In October 2011, a three-man team from Temple Baptist Church visited India to make contacts and plant seed for the church’s future mission efforts there. In the commentary below, Matt Barham, one of two laymen in the group, reflects on his experiences in India.
India from My Point of View
As I look back over our trip (John King, Michael Pippen, and I) to India, I am trying to wrap my mind around the things I saw and experienced and the work ahead. Our group spent seven busy days in the central part of India, in a state we call the Heart of India. This was my first time ever to travel or spend time internationally. I had done research and studied ahead of time trying to familiarize myself with the people, culture, and religion, but through all my studies, I was not prepared for what I saw, ate, and experienced while in the Heart of India. Through all of the things we did, the realization kept coming to me, that of the roughly 72 million people that live in the Heart of India, and the roughly 1 million people that live in the city in the north where where Temple will be focusing much of its work, less than one-third of 1 percent are Christians. I saw God’s hand at work in a mighty way in the lives of the Christians we were able to meet. I also saw God answer many prayers for our group and open many doors for us to work in His Kingdom. I am going to share some of my thoughts, observation, and realizations from my first — but hopefully not my last — time in India.
After what seemed like forever traveling, we arrived in a major city in the southern part of the Heart of India, on Sunday, October 9.. This is the base for the expat ministry team that is housed in the south. The team consists of five families and two single ladies. I am thankful for their devotion in order to live out the gospel in a foreign land. We spent some time touring that city, and getting to know its layout, culture and people. We also spent this time with the expat ministry team discussing and strategizing about their vision for the northern Heart of India. We met with and led Bible studies with groups of young men and women Indian believers who had devoted themselves to studying and learning the scriptures in order to go out and lead others to Christ throughout India.
On our second day in the city in the south, after teaching at the school, one of the expats took us to a Hindu temple in a city about an hour north. He had warned us before hand of the eeriness and awkwardness that we may face as we went into the bowels of the temple to see Hindus worshiping one of their many idols. As we approached this small room, my stomach began to turn, as I heard chanting and saw people kneeled down bringing flowers, milk, oils, and other things to pour on the idol. We were quickly in and out of this room, but the image will stick with me for a long time. The realization came to me as I thought back over what I saw in that room and the things I saw throughout the week, that these people are devoted to what they believe in. They are deeply rooted in their beliefs and are taught this way of life from an early age. The enormity of the work hit me as I began to see more and more of this as the week went along. These are not people that are easily swayed by a few minutes of conversation about the gospel. It also made me look at my own life and my devotion to my Lord and Savior. The questions kept coming to me: “What if we as Christians were as devoted to the one true God as they are to their idols? What great things could be done in God’s name?”
After experiencing the sight at the temple, we went to one of the expat’s house to witness a baptism. The Heart of India has a significant Muslim minority (somewhere around one-fifth of the population), and we witnessed only the third Muslim known to be baptized in the last 40 years. The other two, who were saved about three or four years ago, were there as they were friends with the new believer and were the ones who had led him to Christ. They shared the story of how they led him to Christ. After the first two were saved, they began meeting with one of the expats regularly. He asked them to write down five friends who were lost. The only one that both of them had written down was their friend who we saw baptized. They had prayed and shared the gospel with him for years, and he just recently made a profession of faith. What great friends, that they were burdened by a lost brother. This showed the power of prayer and faithfulness and really hit home to me about how these conversions do not happen overnight. The baptism took place in the bathtub at a house, as this is the only place they have to do it. What a simple yet powerful show of public affirmation that God is still at work in all parts of the world! This new brother in Christ literally wept as he made the public profession of faith, dying to his old self and rising in a new way of life, no matter the consequences. What a day of extremes for me as we experience people at their lowest and God at his highest!
We left the city in the south on Tuesday night and boarded a train for a 12-hour ride. John told me that we would be able to sleep on the train in bunk beds. I assumed that our group would have our own private room. As I came to find out on this trip, there were some things that John did not tell us ahead of time, which in the end probably turned out to be a good thing. The more I was in India, the more I realized that they are people that do not worry about personal space. This train ride was no exception. The train car was lined with bunk beds with no privacy, but I survived and got a few hours of sleep before arriving in the city in the north, the town where Temple has been led and which it is committed to reaching for Christ. The city Temple is focusing on is in the Northern part of the Heart of India, and is hard to get to geographically. It is especially hard for the IMB team to be able to do ministry effectively, and this is one of the reasons why we have adopted this area. We did have one of the expats and his family travel and spend the week in the city in the north working alongside of us.
We spent three busy days in the city in the north meeting with pastors and visiting with colleges in order to figure out where we could be used for God’s work. The city has a population of over 1 million people, and this is where I really began to experience the people, food and atmosphere. During our time in the city in the north I really began to see God’s hand at work. We knew people back home were praying for us, yet it was humbling to see the doors and opportunities that God opened up for us. We were able to meet professors, deans, and administrators in three different colleges. We pray that these contacts will open up further opportunities for young people to minister. We met with pastors and fellow believers and heard their stories and their struggles. We prayed with them and talked about ways that we as a church could walk beside them and aid in their ministries. We heard stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives, of how they have led people to Christ even through persecution and strife. These fellow believers have been faithful followers of Christ and are doing the Lord’s work in sometimes hostile environments. We even discovered that they had reached groups of people that research showed had not been presented the gospel.
I wrote in my journal on the flight to India about how thankful I was for all of the prayers and support from Temple. I recalled the brief commissioning service that we had the last night of the revival on Wednesday prior to us leaving, when a sea of fellow believers gathered around our group to pray for us and send us off. On the days leading up to our departure, I received numerous prayer supports and good wishes from co-workers, family, and fellow church members. I am so thankful that I am surrounded by these people. As I look back over our trip, I can definitely see answered prayers, from our safe travels to the doors that God opened for His work. I continue to pray for Temple’s work there, but more importantly, I pray for those Christian believers that are living out their lives daily in India and making a difference for His Kingdom. God answered prayers.
For me, going to a place like India really made me survey my own life. I constantly thanked God for His grace and blessings in my life — from where I was born, to my family, friends, and my church family. I am so thankful to be born into a God-fearing family in the Bible belt in the United States. How we so often take this for granted! Seeing the poverty and conditions that people in India live in, it made me really appreciate how blessed I am and we are as a nation. God has blessed each and every one of us. The question I have continually asked myself is “How am I going to use those blessings God have given to me?”
As much as I dislike travelling and getting out of my comfort zone here in Ruston, I am grateful for the opportunity that I had. I am thankful that God called me to a new culture, to see the rest of the world, and a different people and how they live. To be honest with you, the parts of India where we were, and are going to be working, are nothing glamorous, according to our standards and what we are accustomed to in the states. These are not vacation destinations and are not places you go for fun. The smells of the train station where people live day and night, the sights, the dirtiness and trash, the different foods, take some getting used to, if you can ever say you do. Even through all that I saw and experienced, the realization continues to burden me that 99.7 percent of the people in India are lost and destined for eternity in hell. I pray for these lost people, and I pray that you and I as a church will go and make disciples. I hope and pray that this is only the first of many more opportunities that Christ has in store for me and our church in India.
November 1, 2011