The pastor spoke as if it were just another day at the office.
After a couple trips up a mountain near his village to visit with a secluded people group, a concerned resident of his village stopped him on the rocky path down and warned him of the danger above. The secluded group were cannibals, killing and eating residents of their village when they turned 60, as well as feasting on the flesh of their enemies.
After learning this, naturally the preacher returned to the village and asked if it was true.
“Yes,” was the villagers’ response. “But don’t worry. We only do that to those who oppose us. You are our friend. We won’t eat you.”
The same morning I heard that story in India I was talking with a preacher on the trip with us, and we were commenting about how after preaching we often are criticized for the length of the sermon, how much Scripture was included or not included, and other even more trivial matters. It is a lament common among American pastors.
Never once, however, have I been in danger of preaching a sub-par sermon and having my body roasted over a fire as a result.
No, the Church in India faces different challenges than the Church in the U.S.
Recently I returned from India, our world’s second-most populated nation and home to the most unreached people groups on earth. While American Christians spend a disproportionate amount of time fussing over Supreme Court nominations and such, many Christians in India wonder if they will survive at the hands of extremists.
It is a beautiful place, if not mysterious, and extremely complicated. Under the forceful leadership of a nationalist Prime Minister, the Church has suffered. The political rhetoric has emboldened those who intend harm upon minorities. I sat in a village and talked to a pastor who’d earned a political science degree and talked American politics. Our countries have some similar struggles these days. We reminded each other that the Kingdom transcends those political difficulties, and we should be devoted to the Kingdom foremost.
Devoted the Indian church most definitely is. Their songs are loud, their dance robust, their sermons impassioned. In just the three days I spent interacting with the country’s youth, hundreds of young people made decisions follow Jesus. You sensed these were not half-hearted commitments. I met three boys who at the age of 13, 14, and 15 were already preaching in their churches.
It is a hopeful place. With the population of Australia being added to their country annually, the youth movement is a movement that will shape the country for generations. The youth are being reached for Jesus. India faces a beautiful future.
Our fast-paced trip through this great country took us from Delhi to Agra to Damoh and Bilaspur and Motimpur and Raipur and back to Delhi again. We slept in nice hotels and on overnight trains. I showered in a shower and I “showered” with a bucket and a cup. We signed autographs (strange) and sat numb as we listened to stories of being disowned by family for following Jesus. To say it was a week of contrasts is to say it far too simply. It is a country of contrasts; a country of extremes.
It smells and is pretty and loud and crowded and changing. It is incredibly welcoming and hospitable. It is large, and it takes a long time to get everywhere.
For reasons of privacy and protection, I can’t name a lot of names and share a lot of stories. If you’re interested in finding out more specifics about how God is moving in India, let’s connect on Facebook. Better still, give our nonprofit a follow. Suffice it to say, the eight days we traveled to India were full of inspiring events. One quick story:
In 2014, our nonprofit supported the work of a ministry in India by granting $24,000 to construct a school building in a village of low-caste people groups. The government of India said no, and so the building was built in a different area. This past week, we got to visit that place and see those kids and it was incredibly rewarding. The village chosen houses persecuted believers and their families, and the school educates their children and other “untouchable” children from the area. We talked with the kids and passed out snacks and got to have our picture taken. It was a moment I won’t soon forget.
What do you do when you spend a week hearing from pastors who risk being eaten to share the Gospel, hugging children who’ve been displaced by persecution, and take in the sights and smells and energy of a country on the brink of Reformation? It’s hard to worry about the latest Twitter war or fein interest in whatever controversy the news cycle can drum up. It’s not that those things are unimportant, it’s just that they take their rightful place in your personal priorities.
Friends, there is a place in this world where the poverty we call a curse is a blessing and the discomfort we go to great lengths to avoid is refining a people into the closest thing to the first century church I’ve ever encountered.
That place is called India.