Greetings in the name of our Lord whose we are and whom we serve! I am back after an amazing three week ministry in Orissa, India. I know that you had been praying for Lilly and I. Thank you for your prayers and support. God kept us safe and poured out His grace as we traveled from one village to another with His gospel.
How can I fully share the breakthroughs, my excitement and the great possibilities? I am limited by words. I also do not want to give away too many details since most of my communications are believed to be monitored by fanatics. I pray that the Holy Spirit will communicate what I cannot do.
IT ALL BEGAN
Well, it all began in 1981, when we went as a family to a primitive southern Orissa and lived in a very remote village in Orissa (click here to read more about this story). We lived in a grass hut made for Rs. 50, fetched water from the nearby stream, cooked food with wood collected from the nearby forest and used lamps for light. We would then travel from village to village, sharing the gospel to people and tribes who had NEVER heard the name of Jesus. It is estimated that as a result of those seeds more than 1000 churches were planted and several hundred indigenous leaders were trained among these once unreached peoples.
Well, earlier this year, as I recalled those small beginnings in Orissa I felt compelled to go back to another unreached region in Orissa and do it all over again.
DOING IT ALL OVER AGAIN
So, in November 2009, Lilly and I arrived in Orissa. A mud hut was built in a village for us to stay and use as our base for travel from village to village. However, due to serious concerns for our safety, we were asked by my co-workers to stay in the nearby town of Baripada. We soon found a one room house with a kitchen and a small toilet. We rented few chairs, bought some cooking utensils and settled down. I stacked up our two suitcases and it served as my office table. It was heaven for us, because our Lord was with us. We also purchased a motorbike (Rs. 45,000) to help us travel from village to village. In 1981, I remembered, we rode rickety bicycles. Thankfully, we also had access to a jeep borrowed from another region, to help our long distance travels and to carry our evangelistic tools—tents, portable PA system, gospel literature.
THE PASTOR’S SEMINAR
IET had already started work in this region some time ago. We began by gathering the 46 church planters in this region. Lilly and I ministered to them for two days. These church planters, facing persecution and loneliness in remote areas, have no other discipleship resources available. They soaked up the Word.
The third day onwards we began to travel from one village to another, from one tribe to another, with the gospel message. It was extremely dangerous but our lives are not ours. I felt a great excitement as I carried the gospel, along with my team of co-workers, from one people group to another.
A TYPICAL DAY
On a typical day, we would leave for a pre-selected village at 8:30 AM. Some of my co-workers would have left much earlier to set up a make shift tent at the village. No one in the village would be informed of our intentions. This was done to protect any planned attacks. A few hours before the meeting would start, the brothers and sisters who spoke the village language would go from house to house and invite people for to come and hear Good News. By 10:30 AM, our brothers and sisters would start to sing songs in the village language. The songs would be accompanied with indigenous musical instruments, lot of clapping and, at times, even some tribal dance. People, mostly curious, would come under the tent and find a place on the sheets spread on the ground. I would finally stand up to share.
I would explain the ‘message of salvation’ in very simple and clear terms through a translator. At the end we prayed for those who would be open to receive our Lord. The first session would end after noon, when those gathered would have a common meal—a heap of rice with little bit of watered down lentil soup. We would all sit on the floor and eat together.
Then we would get back under the tent. Lilly and I would preach again, teaching how a disciple of Jesus should live. It is critical to not only lay down the plan of salvation but also to teach on holiness. After all we are called not just to be born again but also to be His disciples. Each message would be translated into the state or tribal language. In every village we would end up with a group of people keenly interested to follow Jesus Christ. The IET leader for this region would then assign one of the church planters a group of villages. The church planter would follow up, to disciple the seekers and new believers in each village. The goal is to establish churches in each village and ultimately train indigenous pastors in the next few years.
WOULD YOU COME TO OUR VILLAGE?
Extremely tired, we would return to our one room house by evening, looking for a peaceful meal and some rest. However, by the time we reached the house we would find people waiting for us. They had heard about our message. And, they would ask my fellow IET workers, “Would you come to our village?” We could see the eagerness in their eyes. How could our comfort come in the way of His call? So, we would quickly finish our meal and drag out tired bodies to another village. Every evening we would speak to a new tribe or in a new village.
Every village we visited, we found villagers waiting for the ‘people with the book’. As soon as they saw our jeep lights, they would start to sing, welcoming us in their tribal way. Our feet would be washed with water, a tribal custom, and oil would be applied. Our eyes would always fill up with tears at this great love, at the open doors and at the privilege He has given us to be His gospel carriers. I would stand by the oil lamp, wave the bugs with one hand and preach from the Bible in other hand. The masses huddled on bare floor and on leaves would listen as I shared about our Lord and His love.
UNDER HIS WINGS
Orissa is one of the most dangerous places for Christians. Proselytization is prohibited by law. Every day several Christians are attacked and some even killed. Fanatic Hindus are being trained all over and fanatic groups have spread terror throughout Orissa. Refugees from the last mass-attack against Christians are still afraid to go back to their village. Most live in fear. So, we had to be very careful. No one knew of our plans. It was only a few hours before we started our meetings, that our brothers and sisters would go from house to house in that village and invite people for prayer. We went to so many villages; we held so many meetings in the open; we prayed with hundreds of people. It was amazing that the news of our activities did not leak out and no attack took place. In few places there were disturbances created by local hoodlums, but God soon brought those under control. God protected us and allowed us freedom to preach, even in such dangerous times. As I look back, I realize that it was also your faithful prayer that guaranteed our protection.
MANOHARPUR: WHERE GRAHAM STAINES WAS KILLED
We also decided to visit Manoharpur where the Australian missionary, Graham Staines, working among the lepers, was torched alive along with his two young sons. The few Christians in this region live under great fear. Many have even backslidden. I remembered the words of a pastor, “Only a continuing revival can keep a church on fire.” History shows us that Christianity will soon become a ritualistic religion or a dead faith if there is no continuing discipleship and revival. We all need ongoing individual and communal revival within us.
Manoharpur is a tiny tribal village with no electricity and few Christians. The Christians there told me the tragic story that happened on 22nd January 1999. My heart cried out for the unreached nations and for my fellow brothers and sisters who pay the price. As I stood there, I prayed that through this sacrifice the Church in Orissa will find great strength and eventually spread out wilder and stronger. I, also, remembered the words of Tertullian, the church father:
In A.D. 197, writing to the Roman governor of his province, who was persecuting the Christians loyal to the empire and its laws, Tertullian wrote, “…kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. Therefore God suffers (allows) that we thus suffer; for very lately, in condemning a Christian woman to the leno (prostitute) rather than to the leo (lion) you made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.
About 100 Christians gathered in the small church building at Manoharpur. I encouraged them to continue to trust Him, live for our Lord, and be His witnesses. The next day was Sunday. We erected our tent in an open ground here and began to sing songs. About 300 people gathered, more than 100 of them were non-Christians. Many of us were afraid of possible attack. But, we continue to worship our Lord. Lilly and I preached. I encouraged and admonished the believers. At the end as we began to pray; several non-Christians came asking for prayer. One Hindu priest sitting at the back walked up to one of my co-workers and asked, “Do you think that he will pray for me?” I held his hands, hared about the love of our Lord and prayed for him.
As we finished up our time at Manoharpur, I was asked by a pastor to come back in January 2010. He informed me that they conduct convention every 21st to 24th January to mark the martyrdom of Graham Staines. The next convention would be conducted in a forest. He informed that they do not have money to pay my train fare, but he asked Lilly and I, “Would you come?” How could I refuse? I immediately cancelled all my plans to make arrangements to be in the forest with our fellow brothers and sisters. Plans are being made for over 2000 believers from various parts of Orissa to gather in this forest for four days. Many will walk long distance. Each believer will bring their share of rice to feed them during the four days here. Many will stay in temporary tents or in homes of other Christians in surrounding villages. I pray that God will use this time to heal, encourage, and revive. I need His grace and ask for your prayers. Would you pray, please?
We have experienced significant breakthroughs in many villages. IET church planters are already carrying out the follow-up work. The goal is to use the breakthroughs and establish healthy communities of faith within the next two years. I believe that with continuing support--training, tools, and finances--at least 100 new churches will be planted in this region within the next few years.
WHAT DO WE NEED
We need to build a ministry center here to train new church planters and to provide continuing training to the current ministry leaders in this region. This is a critical need. The need is to purchase a 2 acre land and build classrooms and dormitories to get the ministry center running. We have a trained and able church planting leader in place to run this center. Meanwhile, the immediate need is for some critical ministry tools to continue the follow up work. These include 1000 Bibles (Rs. 80 per copy), 5 motorcycles for the junior leaders (Rs. 45000 per bike) and one jeep (Rs. 450,000). Would you pray for these needs?
I want to thank you for letting us be part of your lives and prayers. I have always believed that we are a team. Those who drive the jeeps, those who preach, those who prayerfully send and those who provide finances are co-equal members of this team. I am humbled that He would choose us to serve Him together.
Once again, thank you for your friendship and prayerful support. Please do continue to stand with us. Continue to pray for IET, particularly for the villages where visited during our recent Orissa stay.
Finally, I encourage you to stay faithful to Him and His call to fulfill the Great Commission, even to the uttermost parts of the world. May we give our all to reach the unreached.
His slave and your brother,