by Larry Malone, director of AMG MissionsLanterns and Spiritual Light Are
On a recent trip to the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, it was my privilege to visit many of the over 600 national workers partnering with AMG to reach India for Christ. Most of these faithful servants of the Lord work in remote villages. It was a joy to be able to visit with them, and be able to hear of their blessings and their hardships.
We who live in America might well think of their living conditions as a hardship, but for most of these national evangelists, getting along without electricity and modern conveniences has been their lot all their life. What do they ask for to improve their ministry? During my last Sunday in India, spent with 60 village evangelists from the north of Andhra Pradesh, I asked what we might do to help them in a tangible way. One, speaking for the crowd, asked if we might be able to provide gas lanterns so that they could see at night and small drums to be used to call the villagers to services.
Lanterns may not seem like much, but they could be extremely helpful in conducting literacy classes-which have proved very effective in reaching villagers for Christ. In many of the small villages most of the people cannot read, so the national evangelists hold literacy classes every evening as the people come in from the fields. Teaching them to read yields the double result of gaining their confidence and of making it possible for them to read the Bible and Christian literature.
This "life-style evangelism" usually brings steady, rather than spectacular, results. The evangelists are not emphasizing great meetings but are seeking to plant small groups of believers in villages where people have access to hear about Jesus and His saving power. Once a group or church is planted they then begin the life-long process of discipling the new believers.
Bucking the Current
Hindu extremism has become a major issue and has cast a baleful shadow over India. Militant Hindus have worked for years to infiltrate their members into every influential part of society, and have now gained a measure of political power and patronage. A rapid increase in intimidation and violence against first Muslims and then Christians was evident in the 1990s, stigmatizing them as "foreign," and this antagonism continues to build.
Because of this, some of AMG's village evangelists have been kicked out of villages and warned not to return. These men, with their wives, are committed believers who have surrendered their lives to God's call. At times they grow discouraged, as they suffer hardship, but they are committed to sharing the love of God with neighbors and fellow countrymen. For example, not long ago an evangelist named Solomon was preaching in a bus station in the village of Narsaraopet, when a terrorist came up to him. Brandishing his sword, he threatened to kill Solomon if he preached the gospel of Christ. Solomon breathed a silent prayer for help and then boldly shared his testimony. As the bus approached, the terrorist walked away without harming Solomon. Solomon took the bus to the next town and held a cottage meeting, at which 25 Hindus confessed their sins and received Christ.
Another instance concerned Sujanamma, who is a "Bible woman," working with Hindu women. Her ministry consists of visiting in homes and holding cottage meetings. In one village, as she presented the gospel, an angry Hindu woman stoned her. As blood streamed from her face, she sat and prayed for the conversion of the woman. The next day the woman came to her house and apologized. She invited Sujanamma to dinner, and Sujanamma was able to give her testimony at the woman's home.
Due to the heightened tension throughout the country, AMG national workers are finding it extremely difficult to evangelize and plant churches, because the villagers will not allow them to build dwellings or meeting places unless they already own property there. Our national director for India, Arun K. Mohanty, has suggested a workable solution, which AMG will attempt to implement as widely as needed: For about $2,000, AMG can purchase a piece of land in each village and build living quarters, along with a small room that could be used for worship.
While there is a real need for support for additional national workers-$50 a month, on average, when combined with income from his own labor, will enable one of these partners in the gospel to live and minister-without a doubt their greatest need is for prayer support. Please, pray that:
1) The worst of the instigators of violence may repent of their evil and find forgiveness in Christ.
2) The lies, bigotry, barrenness, and destructiveness of this extremism to India's social cohesion and unity might be exposed and lead many to consider the claims of Christ. The martyrdom of missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in 1999, and the ensuing publicity, caused widespread embarrassment to most Hindus.
3) Christians might be united and courageous in the face of widespread and localized persecution. The number of attacks on Christians has rapidly increased-from 1964-1996 there were 38 recorded incidents. In the subsequent three years there were over 300. By 2001 there was, on average, an incident every 36 hours. Though these are still relatively few in a country of India's size, they have had a deep effect on the Christian population.
4) The re-conversion' program by Hindu extremists might prove an expensive failure, and that threatened Christians may stand firm in Christ whatever the cost.
5) Christians may show the love and forgiveness of Christ to their persecutors.