India Reflections, Part 1: The New Testament Church in India

Post a Comment » Written on March 13th, 2013     
Filed under: Community Development
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A number of CWR-connected people recently took a trip to India to visit CWR projects. Below is part one of reflections about the trip from Stephen Sharkey, pastor of Highrock Covenant Church in Quincy, MA and member of the CWR Advisory Team.  

New Delhi, India – It’s not often that we get a glimpse of what Paul’s ministry might have been like.  For all our sincere desire to recapture the power and radical community of the first-century church, our American Christian context still bears little resemblance to those first Christian fellowships we find in Acts.  Recently however, I was afforded the opportunity to see God moving like most of us only hear about in Sunday school.

I had been in New Delhi less than 24 hours when I met Vijay, a member of Truthseekers International, whose mission is nothing less than to set India free from its 3000 year-old caste system that today results in hundreds of millions of Indians living in abject poverty.  Their message is simple – the caste system is a lie holding India captive, but Jesus is the truth that will set them free.  The message of that freedom so moved Vijay that he left Hinduism altogether, rejecting the lie that he was inextricably defined by his caste, and embracing the truth that his identity is defined by a God who has set him free.

On the surface, Vijay’s conversion story isn’t all that different from a conversion that we might see today in one of our own Covenant churches.  Save for the element of Caste, which is foreign to most of us, there is little that would differentiate his story from those in our own contexts who reject their former allegiances and submit themselves to Christ.  But there was more to Vijay’s testimony that likened it to something straight out of the book of Acts.

On Sunday morning, December 2 I had the opportunity to hear the full account of Vijay’s amazing journey to the Lord.  At an outdoor service in the back streets of a Delhi neighborhood, Truthseekers held its weekly worship service. This was the first time that they had ever held their worship outdoors in the street.  Most of the people sat on carpets that had been laid across the street.  As the service progressed more and more curious onlookers (and a few neighborhood cows) gathered to see what all the commotion was about.  It was there that Vijay shared his story.

Before hearing the good news of Jesus, Vijay was a stonecutter.  Over the years he had perfected the art of carving Hindu gods, which he had made into a successful career.  For many of us the practice of Hinduism is just another religion, but in reality, it is Hinduism that has helped to uphold the insidious practice of caste for over 3 millennia.  Vijay had been participating in and perpetuating the very system that holds him and his country captive.

For Vijay, choosing Jesus meant giving up his career, security, and all that he had ever known.  As he shared his story I couldn’t help but remember Paul’s experience in the city of Ephesus, found in Acts 19.  There one can find the account of a silversmith named Demetrius who stirred up the entire city against Paul when his idol-making business was threatened by Paul’s new message.  Yet earlier in that same chapter we also see that many of those who in Ephesus who practiced sorcery gathered their scrolls together and burned them despite the great financial loss they would incur.

Isn’t it so true that freedom always comes at great cost?  Nowhere has that been clearer to me than in this New Testament-like street gathering as we listened to Vijay.  The same system that enslaved him was also the same system that provided income and security.  Yet for the sake of true freedom, he laid it all aside.

Since joining the Truthseekers movement Vijay has returned to his home village where he continually shares the truth of Jesus without hesitation.  The message is not always received warmly. But despite the opposition of many, he and his wife have shared the Gospel with thousands of people, many of whom have become Truthseekers themselves.

Today Vijay no longer carves Hindu idols; instead, he carves Jesus.  With a population in which only two percent identify themselves as Christian, his market has diminished significantly, but his commitment to the truth and to the abolition of the caste system has only grown.

As I left New Delhi the next morning there was an overwhelming sense that the Gospel is ready to explode in that city and in India.  The outdoor service held by Truthseekers was only the first of many that will bring the truth of Jesus to thousands more people who have only ever known the lie of caste.

Truthseekers International is an organization supported by Covenant World Relief, a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church.  Stephen Sharkey is pastor of Highrock Covenant Church in Quincy, MA. 


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