, into the villages and cities.
Luke 10:1–9 – After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’”
Thus, their method is to send these 20th century followers of Christ to do what the first century followers did by finding a home in which they are welcome, and through prayer and the proclamation of the gospel, begin a church right there. Let the people of the village feed and support the church planter rather than others coming in building a foreign church building upon the weak foundation of western funds!
This is the strategy. Not only is it Biblical; it is very effective. Church planters are being educated and sent out and whole villages are being transformed through the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.
The question may well arise in your mind: “If this is the case and the villagers are supporting the church planters, then what need is there for me to financially support this work?” The answer is that these Indian church planters, often very poor, need education. For example, if your church committed $5,000 for this work, The Bible League would direct your contribution to India Bible Literature who would use it to publish 5,000 children’s Bible storybooks. These would be distributed to churches who would then pay only a percentage of the cost (usually 30–50% of the printing cost). This money is then used to provide a year’s training, living expenses and Scripture material for a student of the School of Evangelism. The money sent by your church would not only provide Bibles for churches but also support the education of a future church planter in the School of Evangelism.
Suresh, my interpreter on that Sunday morning, was a student of the School of Evangelism who has since graduated. He is 20 years old and has a deep love for Christ and a desire to spread the good news of salvation to his fellow country-men. Suresh recently sent me a letter in which he wrote:
Brother, herewith I am sending some pictures of village gospel meetings. This village name is Nagayathippa. Here the people are uneducated and living with their own customs and traditions. These people used to worship trees and stones! But God has enabled us to start an outreach ministry by the proclaiming of His Good News. There are 27,000 people living here. In this month [May, ‘95] I have conducted gospel meetings. Praise the Lord. So many people heard the gospel and 121 people were saved. 28 have already taken water baptism!1
He also wrote that he and the church where he is serving are praying for our churches in the United States. They recognize the dangers we face of materialism and humanism, far different from theirs.
That Sunday in January was the highlight of my stay in India. I had the privilege of worshiping with God’s people in a city on the other side of the world, and began a friendship with Suresh, a man burdened to reach the lost in his country.
India is an example of a country and people who for millennia have been under the tyranny of Satan. This has not only affected the inward spirit of the people with a hopelessness inherent to such slavery, but has naturally affected the outward, visible environment. Most Indians live in unsanitary and filthy conditions. Yet, there is a growing community of Christians in India whose lives have been cleansed, inwardly to be sure, but also on the outside. They are shining lights in the darkness, evidence of God’s sovereign power and victory over Satan.
My trip to India this year was both educational and inspiring. I learned about a country of which I had little knowledge beforehand. I learned about and witnessed the fine work being accomplished through The Bible League and Mission 21 India. I learned that there is a spiritual awakening among many to and by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. And I saw the Lord building His Church in ways and places I had not even considered. I was thrilled to bear witness in India that our Lord “WILL build His church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” To God alone be glory!
1. These statistics are taken from a booklet entitled Church Planting in lndia, published by The Bible League.
Rev. VanderMeulen is pastor of Eastmanville Reformed Bible Church.