In the time that it will take you to read this sentence, the world’s population will grow by eleven people. According to the United States Census Bureau, 141 people are born every minute, meaning that over 200,000 people are born per day for a total of 6.2 million people per month being added to the world’s population. Since 1950 India has been the largest contributor to the growth of the world’s population. It is estimated that at the current rate of growth, the population of India will not stabilize until it hits 1.5 billion people. Already the second most populous nation on earth at 1.02 billlion, India is expected to soon surpass China in numbers of people. With so much growth, the challenges India faces are huge.
Even though the literacy rate has grown fromsixteen percent in 1947 to over sixty-five percent in 2001, India still lags behind many other developing nations. Many residents of India are caught in a caste system that will not allow personal or professional advancement. In contrast, India is becoming a world leader in high-tech software development. Further disparity is seen daily in the marketplace, where oxen compete with sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for road space. For US$1 you can get a ride across town in a crude rickshaw to check your email on a high-speed Internet line at the cybercafé. In rural areas you can watch an aged man beat out kernels of grain by hand. In the field across the road a John Deere Combine harvests more grain in five minutes than the aged man can in hours. The list of contrasts is seemingly endless, but perhaps the greatest contrast of all is when the light of Jesus Christ comes face to face with the powers of darkness.
Vendors in a Hindu temple.
An Overview of India
India is a birthplace of four distinct religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Brahmanism (Hinduism), with its accompanying social caste system, evolved from the Vedic religion of Aryan invaders. Hinduism eventually became the dominant, and later the state, religion of India. Janis and Buddhists were persecuted as a result of Hindu domination.
Islam gave rise to several new Indian sects that preached against idolatry, polytheism and caste. One of these sects was the Sikh community founded by Nanak (1469-1538), a Punjabi born in Talwandi in Lahore District (now in Pakistan). Nanak is credited with being the founder of Sikhism. Additionally, Jews came to India before the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem. It is commonly thought that there was a wide dispersion of the Jews in the years following the great disaster of AD 66-70. It has been said that Christianity in India (brought by Thomas, Jesus’ disciple) is as old as Christianity itself.
Seeing India through the Eyes of Christ: Passion for Madurai
“Love and Care India” and its founding pastor John Arul invited the Luis Palau Association’s “Next Generation Alliance” to bring member evangelists and teams to assist the Church of India in reaching the least-reached villages of Tamil Nadu during February 2006. I was privileged to be a part of the team as one of those evangelists. The project was called Passion for Madurai. Over a period of several weeks some twenty festivals were held across the region. Schools and orphanages were visited, the sick were ministered to by medical personal and covered with prayer, pastors encouraged and Christians engaged to reach their communities. I was invited to preach and also to help mentor some younger evangelists and their teams. Below is a brief overview of God’s workings during the Passion for Madurai.
Tens of thousands of people were exposed to the good news.
Evangelistic teams engaged the local church and its leaders, often ministering to people’s physical and spiritual needs during the day while gathering in a town square for an open air festival in the evening, where local believers would share music. Personal testimonies of transformed lives were shared while the gospel was presented both contextually and clearly. While the trip presented many challenges, the gracious hand of God in bringing people into his kingdom was evident.
Tens of thousands of people were exposed to the good news, and from preliminary counts, thousands of people came to know Jesus personally and have turned from worshipping hopeless idols to worshipping the living God. The local pastors were greatly encouraged as they saw people come to receive Christ. One pastor told me that he has never seen anything like it in his life. Close to seventy percent of the crowd came forward at his festival. While not every gathering saw this high of a response rate, each gathering saw many people come forward. Lines of people struggling with hopelessness would stretch far and wide as they sought prayer for their many needs. We saw a number of people experience incredible answers to the prayers of God’s people. Lame people walked, demon-possessed people experienced release and countless individuals burdened with constant pain were set free by the power of the good news.
In addition to these new converts to Christ, many believers throughout the district of Madurai were greatly encouraged and strengthened. One of the local pastors (through an interpreter) said, “This is just what we needed at this moment! Thank you with all of my being.”
The Kingdom of God Visible
The following are a few examples of what God did during the Passion of Madurai.
1. Many Receive the Message of Christ
During our first night of sharing the gospel in an open-air fashion, I truly sensed the Spirit of God at work in powerful ways. The Indian choir sang and one pastor gave his personal testimony of conversion from Hinduism to Christ. There was great local opposition to this “Christian meeting,” and I could tell he was more than a little concerned as he shared his story. But God gave him the strength to finish with passion. As I preached from God’s word on the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), I wondered if those in the audience understood what was being said. When I gave the invitation, more than half of the crowd flocked to the front! I glanced over at the pastors on the platform and noticed they were having a hard time not showing emotion. It was a moment I will never forget. The counselors who had been trained were completely overwhelmed. We prayed with people for the next hour and a half.
2. God in the Hindu Temple
In the afternoons we explored the city. During one of these trips, several of us went to the Madurai Meenakshi temple (currently efforts are underway to declare it as one of the wonders of the world). As we approached the temple we were inundated by a host of beggars and people wanting to be our temple guide (for a modest monetary gift of course). We were unable to say no and soon found ourselves being guided through the temple by a young man. The temple was filled with people and vendors and reminded us of what Jesus must have seen when he entered the temple in Jerusalem.
Our guide asked us why we had come to India. One of the young evangelists was able to engage him in deep discussions concerning his beliefs. As we talked with our young guide, he shared that he was searching for answers and felt like traditional religions were not giving him the answers he sought. What a joy to tell him that truth is not found in a religion but in the person of Jesus Christ. He asked us to pray with him and we did so—right in the middle of the Hindu temple! He promised to read the Bible we handed to him. The next day I came back to look for him and found him not chasing after people to be their guide through the temple, but leaning against a tree reading God’s word in his own language. Later I took a local pastor to meet him who then helped connect the young man to a local church.
Hindu Temple Swamis hear the gospel.
3. Religious Teachers Turn to Christ
While we were teaching several men and pastors in one of the villages, a number of men dressed in orange showed up and sat down to listen. One of the local pastors told us they were religious teachers/seekers from the Hindu temple. As they sat and listened, it was obvious they were interested. When we finished our teaching, we asked them if they wanted to hear about Jesus, to which they responded enthusiastically. One of our evangelists explained the way of eternal salvation and six of them gave their lives to Christ. Hallelujah!
4. Miracles inside the Local Church
During one Sunday morning service, I was preaching in one of the local churches. My hope was to encourage the people in their walk with the Lord and to impress upon them the need to reach out to their community. It was amazing and thrilling to feel the vibrancy of their faith and passion for our Lord. As I preached I felt the Spirit of God nudge me that there might be some there who never surrendered to the Lord. I took a few minutes and explained the gospel message and asked if there was anyone who wanted to surrender their life to Jesus. Near the back of the packed room a young girl (in her late teens or early twenties) stood up. I heard a noise behind me and I turned to see tears streaming down the pastor’s face. My interpreter explained that this was the pastor’s daughter who had previously abandoned the faith. I was reminded of the book of Esther: Who knows but for such a time as this that God has put you in the place you are right now!
Social, cultural and political changes in India are leaving many people spiritually hungry and without hope. There is a growing sense of despair in the present systems to answer their deepest needs. While the young people are turning to education and high-tech jobs for hope, they are also feeling the emptiness that it brings.
However, God is moving powerfully across the great nation of India and I believe the nation is moving into a time of great harvest for the kingdom of God. The hopelessness of the caste system and the increased disparity between those who have and those who have not is leaving an open door for the sowing of the good news of the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ. The Church of India is alive and at work. She needs our prayers and our assistance when and where it is appropriate. As India moves to become the most populous nation on earth we must be prepared to work as if her salvation depends on us but also pray knowing that it depends of the living God. India is a land of great contrasts but none greater than the light of Christ as it stands against the darkness of all other religion.