Trip to India
Jim Rogers ~ Brian Burns ~ Doug Edwards
Complete Set of Pictures Below Report
Also Report from Saganty Lazarus (from India) at Bottom of this Page
Greetings to all,
The work in India continues to grow in spite of the tremendous difficulties faced by the members there. The Goshen congregation has been involved in this work for 4 years now, but this was my first opportunity to see it myself. Brothers Brian Burns and Doug Edwards had made three previous trips, and I was glad the brethren thought it wise for me, a local teacher at Goshen, to join them this time. This trip opened my eyes to the many blessings we in the U.S. take for granted, and reinforced a desire to help these brethren in any way possible.
I especially wanted to meet brother Lazarus, our original contact in India, and see firsthand what conditions are like there. I came away with a strong feeling of respect for brother Lazarus – he is truly a blessing to the work. His dedication to the cause of Christ is beyond question, his tireless work ethic commendable, and his knowledge in the scriptures excellent. I was able to record two short messages of greeting from him. [See Pictures: “Lazarus and Wife”, View Video: “Lazarus Greeting #1” and “Lazarus Greeting #2”]
Since we don’t hear much in the news about India, I thought I would present a little background about it. This is one of the most populous countries on earth, with more than a billion people. The current work is centered in the southeastern part of the country in a state called “Andhra Pradesh” (Ahn’-dra Prah-desh’). This state alone has a population of more than 75 million people. The average income for a well-educated person is only around $200 per month, with a “day laborer” earning about half that. Poverty is a real problem here, though I was surprised at how few people came up to us begging for money. I think that most were too busy working to beg! [See Pictures: “Poverty”, “Working Poor”, “Harvesting Chili Peppers”, “Selling Beans”, “Selling Bananas”, and “Carrying Wood”]
In a country so vast, it isn’t surprising to find that many different languages are spoken. The official language of Andhra Pradesh is Telugu (Tel’-uh-goo). Their largest city is really a metropolis of two cities, Hyderabad and Secunderabad, with a combined population of more than 5 million people.
These brethren have a daunting challenge due to the tremendous influence of Hinduism in their culture. Just like the city of Athens from Luke’s account in Acts, the presence of idols in every nook and cranny is simply overwhelming. One cannot behold it without being overwhelmed like Paul, as “his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” Such misguided devotion to a stone carving is truly sad to see. [See Pictures: “Idol #1”, “Elephant Idol”, “Snake Idol”, and “Bull Idol”]
There is also a strong Islamic presence in this part of India, which has led to conflict and violence between Hindus and Muslims over the years. The mixture of the two makes for an interesting visit. For example, the Hindus won’t eat beef but the Muslims have no problem with it. The dominant political party currently supports the construction and maintenance of temples and mosques, but offers no support whatsoever for Christianity.
Thus, the official government position offers no assistance to spreading the gospel, while actually proving a hindrance at times. For example, it is difficult to enter the country on anything other than a “tourist” visa, which limits the ability of foreigners to evangelize openly. We have therefore been forced to limit our visits to meetings with the existing brethren and whoever may attend those worship services.
Many of the existing converts to Christ are women whose husbands will ‘tolerate’ their wife’s defection from Hinduism, but will not support it in any way. We saw women come to worship and leave before services had concluded because their husbands had forbidden them to be gone more than a certain amount of time. Their dedication to attending worship services in spite of the difficulties made me think shamefully of how often in the states we must admonish our members about regular attendance! [See Pictures: “Cherla Palli Inside”, “Begumpet”, and “Surya Nagar”]
Although there is no way to know for sure, it seems likely that these same women have a difficult time contributing financially to their congregations since their Hindu husbands forbid it. Combined with the poverty many of them also live with, it is difficult for the congregations to support preachers who labor among them. As a result, most of the preachers have regular jobs to support themselves and do their preaching work as time permits. To address this issue, we emphasized the importance of personal giving as a means to congregational self-reliance in the future. Still, there is a difficult road ahead for these congregations to become truly self-supporting.
In spite of these obstacles, the work continues to grow numerically and spiritually. Their spiritual strength is demonstrated in the commitment they have shown in the past year. For example, during Brian and Doug’s last trip (in 2003) there were 43 baptized in a village named “Nadigadda.” During this trip, we had opportunity to visit that place again. We happily found that 38 of the original members are still faithfully meeting. An additional 3 were baptized from that village while we were there, as well as more than 40 others from a nearby village. For the past year, the brethren at Nadigadda have been meeting under a large tree in the village and have need of a permanent, sheltered meeting place. [See Pictures: “Nadigadda Baptizing #1” and “Nadigadda Baptizing #2”]
Given their young spiritual age and their Hindu background, there is much need for basic Bible knowledge among these babes in Christ. These are people for whom the story of Daniel & Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, or even the story of Ahab and Elijah, is a new thing. There is much work still ahead to ‘grow the Church’ and truly ground these young Christians in the faith. Doug was able to spend some time offering guidance to the leaders as to how best to get that done, but more guidance is needed.
Numerically, the Church has grown as well. There are now 11 faithful congregations meeting throughout the state of Andhra Pradesh. The number of members in each congregation varies from around 20 to more than 50, but while we were there visitors from the community were common due to the good influence of the brethren. Most places we visited had attendance in excess of 60, with crowds over 100 not unusual. Part of such interest is probably due to the fact that Americans were visiting, but it was obvious from the reactions we received that there truly is an interest among these people in hearing the word of God preached! [See Pictures: “Nadigadda” and “Krothaluru”]
Another exciting development is the growing awareness among several “cups” congregations in Andhra Pradesh that these new faithful congregations even exist. Those people had never heard the one-cup position before, and this new awareness has provided opportunities to discuss the issue with them. Several of our brethren have studied with interested members and found them receptive to adopting the New Testament pattern when it is shown to them. We are hopeful that within the next year there will be some positive news to report regarding this possibility.
There have also been some problems along the way. For example, in one of the congregations in the Hyderabad metro area they encountered a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” This was a man who joined their assembly and became a leader among the group. He later introduced various innovations in the worship, which led to a split in the group. About half of the 40 members embraced the error and left. Lazarus has been studying with several families in hopes of restoring them to the fold. The work of Satan is truly untiring!
Some of the continuing needs for the work are Bibles and songbooks in the native Telugu language. We were able to purchase locally 50 Bibles for distribution throughout the various congregations. We were also able to see the good use that recently-purchased songbooks were being put to; such things are scarce, and people treated them with respect similar to their Bibles. I was also interested to see that their ‘songbook’ contains words only. You see, they sing in unison only and learn each new song by hearing the melody sung to them a few times.
Due to scheduling issues with me, it was necessary for us to travel while the Indian national elections were being held. They don’t have them all the same day as we do in the U.S., but will hold them in stages one day a week over several weeks. Because of fears about violence related to those elections, Lazarus planned our itinerary to make sure we were far away from where the elections were being held each week. This proved to be a good idea – in one village we had visited, political violence erupted a few days afterwards and people from one political party killed a man from a rival party! As it was, with the Lord’s blessings we traveled extensively and without incident, visiting several congregations and holding services each evening.
Towards the end of the trip we were back in Hyderabad and had a chance to worship with the 3 congregations that are there. We also got to see the progress being made on construction of the Church building. Completion of the structure is expected within 3 months. It has been well-designed, making efficient use of all available space. The location was well-chosen, too. It is within a block of a regular bus stop, so travel to worship will be easier for the many who have no other means of travel than walking or riding the bus. I came away from an inspection of the place with the satisfaction that the Lord’s money has been well spent in this effort. [See Pictures: “Building #1” and “Building #2”]
Of course, the major blessing of the construction is already in use – there is a baptistry available on site. In the past, the Hindus caused problems if they saw anyone baptizing in local water sources (ponds or watering troughs), believing that somehow the ‘sins washed away’ were polluting the water! Having a baptistry available at the Church building site has completely solved that problem. [See Pictures: “Building #3”]
After this trip, I have a great respect for the brethren laboring in India. Altogether, 54 people were baptized while we were there, demonstrating the diligence with which the message is being spread. While traveling from place to place and seeing the dedication of the Lord’s people in spite of their many adversities, I kept recalling the passage in Acts where Paul saw the vision of the Macedonian crying “come over and help us!” for these brethren are seeking the same thing.
They are not asking for handouts, they are asking for help. These brethren are doing what they can, but need our assistance to meet those challenges that are too great for their financial means. One of the preachers, brother Luke, put it to us like this on our last day there, “we are very poor, and ask for help like a brother asking a brother. Understand that we are committed first to the Lord’s work, and will continue in it no matter what, but any help that our brothers in the U.S. can give will be put to good use.” After seeing for myself what they are doing with the resources they currently have, I believe their dedication is beyond dispute. [See Pictures: “Preachers” and “Luke & Family”]
The question now is merely, what can be done to help the work for the long term? If anyone is interested in helping, contact one of us for more information. A congregation may want to help support brother Lazarus or the other preachers. This year brother Lazarus asked if 6 of the preachers might be helped $30 each (as a one-time amount). We were able to help them with $50 instead, which lifted their spirits greatly. Ongoing support for these men of any amount would be an encouragement to them. Other continuing needs are the purchase of Bibles and assistance with building construction in Secunderabad or one of the small villages. It would also be a great blessing if ten or more congregations would commit to helping finance the annual work trip each spring.
Brethren, this is a great and growing work that we must be diligent in. The brethren in India send their greetings, and covet your prayers for blessings on their labors.
INDIA WORK REPORT-APRIL 18th TO 27th,2004
Dear beloved brethren,