From graveyard to vineyard

Farmville Enterprise June 5, 2019

Church planters Chandan Kumar Sah and his wife Pramila Kumari recently visited Farmville and explained that the current revival in Bihar, India, a place once called the “Graveyard of Missions,” is causing pastors and missionaries to describe the movement there as going “from graveyard to vineyard.” Made up of 29 states, India is the second most populous nation with about 1.3 billion people, surpassed only by China. Approximately one third of the world’s poor live in India with roughly 67% of its population below the poverty line, existing on less than $2 per day. The country’s land size is roughly one third that of the United States. Obviously, this makes for much more crowded conditions than we typically experience with our population of 327 million. Close to 75% of Indians live in slum-like conditions. Especially in rural areas the illiteracy rate is high. Many people do not have easy access to clean drinking water or to garbage disposal. Poor hygiene conditions cause diseases like dysentery, typhus and cholera. Chandan and Pramila told us that many individuals eat only one meal per day, that some young girls become brides and that occasionally there is an honor killing. Bihar has lagged behind other Indian states in social and economic development.

Although it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste, the caste system of Hinduism is still widely practiced, since 80% of the nation is Hindu. This belief is that every person is born into one of four castes or hierarchical groups, depending on how that reincarnated soul accumulated good deeds or bad deeds in previous lives. If someone is born into a low caste or outside the caste system as an “untouchable,” “Dalit,” or “tribal” they must deserve it, according to the Law of Karma. Other terms that are used for the lowest classes are “latrine cleaners” or “rat eaters.”  Everyone must marry within their caste and get jobs appropriate for their caste. Lack of employment presents a big problem for many.

Imagine how wonderful it would sound for these outcastes or untouchables, to hear the words of Jesus that “the greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11) Just think how people would feel to have Indians of higher castes inviting them to worship, to break bread and to serve God together. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

In more recent years, things have taken a turn in Bihar. Although for hundreds of years countless missionaries lost their lives under rough conditions without seeing many positive results, for the past fifteen years Christian workers have recognized unprecedented openness to the Gospel. There is a focus on oral Bible storytelling and training leaders. To date in Bihar and in the surrounding northern states Chandan, Pramila and co-workers in their ministry alone have planted 4,000 self-sustaining house churches where close to 40,000 people gather. Their ministry is holistic as they believe in total transformation. They offer community health education and business skills training. They have been able to offer seed money and microfinance to aid families to begin small businesses and have started numerous schools. They teach about proper hygiene and ways to prevent disease. Pramila helps the women discover and utilize their leadership skills. Other Christian groups are serving in similar ways and people are noticing the barriers of social constructs being broken down.

 

Pramila commented that we in the U.S. often don’t realize what we have. In her mind we live in a land flowing with milk and honey. She urged us to send a group from Farmville to go and see what God is doing in northern India so that we would know how to pray and how to give. As Chandan so aptly noted, “We can give without loving, but we can’t love without giving.”

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