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A Minnesotan in India
By David Booman
Calcutta, India is the last place I ever expected to be. Especially for the first overseas travel of my life. But God sometimes has a surprising sense of humor and pushes us into the deep end, though we feel unprepared.
Without question, this mission was the most fun, inspiring, heartbreaking trip I have ever taken. Somehow, incongruously, India could be all of these things at the same time, because it is a nation of remarkable contrasts.
A Nation of Contrasts
On the one hand, India has experienced tremendous economic growth in recent decades. Enormous industrial facilities and nuclear power plants now dot the skyline. And yet in the very shadow of these monuments to progress, millions of people eke out a living in squalor and destitution. It is not unusual to see a herd of cows foraging in a trash heap alonside the interstate.
India is also a nation of tremendous beauty. It is the nation of Everest and the Himalayas, the Tiger and the Elephant, the Taj Mahal and Rabinidrath Tagore. It is a nation of brightness and color, where even poor women can expect to be clothed in the palette and elegance of a fashion runway. And yet at the same time India is a land of many distressing sights, a land of tremendous pollution, where (as our team experienced), air transport can be grounded for hours in a fog of toxic fumes, and where debris litters the beautiful countryside.
With an exploding population, somehow this massive nation barrels onward in a maelstrom of breathtaking beauty and the dust of a million rickshaws. It was into this cauldron of conflicting messages and sensory overload that the Lord plunged this country boy from Minnesota. I doubt I will ever be the same.
Boots on the Ground
We were uniquely blessed on this trip to be shepherded throughout by the capable and caring hands of Jean and Johnnie Corbett. With a quiet confidence in the Lord and an expectant passion for seeing souls brought to Christ, they set a tone of relaxed, joyful anticipation. With tremendous gifts for planning and logistics, every concievable detail was well attended to, a recipe for peace and comradery.
As we visited different communities we were blessed to receive some of the warmest welcomes I have ever known. With song and dance as well as the ancient biblical greetings of foot washing and annointing, we were treated like visiting dignitaries. Although Indians do not eat cows, we were regularly plied with the ‘fatted chicken’ and I am already missing the exquisite cuisine.
The ministry to which we were called was a great joy. In Baldahura we visited the St. Michael’s Safe House and worshipped and prayed with 21 girls under the age of twelve who have been rescued from human trafficking. Many have endured one of the darkest pits of hell on this planet, and yet in their radiant smiles I saw the power of the gospel to bring hope and healing to even the darkest places.
In Sarenga we ministered at the KSN Nursing Training School and Hospital. This is the only mission hospital left in the region dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. A decade ago the school and hospital were resurrected by Bishop Dutta and the diocese of Durgapur and today 25 nursing students complete a 3-year program annually. The gifted administrators and doctors serving here make great sacrifices of career advancement and salary to serve at this mission hospital, and they regularly witness to the sacrificial love of Christ. A couple years ago there was a gunfight in the area with a group of Islamic terrorists in which the police chief was killed. With Christ-like compassion this hospital loved their enemies by taking in the wounded terrorists and nursing them back to health.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the trip for me was our last evening of ministry in Sarenga. I was humbled to preach in a massive tent holding 4,000 people (what could have been the Indian Metrodome), guarded by paramilitary troops wielding AK-47s. After a time of inspired worship I shared a message and we invited folks to come forward for prayer. In about an hour’s time our team prayed with several thousand people. It was a deeply moving time of ministry, and yet I believe it may have just scratched the surface of what is possible in India.
A Remarkable Development
In a remarkable development, our host Bishop Dutta was recently elected the deputy moderator of the Church of North India. In three years he will become the moderator itself. This position is essentially equivalent to that of the primate or archbishop of the province. Thus, in three years our friend Bishop Dutta will be responsible for overseeing 27 dioceses, 3,500 congregations, 1,200 clergy, 250 educational institutions, 65 hospitals, and a dispersed community of 1,500,000 Christian believers.
This elevation to global prominence is a testament to the Lord’s favor and the visionary gifts He has given to Bishop Dutta. Bishop Dutta is without question a world-class leader. One of the striking ways I saw his leadership in action was, counterintuitively, in how little time he spent in the limelight. At nearly every ministry stop, Bishop Dutta was content to let his team run the show—offering the welcome, coordinating the logistics and ministry, etc. One of the marks of a truly great leader is when they have so empowered and equipped their team that they can relinquish the reigns. Bishop Dutta does this in an extraordinary way. And ultimately, the manner in which the Lord has graced the work of his hands in Durgapur is nothing short of miraculous.
In his fourteen years as Bishop of Durgapur, Bishop Dutta has baptized thousands of people, planted dozens of churches, raised up a team of gifted and passionate clergy, resurrected a mission hospital, built a safe house, and grown primary schools in which thousands of students now receive an education in a Christian environment. He has done it all with a quiet humility that gives the glory to God.
A Historic Opportunity:
Given our relationship with Bishop Dutta, I believe we are facing a historic opportunity in the life of the global church. Simply put, I believe that by God’s grace we can make an impact on an unprecedented scale. Why do I think this? Because I believe India could become the next center of global Christianity.
One of the questions facing the church today is ‘where will be the next center of global Christianity?’ Historically, Christianity has always achieved its greatest influence in the shadow of rising geopolitical superpowers, whether Rome, Byzantium, Britain, or the United States. With Christianity waning in the West, the global body is now wondering where might be the next locus of concentrated influence. Latin America, Africa, Asia? There are several reasons we might consider India.
A Rising Superpower.
Without question India is a rising superpower. Although a couple of decades behind China in the development of its infrastructure, it has a much younger population and even greater potential. Within the next five years India will surpass China as the most populous nation on earth (around 1.4 billion) and will also surpass Japan and Germany economically to become the world’s 3rd largest economy.
History teaches us that it only takes one leader of great influence to change the course of a nation (and by extension, the world). If there were any nation in the world today, brimming with potential, in which to strategically invest the seeds of the gospel, it would seem to be India.
A Strategic Buffer.
If radical Islam is the greatest threat to the world today, India’s geographic placement is intriguing. It sits directly between the world’s two great centers of Islamic power, the Middle East and Indonesia. If Christianity were to grow in India, the mediating impact on its Muslim neighbors could be incalculable.
The Time is Now.
India currently has the 22nd largest Christian population in the world at around 30 million people. Were it to grow even slightly it would become one of the eight largest centers of Christianity in the world. In comparison to China, India also currently enjoys a much greater openness to foreign mission and ministry. However, coinciding with India’s rise to global prominence, this window for international ministry is rapidly closing. Due to the rise of Hindu nationalism, within the last three years over 10,000 NGOs have been expelled from the country. In March of this year Compassion International was forced to close down 600 Indian-staffed development centers caring for 150,000 children. Again, if there were ever a time to invest in India, scattering widely the seeds of the gospel (before the window of opportunity closes), now is the time.
Wisdom for the Way Forward:
Please join me in praying for India. Please join me in praying for the incredible ministry partners we have in Bishop Dutta and his team in Durgapur. Please join me in praying for wisdom and guidance as to where the Lord may be leading St. Michael’s next in this gospel partnership. Clearly we have been connected with Bishop Dutta for such a time as this. Whether it’s healing prayer, medical missions, or simply rescuing little girls from slavery, the harvest is plentiful!
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Luke 10.2).