Christmas Parties Prove Popular in Hindu India
November 17, 2016
An evangelist in India was excited about the idea of throwing Christmas parties as a way to introduce the gospel to his neighbors. Then hard-line Hindus threatened to kill him.
Pastor Philip Zacharia* had been praying for four years about how to bring together his staunchly Hindu neighbors in Bihar state, "graveyard of missionaries," to hear the gospel. When he learned of the gospel potential of Christmas parties from a Danish friend at an evangelists' conference convoked by Billy Graham in Amsterdam in August 2000, it seemed to be the answer to his prayers.
Up to that point, his efforts to proclaim Christ had met with scant success. Rather, it had stirred the ire of Hindu extremists, who in October of that year summoned him to a meeting.
"They were accusing me of trying to convert people," Pastor Zacharia said, "and one of the men said, 'We've tried to kill you many times, but somehow you escaped. We've called you today to give you the last warning. If you continue to preach, your children will become orphans, and you will be responsible for that.'"
The strapping men towered above him, and he began to pray. He tried to engage them in conversation, but they only told him to leave and to stop preaching the God of Christianity.
"I was excited about this idea of Christmas parties, and now these guys are telling me, 'If you preach anymore, you'll be killed,'" the missionary said. "I didn't want to share those things with my wife."
"So I was coming back home and thinking, 'Lord what to do?'" he said. "I was excited about this idea of Christmas parties, and now these guys are telling me, 'If you preach anymore, you'll be killed.' I didn't want to share those things with my wife, I didn't want to share those things with the church. I was keeping it in my heart and praying, 'Lord what to do?' and the Lord said, 'Go forward.'"
Without telling anyone about the death threats, he began preparing for the Christmas program, going house-to-house to extend the invitations. Unknowingly, he knocked on the door of the Hindu extremist who had threatened to kill him.
"He's the head of all the Hindu extremist groups," Pastor Zacharia said. "He opened the door and said, 'What?' I gave him the invitation and said, 'This Christmas we're going to have a Christmas program, and I wish you to come with your family.' This fellow took the card and shut the door; my heart was beating fast."
Again he asked God what to do, and that day he stopped distributing invitations.
"On my way back, I was thinking, 'Lord they will kill me,' but nobody came for me, praise the Lord," he said.
He later resumed handing out invitations and had a tent erected for 300 people, including a stage for song and dance. Having no idea how many people would come, he had food prepared for no more than 50. Within a half hour of opening the tent doors, all the chairs were filled; eventually 550 people crowded in.
Pastor Zacharia had begun preaching on the real meaning of Christmas when his wife asked him what to do about feeding the people.
"I said, 'The Lord who can turn water into wine, the same Lord is here. Just pray and give out the food,'" he said. "So I finished preaching, but my heart was beating hard, because if I fed half the people and said no to half the people, you can imagine the trouble. Inside I was crying. Finally, the Lord multiplied that food - remembering it, I still get emotional - and it was enough for all 550 people. Then the neighbors became much more friendly."
Friendships generated from yearly Christmas parties - including preaching, a testimony, and children singing and dancing - over the past 15 years have led to thousands of people enjoying Christian fellowship in Bihar, a state that is otherwise 78 percent Hindu and 18 percent Muslim.
The next year more neighbors came to the Christmas parties, and the third year the festivities expanded to a few other villages. In 2003 the state governor, chief minister and other political leaders attended, an event that was well received, and in 2004 Pastor Zacharia began to train other pastors to hold Christmas parties in five other states.
"The pastors were trained, and they went back and trained their church people," he said. "They were all excited about the outcome. Gradually we trained more and more and spread this vision, and the Lord enabled us to train 28,000 pastors all over India."
In 2007, God gave the pastor a vision for 50,000 Christmas parties throughout the country, he said, and in December 2010 more than that amount took place.
"We got more than 46,000 written reports from these places and churches and denominations," Pastor Zacharia said. "Even today, it's one of the best ways to reach our neighbors."
This year, the ministry is planning to hold its first Christmas party at which government officials from the state of Jammu and Kashmir will be invited.
"It's the only state in India that is 97 percent Muslim," the pastor said. "We'll appreciate your prayers. Kashmir is not an easy job; any time, people there could attack."
At the event, which will cost $3,000 to stage, the pastor hopes a high official will share his testimony of how he came to Christ. The gospel will be presented in a culturally sensitive but uncompromising way for the Muslim majority in attendance, he said.
The ministry seeks assistance to cover the costs of the event, as well as the $1,000 to $1,500 per session it takes to train pastors to put on Christmas parties throughout India, he said.
"At Christmas time, if you invite people to your home, they will be so happy to come," he said. "The people who don't like Christianity won't come. Those who come are prepared to hear what we're going to preach. Those people will be so attentive. They will sit nicely there and listen to what you have to say. It's a wonderful opportunity."
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*Name changed for security