Exploring India

In November I was part of a 5-person team that visited four states in India to learn about the work of Brethren in Christ Churches and missional outreach.

My report follows.

Report on Pastor’s Vision Trip to India
November 13-28, 2007
Report by John B. Hawbaker

The trip leader was Ken Hoke. The participating pastors were Mike Holland (pastor of a Hispanic Church in York Springs, and Mobilization Coordinator for BIC World Missions), Michael Yoder (Pastor of the Millersville Church), Ben Newton (Pastor of Young Adults and Outreach at Manor) and I.

Some of the main events and experiences of the trip were:

• A day of tourism and shopping in Delhi.

• A one-day trip to Agra to see the incomparable Taj Mahal.

• Stayed in the guest rooms of the Good News Hour Center, the Gospel Tide headquarters in Cuttack (state of Orissa).

• Attended the Sunday dedication of the new, third floor, worship space of the Cuttack Church. I preached on Jesus’ words, “I Will Build My Church.” That evening we attended a four-hour program of music, dance and drama by the highly skilled Drama Team of the Orissa Church.

• Attended the two-day Sixth South East Asia Round Table Conference, in which the participants were ten leaders from the Orissa Church, the Bihar Church and the Nepal Church. Here we heard reports of the progress, challenges and needs of each area.

• For several meals we five were entertained in the home (rented apartment) of Bijoy and Manju Roul. Their hospitality is of the highest quality.

• Attended a short program at Zion Boys Hostel in Cuttack (SPICE ministry). We distributed a blanket and fleece jacket to each boy.

• On a Saturday, at market, at 1:30 p.m. I selected white-on-white fabric for a long-sleeved shirt and was measured by a tailor. By 8:30 p.m. the finished shirt was delivered to Bijoy’s house!

• In Cuttack, each morning I went for a birding walk (excellent habitat – residential, open field and three water ponds) and then a vigorous exercise walk, on which I bought mango juice for our party, patronizing the tiny shops that are on nearly every street.

• I heard the testimony of Ganesh Shah, a 32-year-old lay leader in the church in Biratnagar, Nepal. As a teen, he was into a life of drug use, alcoholism and crime. Through a gospel tract, a Christian movie, a Christian friend and a Brethren in Christ evangelist, he was converted at age 18. He is now the supervisor of accounts at a bank (to the amazement of all who knew him in his pre-conversion days), is married to a Christian woman, and is secretary of the Nepal Church. I plan to write up his entire testimony, in first person, for use by World Missions or other agencies.

• Along with the staff of the Good News Hour (Gospel Tide) and the Orissa Conference we went on a holiday to the city of Puri and the beach of the Bay of Bengal. Next, we saw the Hindu Jagannath Temple (non-Hindus are not allowed to enter). Finally, we visited the 13th Century Sun Temple at Konark, dedicated to the sun god, Surya. This delightful trip took place on my 64th birthday! Late in the evening Bijoy and Manju invited all 15 of us (the Round Table Conference group) to his home for chocolate cake and ice cream to celebrate my birthday.

• We attended a church gathering in the village of Bahanada, near the town of Balasore (Orissa.) Ben preached. Attendance of 300 or more, under a multi-colored flat-roofed tent called a shamiyana. A leader asked the crowd, “If you received financial help for flood relief from the North American Church, raise your hand.” One-third or more raised their hands! It was gratifying and humbling to see these people firsthand and “put a face on” this compassionate ministry.

• Attended a program at Bethel Hostel (for boys and girls) near Bahanada. One of the dances was by ten boys and “girls”, but the girls were actually boys, effectively dressed as girls, with bandana-type scarves covering their lack of girls’ hair. An “old” beggar with a walking stick, who missed all the right dance steps, gave much humor to the sketch.

• Attended a morning meeting at the village of Gentabani, in the state of West Bengal. Under a shamiyana both Mike Holland and I preached. Attendance of about 225. In the early evening the Drama Team from Cuttack gave a program. Again, 30 or 40 people indicated they had received flood relief.

• In one long, bumpy ride in an SUV, all five passengers gave their life story and spiritual journey. One person was Binyamin Mangual, overseer of two districts, one in Orissa, one in West Bengal. He is energetic, outgoing and passionate about the work of the church.

• Travel by train is an important part of Indian Culture. We had two all-night trips and one day-long trip. Meals were served in our compartment en route.

• In the city of Tata (state of Jharkhand) we attended a seekers’ conference, as part of the outreach of the Bihar Church. Here, in Bihari custom, the people welcomed us by seating us on chairs and having women wash our feet. Bijoy said that 30-100 people had “registered” to attend. He asked me to speak again on “I Will Build My Church” because he sees it as being well suited to seekers. My disappointment was great when, because of the rice harvest in progress, only 30 people came – all of them believers except for (it was explained afterwards) three seekers. But we thank God for those three! One of them was an older man, oppressed by a severe cough and unable to work. He asked for us to pray for him, so we did – for healing and salvation. The missionary who planned and led this event is Marcus Hembrom.

• We had breakfast in a simple restaurant at the train station in Tata as we waited for our train to be called. We observed five boys or young men sleeping on their dirty blankets on the landing of the stairs; one young man had both legs amputated. I assumed that they were beggars. As I enjoyed my omelet breakfast, I felt God nudge me to reach out to these boys. He seemed to be saying, “You can’t feed all the beggars of India, but you could feed five.” So I bought five boxed breakfasts and took them to the amputee fellow and four others. “I give you this in the name of Christ,” I said. I knew they couldn’t understand my words, but I trusted God to touch their hearts with his love.

• We attended a joint gathering of several Brethren in Christ house groups in the city of Patna (state of Bihar). The attendance was about 75, many of them students. This meeting was held in a Catholic retreat center. There are now 300 people in seven Brethren in Christ house groups in Patna. The participants are from five different people groups. About 100 are new believers ready for baptism. Two ordained ministers from northern Bihar will come next February to administer these baptisms.
In this meeting Michael Yoder, Ken Hoke and Bijoy Roul spoke. Bijoy gave a clear invitation for people to stand and put their faith in Christ. About 35 did so! Ken Hoke sent us U.S. visitors to move among the seekers and pray for them, even though we can’t pray in their language. It was a holy experience.

Anil Bara came from Purnea (in northern Bihar) to be a missionary to this city of Patna (in southern Bihar).

• The food of India was great, although the others in the group had a greater preference for spicy than I had. On our last day in Delhi we ate lunch at McDonalds. Can you imagine!

• We made a 20-minute ride through Old Delhi on bicycle rickshaws. What an experience! Narrow streets, a jumble of electrical wires overhead, busy shops, colorful saris for sale, diamond stores, heavy traffic on foot and by rickshaw. The rickshaw drivers work very hard and are incredibly skillful at whizzing through the crowded streets.

Here are additional observations and impressions about the work of the Brethren in Christ in India and Nepal.

1. God loves to work in impossible situations. Bihar and Orissa are the poorest states in India, and in Orissa there is much opposition to the gospel and persecution of Christians. But in these difficult situations God is building his church.

2. We met numerous pastors and other leaders who are well-trained and clearly focused on evangelism and discipleship. The investments in Bible College training and seminary training are yielding good fruit. An ongoing challenge for current church leaders is to train, trust and empower new leaders.

3. We learned that some of the pastors seem to lack vision and some of the churches are stagnant, while other churches are active in evangelism. Some of the churches are growing numerically, while others, despite the best efforts, are on a plateau. In this way, the church in India is just like the church in America.

4. One sign of the supernatural basis of the work in Orissa is that the churches meet monthly for a night of prayer and fasting. How many churches in America do this?
5. We learned about dynamic outreach both in new ministries (as in the Patna house churches described in the first part of this report) and also in established churches (Madhipura Church includes people from Hindu background as well as tribal people, and it has started five house churches.)

6. The issue of self-reliance versus dependence on foreign funds is a live issue and received much comment at the Round Table Conferences.

• The church in Bihar is over 90 years old and is still receiving money from North America. What additional steps can be taken to change this?

• On the other hand, there was an encouraging report from Bihar about the ministry among the Musahars (one of the tribes within the low caste “backward people” – and desperately poor.) We have two churches among the Musahars. Recently, when they wanted to hold a special event, they planned it, funded it and carried out all the details, all on their own.

• I told Bijoy Roul about the ministry of World Mission Associates and Glenn Schwartz. Bijoy was interested. I plan to send Bijoy some WMA literature and stories of self-reliance around the world.

7. There is a movement to help the poor get a start in supporting themselves and the church through livestock or micro-business.

• The leaders from Nepal described that the donation of the female pig to a family could provide that family with food and income – and potential to give financially to the church – and each family would be asked to give, from the first litter, a pig to another family ( we know this as the philosophy of the Heifer Project). So, through Michael Yoder, the Millersville Church gave a donation of $300 to buy about 30 pigs.

• Moses Marandi gave me a proposal for training ten persons in tailoring. He hopes that a church or churches in U.S. will fund this project, which would be done in the city of Purnea in the state of Bihar.

8. At the Round Table Conference the participants are people who come from different people groups and languages. In order to make the event understandable to us Americans, they all spoke in English, which is their second and third language. We were deeply moved by their willingness to accommodate us in this way.

9. The style of worship was a bit subdued compared too much of the worship in North America. The people sang heartily and clapped in rhythm on nearly every song, but their faces were sober and expressionless.

10. The song “Susa Machara Kunei” has become the theme song of the Brethren in Christ in Orissa. We heard it everywhere we went. The chorus says: “Go take the good news out/ into every town,/ churches will be planted there, we will see victory.”

11. We saw firsthand the fruit of the hostels and the SPICE programs. Some of the key leaders in the church were once students in the hostels.

12. We rejoiced in the creativity shown by the hostel students in the programs they prepared for us.

13. In Orissa there are 30 districts. The Brethren in Christ have churches in ten of them, with a goal to plant churches in the other twenty.

14. In the gathering at Patna, Suchil, an older man, gave a stirring challenge to evangelistic outreach. “Bihar is large, with 45,000 villages; only 2,000 have a church. Start with the cities. Capture the capital, and you will win the whole state. Do not be surprised if the work is hard. God will give fruit in his time.”

15. The Bihar Conference has 25 church planters! They now have churches in seven districts. Moses Marandi pointed out that the Musahars (see above) are a huge potential for responding to the gospel. In one of “our districts there are 70,000 Musahars; in another, 80,000; in another, 100,000.

16. Our party from North America found that we were quick to analyze and prescribe answers for the church in India and Nepal. We needed to remind ourselves that we understand only a little bit of the real situation. We must be quick to listen and slow to advise.

17. The signs and wonders we read about the New Testament are happening in India and Nepal today. Nearly every testimony we heard included a vision, dream, miraculous healing, heavenly light or the voice of God.

18. At the Round Table Conference the leaders asked us five from U.S. to tell them about the church in North America. When my turn came, I mentioned the strengths of the church and some of the pitfalls. Samuel Hembrom (pastor from Purnea, state of Bihar) said, “For the first time I understand that the church in America needs our prayers. Formerly, I only thought about how we need their prayers. Now I see that we must pray for them, too.”

19. Perhaps the greatest need of the church in Southeast Asia – and here in America – is to pray that God will raise up a new generation of Spirit-filled servant-workers – and then do all we can to equip these workers.

Some of you who read this report know India far better than I do. If you see any errors of fact or interpretation, please contact me immediately so that I can set the record straight.
It was a great privilege to be a part of this Pastors’ Vision Trip. To meet again the leaders (friends) whom I met when JoLene and I first visited India in January 2003 was deeply gratifying. To meet new leaders and church members was refreshing. To share the experience with Ben Newton from Manor was a joy beyond words.

Lord Jesus, guide and protect your church in India and Nepal. Bless their evangelistic efforts with a great spiritual harvest. Build them up in discipleship, obedience, love, truth and holiness. Provide for all their needs through your incredible heavenly riches.

2 Responses

  1. Hey Dad — great report about what God is doing in India…thanks for sharing. Your comments about dependency are frightening; glad you are sending info to them — 90 years, what a tragedy!!

  2. John,
    I enjoyed your report. You give an honest appraisal of the Church in America. That helps to make you believable. Oh yes, you are a little less than ten years younger than me. My birthday is February.

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