by Mark Lacey
As the nation of India went to the polls this year, the fear for Christians was palpable. This was felt at all three conferences during my visit with national full-time workers in March 2019. The result of the general election in April returned the same nationalistic Hindu party. The fear expressed to me has been confirmed. Churches and the homes of Christians are burned, and church leaders are murdered. Often, those responsible for keeping law and order stand by and watch, powerless to intervene. Soon after my return home, I received word that an elder, who had also been my translator, had been falsely arrested and thrown into prison for sharing the gospel. As opposition grows against the gospel in the northern states of India, it makes the privilege of visiting these faithful workers even more meaningful.
This year here were three main conferences, each of a week’s duration, in Mumbai, Kolkata and Patna, the main city of Bihar State.
On arrival in Mumbai, the first responsibility was a weekend of meetings with the team in the Mankurd slum on the outskirts of Mumbai. The ever‐growing Christian fellowship there is always a joy to meet with, share God’s Word and see the spiritual growth of the young people year‐on‐year. Sister Bama has faithfully served the Lord among the Dalit people of this slum for over 25 years. The Christian influence of the team, and that of the infant, junior and senior school for 750 children, is evident. Not only are souls being saved, but their standard of living has risen considerably. Already some of the early graduates from the school have, miraculously, gained entrance into colleges and universities, gone on to earn degrees and have secured well‐remunerated jobs. This has enabled them to take their families out of the slums and enjoy a better standard of living.
The students at the school, which Sister Bama runs, attain high grades, yet, here again, opposition has been experienced since the general election. Bulldozers were sent in and over 250 slum huts and a third of the school buildings were demolished before authorities could prevent further vandalism. They fear that the action was intended to send a message to the parents in the slum not to send their children to the Christian school.
The conference for the team leaders who take the gospel into some of the two thousand slums of Mumbai was used of the Lord. We thank Him for answered prayers for the many who sought advice as we discussed issues relating to Christian counselling. Many leaders have issues relating to their pre‐Christian days, and association with idol worship and sacrifice. Others have suffered incredible abuse, especially some of the sisters, to the extent that on marrying they find they are unable to bear children. Counselling sessions with these dedicated servants of the Lord are deeply harrowing as they freely share their problems, seeking an understanding ear, support and resolutions to their issues. The material used in this year’s conference, Elements in Christian Counselling, was so effective that they asked permission for the subject matter to be grafted into their mission training courses.
To teach, encourage and counsel the Lord’s servants who are building on this foundation is a privilege indeed.
The venue for the conference was the base to which English missionaries came in the early 1900s. Here they were taught the languages and culture of the country. In the grounds of this venerable old house is a small church. One is struck by the numerous brass plaques that cover the walls in memory of those who came to serve the Lord. Rarely will you find any who lived to more than 50 years of age: most died from the conditions they toiled in. To teach, encourage and counsel the Lord’s servants who are building on this foundation is a privilege indeed.
By the seaside in Kolkata, it was wonderful to see how the opportunity to ‘come aside and rest awhile’ (Mk 6:31), enabled believers to relax and enjoy fellowship together. Several of the Kolkata City Mission evangelists come from Hindu backgrounds and are being powerfully used of the Lord. They are seeing many come to Christ in the slums despite the opposition they face, both personally and in their families. They too share the issues as described above and we spent hours listening and sharing with them.
Following the election, one worker in Kolkata was due to baptise three new believers. Before this could happen he and the three candidates had to appear before the local judge to apply for a permit. Miraculously the permits were issued but the worker who led them to the Lord and discipled them was worked over by plain‐clothed police.
A Real Change
The director of the Kolkata City Mission and his wife employ a maid in their home, as do several of the staff of the mission. This is not about living a life of ease but rather a further form of outreach. Over the years, several of these maids have come to faith as they have observed a Christian home, where women are respected, children are loved and raised for the Lord, and where there is an atmosphere of peace and love. Last year, their present maid, Bina,* would take her meals sitting on the floor, feeling unworthy to sit with them at the table. Her countenance was one of fear and constant introspection. The prospect of an impending marriage arranged by her parents would cause her to recoil and nervously shake at the thought.
What a difference one year has made as Bina voluntarily greeted me, with eye contact, and asked if she could be privileged to take care of my laundry. Bina asked to come with us to the conference and avidly took notes, asking the director and his wife to promise to help her understand more fully what was being shared in the sessions. Through careful love and counsel she has also asked them to find her a Christian husband as she wants to follow Christ and be married to a Christian. Bina needs much prayer as her Hindu family are already trying to take her away from her work and arrange a Hindu marriage for her.
…they have observed a Christian home, where women are respected, children are loved and raised for the Lord, and where there is an atmosphere of peace and love
Meeting with the elders and full‐time workers of the assemblies of Bihar State for a week‐long conference in Patna was a first this year. There are 47 assemblies in the state, with most having two or more full‐time workers in their fellowships. Several of them have orphanages for children who have been abandoned or rescued from dysfunctional homes. As these children grow, come to faith and go on to live independently in the community, the leaders of these orphanages have the responsibility of arranging their marriages to Christians from other orphanages across India.
The conference was much appreciated and followed by many questions and requests for a further conference next year. One brother, gifted in working with Muslims, shared literature, advice and counsel in reaching the Muslims in their communities.
Following the conference in Patna, a week was spent working alongside a full‐time worker in Katihar, south of Patna. He, like others, has an orphanage for 30 or more children. The children’s response to the special classes held for them was a real joy to behold as they eagerly shared memorised Scriptures with us, sang choruses, and performed skits. The long weekend of meetings for the small assembly being planted there was much appreciated and we were helped by a national full‐time worker, who shared the responsibilities of the weekend.
During the week we travelled far and wide visiting various ministries and schools, all being used as a basis for sharing the Christian faith. One afternoon, we visited an assembly for the tea‐pickers of the vast Darjeeling tea plantations. Seeing the plantation fields and the processing of the tea was fascinating. More touching, though, was the Christian tea-pickers’ sincerity and reverence for the things of the Lord. Although the majority of them are illiterate, it was heartwarming to hear that many of them have memorised large portions of Scripture. They are earnest in their efforts to become literate in order to read and study the Scriptures for themselves.
In one school, a five‐hour drive away, they requested that I dedicate a new assembly hall that they had just completed. As local dignitaries had been invited, the gospel was shared and the values of the Christian lifestyle explained. After the event, a precious time was spent with staff and students over a meal, answering many questions concerning life and Christianity in the West.
The Lord answered many prayers of His people during my visit to India. We are grateful to the Lord for the opportunities given, for good health, safety as we travelled and, not least, for His spiritual enabling. Despite much opposition, the Lord is doing a great work among the Dalits and the oppressed people of India. Please be in daily prayer for our brothers and sisters faithfully labouring for the Lord in northern India.