This article will give insight to the work of the Lord in the land of India.
The date was 5th Sept 1973.
“Are you happy?” asked the evangelist A.G. Jacob. The young Catholic trainee priest standing next to him on the railway platform was quick to answer. “Yes, I am very happy.”
“But what about your sins?” the evangelist pressed. “Ah, I confess them to the priest” replied the student.
“But did your priest die for you on the cross?”
For the first time in his life, Ajay the seminary student was stunned into silence. Three hours later he emerged from the station waiting room a changed man – saved by the grace of God. Not many years later he forsook all and launched into the Lord’s work. His exercise took him to the rural town of Titilagarh in the staunchly Hindu north-easterly Indian state of Orissa.
Life in Orissa hasn’t changed much for thousands of years. Yoke of oxen still plough the fields. Some parts remain without electricity. About 37% of the state’s 36 million inhabitants are illiterate. An “anti-conversion law” is in force in the state, and many of the believers suffer persecution. (It is the state in which Hindu militants burnt the missionary Graham Staines and his sons to death). Single and alone, Ajay Chhatria moved to Titilagarh and rented a leaky one room tin hut. That was 25 years ago.
Visitors to Titilagarh today will find an assembly meeting in a lovely brick Gospel Hall with an assembly-run orphanage nearby housing 20 boys. From this assembly several brethren have already been commended to the work. Presently in fellowship are three young evangelists reaching out into the many nearby villages. With no money for cars, these brethren toil in one of the hottest places in India on foot or by bicycle, spreading the gospel.
Devout Hindus in the locality decided to set up in opposition to the Gospel Hall. On the other side of the dirt road, they erected a Hindu temple – a simple four-walled enclosure housing a tree (the object of worship). While the assembly met together, the Hindus opposite chanted and sang to their god. The brethren asked the Lord either to save the man who had financed the temple (from alcohol sales) or remove him. Three months later he died prematurely and although still there, the temple is now very low key and the assembly has peace once more.
At a Hindu festival during the late 1980’s Ajay distributed some tracts, on the back of which was quoted, “All idolaters shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire.” Along with others, Ajay was arrested and put in jail. In the neighboring town of Tahansir, a Church of North India (Episcopal) minister heard about the jailed evangelist and, upon his release, asked him to come and speak with him. A remarkable thing happened. The minister’s son, B. P. Naik, a lecturer in the local College, was converted and promptly left the CNI along with other converts to commence a new assembly in the same village where his father was the local minister.
Since 1962 around 50 workers have gone into the field of Orissa and around 40 assemblies have been established. There is much to be thankful for, but there is still much ground to be covered. The majority of districts in the state still have no assembly, and 11 tribal groups in Orissa still have not been reached with the gospel.
Sadly, men from outside the state, who do not share strong convictions about assembly truth, introduced in 1997 what is called the Orissa Brethren Movement. Rather than stand against what will lead to the slow but sure denominationalization of the Orissa assemblies, the majority of the workers have become linked with this organization. Some serve on its board. Most attend its conferences. A Bible college is underway and state-wide youth camps are in planning. Thankfully, despite heavy pressure, brethren like Ajay and others have come out and remained separate from this unscriptural organization.
To the north of Orissa is the state of West Bengal, with its capital Calcutta (Kolkata). Above West Bengal is the state of Sikkim, which borders Nepal, China, and Bhutan. One vessel the Lord used to pioneer these parts was a converted Brahmin. The Brahmins form the highest caste in India’s caste system, and from them come the Hindu priests and gurus. Raghu was one such Brahmin from Bombay (Mumbai). He lived happily worshiping his idols, knowing that in due course he would become the head of his tribe; but God wonderfully saved him through his own reading of the New Testament. Later at a conference he felt called to leave the comforts of the relatively Westernized city of Bombay with its numerous assemblies, and take his wife to the North-east of India to pioneer the gospel there. Expecting opposition from his wife Lydia, he was delighted to find she had been secretly exercised about full-time work for some time.
What God has wrought in 16 years in those parts! Four assemblies have been planted. One in the capital of Sikkim (a town called as Gangtok); another is in West Bengal in a tea-picking area called Belgarchi; two more have been formed in the neighboring country of Nepal in Aiyabari and Dharan. Despite much opposition and many setbacks, these precious lampstands continue to shine for His glory.
A visit to these assemblies is a lesson in simplicity. For the most part they sit on the floor. They kneel to pray and sing without accompaniment. Among other things, they exhibit scriptural order in the public display of headship, their insistence on letters of commendation for reception, and their self-sufficiency for the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.
There are more assemblies in India than in any other country in the world. Starting with Anthony Norris Groves 170 years ago, around 2,000 gatherings now exist. Over 1,250 full time workers are presently in the field. Yet all of this is but a drop in the ocean. Out of nearly 600 districts and territories in India, nearly 400 contain no assemblies. With a population of over one billion, most of whom live in the darkness of idolatrous superstition, the overwhelming challenge remains unmet.
In the recent national election, the BJP Government was swept from power. Many have seen the hand of God in this because the BJP had promised, if re-elected, to impose a country wide anti-conversion law. Now the country is back under the secular Congress Party and has a Sikh Prime Minister. Pray for Ajay Chhatria, Raghu, and the many other evangelists and their wives who faithfully serve the Lord in the vast needy land of India.