We sent this in-depth report on the past, present, and future of GSUMC in India to the church family last week.
You can read the direct link, complete with pictures, here.
So what in the world were Chris Thayer, James-Michael Smith and Talbot Davis doing in India over the last couple of weeks? Quite a lot, actually.
We spent time connecting with our partners in that exotic land — the Orissa Follow Up Ministry & Bible College in the Balasore region and the Love Your Neighbor network in the remote Kandhamal district. With both groups of village pastors and church workers, we tried to bring the best of how we know to invite all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. So Talbot taught about sermon series, sermon design, and healing ministry; Chris gave insights into New Testament history; and James-Michael was his usual brilliant self in teaching all about Genesis Chapter One and God’s covenant with Israel.
As some of you may know, this was our second trip to India; exactly a year ago Talbot, Ron Dozier, Mike Dey, Brian Braunschweiger journeyed there to see if these two ministries were right for long-term partnership with GSUMC. As you can tell from the fact that there was a return trip, the answer was YES!
So because our investment with these Indian partners is so large and because we’re in it for the long haul, we want to spend some time addressing some core issues with all the people of Good Shepherd. Issues like Why India? Why This Part Of India? and What’s Next?
A couple of years ago, we decided to go “narrow and deep” in our approach to international missions. What do we mean by that? Well, instead of giving support to a large number of missionaries serving in an array of places around the globe (that’s “wide and shallow”), we opted to move to the model of investing heavily in a few leaders in a specific locale to maximize ministry impact in that one place.
Our criteria in selecting a place centered around three issues: 1) it had to be a country where Christianity was NOT a majority religion; 2) we wanted to partner with local ministries already doing good work; and 3) we needed liaisons we could trust.
India fit the profile on all three counts. Out of a population of 1.2 billion, for example, only 2.5% are Christians. Most Indians are loyal to Hinduism with its pantheon of gods and goddesses. You can say without exaggeration that Hinduism dominates every aspect of Indian culture and identity. So the people of that land are deeply religious already . . . they simply worship the creation rather than the Creator. Our experience there parallels Paul’s in Athens: “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown, I am going to proclaim to you . . . ” (Acts 17:23).
In addition, our exposure to the leadership of Bishop Hrudaya in Balasore and Sushant Naik in Kandhamal convinced us that vital ministry was already occurring even in the face of long odds. Finally, our connection to these two was facilitated by PR Misra whose job with Advancing Native Mission is to connect indigenous ministries in need of resources with churches in the Western world who have resources. PR’s brother JR Misra is a long time part of the Good Shepherd family.
Why This Part Of India?
Out of all the places in India why are we focused on Odisha? It’s a state that almost none of us have ever heard of — yet it has 41 million people which would make it the most populous in the USA!
We go narrow and deep in Odisha for two compelling reasons:
1. The ministry of Bishop Hrudaya and the Orissa Follow Up has shown particular effectiveness at reaching the people Indians call “Untouchable” and leading them to faith in Christ. It’s a beautiful concept, really: Christians love into the kingdom those whom Hindus literally will not touch. We visited one of these “Dalit” villages in 2011; it was a great joy to see that same pastor at this year’s leadership seminar.
2. Our Kandhamal partners are at Ground Zero of persecution against Christians in India. In 2008, a wave of Hindu extremists destroyed the homes of over 200 Christian families, killed 40 church members and leaders, and displaced hundreds of others. The persecution continues four years later, although in ways that don’t get quite so many headlines. The Kandhamal Christians literally fear for their lives as they gather to worship. So we have the great privilege of partnering with Jesus’ people who are re-living the persecution that is the backdrop of the book of Revelation — with the same kind of courageous faithfulness to which that book calls us.
By the way, in one of our 2011 visits to a Kandhamal village church, we held an impromptu healing service. The pastor told us at this year’s seminar that a man for whom our team prayed had his hearing restored that day. Living relationship indeed!
The reason for this lengthy communication is to let the people of this church know we’re in India for the long run. We’ll still take mission trips to Ecuador and Haiti in our hemisphere, but you’ll be hearing a great deal about our impact in Odisha over the next few years.
We see that for 2013 and beyond, we’ll send at least two teams per year to Odisha. Small teams of committed staff and dedicated laity; teams who can provide medical expertise, discipleship training, children’s ministry, and, of course, encouragement and equipping for village pastors.
In addition to that human capital, we who have such financial resources will be sharing with our brothers and sisters who have almost none. It’s already begun: we’ve funded the repainting and restoration of the Odisha Follow Up facilities and we supplied 30 pastors with brand new bicycles. Now they won’t have to walk from village to village as they offer Christ.
Our options are wide for future resourcing:
1. A series of bore wells that our Christian leaders will make sure to offer to their Hindu neighbors. “Living Water” they call them.
2. Motorized transportation for pastors who supervise village pastors.
3. Support of indigenous missionaries serving as pastors of village churches.
4. In the long run, we’d love to provide and staff a medical van which would be used to bless villagers — Christian and Hindu alike — with the gift of life and health.
While we don’t have directed giving at Good Shepherd, please know that your generosity to God can help us resource our Indian friends sooner rather than later.
We appreciate your interest in our partnerships in India and all your prayers while we were away. Our prayer is that as you become more aware of and energized by what we’re doing in India, your own living relationship with Jesus Christ will be blessed indeed.