Testimony of a Viable, Indigenous Church Planting Movement

Testimony of a Viable, Indigenous Church Planting Movement

by R.Rekedal Smith

Ralph Winter once said: “The essential missionary task is to establish  a viable, indigenous church planting movement  that carries the potential to renew whole extended families and transform whole societies. It is  viable  in that it can grow on its own,  indigenous  meaning that it is not seen as foreign, and a  church planting movement that continues to reproduce intergenerational fellowships… able to evangelize the rest of the people group. A viable, indigenous church planting movement.”

In India? My husband, Steve, and I didn’t believe it was possible. Until it happened. 

Steve and I first moved to India in 2001. Over the years, we were involved in many good, Christian activities, but by 2011, we had not established anything close to an indigenous church planting movement. We knew of two Hindu families who’d begun following Jesus through our work, but neither had multiplied other disciples for Christ. What a discouraging summary of 10 years of prayer and work! We weren’t alone. Other expat workers were equally unfruitful. We all had explanations for our fruitlessness: 

  • The [spiritual] ground here is really hard. Hindus aren’t interested. 
  • The gospel message isn’t contextualized enough for Hindus to accept.
  •  The only available Bible translation is out of date. 
  • Jesus said that few find the narrow way that leads to life (Matt 7:14), so we shouldn’t expect many to be saved. 

In 2011, our sending agency, BEYOND, conducted a two week disciple making training with one purpose— to spend time looking at nothing but Scripture.

No manuals. No quotes from famous authors. No missional theses. 

Just a deep dive into what the Word of God has to say about reaching and discipling the lost and about church planting strategies. 

During the training, my husband and I were forced to admit that we knew more about what our favorite authors and fellow missionaries had to say about evangelism and outreach than what was in the Word. We knew what our contemporaries claimed about the “right” way to reach Hindus, but we’d never seriously studied the Bible to see what it had to say. 

I was raised in the church, decided to be a missionary in junior high, and graduated from Bible college. Yet, no one ever advised me simply to follow the strategies that Jesus both modeled and taught concerning outreach and disciple making. Did Jesus even make strategic choices? Didn’t he just kind of walk around with the chosen few, sharing stories that no one really understood until the time came for him to redeem the world? Did he ever purposefully reach out to lost people? How sad that I could quote strategies from Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, and Paul, but not from Jesus.

 After the training, Steve and I compared the Bible with our missional strategies and outreach tools, determined to let go of assumptions and approaches that weren’t in Scripture. “Our” strategies hadn’t been fruitful anyway, so we had nothing to lose by letting them go. For outreach, we began to apply literally Luke 10:1–12. Again, nothing else had worked. Why not try going as Jesus had done and taught his disciples to do? So, as obvious as it sounds, this meant we had to actually go. 

In Luke 10, Jesus’ disciples only went. They didn’t go-then-invite, which was, of course, our standard practice. Whether VBS programs for children, medical drives, literacy programs, or skills training, none of these activities are bad in and of themselves. But, when Jesus sent out the 12, he told them simply to go humbly and with prayer. They were even instructed to leave everything at home. Talk about the opposite of our outreach strategies! More than just going, they went with a sense of neediness to lost people, as sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3). Had Steve and I ever gone to the lost like that? We had to admit it. We hadn’t. 

Jesus’ strategies are so rich, but I’ll touch on just one more here. In Luke 10:5–7, Jesus instructed his disciples to enter a house and stay in it. The Greek word for house, oikos, refers to a household or community. In other words, one-on-one outreach was not included in Jesus’ strategy. His disciples were to meet with families or existing relationship groups. 

Reach out to an entire household? This was definitely not standard practice for our outreach efforts. Sure, Steve and I prayed for our relatives back home to also follow Jesus. After all, the Philippian jailer and his whole household were saved (Acts 16:31–34), but we’d never considered targeting oikos as strategic for reaching the lost. A search of the Scriptures shows that the Philippian jailer’s family isn’t an anomaly. Whole households are saved from Genesis to Revelation, including but not limited to Rahab and her whole family, the Samaritan woman and her village, Cornelius and his family, as well as Lydia and hers. Likewise, see Joshua 2:18; 6:22–23; John 4:39–42; Acts 10:27–33; 16:15. 

Besides literally applying Luke 10, we looked for others who also wanted to see more fruit from among the lost. The Lord led us to a small group of Christian Indians who were willing to try these new things (which were really old). Truthfully, this story is their story. 

God has worked much more through the Christian Indians than us to complete this essential missionary task. In six months, that group of 15 Christians started 65 Bible studies in Hindu households (oikos). Many of those households received baptism, even knowing persecution might result. Also, many became co-laborers in the harvest. Thus, there were now two generations of disciples going and starting new Bible studies. Multiplication had begun.

That was 12 years ago. There are now over 300,000 churches planting churches and three million baptized followers of Jesus across 16 states in India (over half the country). Disciples of Jesus come from all walks of life: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and even Christian (important in a country of self-designated “name Christians”). There are well over 250 caste groups represented in this indigenous, viable church planting movement. As many might expect, there are Dalit and Tribal households, but there also are Brahmin, Rajput, Jat, Thakur, even Baniya, and many others. 

How are so many caste groups being touched by the good news? Some households become followers because someone from their own caste reaches out. Others become followers due to outreach across caste or religious lines. In caste-striated, religiously divided India, doesn’t reaching across caste or religious lines cut a person off from his or her family? It certainly can and does when individuals act in isolation. Thus, we praise God for including oikos in his outreach strategy! 

When an oikos is discipled together, they support and encourage each other. They spur each other on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), applying God’s Word to their lives in practical ways, even difficult verses like love your enemies (Matt 5:43–48), and that, in Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…male nor female [but] all are one… (Gal 3:28). They learn to obey together, even in opposition to accepted cultural practices. This is not just an assumption. With around 300,000 house churches, there are countless other examples to recall. The only way this movement has grown across 16 states in 12 years is because households are actively engaged in the essential missionary task of establishing a viable, indigenous movement  that renews whole extended families (and whole villages, in some cases). Rejoice with us! God is building his Church! In fact, indigenous movements are happening on every continent today, with over 40 in South Asia alone. Hallelujah! 

Lord, I’m sorry that for so long I blamed the lost for being lost. Thank you for appointing us for fruitfulness (John 15:16). Forgive us for being content with little. Jesus, you are worth the worship of all nations, including those who have yet to hear. May we, your people, be willing to stop, start, or change whatever needs stopping, starting, or changing to see your great harvest brought in so that the end can come (Matt 24:14)

Steve and I wish we had more space to brag about our Indian co-laborers. God has done and is doing great things through them! They face intense opposition. Some have had their homes burned to the ground. Many have been beaten and/or imprisoned. Others have been killed for following Jesus. In response, the churches are caring for widows and orphans. They visit those who are imprisoned and pray for their persecutors. Meanwhile, they continue to multiply and do not shrink back. We are honored to know them.

This article was first published in Mission Frontiers March/April 2024 edition | Seeking Movements Among Frontier People pages 24-26. It was used here with permission.

About the Author: R. R. Smith and her family  serve with Beyond, a missions organization wholly dedicated to seeing Acts-like movements birthed among the world’s unreached peoples.

Seven Generations of Disciples

Seven Generations of Disciples

In North India, some women have been trained in making disciples. They have been faithful to apply what they’ve learned, and are experiencing joy from bearing fruit. They have also cast a vision for disciple-making in six districts of their state.

One of the leaders of this group, a lovely and gentle woman, recently shared her testimony. Two years ago, she became a follower of Christ. She, her husband, and their children had been idol worshipers. Her family was “broken and terrible.” They had no joy. Her husband drank all the time and beat her. Her children were undisciplined and refused to go to school. 

Then one day, she says, it was as if a light suddenly came on. That was the day she attended a Bible Study in a nearby home. She loved it. After participating in the Bible study for three months, she wanted to start one in her own home. Soon, she and her whole family were baptized. 

Today, through ongoing obedience to the Word and the application of its truths to their lives, this woman and her whole family have been changed. Her husband no longer drinks or beats her. Their children are full of joy. They actively share with others all that God has done for them. This one woman has started nine different Discovery Groups from which have come seven generations of disciples making disciples! 

Jesus promised to build His church and has not forgotten His promise. His Kingdom of love and light is growing in some of the hardest-to-reach places in the world, through simple disciples like these ladies in North India.

Don’t Hoard, Share the Food . . .

Don’t Hoard, Share the Food . . .

 

This is the kind of fasting I want: . . . Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless . . .. Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” –  Isaiah 58:7-8, 10

News about COVID-19 is bleak. The virus is in virtually every country. The numbers of those infected and dead continue to rise. Many of us in the U.S. are entering our sixth week of quarantine. We have exhausted our self-entertaining options and are dealing with personal struggles. Even as we cope with these daily stresses, we should keep in mind the horrific situation multitudes around the world are facing.  As you heard last week, many people around the world are daily wage earners. Each day they don’t work is a day they don’t eat. 

 But . . . 

God’s people in one North India movement are mobilizing to help those hit hardest by shelter-in-place restrictions. Below is a translation of a voice message received from *Sanjay, a national movement leader and Beyond teammate:

. . .We give thanks to Jesus Christ for today’s work!  We left our house this morning at 7:00 because we had set a long journey for ourselves.

. . .We made 133 food parcels to give away. Each pack contained 10kg rice, 10kg wheat flour, 2kg sugar, tea, spices (coriander, turmeric, chili), 1l oil, 2kg lentils, and salt. We were able to take these rations to each place we visited. 

We are very happy because God helped us with all this travel. It’s very hard to travel these days due to the coronavirus lockdown, but even so, we were able to be out all day without getting stopped by the police . . .. We were able to distribute food in four locations. All these people
are so very poor. There are more than 70-80 house churches [families] in these four areas. As we hand out these food parcels, we encourage those receiving them to share with their neighbors . . .

Tomorrow, more such visits are planned closer to town, but *John and I will not go because other house church leaders have volunteered to distribute rations.

We thank the Lord Jesus for all the work that happened today. We also give God great praise for the prayers you pray and the help you give.

Then this dear brother in Christ expressed his concern for all of us! We have seen the news about coronavirus in the US. There are so many cases there. How is everyone with our team and all those associated with you? Are they OK? We are worried for them and feel concern for all who care for us. Please let us know if anyone gets ill. We are praying for all of you.”

The beauty of this story is that these same leaders who are distributing food parcels to the starving don’t have very much themselves but share with others out of their own lack. Join us in praying for the 50,000 house churches in the North India Movement. Pray they will continue to wisely yet boldly apply Isaiah 58 to their lives. Pray that God would protect them as they obey, and that God’s Kingdom would greatly advance in these days.

*pseudonyms used

 

 

“My Lip Has Fallen Off!”

“My Lip Has Fallen Off!”

You never know how God has prepared people to receive truth from his word. Sometimes we think we are the first to bring the gospel into an unreached place when, in fact, God has already been at work. *Krish’s testimony illustrates God’s work in his life before he met a man from a spreading movement in North India and became an industrious disciple-maker himself.

Krish grew up in a devout Hindu family. For six years, he had been an active member of a radical pro-Hindu group. He persecuted followers of Jesus and led others in doing so. 

One day, Krish’s doctor told him he had mouth cancer. The disease progressed until Krish’s mouth became so disfigured that he started wearing a handkerchief to cover it. 

Krish continued persecuting followers of Jesus. As Christmas approached, Krish called together a group of friends to attack a prayer meeting being held nearby. When they arrived, however, Krish realized that the pastor facilitating the meeting was a personal acquaintance. The man invited Krish to sit with them. He did. He told his Hindu friends to leave; he would “take care of things” on his own. They left, and Krish sat through the whole service. He heard about Jesus. The testimonies people shared touched him. Then they offered to pray for his healing! Krish was shocked. These people who had been the target of his aggression had welcomed him in, and then prayed for him? Krish went home befuddled but hopeful. Maybe he’d get better?! After waiting three days, his cancer remained. 

At this point in the disease, his face had become so severely deformed that he could no longer drink by himself, even through a straw. His mother had to pour water into his mouth from a cup. Krish began to feel foolish for believing he’d get better. Then he got mad. He became so angry at the pastor for building up his hope that he decided to return and beat him up. How dare the man say that God could or would heal him?! 

Krish’s mother caught him as he was heading out the door. She said, “We have paid many doctors to heal you, and they could not, yet you did not beat them. Why are you going to beat the pastor?” Her question stopped Krish cold. He had no answer. He turned around and went back inside. 

Five days later, Krish called his mother to pour water in his mouth. As he removed the handkerchief, he realized he could no longer feel his mouth. ”My lip has fallen off!” he thought. “Or maybe I am dead?!” In his terror, he began to scream. His mother ran into the room. She took one look at him and exclaimed, “Your mouth! It’s completely normal!” He had felt no pain because he was completely healed! The very next day, Krish visited the pastor and pledged his life to Jesus.

Krish’s life would change again when he later met a man named *Satish and learned how to become a disciple-maker. In two weeks, we’ll tell the story of their meeting and the fruit that has come from their partnership. Don’t miss it! 

*pseudonyms used

 

 

 

God Stories Changing Families in India

God Stories Changing Families in India

AMEETH’ STORY
God’s word has the power to change people’s lives, even without the input of an “expert” or an invitation to “church.” As Paul told Timothy all those years ago, the Bible really is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right (2 Tim 3:16).

In India lives a man named *Ameeth. He has two sons and two daughters. He recently told his story:
Life was not peaceful. I was a cruel person. Even my children did not want a relationship with me. Then, on May 22, 2017, I was changed. I was walking along the road when I heard a loud story (like a radio) coming from a nearby house. I stopped to listen to the story. It was about miracles. When the story finished, I walked into the house [in Indian villages, front doors are usually open for ventilation] and asked, “What are you listening to?”

The people looked at me, then asked, “Who are you?!”

I told them that I simply wanted to know about the story I’d just heard. It had caught my attention. Could they give it to me?
They said, “Yes, you may have a copy,” and they gave me a microSD card with stories on it, and a speaker through which I could play the card. I took the speaker home and listened to the stories. I used to drink every night, and do other bad things. However, that night, I did not go out to drink. I stayed home and listened to the stories. My family was happy that I did not drink that night. They liked this better version of me. The next day, again, I did not go out drinking, but stayed home and listened to the stories. The third day, the same.

After three days of this new behavior, my wife said, “I am seeing a change in you. You are not bad like before.” I told her that I didn’t understand it myself, but that when I listened to the stories, I had no desire to do those other (bad) things.
My wife asked, “Can we all listen to the stories?” And so, we did.

My whole household changed. The neighbors also noticed. One of them, *RK, asked my children, “What’s going on in your home? Your father doesn’t do bad like before.”

The children replied, “Uncle, my father has changed. We all listen to stories, and he does not do bad things.”

RK asked, “Is there truly something that can change your father?”

They said, “Uncle, you can also come and see, and listen.”

RK went home and got his whole family. Later, when they entered my home, they found us listening to the Proverbs on the speaker.
When I turned off the speaker, RK said, “These are great! I’d like a copy of the stories, also.”

I replied, “I only have one copy, but I can play the stories together for both of our families.”

Thus it is that every evening, 30-35 people meet to listen to Bible stories in this village in North India. A mentor is helping them take their first steps of faith and a baptism service is planned.

*pseudonyms

We know that encounter would have never happened without the financial partnership of someone just like you.
We need your help to:
Provide training resources to send more movement catalysts into unreached people groups
Provide disciple-making resources to disciple new believers like Ameeth
Provide equipping resources to equip more new leaders to disciple others.