Dear brothers and sisters, I bring greetings to you from India in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Steven Cole and I recently visited Brethren in India and were amazed and overwhelmed in discovering the incredible ways Christ is making himself known there. We traveled specifically to help the Kumars and The Brethren Church in India celebrate their 50th year in ministry.
During our visit, Steven and I had the opportunity to help celebrate this legacy of ministry in several distinctive ways. First and foremost was the celebration of their Golden Jubilee. We celebrated with a special service at the church in Rajamundry and the presentation of a plaque signifying the milestone of this ministry to Prasanth, Nirmala, Sudhir, and Latha Kumar. Steven Cole also presented Prasanth Kumar with a distinctive plaque from Ashland Theological Seminary in recognition of his ministry accomplishments as a graduate of ATS. During this event, we were also able to spend the day with many of the almost one hundred pastors from various village ministries who came to participate in the celebration. The event was even more meaningful, as it coincided with the ordination service of twenty new elders. Twelve of these newly ordained ministers are children (19 sons and one daughter) of current pastors, which is a meaningful symbol of legacy in Indian culture.
India is a land filled with incredible beauty and undeniable spiritual darkness. One of the stark realities we discovered were thousands of temples for idols everywhere we went. Hindu people worship over one million different gods. This reveals a thirst for a connection with the divine. As we drove by temple after temple, decked out in bright colors and filled with offerings meant to appease demons and deities, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s time in Athens in Acts 17: 16-34. Paul was both impressed by the spiritual nature of the people and profoundly disturbed by their lack of understanding.
What we saw in India was a vast outpouring of spirituality, but most worship what they do not know, hoping to connect —even if by accident— to some entity that might be real. The preaching of the Gospel is so profoundly needed in these places. The difficulty is not in helping people take hold of Jesus, as many do. Instead, it is to take down all other gods and worship only Christ. The first is easy, and the second can be devastating! It causes separations in families, loss of jobs and worse. The church faces heavy persecution in India.
There is extreme poverty everywhere you turn. People often struggle to provide daily for their families. The juxtaposition of gleaming concrete and glass set side by side with make-shift lean-tos and thatched buildings are altogether jarring. All of the pastors working there are bi-vocational, as well. Working during the days as teachers, leaders, drivers, and often laborers, they spend their evenings in ministry and prayer.
Together, Steven and I preached twelve different times. Each place had dozens, sometimes hundreds of people come to hear the Word proclaimed and pray. Prayer here is sincere, focused, and abiding. Many spend hours on their knees before the Lord interceding on behalf of others. In Visak and Rajamundry (where the two central and largest Brethren ministries are), local Brethren erected prayer towers. These towers are places of peace and concentration, explicitly set apart, where men and women spend hours in prayer.
The church in Rajamundry, where the Kumars began the ministry upon their return to India, has a history of deep faith and incredible miracles. The first Brethren Church, which would become the main compound over time, was planted nearly fifty years ago by Prasanth Kumar on land that the townspeople and government officials believed was cursed. Over many years several people had owned the property, yet each had died violently. The people, in their fear and superstition, erected an idol called the bloodshed idol, shaped like a snake since a snake pit filled with black cobras was located there, and worshipped it. Locals believed that by worshipping the idol, they could appease the god(s) of the land and keep themselves from dying while gaining power as well. Prasanth bought the property knowing full well the history and knowing that the expectation was that he too would die. Instead, he and his family, along with other believers, began to pray and consecrate the land. They knew full well the power of Jesus over darkness. The church then built a cross next to the road running in front of the property, across from the idol and temple. The cross came with a simple message written in both Telugu (the native language) and English that reads, "My peace I give to you." Since that day, the bloodshed on the land has stopped. Through this and other miraculous signs over the years, hundreds have come to saving faith. Prasanth and others spent years walking through deep jungles, avoiding both tiger and snake, to bring a message of peace and life to villages throughout the region.
The Rajamundry property hosts not only the church building itself but also several other vital ministries developed over the 50-year history of The Brethren Church in India. One area is the Central Bible Institute where pastors receive instruction and certifications, along with a clinic that opens in the evening to serve the poorest of the poor. The clinic is known as the "one rupee hospital," a place of healing for many who otherwise have no way of receiving any medical attention whatsoever. The doctor and nurses here give sacrificially to help provide essential medicines and hygiene treatments. [cont'd below]
The church property also hosts an orphanage/rescue mission for boys and girls, housing 80 to 100 children of different ages. A few are genuinely orphaned, having no parents at all; most are children of single-parent families who can no longer take care of them. Some children come from homes where mom and dad are still alive but spend all day in hard labor making next to nothing. The parents cannot provide for themselves or their family, and they have little hope for their children. In each case, this place has become a home and a refuge where they find food, shelter, life skills, friendship, and family. The rescue mission is often the last chance to save the children before they get swallowed into human/sex trafficking or slavery. Over time, the children hear the Gospel story proclaimed. Most choose to follow Christ, and all leave able to care for themselves and their families.
In both Rajamundry and Visak, there are Brethren sewing schools where women come to learn a valuable trade allowing them the opportunity to take care of their families and avoid the trafficking system that so often plagues the poor. During our time, we heard several testimonies, not only from Christ-followers but also from Hindus still seeking to understand who Jesus is. In one case, a young woman who called herself a one-time perfect Hindu testified to the change in her life from the training she was receiving. Her husband was a drunk who no longer cared for the family. She came to learn so that she could take care of her children and herself. She not only testified to the training she had received, but she also testified to what Christ was doing in her life. In her testimony, she described a dream where God told her to look up James 1:12 to see what her perseverance was producing for her and her family. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” At the end of her testimony, she then asked if she could speak to the class themselves. Boldly, in surprise to even Nirmala, she proclaimed the power of Jesus in her life and told all of the students, Christian and Hindu alike, that Christ transformed her life. Therefore, they all needed to follow Him. It was an incredible moment for all of us.
The needs in India are enormous. There is endless poverty. Water is often undrinkable unless it is well filtered. The air has high amounts of pollution. In some areas of larger cities like Delhi, the smog is so thick, visibility is only a few dozen meters, like driving in fog. The Church sees oppression from the radical Hindus, and though the Brethren have not had their churches burned, they know of others in the villages who have. Yet the faith of the Church is large also — a faith rooted in scripture and deep prayer. A faith that continues to change lives and uproot strongholds. A faith that causes many opposed to the centrality of Christ to pause and consider what is placed before their eyes.
We have much to offer our brothers and sisters in terms of resources and structure, but we have much to gain by learning from them. Learning how to lean on God, not just in times of trial, but in all moments of our daily life.
Please pray for the ministry in India. Pray for continued provision and protection. Pray for the outreaches there, that the sewing schools would continue to bring women and their families out of poverty. Many of those who come and learn are either widows with no way to take care of their families or have abusive husbands; drunkards who do not or cannot care for their families. Pray for them to learn these skills and become able to provide and pray for the strengthening of their faith daily. Pray for the pastors and their congregations, pray for the children at the rescue mission also. Pray for peace and joy here and a mighty movement of God.