India is a very difficult place to do ministry.
By 2050 it is estimated that it will be the biggest Muslim nation in the world, surpassing Indonesia, currently the biggest Muslim nation in the world.
What’s incredible about this is that Muslims only make up 7% of India’s population! Eighty percent of the Indian population are Hindu – almost a billion people. And within the Hindu population there is a growing opposition to Christianity and its influence in India. The Hindu fundamentalist movement (responsible for much of the violence against Christians in 2008) is rapidly gaining momentum.
In this context Christians, who make up just 2.5% of the population, face increased discrimination. There are repeated calls within India for the country to be renamed Hindustan, demonstrating deep-held commitments to religious nationalism. And this is having tangible knock-on effects for Christian ministers in the region.
Just two weeks ago it was announced that Compassion International, the Christian child sponsorship charity, is shutting its India office, citing pressures from fundamentalist Hindu groups working at the behest of the government. As the New York Times reported at the time, Compassion is finding itself negotiating with the “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu ideological group that is closely connected with the governing Bharatiya Janata Party but that has no official role in governing”.
This is not an isolated incident. More and more Christian organisations are reporting facing “government crackdowns” and tighter operational restrictions. In fact it has been estimated that more than 11,000 NGO’s have lost their licences to receive overseas payments since Narendra Modi’s government took office. This puts Christian organisations in a very precarious position.
Global Action had its own run-in with the government last year. Without warning, and without any explanation, our local bank told Amit Mondal (Global Action India national administrator) that Global Action India’s account had been frozen, and that Global Action could no longer receive payments from other international offices (i.e. from donors in the UK and USA). This effectively crippled our work in India. For 10 months, our staff “toughed it out”, working without salaries, trying to support their families…it was not easy. However, following months of difficulty (and still without any explanation) our account was reactivated, and we were able to send the money that had accrued in the UK and USA to support our work in India.
These cases indicate some of the problems facing individual Christian ministries in India. But they also generate a picture of a wider trend across India, that of a hardening opposition to God’s Kingdom. In this context, it is more important than ever to work with local Christian leaders, and to help them as they reach their communities and “free the captives”.
But the challenges to ministry don’t end with groups opposed to Christian mission. Even within the relatively tiny Christian population there are many challenges to ministry. The vast majority of Christian leaders have received less than one-hours’ worth of Bible teaching. Many are so poorly equipped that they teach a mixture of Christianity along with whatever the local prevailing belief system happens to be. As a result, it is estimated that seventy percent of new churches will close within one year because their church leaders become discouraged, succumbed to false teaching or fall away because of their own lack of a solid Biblical foundation.
Even when things seem to be going well it is sometimes an illusion. For example, Hyderabad has one of the biggest churches in the world, a mega-church of around 150,000 worshippers. However, the teaching within the church revolves mostly around prosperity gospel. This is perhaps understandable, considering the great poverty that many in India experience. But it is a shadowy reflection of God’s word.
So there are many, many challenges facing Christian ministry in India. But we know that when leaders are properly equipped they can achieve so much.
At our Hyderabad school we recently trained a pastor who felt called to a village outside the city. There was no church in the village, and there were no Christian influences for miles around. He considered carefully how he would reach the village. Soon he set upon a plan. Following an old Hindu tradition practiced by witchdoctors, he stood under a tree and started to preach. Initially children come to listen to him. After some time, families came to hear him too. Before long, people started committing to Christ and he found himself leading a church. In line with the recommendations of his training, he has started discipling believers within the church. He disciples twelve men. A colleague disciples the women. These people are becoming “rock-solid” in their faith, because someone is taking the time to build deeply into their lives. Discipleship like this is how believers grow in faith and wisdom.
Not only that, his church is now providing medical supplies and humanitarian aid to the village. We are supporting him in this. Because of this commitment to the village the many Hindus in the area respect him.
In a country with so many challenges, both spiritually and physically, it is essential that Christians are equipped to minister within their communities. Global Action is working to support the local church. But there is a great deal to be done.
Please pray with us that we will be able to continue to meet the need in this great country. Please pray for India, for Indian Christians and for God’s great commission to this country.