Talking - and Listening - to God in India
September 22, 2016
Living comfortably in a modern city in southern India, a young Christian heard God's call to proclaim Christ in a distant land where His name was unknown. The young man didn't like what he was hearing.
In India it is considered great fortune to land a job with the government, and Philip Zacharia* had been working for only six months at a post office in Bangalore - a job he had obtained after much struggle. He had been conversing regularly with God since age 17, when he gave his life to Christ after deciding not to kill himself, and now it was leading him to unpleasant frontiers.
"I'd only been there six months, and now the Lord was asking me to leave it and go," Zacharia said. "That was really, really hard for me."
After much struggle, he resigned and began training with a mission agency. He was not sure where the Lord was sending him, but he committed himself to the call. One day a missionary visited his Bible school in southern India and told the students that there was a state in northern India that was known as "the graveyard of missionaries." Bihar state was infamous for its lack of development, widespread crime and entrenched resistance to the gospel from Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains.
"He was shouting filthy language," the evangelist said. "I asked, 'Am I not a human being?' He said, 'If you speak more, I will kill you.'"
"Even today, there is no law and order, no electricity, no good roads, no life security," Zacharia said. "That was an extremely, extremely bad place where nobody liked to go. Christians were afraid to send anybody to that state because of lack of security."
The missionary asked the students to pray for Bihar state.
"I prayed for a few weeks, 'Lord, send someone to Bihar,'" Zacharia said. "But the Lord said, 'Not someone else - you must go.'"
Originally from a reputable Catholic family in Kerala state, Zacharia went to Bihar in 1984. He quickly learned that no one wanted to hear about Christ and that, as Christian, he was considered a low-caste "untouchable." One day when he was exhausted from his work, he knocked on someone's door to ask for a glass of water. The man who opened it looked him over and asked what caste he was.
"I said, 'I'm a Christian' - and my goodness, by hearing 'Christian' he was so upset," he said. "He was shouting filthy language. I asked, 'Am I not a human being?' He said, 'If you speak more, I will kill you.' His trouble was that, being an untouchable, I touched his door. So his door became unclean."
Zacharia went back to his hovel and told the Lord he didn't want to try doing anything more in Bihar. He had been there for more than a year. He packed his suitcase and went to a neighboring state, where he soon led some people to put their faith in Christ. Zacharia enjoyed a rare sensation that something good was happening, but his habit of conversing with God again left him with something hard to hear. The Lord told him he was not in the right place, he said.
"I said, 'Lord, I don't like Bihar; I am ready to go anywhere else,'" he said. "But again, the Lord told me to go to Bihar. I took three days fasting. And I said, 'The people don't accept me.' That was my big concern - more than evangelism, being treated as a human being. I liked to sit with people and talk, get some kind of respect from them, from the community. I said, 'Lord if I'm to go to Bihar, show me something.'"
God soon gave him a vision to start a school in Bihar. Zacharia said the Lord helped him supernaturally to start a school, and people began to see him as a principal, rather than a missionary, opening the way for him to sit and have tea with them. God had solved his problem of how to become a respectable member of the community in order to develop relationships, but, 10 years later, only three people had put their faith in Christ.
Moreover, when villagers found out that those few people had become Christians, they tried to stop his work. He had begun to draw what for him were huge crowds - 15 people - at his evangelistic presentations after his wife began visiting villages with him; her presence drew area women who were the social connectivity of their communities. Zacharia and his family were returning home after one such presentation when a band of people with covered faces stopped them. One put a large knife to his stomach.
Zacharia instinctively began talking with God, claiming the Lord's care for him, and somehow he, his wife and small children were able to pass through the hostile band, he said.
"The Lord delivered me from their hands," he said. "Within two years, 30 people came to the Lord. Then one night, six people came to the meeting, and while I was talking, one of the men took out his gun, and he wanted to shoot me - he was trying to pull the trigger, but it didn't work. The very next day he had an accident, and the Lord allowed me to take him to the hospital."
Since then, in a state that is 18 percent Muslim, 78 percent Hindu and 0.1 percent Christian, Zacharia's ministry has planted hundreds of house churches - a total of more than 1,800 fellowships there and in five other states - as well as several churches worshipping in their own buildings. The four schools his ministry has begun serve 3,500 children.
His conversations with Christ carried him through it all. Talking with God was his habit from the beginning of his faith journey in 1979, when he lifted up his grandfather's Bible to get some paper on which to write a suicide note. He heard a voice say, "My son, open and read." He looked out the door to see if he had heard someone outside and saw no one. Returning for the paper before his plan of throwing himself in front of a train, he heard the same command and opened to Ecclesiastes 7:16-17, "Why destroy yourself?" and, "Do not be a fool - why die before your time?"
"So I just said, Lord, if you love me, take care of my life," he said. "That prayer changed all my life. A great joy came into my heart, and the room was filled with a great brightness. I don't know how much time I spent there. I forgot about committing suicide."
The ministry God started through Zacharia has expanded to include leadership training, literacy training, basic medical care, vocational training for women and a children's home providing food, clothing, medical care and education for orphaned and abandoned kids.
Zacharia said he lived in the same dangerous area of Bihar for 23 years before his ministry board recommended he move to another site in the state, where he has been the past nine years.
"I thank the Lord for my wife, who never asked to move to a safer place," he said. "My life is still threatened almost every day. Whenever I go traveling, my wife takes three days fasting and keeps on praying for my protection. God is really making a difference in Bihar, I'm so excited about what the Lord is doing there. Thank you for Christian Aid Mission's support, and pray for us."
To help indigenous missionaries to meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 670ECFC. Thank you!
* names changed for security reasons