TAKING CHRIST TO THE HIMALAYAS:
The witness of Christ prevails among Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists.
Bible correspondence literature used in Nepal
South Asia—the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, with strong Muslim elements—is seeing the witness of Christ being spread and strengthened among its nations. The witness of indigenous messengers is key.
Many Indians believe that the apostle Thomas came to southern India in the first century. Indeed, there is evidence to support such claims, including church sites that date to ancient times and his alleged grave outside Madras.
Early Christianity came under the patronage of kings and ministers of high-caste Hindus and eventually differed little from Hinduism, lacking real life or zeal. By the time India had gained her independence from Britain in 1947, Christians composed only 2% of the population.
Following independence, many foreign missionaries found that their visas were not renewed, though some remained under certain circumstances. Under the foreigners, local believers had very little leadership responsibility. Once the foreigners left, Indian Christians picked up the mantle of leadership and began taking the gospel to their countrymen with vigor.
Many followed in the tradition of Sadhu Sundar Singh, the son of a Sikh nobleman who forsook all to follow Christ. In the first part of the 20th century he wandered barefoot over the mountains to preach the gospel to inhabitants of Nepal and Tibet. Following that model, P.J. Thomas in Kerala began training itinerant preachers and started the first women's Bible training center in India.
P.M. Thomas, another Keralite, went to Kashmir in 1963 and began a ministry among Muslims and Hindus. That movement continues today with 260 national missionaries serving among Himalaya nations. In addition, it spawned a dozen other organizations, large and small, that have nearly 3000 missionaries on the field.
Bakht Singh found Christ in Canada and returned to start a discipleship movement in India in 1933 that resulted in the birth of thousands of assemblies. The witness spread to Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan.
Others too numerous to name started great works of God. Many of these began Bible colleges or missionary training centers, and a fleet of suwarthiks – native barefoot preachers – began going to India's 600,000 villages. By 2000 evangelical Christians composed 5% of India's population, according to David Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia.
TRIED IN THE FIRE
The strengthening of hard-line Hinduism under the Bharatiya Janata Party has increased opposition to the gospel. Churches are invaded by angry mobs and missionaries are harassed, threatened, beaten, and sometimes even killed. The burning to death of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, aged 7 and 9, in 1999, shocked the world.
Cyclones and floods strike Bangladesh and eastern India annually. Provisions supplied by Christian Aid gifts help local missionaries reach out to poor villages.
Since then mission groups native to India have adapted to the situation. While traditional churches are still being planted, house and cell churches multiply by the thousands. One ministry has planted 20,000 such clusters of Christians in 14 states of North India. Ministries also are quick to meet the practical needs of people with feeding programs, schooling, rehabilitation, medical clinics and other social outreaches.
Millions of Dalits ("untouchables"), fed up with their maltreatment under Hinduism, are seeking to change their religious affiliation. Programs are underway in some states to disciple tens of thousands. Numbers are not publicized to refrain from inflaming the opposition.
HINDU KINGDOM OF NEPAL
When Nepal opened to foreigners in the 1950s, Christianity was identified with the foreigners who entered. About that time, Prem Pradhan, a Nepali serving in the Indian army, was converted through a street preacher discipled by Bakht Singh. Prem began taking the gospel to his own people, taking care not to mix foreign tradition with the truth of the Scripture.
One ministry leader, a former Hindu priest, likewise traveled over most of Nepal preaching the gospel and began a Bible correspondence course that has so far enrolled 400,000 students. These disciples in turn have started hundreds of groups of believers.
It is estimated there are now more than 500,000 Nepali believers brought to faith almost exclusively by indigenous ministries.
Faith in Christ has also spread into the Buddhist stronghold of Bhutan. Though churches are banned, clusters of believers meet secretly, discipled by those who cross the border to receive training in India, or by brave apostles who proclaim the faith secretly from house to house.
Many believers in South Asia lack meeting halls in which to meet for worship.
Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century B.C., and born-again Christians compose barely 2% of the population. In 2003 increased Buddhist nationalism and intolerance have recently unleashed a wave of attacks on Christians.
The situation in Bangladesh is similar, except Islam is the dominant religion, and evangelical Christians number less than half a percent.
With the partition of India in 1947, many Hindus in what is now Pakistan fled to India, and Muslims in India fled to Pakistan—all amid widespread violence. Pakistan was given dominion status by the British, and became an independent republic in 1956, declaring Islam to be the state religion.
Indigenous evangelical Christians number less than half of one percent, and a growing anti-Christian sentiment in recent years increases potential violence against them. Yet one ministry claims to have planted 2000 churches (mostly house groups).
In all these lands, Christian Aid supports 255 ministries that have an estimated 25,000 local missionaries proclaiming the gospel to their people.