The Work in India

By John Humphries

India is a nation of one billion people and is expected to exceed China in population in about 20 years. The land area is about one-third the size of the continuous 48 states of these United States. The climate is considered tropical to sub-tropical in most of the nation. However, across the northern borders of the nation extend the towering Himalayas with their snow-covered peaks. To the east, lies the East Bay of Bengal. To the west is the Arabian Sea. To the south of India is the island nation of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. 

India is a country with 23 states and seven Union Territories. For the most part, each state is divided along linguistic lines. For example, Telugu is the main language spoken in Andhra Pradesh, a large state in southern India. Thus, India is a nation of many languages and dialects. Each state, along with its dominant language, will also have many different dialects that are spoken by the tribal people within its borders. This is why visitors must use translators when going into the many villages to preach to the people. While English is spoken widely in the cities of India, Hindi is the national language even though many Indians do not speak it (especially in Tamil Nadu State). Most educated Indians will speak several languages including English, as there are many English medium schools in the cities of India.    

The prominent religion in India is Hindu with 84% of the population professing one form or another of Hinduism. There is also a large minority of Moslems (12%) in India, giving India the largest population of Moslems in the world except for Indonesia. A number of other religions (including Christianity) make up the remaining four percent of the population. In South India, there are more than 450 churches of Christ (conservative), ranging in size from several families to more than three hundred and fifty members in the larger congregations. Nearly 400 Indian preachers are working with these congregations. The combined membership in the congregations is estimated to be at least 42,000. However, no man has the exact count of the faithful (2 Tim. 2:19). It is obvious that we have barely touched the hem of the garment in gospel work among the Indian people. 

India will only permit visitor or tourist visa status to those of us who wish to visit India and work with our brethren there in the gospel. They will not allow any “missionaries” to come for extended periods of time. In fact, some of the political parties in India would ban all non-Hindu religious activity completely if they could have their way. Thankfully, they are in the minority at this time. The attitude of these ultra-conservatives is that India is Hindu and Hinduism is India — and no one else is welcome in India. There are violent, bloody clashes with Moslems periodically with these radical Hindu factions. It is also true that these Hindu radicals have killed an alarming number of denominational people in recent months. “Anyone who kills cows and eats them deserves to die,” is what some fanatical Hindus say to justify killing believers in Christ. Again, thankfully, this fanaticism does not reflect the thinking of most Hindus who are generally very tolerant of other religions. In fact, a large percentage of Indians are very interested in hearing what we have to say about God and Christ.

I have been going to India since 1976 and have seen the church grow tremendously over the past 24 years. Our approach is to have preacher training classes for one week with 20 to 40 preachers. We select a location and invite the preachers from nearby villages/cities to come for all day classes, attending Monday through Friday. We teach books of the Bible and also many different topical studies. In the evenings we preach gospel sermons in nearby places. The week will, therefore, be quite full. Then, we will travel to another centrally located spot and repeat the procedure for the preachers in that area. In our last trip to India (mid-September to early November 2000), we taught well over 200 preachers in our classes and baptized 369 people as a result of the evening gospel meetings. Large crowds will assemble and listen to the preaching.

Several generations ago in the USA, it was not unusual for some of our pioneer preachers to preach gospel meetings and baptize several dozen people. That is the way it is at the present time in India. They are about 75-100 years behind us in their response to gospel meetings. However, India may not remain as responsive to the gospel as she is now as materialism, worldliness, and other factors continue to come into play. I have seen a lot of change (more and more materialism, immorality, and an increase in the divorce rate) in the 24 years that I have been going there. However, for now, India is very responsive to the gospel. 

We (several gospel preachers) also have written gospel tracts for India and have had them translated into some of the Indian languages. There are over a dozen of these tracts that have been printed in India over a period of years. We try to print them in 5,000 and 10,000 lots per tract. We have, therefore, printed many hundreds of thousands of gospel tracts and distributed them through the Indian brethren to the people. Just over the past ten years alone, we have printed over a million copies of gospel tracts. This is a very important part of our gospel work as the tracts continue to teach when we leave India to come home.

Another important work that we do is providing Bibles for the poor saints in India. We purchase Bibles in the language of the brethren so that they will have a copy of the word of God. Many of our brethren are daily wage people (cf. Matt. 20:1ff.) and simply cannot afford to purchase a Bible. We are able to obtain inexpensive Bibles (about 80 cents each) for them. Separate from this effort is our work of printing a Telugu language New Testament (10,000 copies). We have previously printed 10,000 copies and they have been given out to brethren and those with whom they are studying. During each trip we print songbooks for the brethren to use in their worship to God. Some of the Indian preachers publish a monthly gospel magazine that is useful in teaching the people. Other preachers publish this on a quarterly basis as they have the funds available. 

We are not attempting to get involved in a big support raising effort for Indian preachers. However, for those interested, an Indian preacher can adequately provide for his family for $35 a month in the villages. Those in the cities have far greater expenses to deal with and would need $100 or more depending upon the city and their family circumstances. It is unwise for brethren to respond to letters from India requesting financial help without checking with those of us who know something of the Indian culture and the brethren there.

There is a need for faithful, young gospel preachers who love God and people to get involved with the gospel work in India. Some of us are not getting any younger, and we would like to have some dedicated young gospel preachers who are willing to follow up year after year in these India efforts. In other words, we need some who are willing to continue to go each year (or every other year at least) for six weeks or so at a time and become acquainted with the brethren, learn the culture, and further develop the work there. By the way, churches (elders) need to see the value and importance in sending preachers (including their own) to India for gospel work. Churches see the value of gospel meetings each year. Indian brethren also need this.

It is also highly important that one not go alone, especially for the first time. The Lord sent his disciples out two by two for a number of good reasons. The culture and conditions in India are unlike anything we know in this country. Some from the western culture have experienced cultural shock when they have landed in India. We need to go with some one who will be an encouragement to us in a difficult, strange environment. One really needs to talk with those of us who have experienced India before undertaking the trip. It would be even better to go with some of us for the first time. We can help to avoid painful mistakes that first timers might make if they were on their own. There are important cultural and social matters in India that must be respected by those of us from the west (1 Cor. 9:22). For those interested in going, we can guide them through the entire process from preparation to go to their return home. 

There are many nations on this earth and all of them need the gospel. We are aware of this and know of many good brethren who are sacrificing (going and/or sending) in order to preach the gospel in those places. Please remember, however, that “into all the world” certainly includes  India! I will be happy to answer any questions concerning the gospel work in India. We can use all of the help that we can get!

I do not know who wrote the following words, but they are to the point. 

    The sob of a thousand million of poor lost souls sounds in my ear and moves my heart: 
    And I try to measure, as God helps me, something of their darkness, 
    Something of their blank misery, something of their despair.     
    Oh, think of these needs! I say again, they are ocean depths: 
    And beloved, in my Master’s Name, I want you to measure them, 
    I want you to think earnestly about them, I want you to look at them until they appall you, 
    Until you cannot sleep, until you cannot criticize. 
    Let their desperate plight so grip your heart, that you will pray, that you will give sacrificially, 
    That you will say, “Here am I; Lord, send me.”          

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Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 5  p18  March 1, 2001