Evangelism in India
After 25 Years, What Then?
On the 25th day of April 1988 it was 25 years since I first set foot on Indian soil. To say the least, they have been very momentous years.
However, to properly look forward to the future we must get a true picture of the past. I have spoken to several hundred churches, and spoken at lectureships, etc., when home from India. I am often introduced as the first man to take the gospel to India. This is not true. I went to a work in India. The Khasi tribe, or at least a member of the Khasi, tribe, had come up with the idea of having a church of Christ free from denominational barriers. Brethren in America had learned in a very providential way about this work in Assam. Two men were sent over and if my memory serves me right, they each stayed for three months. They did a good job of teaching these brethren the way of the Lord more accurately.
They did make a serious mistake. At a meeting in the USA later it was said, "We do not need to send any missionaries to India, we shall just support one or two native preachers." Think of it. The Khasi tribe represents about 1/10 of 1% of the population of India and so we, as a people, had done our duty to the Indian people and to the Lord by taking the gospel to this one tribe in Northeast India and then by teaching them for six months.
At that time the Communists were chasing the missionaries out of China. So the Christian Church sent two of their missionaries into Assam to work among these Khasi brethren. There was one Khasi brother who had made a trip to America. He had also been provided with a number of good books and he was a good student. He knew New Testament doctrine. He opposed these 'digressives' and had kept a number of churches from falling away. He was taking a very active part in the work when I went to India. As far as I can see there probably would have been no churches left when I went to India had it not been for this man. Yet, not long after I went to India, a very sad thing happened. It was learned that he had misused some church funds. Instead of repenting of his sins he left the fellowship of the church he had so bravely defended and went and fellowshipped with the digressives.
Before I went to India, in a very providential way, I got acquainted with a man in Madras who claimed to be a member of the church. It was arranged that I would go to Madras in June and hold a meeting. I held the meeting and a number were baptized. I decided after being in Madras for two weeks that South India was a riper field than North India.
The last week in July, and the first week in August, my wife arrived. Ray McMillan, David Hallett, and Don Perry, his wife and family also arrived. Our three adopted daughters had also come with my wife.
A few days after we were all together I called a meeting and said that I regarded South India as a riper field than North India and one of us should go to South India. If none of them were willing to go, then we would go. None of the other families were willing to go, so my wife, three girls and I arrived in Madras late in September. David Hallett is still in Shillong. Ray McMillan and the Perry family spent years in that area. At the time of writing this report, Brother Ray McMillan and his son, who was born there, are on a visit to that part of the country.
We were all Canadians. Why had we left our country and not let Americans do this work? There is a long story behind this and I shall not tell it in detail. Do you remember how the children of Israel were led by Moses out of Egypt? How they rebelled against God time after time. They came to the southern border of the land of Canaan. God had promised them that land. They sent spies into the land. There were 12 spies. Ten brought back a negative report. They said they could not take the land. This was caused by a lack of faith, for when God tells us to do anything then we can do it. They did not know that God would not accept their rebellion. He said they would not enter the land.
About the turn of the century, Old Country brethren had a good work in Burma and North India. Then, about the time of World War I, American churches had work in the Bombay and Poona area of Western India. Two of the preachers had such conviction that they left the church and joined the Seventh Day Adventists. There was one other preacher but he returned to America. However, one of his children lives in the Detroit area and has supported the work in India for many years. Then God opened the door after World War II into India by way of Shillong. The American churches again failed in their God-given responsibility and the door was shut. There were political reasons, or, perhaps we should say there were diplomatic reasons. But God rules in the kingdom of men and He could have overruled for the opening of doors. And he did, just as we shall see shortly.
Providentially it was learned that despite the fact that Americans could not go into India to live because they could not obtain visas, Canadians could go without visas. I had an alibi all my life that kept me out of the foreign field. Here is how it ran: 95% of all gospel preachers were in the USA. They should go overseas and we few Canadians should evangelize Canada. My alibi was no good any more for we did have about 100 preachers in Canada, and India had none. I had preached the Great Commission for 40 years. I now faced the question: Would I practice what I preached? By the grace of God the decision was made to go to India. Others have labored. To God be the praise through Christ Jesus the Lord. Several hundred thousand have rendered obedience to the gospel.
A way has been found for American brethren to go to India. More than 130 have gone. Some have gone only once. Others have gone again and again. How was this possible? It was found that American brethren could go on a visitor's visa. (Canadians have to go the same way now.)
All things work together for good. The fact that Americans could not go to India to live there has meant that the Indian brethren have had to assume more responsibility. In India the responsibility more and more should rest on the shoulders of Indian brethren and not on Americans or Canadians. The Gospel saves and transforms. Our family is rejoicing over a grandson who had gone far down the road of sin. He repented. What a great change this has been in his life. Only a generation ago there was a boy in a village. He had never gone to school a day in his life. There was no school in the village. There was not a professed Christian in he village. The boy decided to go to school. He walked 60 miles to where there was a school. He became a school teacher. He was one of the first in this area to embrace the call to return to the New Testament church. There are now some 80 churches of Christ in that area. He has gone to his reward but he was the father of Nehemiah and Joshua Gootam. The one is a graduate of OCC and heads the Kakinada School of Preaching. The other one prepares sermons for a radio broadcast that reaches hundreds of thousands and prepared Bible Correspondence Courses for that language. He is a dynamic preacher in both English and Telugu. If the work were not done by the Gootam brothers or a host of other Indian preachers, it would be a hindrance to the Kingdom of God.
I recently attended the lectureship at ACU. We were told that at one time there were more than 700 missionaries overseas and now we just had more than 400. Let me show you the other side of the picture. The number from the USA may have decreased but do not the effective preachers from overseas count? Are they not members of the church? Is this not right? The number of USA preachers overseas may have decreased, but we have more preachers now than we ever had in the effort to restore New Testament Christianity.
More people will obey the gospel now than ever in the history of the world and more and more this harvest will be performed by men of color. I am talking about India in particular but not only the Indian but the people of every nation where the church has gone. The church did not split during the Civil War. There was the Baptist Church South and the Baptist Church North. There is the Methodist Church South and North but we have only the church of Christ. There is a Canadian Baptist Church but there is just the church of Christ in Canada as in the USA. God intended that there should just be the church of Christ in India.
The Holy Spirit declared by the prophet Isaiah: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains and shall be exalted above the hills and nations shall flow into it" (Is. 2:2 NKJV). All nations should be members of the one church, for the house of God is the church of the living God (I Tim. 3:15). The manifold wisdom of God should be made known through this one church (Eph. 3:10-11).
Denominations, because of their very nature, have to have a new organization when they go to another country. So we have in India, the Canadian Baptist Mission. The headquarters of that Institution is in Toronto, Canada. This Institution is guided by regulations issued by this Institution. But you say that we do not have such an organization. Are you sure? If we do not then where do we get authority for some practices? Christ is the head of the church. Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). Peter, by the authority of the Holy Spirit says, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34-35 NKJV).
When I was the editor of the Gospel Herald, there was an old brother who used to write articles that he wanted me to publish in which he claimed that preachers should not be paid wages from the church treasury. It is generally accepted that American preachers can be paid wages any place they want to work in the world and that preachers from other nations can be paid wages when they preach in the USA. Then some draw the line. National preachers cannot be paid from overseas to preach in their own country. Why this human law? For in the light of the Scriptures we have used above, it is not a divine law, it is a tradition of man. This is what Jesus said about the traditions of men, "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the traditions of men" (Mk. 7:8 NKJV). Let us look further, "And He said unto them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature' " (Mk. 16:15). These baptized believers are to teach as Jesus taught the apostles (Mt. 28:19). Our human tradition has led to this untenable position. Does God have different commands for different countries?
Let us look at the other side of the picture. We have the church in India so the church in India has the same responsibility that the church has in Canada or the US. We hear immediately the excuse, But we are poor people. This excuse will not do for, "Listen, my beloved brethren, Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him" (Ja. 2:5). Jesus was in the synagogue at Nazareth on the Sabbath. That was His custom. He stood up to read. He was handed a copy of the book of Isaiah. He read, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor" (Lk. 4:18). To this we add, "And the common people heard Him gladly" (Mk. 12:37). These three passages are all taken from the new KJV. Jesus, in order to make redemption possible, lived as the poorest of the poor. "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Mt. 8:20). The riches of the earth were at His disposal, but in the divine wisdom, using that power to satisfy the things of this life was not the way to bring about a plan of salvation for all men and for all time.
To be poor does not mean to be ignorant. We have had at least two preachers in India who did their daily Bible reading in three languages. They are able to do it. To be born to illiterate parents does not mean that one lacks intelligence. There was a baby born to illiterate parents in the State of Andhra Pradesh a little more than 40 years ago. He now has a very responsible job. He has started more than 220 congregations at last report.
When I was a boy we were poor people. We lived among poor people and this was true of the church in the USA at that time, especially in the South. I recently got a book that contained the obituaries of more than 100 preachers. When reading about their work I was impressed with the fact that as poor as we were, many of them had less support than I did. Yet, that was in many places the greatest period of growth. Many preachers in India had more support in the last 20 years than I had in the first 20 years I preached. I urge the Indian preachers, saying: If you have no money then you get along without money. I did have some money. I had two dollars. I had a wife and seven children. I left my wife at home with one dollar. I charged the gas for my car. I took the other dollar to meet any emergency. During the time I was away I baptized five young people. Two of them are elders in the church now. Another is a deacon and the fourth young man served in Africa for years. The girl is a faithful member of the church. She is now a retired schoolteacher but has given thousands of dollars to the church in all humility. I urged the Indians to make my God their God.
Things are different now. In both Canada and the United States we are no longer poor people. We are not only Middle Class but many of us are Upper Middle Class. With what results? Churches have been able in the USA to give one million dollars in one Sunday to increase their real estate.
We shall leave this story for the time being and go back to the fact that I left home with only one dollar and held meetings. There were two congregations where I worked. The one thought they were so poor they did not take up a collection. In nine months the other congregation had enough money to pay for my gasoline for the meeting. In both places I was given a place to sleep and food to eat. So they had fellowship in these meetings. One of the marks of the early church was that they continued in fellowship (Ac. 2:42). We do not have the forgiveness of sins if we do not have fellowship (I John 1:7). I have never attended a worship service of the church in India where they did not take up a collection. Does the preacher not share in that giving? If he does then there is fellowship.
The N.T. church realized their duty in giving (Phil. 4:15). The Macedonian church was a poor church but they begged for the privilege to give (II Cor. 8:1-4). Bear this in mind, God never lies. "But this I say, He that sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he that sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (II Cor. 9:6).
The last 25 years has shown beyond successful contradiction that the great harvest of souls is in foreign fields. There is no question about that. Jesus made world evangelism item number one on his program (Mt. 28:19). He told us where the focal point should be. "Do not say, There are four months and then comes the harvest. Behold I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white unto harvest" (Jo. 4:35 NKJV). Jesus died for the sins of the world. That message must be carried by His church to the world (Eph. 3:10:11).
There are those in the church who do not intend to reap this harvest.
There is a book recently published called The Worldly Church. I credit authors C. Leonard Allen, Richard T. Hughes and Michael R. Weed, Copyright 1988 ACU Press, Abilene, Texas with the statements I take from this book. I shall refer to it as The Worldly Church in any quotations I make in the balance of this article. I would strongly recommend that you get the book. I now quote: (This is from the opening paragraph of Chapter 1.) "A missionary recently returned from foreign fields, approached a congregation of churches of Christ about support for world missions. The elders were candid. They told him that the concept of world missions no longer has much 'market' among churches of Christ. For this reason they could not support the request. Amazed the missionary asked what the elders considered 'marketable' among churches of Christ today. 'Body life,' they told him."
You may not fully understand what they mean by 'body life' and I do not either, but both of us can understand this, by this statement they do not intend to engage in foreign evangelism.
Thank God this does not represent all churches of Christ. More than 125 American men and women have come to India. They each were supported by a number of churches. In the days of Elijah the Lord said he had 7000 men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So there is an element in the church in America who has not bowed in submission to the Worldly Church. However, there is no place for complacency on the part of the church in India, for this remnant must carry on work in some 200 nations where the church has carried the gospel. Some are poorer than India. Some have a government less stable than India. The command is to teach, to preach, to worship, which includes giving. This would be just as binding if Canada and the USA did not exist.
We mentioned earlier in this treatise that at the beginning of this century and in the last century, brethren from England and Scotland preached in Burma and North India. They left, the work failed. Was not this failure attributable to the Indian as well as the British? A work was started in the Bombay-Poona area about the time of World War I. These men did not act in a proper way but a goodly number of people did hear the Word. They did have an open Bible. Despite the failure of others they should have carried on.
For years now Brother Scott has been barred from entering India. The same forces that stop him from entering India could stop every Canadian and American from entering India. A few years ago a law was made that would have stopped every dollar from entering India for work among the churches of Christ. The government was defeated before the law came into effect. Such a law could be made again and come into effect. We do not know yet why the government stopped Brother Prakasam from receiving money for churches of Christ in India. There was no dishonesty upon the part of Brother Prakasam. Those responsible for stopping the money going to Brother Prakasam could stop the money from going to Brother Gootam. What I am saying is this: In days to come the finances and teaching could be entirely in your hands, even in a matter of days if the powers that be so will. What I have said above applies in particular to India but could apply to many other countries.
Let me quote this from the Worldly Church, page 84, "This is all to say that if we of the churches of Christ would take the biblical call to holy, sanctified living, we have rich resources not only in Scripture, but also in the history of our movement. But most of all, our rich resource is the God alone who can empower us with His spirit to live out the scandal of the cross in our time."
There is a tendency to think that we should not expect people of other nationalities to live by as high a standard as we are supposed to live by. "God is no respecter of persons" applies here as well as elsewhere. There is the command of God: "Be holy for I am holy."
A brother I will mention was well-supported for many years. He was supported by a retired school teacher. As her pension was increased by the government here, she increased the amount she sent. When I got the statement from the treasurer of the Indian fund in Canada, her name was not on the list. Sometimes she was late in sending it in. When I got the next statement, her name was still not on the list. (She was an elderly woman. I thought maybe she had died.) I wrote to her and I got a reply right back saying, no, she had been sending the money for some time directly. When I wrote to the brother concerned he immediately said he was sorry. He robbed the church of hundreds of dollars. He said he was sorry but he did not suggest that he would pay back the money. Then the elderly sister died. He expected me to find him a new sponsor. Could I go to any church and tell this story and expect them to support this man? Could I go to any church and not tell this story and request money for him?
Recently a man sent us 5000 dollars to be used in the work in India. I sent it over to be divided among unsupported preachers. The only one that got closer to heaven by this gift was the man that gave it. Some may have bought rice with it or clothes but that would only help the fleshly man now, but it did not get them closer to heaven. Jesus said, though, that if we gave a cup of cold water we would not lose our reward. Some people hold down two jobs. They make more money that way. You may preach for a church in India and have a secular job. They may pay you, that is their business. But when you have a full-time secular job (and you may need to have one) you should not draw money from America. Paul, the greatest preacher of all time, had a secular job. "I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way by laboring like this that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:33-35). Then we read again, "Let him who stole, steal no longer, but rather let him labor working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give to him that hath need" (Ephesians 4:28).
There is another important lesson that I want to draw. We are to do charity (James 1:27). Yet, this is to be superseded by something else. There was charity in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1). But apostles said that they would not leave the ministry of the word to serve tables (Acts 6:2). Do you know that there are twelve different orphan homes in E.G. District? This is a good work for some Christians. But may a preacher leave the ministry of the word to serve tables? Think on these things.
Would we get rid of the poverty of India? Would we lay up treasures in heaven? Then the Lord says, "Give and it shall be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be put into your bosom. For the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). I know it works. It works according to your faith. What is written in the Old Testament was written for our learning (I Cor. 10:11). So we can read from the Old Testament, "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, 'In what have we robbed you?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring the full tithe into the store house, that there may be food in my house, and prove me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you such blessing, that there will not be room enough to receive it" (Mal. 3:8-10). Let us press on to the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
J. C. Bailey, 1988, Bengough, Saskatchewan
Published in The Old Paths Archive