India: WHY MY PEOPLE NEED THE GOSPEL
Anonymous | JUNE 19, 2019 | 6 MIN READ
During June, SOLA will be publishing a series, “Why My People Need the Gospel” to highlight the global need for the good news of Jesus Christ.
To pray for God's kingdom work more effectively, we must learn about those we are praying for so that we can pray more specifically and intentionally. Therefore we will be publishing short guides written by people of those countries and cultures so we can exhort the body to pray for all nations. Please note that these responses are just snapshots of the complex socio-political issues of the countries and are not all-encompassing.
We hope this series will encourage and challenge you to pray globally for all nations to be united under the rule of Christ.
India, located in South Asia, is the second-most populous country in the world. India is a diverse country, with the constitution recognizing 22 languages and hundreds more languages and dialects spoken within its borders. India is a fast-growing major economy that still faces major challenges like poverty. Almost 80% of the population is Hindu, followed by Islam at 14% and Christianity at 2%.
Two church planters, whose families hail from India, share with us about the country, with recent insights learned from a trip there in April. Their names have been withheld for ministry purposes.
SOLA: What are some of the major political struggles of India?
CP: India is known as the world's largest democracy, and with good reason. The sheer number of documented people within the borders of India is over 1 billion. When one takes into consideration the number of expats around the world, it becomes an overwhelming statistic to consider.
This is relevant to the discussion because the average Indian citizen has to pick his/her battles of what to care about day-to-day. In states with higher literacy, there may be more attention paid to politics — both local and national — than less literate states. The political powers that be are aware of this and campaign/cater to their desired constituencies, ignoring or hamstringing one while stirring up fervor among the other. Having been there as a family in April, we observed these realities firsthand.
Currently, the political landscape of India has resulted in arguably one of the tensest times in the history of India for monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam due to the radical right-wing Hindu political party that has been in power. The same party's landslide re-election of a few weeks ago has only served to reinforce the Hindu-first ideology of the muscle responsible for most of the persecution. And yet...
Ministers of the Gospel of Christ are reporting incredible numbers of new disciples of Christ from Hindu backgrounds, particularly in north India! While the re-election was discouraging, these ministers — from various denominations and non-denominations — are saying, in essence, that nothing has changed. They will continue to give to Caesar's what is his, and to the Lord what is His (Matthew 22:21 & Romans 13:1).
Corruption remains a major problem in politics in India. Given the amount of corruption among the lawmakers, small wonder that corruption seeps down to most domains in the public sector. Again, the average citizen is dealing with corruption that affects basic utilities being served to their homes, and so the idea of corporate civic responsibility becomes overwhelming and far easier to cope with by privatized decisions to either capitulate or fight. NGOs such as International Justice Mission have been very helpful in enabling citizens and institutions to know and enforce laws on the books that exist but ignored by rampant corruption.
SOLA: What are some of the major cultural struggles of the people in India?
CP: Casteism is illegal in India, yet functional. There remain even vestiges of the caste system within the Christian framework (this is even true of the West, for those who have ears to hear!). Many would be surprised to know that India's most famous hero, Mohandas K. Gandhi (Mahatma), actually favored the caste system, and rebutted Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's famous manifesto, Annihilation of Caste. Casteism coupled with rampant xenophobia packs a deadly one-two punch, resulting in social justice issues including deep poverty amidst a burgeoning middle class, illiteracy in many states (which also hamstrings citizens from even being aware of basic rights afforded by the writ of law), bonded slave labor, and human trafficking.
Like many Asian cultures, the culture of India is one of Honor-Shame, that is to say, the preservation of communal (primarily family but not just immediate — think extended to second cousins twice removed!) is of paramount importance. One cannot defile only oneself — all in the community are doomed to don a scarlet letter without very much hope of restoration. Mira Nair's film Monsoon Wedding, for example, tackled a taboo topic and not only tells a resonating fictional account, but even its reception among Indians was quite disruptive because of the communal shame experienced by airing some of India's dirty laundry.
You might imagine, therefore, that maintaining an aura of strength is considered a virtue. It is deeply shameful to show weakness. This has infiltrated the professional Christian world and so bishops/priests/pastors rarely talk about their weaknesses with others, which hinders others' ability to speak the Gospel into their lives. If shame is too unbearable, it is often considered a better option to take one's own life in order to atone for mistakes — perceived or realized. We write that because there is an epidemic of young people committing suicide due to anxiety over school grades (in one case we heard, a young girl could not bear the chance of receiving a less than an acceptable grade, and took her life before she could receive the grade). So many are struggling mightily, and they do so incredibly alone.
SOLA: What are some of the biggest barriers to Christianity for the people in India?
CP: To be succinct, barriers are still being realized. Certainly, the political climate is prohibitive towards overt evangelism. However, the problem of disunity among churches/parachurches is real. Last month, our family was in India and we heard from a few ministers that tragically, fellow Christians who give into sinful competitive inclinations were the ones reporting them as proselytizing, which is against the law.
It has been a long time coming, but various ministries are humbling themselves and repenting for insisting on using old wineskins to make disciples. Ancient eastern and modern western theological frameworks must be and are being re-evaluated in the uniqueness of India's pluralistic society, which over the decade-plus plus has become globalized. Inflexibility due to pride and self-preservation has made it difficult to seek and follow the leading of His Holy Spirit as the country has changed. As such, young people are leaving the church in droves, or many that stay assent to communal tradition without any interest to become image bearers of the invisible God.
It is also worth mentioning that in India, sometimes Christianity is pitted against culture such that the unspoken — except by vociferous non-Christian nationalistic Indians — narrative is that to follow Jesus means to be stripped of one's Indian identity. To be sure, the Gospel reminds us that our citizenship is of the Kingdom that has come and is coming. Yet sometimes certain theological emphasis and ecclesiological practices can de-emphasize or even exclude one's actual personhood from following Jesus. This usually happens in churches where the fuller dimensions of the Gospel are not preached and taught in a manner which joins the miracle of atonement with the power of Kingdom. Again, here is where young people in traditional churches feel torn between Indian traditions and customs, and the prompting of God's Spirit to know salvation from the power of sin, and unto Good Works.
Also, converts from other faiths often testify that to become a Christian feels like losing India, or Indian-ness — both to the convert and the unconverted and now ashamed families. Significant questions like these are being asked - what does it mean to be an Indian Christian? How do we move from merely a Jesus moment to a Jesus MOVEMENT?
SOLA: How can we pray for India and its people?
CP: When thinking of praying for India, Philippians 4:6-7 is an appropriate guide. We must be Thankful that in true fashion, the image of the invisible God is making disciples even and especially during a time in India's history when obstacles and hindrances would suggest otherwise. The Kingdom of God is like yeast and the mustard seed. Acts of faithfulness to God's mission that will never trend on social media newsfeeds are sacrificially, slowly and patiently being woven into Christ's Kingdom agenda to make all things new. Not even the gates of India can stop His advance.
So pray for the body of Christ in India. Pray that the Good News of atonement and kingdom will continue to be preached and taught throughout the country, whether in traditional or non-traditional churches. If Indians are to make sense of the Gospel, pray they will both hear it proclaimed and also see the effects of it lived out among His image bearers.
Pray for a season of repentance to spread. As they become secure in the Gospel, pray for all Christian leaders to learn to lead in weakness, that the excellency of His all-sufficient Grace might radiate Good News and restore the shamed! Pray for Oneness — not sameness — among churches and parachurches. Pray also for boldness and creativity for pastors and church planters to consider new wineskins in making disciples and planting churches.
Pray for protection from those who mean harm driven by Hindu-only ideologies. Pray about this new found surprising solidarity with other monotheists such as Muslims and Sikhs. Pray that perhaps deeply committed friendship among them will result in discovering persons of peace with whom the Gospel might be shared.
Since the Gospel tells us that we were once dead in our sins and trespasses, but Christ raised us to life, we would urge others to pray for resurrection power to seize even the political leaders of India. If God can raise the dead — and He certainly has, can and will — pray boldly and consistently as you are reminded to pray for the last, the least and the lost.
SOLA: How did your family come to know Christ?
CP: We hail from families that has been churched for generations. When we are asked if we could go back in time, whom we would want to meet, we almost always respond with our desire to meet the first ancestor in our families that heard and received the Good News, was baptized, and was taught to obey everything commanded in the Bible.
Whoever that is, he/she/they altered the lives of generations to follow, such that we were born into a mainline Indian church context where we were confronted by Scripture from our earliest memories. We were taught the sacraments and worshiped corporately through an ancient Syrian liturgy in Malayalam and English. All of that prepared us for the day when we heard Him call us irresistibly by name, and we came. We also heard Him ask, "Who will go? Whom shall I send?" To which we responded, "Here I am, Lord. Send me!" And here we are.
SOLA: Any last words?
CP: India is a complex country and Indians are very VERY different from state to state, and status to status (born citizens, ex-pats, 1st, 1.5, 2nd generation, etc.). As we would say that no person of color speaks for all persons of color, we recognize we do not speak on behalf of all Indians, much less Indian Christians. Nevertheless, these are our thoughts, as 2nd generation Indian Christians born and raised in America, with a heart for the country of our ethnic history, and having spent April/May 2019 traveling India ministering with many in different states and contexts.
Anonymous are two church planters in Georgia. If you would like to get in touch with the authors, you can email us.