The author is a grassroots worker from India serving in Central Asia.
At the ‘ends of the earth’ (Ac. 1:8) people are waiting for the ‘labourers’ to come. The ‘harvest is plentiful’ (Lk. 10:2) but this kind of ‘going’ may call the witnesses to leave their comfort zone. There may be adventure, but what drives us when we are called to face great danger, suffering and even death?
With His faithfulness from the beginning, I was saved from a hostile religious family in India. I grew up with fear and confusion and, as a result, I had a pessimistic view of life. I questioned my own existence and wanted to know the purpose of it. My religion could not answer the basic questions I had about life. After school, I went to college where I met students from different backgrounds and was exposed to multicultural ideologies. Despite cultural pressures, being away from home allowed me to seek the truth. A believing student led me to the local students’ Christian fellowship where I heard about Jesus Christ and was encouraged to look for answers to my questions in the Bible.
When I read the Bible, I understood that Jesus Christ is different from other influential personalities of the world. I saw something special and unique in Him (Col. 2:9). Unlike others, He came to the world to give Himself for other people. His unselfish and sacrificial act on the Cross gave me hope. To my surprise, He became the answer. I inherited new life by inviting Him to be my Lord and Saviour. I was born again with new values that completely changed my world view (2 Cor. 5:17). No one in the world could bring happiness to my life like Him. Soon after, I went to another university for my master’s degree, where the Lord’s care was demonstrated through the fellowship of other believing students. I learnt much from them, got strength to fight many life battles and began to see the need to share the good news with others.
My faith in Christ attracted a lot of opposition from my family members (2 Tim. 3:12). In the early 1990s, because of life-threatening circumstances, I had to leave my home town, not just for my safety but also for those dear ones who mentored me. With the help of believing friends, I managed to continue in my faith. During that period, the Lord called me to reach people in Central Asia.
Crossing into a New Culture
Although largely Islamic, this diverse Central Asian country reflects the influence of the many empires, cultures and beliefs that have come along the Silk Road. I was met with completely different ideologies and values to my own. I began my cross-cultural mission journey with shock after shock. The information given during orientation was useful but the reality on the ground was surprisingly hard. I was not prepared. The change from one region to another was so difficult for me. However, His grace proved to be sufficient in learning a difficult new language, eating strange food, adjusting to extreme weather conditions and frequent illness, and adapting to a lifestyle that conflicted with my culture while wrestling with the local ideologies.
In the Valley
During the early days of my ministry there in 1997, I was abducted by the local drug mafia, tortured with an intention to use me for profit and left lying in the snow. In the dark, my cries for help and my pleading to Jesus seemed to be of no use. At last, I had a ‘chance’ to run for my life, and I reached home bleeding and traumatised. The post-traumatic stress that followed included agoraphobia and depression. I felt like I was drowning. During anxiety attacks, I considered that ceasing to exist might bring relief. But in my pain, He had purpose. The Lord stretched out His hands to lift me up and taught me to walk through the valley (Ps. 23:4). After a prolonged journey, with God’s intervention, I moved beyond the health issues that imprisoned me and I was completely healed! I began to look at my problems as challenges. A paradigm shift happened in my understanding as I meditated on the Word and testimonies from witnesses (Heb. 12:1).
With the help of believing friends, I managed to continue in my faith. During that period, the Lord called me to reach people in Central Asia.
As nationalism and religious fundamentalism began to threaten evangelicals in this country, a number of foreign workers were deported and, at one point, I had a narrow escape at the airport. However, the doors could not be kept shut because the One who called me was not done with me yet and I managed to get back to the field.
In letting our light shine before them with a creative approach, we have seen some progress. Business development opens doors to bring spiritual nourishment to new communities and see lives transformed. I’m excited about our infrastructure expanding. We recently established a work that not only provides goods but also shares the good news. A new tribal location is under consideration, but for everything we need more labourers and resources. We have begun to explore other unreached distant places. We long to see believers’ groups established all over the country. For their safety, no records are maintained on the number of those who have come to faith. The first-generation local leadership are growing but they are under pressure, and need our prayer and support.
When the borders closed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we were separated from our dear family of God there. However, we were able to keep in contact with our first-generation believers and help support them. I am blessed with a wife who hails from our challenging area of service. Unfortunately, a prolonged stay in India comes with its own challenges. We have suffered hostilities due to our faith. But, by God’s mercy, many see the light that shines through our words and actions (Mt. 5:15-16). After operating in one of the most restricted areas of the world, as we helped those in need in India, our dreams for outreach got bigger.
In His Faithful Hands
I recently celebrated 22 years of God’s faithfulness in my cross-cultural mission in this Central Asian country. It is difficult and there have been pressures to leave the field, but with His help I can continue to fight the good fight (2 Tim. 4:7-8). While I have served as one instrument in His mighty hands, we have seen encouragements in our country of service.
- The first assembly fellowship is now under local leadership.
- Short-term summer crusades are run almost every year with overseas volunteers.
- Local workers are equipped to reach people in their own subculture.
- An underground mission infrastructure has been developed for pre-evangelism.
- We are serving and supporting other workers.
- We are developing business ventures that can be run by believing communities.
- Humanitarian work has been established, including caring for orphans and single women.
- There is a counselling ministry to broken families and young people.
- An independent, nationally led students’ mission movement has formed.
My experiences have taught me to face the present challenges. They may look like a Goliath but I am reminded of what I have in my sling and in my heart because we are called to be ‘more than conquerors’ (Rom. 8:37). What drives us matters a lot. Fear or faith? The task can be difficult, but not impossible as the One calling us is faithful (1 Thess. 5:24).
Our dream for this region is that native believers are raised up to reach their neighbouring nations, ready and equipped to fulfil the commission of reaching the unreached to the ends of the earth, in preparation for His second coming (Mt. 28:16-20). Pray for the work in our sensitive and needy region, and for our first-generation believers as they grow and go out with the good news.