The question put to a 38-year-old native of a village in southern India startled him.
Raised in the rites of a traditional Christian denomination, Thomas* was taken aback that the answer wasn’t initially clear to him when he heard the question: “How many of you are not Christians?”
He was standing with dozens of others at an open-air evangelistic event where the preacher was speaking in his native Telugu. Thomas had gone to Sunday church services as far back as he could remember, and it never occurred to him not to do so. Then why did it seem like the answer to the question might be “Yes”?
Thomas knew that he was not Hindu, the religion of most of those around him, and he knew he was not a Muslim. But it occurred to him that he didn’t know what a Christian actually believed or did.
He raised his hand along with many others.
The speaker stood among them and told them that humanity was meant to be in fellowship with God, but that humanity had broken that closeness by going his own way, said the leader of a native ministry that trained the speaker. The evangelist continued, saying God kept loving humans in spite of their sin and sent His Son to pay the penalty – death on a cross – for it.
“Then Thomas realized that relationship with Jesus is a gift from God and not from good deeds, but he didn’t want to accept this truth,” the ministry leader said.
For months afterward Thomas undertook kind and charitable deeds to try to earn the right to have fellowship with God, the leader said.
“One day he truly confessed to God that he was a sinner and that he couldn’t save himself,” he said. “He asked Jesus to come into his life so that he could start living for Him. Ever since he asked Jesus to take control of his life, his eyes have been opened, and he recognizes His presence everywhere.”
In a country where the Lord is revealed to many Hindus and tribal animists as the one true God only after healing prayer or other miraculous signs, a nominal Christian realized it only after seeing his shortcomings in the light of Christ.
“Now Thomas realizes that he is not perfect, but he is now a radically different person,” the leader said. “Now he doesn’t trust in his own efforts anymore, because he knows that God will take care of him. He just trusted in Jesus and started telling others about Him because of all the joy He’s given him.”
Conflicts and Trials
Called to serve the poor, many native missionaries are working among India’s 73 million people living in extreme poverty – 5.5 percent of the country’s population.
In Andhra Pradesh, where Thomas lives, and in several other states of India, poverty contributes to Christians facing conflicts from religious, caste and political tensions, the ministry leader said. They incur disdain simply because they are poor, he said.
“The root cause of all these issues is poverty,” he said. “Unless churches or Christian communities address this issue strategically, it is difficult to do any kind of mission in rural areas.”
Projects that elevate villagers’ economic level must accompany gospel outreaches, he said.
“We are supplying them with gospel tracts, books and Bibles helpful for their spiritual growth, and for the needy we are providing schoolbooks, clothing and supporting them in their medical issues,” the leader said. “We are standing with them in every difficulty they are facing, so that they can share and do the same with their friends and bring them to God. We personally go and visit them and encourage them to stand firm in the knowledge of God.”
In 10 villages in Andhra Pradesha and seven others in neighboring Karnataka state, workers recently brought the gospel of Christ to homes, hospitals and prisons. They also held gospel meetings and free medical camps and feeding programs, among other outreaches.
“We have also visited some schools and colleges by distributing New Testament Bibles to every student,” the leader said. “Every week, we send our follow-up team along with newly saved believers who have come from Hindu background to share their testimonies with them to the places where we have visited, encouraging and strengthening them with the Word of God.”
In Andhra Pradesh state, where 90 percent of the population is Hindu, native missionaries follow up with those who have put their faith in Christ through Bible studies and regular worship, among other means. Planting churches is a process that takes time, he said.
“We have started prayer groups and Bible studies in some villages where people are hungry for the true, living God,” the leader said. “We are also supporting them in their basic physical needs where they can build their faith in God, and encouraging them to start a home church in their villages. We are praying to construct a church building in some villages where people are showing more interest in the Lord.”
Most people who put their faith in Christ in India grew up in families practicing Hinduism or tribal animism – and paid a price. Opposition from extremists within Hinduism or tribal religions is growing. Authorities in two villages recently refused to allow native workers to distribute Christian tracts or proclaim Christ in the street, he said.
“We prayed to God that we would be able to talk with village authorities and request that they allow us to distribute at least gospel tracts,” the leader said. “After an hour, the elders of these villages agreed to have a conversation with us and accepted, permitting us to distribute tracts but no preaching.”
Native missionaries are overcoming such obstacles to bring the love of Christ to poor and hurting people throughout India. Please consider a donation today to equip them for service.
*Name changed for security reasons