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Defeating Dark Powers in the Jungles of India

March 17, 2016

 Former animists from the Korwa people group worship Christ in Jharkhand state, central India.
Former animists from the Korwa people group worship Christ in Jharkhand state, central India.

In one of India's most remote jungle areas, among one of its most primitive tribes, a most unlikely candidate to be a missionary wandered aimlessly among the wildlife as mental illness deprived him of his right mind for weeks at a time.

Pratik* would intermittently come back to his senses and return to his wife at their village home in an undisclosed area of Chhattisgarh, one of India's poorest and most illiterate states. For six years he bounced between lucidity and insanity, caroming between home and jungle thick with flora and predators. His wife feared for his life.

This cycle might have continued indefinitely if someone from an opposite background – a well-educated man from a Christian home in a more modern part of India – had not hit upon a compelling missionary model. In 2002, after working as a near-culture missionary planting churches in central and north India for nearly 20 years, Siddharth Subramani* was concerned about the thousands of people groups in India yet to hear the message of salvation in Christ.

In prayer, he received the idea of concentrating efforts on the more responsive people groups, who in turn would set off movements to embrace Christ among other peoples – a "chain reaction" strategy.

He began with the Gonds of central India, idol- and nature-worshiping animists who suffer daily from hunger and other conditions of poverty. With the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, Subramani and his team of indigenous missionaries gradually saw Gond villagers' addiction to alcohol turn into zeal for the Lord. Hut-to-hut evangelism, praying for the sick, evening meetings and proclaiming Christ through music – a powerful communication tool in India – gradually produced worshipping congregations. Literacy programs and Christian schools addressed a major impediment to the advance of Gonds, many of whom had only a third-grade education. New believers were then trained to minister to other near-culture groups.

As a chain reaction in chemistry or physics is a sequence of reactions in which outcomes produce further outcomes – which under certain conditions may dramatically accelerate – the like missionary strategy advanced the gospel across many barriers. In previously unreached areas among the Gonds, Sahu, Oravan, Khadia, Kanwar and Chamar, 50 fellowships emerged. These in turn helped Subramani's ministry bring the message of salvation to unreached areas of the Bhuiya and the Korwa peoples.

Like a seemingly random element careening about the universe, one such Christian Korwa was a friend of Pratik. Conditions were right for the advance of God's kingdom when he ran into Pratik early last year during one of Pratik's periods of right-mindedness – another "random" event that, from a biblical viewpoint, is nothing less than the sovereignty and providence of God.

"He heard about the Lord Jesus Christ through one of his friends, and he wanted to know more about the Lord," Subramani said. "Through the jungle and mountain paths he walked 50 kilometers [31 miles] to reach our Korwa congregation. Our native missionary and the local congregation prayed for him. The Lord delivered him from the mental illness, and he has become completely normal."

Pratik later put his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and he has become a new person in Christ, Subramani said.

"After tasting the love and deliverance of our Lord Jesus Christ, he started visiting the villages in a 15-kilometer radius and preached the gospel, telling what the Lord had done in his life," he said. "Within six months he has planted five congregations in five villages, and in a few other villages he has brought one or two families to Christ. During my last visit to his village, the Lord enabled me to baptize more than 50 Korwa people."

In that undisclosed area, more than 400 Korwa have come to Christ though the ministry of Pratik and an indigenous missionary, one of the ministry's 60 indigenous workers, he said. The Joshua Project describes the Korwa people of India as unreached, defined as evangelicals making up no more than 2 percent of the population. The Korwa of India (they are also present in Bangladesh) are 1.02 percent "professing Christian," and the percentage of evangelicals is "unknown," according to the Joshua Project.

A man from the Korwa people group in Chhattisgarh.
A man from the Korwa people group in Chhattisgarh state put his faith in Christ after church prayers healed him of painful sores.

"The Korwa are the most primitive tribal people in central India," Subramani said. "As far as we know, no other mission is working among this people group in this part of central India. Their villages are usually on hilltops or covered with thick forest. They are animistic, and they also believe in magic and witchcraft. Witchcraft plays a very important role in their social life."

Nearly all Korwa people, including some children, are addicted to liquor made locally from rice powder and a jungle flower, he said.

"We are the pioneers to work among them with a special concentration on them," said Subramani, whose ministry also works in neighboring Jharkhand state. "The Bhuiya people group is also unreached in the area where we work. The Munda and Oravan people groups have strong churches in three districts of Jharkhand, but in one district of Jharkhand they are mostly unreached, and therefore we concentrate our ministry among them."

From September through November of last year, the ministry reached 4,050 people who had never heard the gospel in 135 villages; they were from the Korwa, Gond, Bhuiya and Khadia groups, he said. Of these people, 1,196 placed their faith in Christ for salvation and seven congregations were planted. During that period, 271 people joined churches and another 287 people were "ready to join the Lord's fold," he said.

"There are so many young believers, both young men and women, who have turned to Christ from the Korwa, Munda, Oravan and Bhuiya people groups," Subramani said. "We teach them the Word of God and train them in techniques of church planting in the mission field context at our satellite school. We Praise God for what the Lord is doing through the life and witness of these very simple new believers."

*Names changed for security reasons

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SC: MIR