I intended to get a post up shortly after the India trip to try and summarize our findings and what we’re currently thinking about the prospect of beginning work there. I don’t suppose this still counts as shortly after…
As Rob Thiessen said after the trip, we met with 19 different church planters, including several Indian nationals as well as foreigners from 5 other countries. They represented 9 different ministries and organizations. Each one had a unique perspective, and we returned with a far greater understanding of factors involved in making disciples in India and with new insights to help us in our work in other parts of the world as well.
The short answer is yes, we are feeling like GFM is supposed to begin a long-term work in India. The ultimate reason is the overwhelming spiritual and physical need there. It is true that much good gospel work is being done in India, but the job of making disciples of all nations (ethnic groups) in India is far, far from done. Statistically, I think it has to be considered the most unreached country on earth. One Indian national church planter told us that, despite the headway being made in certain parts of India, population growth is outpacing the growth of new believers. In other words, in strictly numeric terms, the Church is losing ground in India. Many of the church planters we met with are very skeptical of the accuracy of large numbers being published of how many new churches are being planted in India. By this we were saddened. At the same time, though, we were greatly encouraged by some of the excellent disciple-making work we saw being done. This gave us an exciting vision of the possibility of helping people in India respond to God in a way fitting to their culture.
Where we would work is a very complicated question, and one that could probably not be answered until someone were to spend an extended period of time exploring different places. The thing that makes India very complicated is that its people groups are all mixed together, at least in the big cities. In Mexico, the ethnic groups are much more distinctly separated geographically. Besides that, India’s thousands of language groups are further broken down by castes, some of which refuse to interact with each other. Part way into the trip we started feeling like we might need to forget about focusing on specific groups at all and instead just settle down in a city and start making reproducing disciples. By the end of the trip, I think we were somewhere in the middle. We should probably find a city or town where not too much work is being done, then seek out a specific needy group in that place on which to focus.
What would be the church planting team’s platform, or occupation, is an even more complicated question. Here are a few intriguing possibilities for a team of Westerners:
- Start a travel agency that shows tourist groups around, then make disciples of the Indians with whom you share your life.
- Teach North American English to some of the many Indians going to the United States or Canada to work.
- Teach Spanish. India is developing good trade relations with Mexico, and many Indians also go to Spain to work.
- Start a consulting business to help Westerners coming to India learn language and acculturate.
- Be a full-time student in a university.
- Be a businessperson and reach out to upper class and upper caste Indians – an extremely unreached segment of the society.
Who will be on a GFM team moving to India has yet to be determined. When they will go is also a question mark and depends on a number of things, such as how soon we get a team into Thailand, how soon we have a trained team willing to go to India, and whether we have a sufficient labor force to continue the work in Mexico.
The trip was sobering. We have been hearing reports of huge church planting movements taking place in India with thousands of churches being planted and tens of thousands of people coming to the Lord. This may be true, but we saw more than enough to convince us that we can’t waltz in there expecting things to be exploding in a few years. The stories we heard sounded much more like what I’m used to hearing from the Muslim world. Church planters work for 10 or 15 years in order to raise up just a few disciples and maybe a small fellowship or two. Work in India is not for those wanting cheap, quick rewards.
But we feel that God wants us to send a team to begin working there. We have been captured by the Revelation 7:9,10 vision of seeing all nations worship the Lamb, and we cannot overlook millions in India entering eternity without ever having heard the name of Jesus.
This story to be continued…