Spreading Hope and the Gospel with the Mid India Christian Mission
In 2016, we partnered with the Mid India Christian Mission. MICM is a ministry that teaches the people of India about Jesus in the midst of an extremist Hindu nation.
In fall 2018, StoneBridge began helping MICM plant 10 churches in central and northern India. This April, we sent a ministry group to India to meet with MICM and visit some of the church plant locations.
“It was a complete perspective change on my worldview,” said Kristi Bebermeyer, one of seven StoneBridge members who traveled to see our work in India firsthand.
“You don’t really know what to expect before you get there; the smells are different, the visuals are different. We experienced the full range of human emotion and civilization in one trip.”
The ministry group consisted of seven individuals, ages 35 and up--including at least one person from each StoneBridge location.
India is densely populated, and a massive number of its people live in abject poverty. It’s a spiritually dark place, dominated by the polytheistic Hindu religion, and its most desperate regions are largely devoid of hope and empathy.
Next to China, India is the second-most populated country on earth. It’s the birthplace of not only Hinduism, but Sikhism and Buddhism, too. And only 2.2% of its population is Christian. An estimated 1.2 billion people in India have never heard the Gospel, and have no idea who Jesus is.
Hindu Caste Tradition Oppresses Millions
The Hindu pantheon is made up of numerous gods; while some sources reference three supreme beings, others report as many as 33 million gods or more. It’s an astronomically far-reaching concept for us Westerners, many of whom only believe in the one true God of the Bible.
Because the ruling class is Hindu, Hinduism’s oppressive caste system structures their society. In the Hindu religion, if you’re born into a low caste or if something bad happens to you, that means you did something bad in a past life and this is your punishment. This leads many who follow this belief system to refuse grace or assistance to people in unfortunate or poor circumstances.
Kristi and the team observed a temple ceremony for the Hindu god Shiva while they were in India.
“We had to follow a lot of rules to even be allowed to come inside,” she says. “There was incense burning, loud gongs, chanting. The Hindu believe that blessings flow a certain way, so we couldn’t stand in the path of where the blessings were coming to the people.”
The desperation in the temple’s worshipers was palpable.
“Even if they’re praying to Shiva, they’ll probably still leave that temple without what they were hoping for--they’ll have no hope, and no change,” Kristi says.
But Christianity gives the Indian people hope that their vast pantheon of Hindu gods could never offer. MICM empowers them, allows them to break free from the caste mentality, and helps them pursue an education.
In rural areas, the people don’t have adequate access to education, which keeps them stuck hopelessly in the caste they were born into. But MICM offers compassion, education, and evangelism--in that order--to help the people free themselves.
Compassion and Service First
When MICM chooses a location for a church plant, they first extend support--compassion--to the community. They give the people the means for a better life, asking for nothing in return.
Kristi says the rural villages have been incredibly receptive to MICM’s outreach because no one else has tried to help them. Some of the people are so desperate, they risk having to sell their own children to survive. MICM has offered many villages ways to become self-sufficient.
For example, MICM gifted one village with a tractor so they could till the earth, grow crops for pharmaceuticals, and make an income to support themselves.
“It gives them a sense of purpose, hope, and drive--something to get up and do every day, something to care for, and a way to provide for their families with dignity,” Kristi says.
Being self-sufficient means a higher likelihood that the villagers can not only keep their children at home, but keep them alive, as well. Scores of children die to the poor health conditions in India’s poverty-stricken areas, including muddy water in the village wells.
“In the US, we don’t live this way. We have access to clean water and healthcare.”
The team visited one rural tribal village where the people had nearly nothing.
“There was no technology except for a few cell phones,” Kristi says. “They lived in huts built with mud, grass, and sticks.”
The villagers burned small fires inside their huts and shared the living space with goats, chickens, and other small livestock. There was nothing to occupy the villagers’ time, outside of the daily necessities for survival.
Additionally, the team spent time in remote villages in the Damoh district. They also visited overpopulated areas like Agra and Delhi, places that stood in shocking contrast to the rural villages.
True Joy in Desperate Circumstances
Kristi and the team noted that the only places in India where they encountered pure hope and joy were among the Christian communities they visited.
“In many non-Christian communities we went into, there were no smiles on anyone’s faces,” she says.
“Life is hard there. It doesn’t matter how good of a day you’re having; it’s still so very hard. I didn’t feel joy in any of the marketplaces; kids weren’t smiling and playing, and no one was having a good time.
“In the Christian areas, there’s joy, hope, love, and taking care of each other. It’s not every man for himself.”
Cultivating Generosity Among India’s Christian Communities
Our team was touched by the giving spirit that has infused itself into the Christian communities they visited.
In one location, villagers offered to kill a chicken to feed the ministry team. The team politely declined, urging the villagers to keep it for themselves; for context, a single chicken is worth about two weeks of their pay.
“In Hinduism, you’re on your own; it’s a very isolating practice. But among the Christians, they’re there for each other. If you need something, you can have it; people are generous. They have faith God will take care of them if they’re generous”
Educating and Empowering the Indian People
MICM and other Christian organizations in India are forced to fly under the radar, carefully wrapping their ministries into their humanitarian efforts.
“It’s illegal to convert people to Christianity in India,” Kristi says. “It’s scary to know what they’re doing there is punishable.”
They’ve established multiple schools and Mercy Homes--safe houses for girls and boys escaping dangerous situations and life circumstances.
Program graduates range from ages 10-18. They live in the Mercy Homes for most of the year, attending school to learn a trade while they’re there. After they graduate, they can support themselves and their families, effectively ending the cycle of poverty they’ve been stuck in--perhaps for generations.
“The tribal villages aren’t places they’re happy to be; they’re lonely,” Kristi says. “They don’t feel like they have a purpose, but they don’t know what to do about it. Mercy Homes give them hope and the experience to get out of that life.”
The students, in turn, share their newfound faith and hope with their families. All in all, the entire process is life-altering for body, mind, and spirit.
But MICM realized that the Mercy Home program alone wasn’t enough; now, they’re establishing college programs that will train graduates for careers like diesel mechanic and nursing technician. In addition, they’ve opened a Business College; MICM aims to add a Master’s degree in Business program within three years.
First Care, Then Evangelism
Once MICM has met the immediate needs of the communities they minister to, they can begin the work of introducing villagers to Jesus. But, they have to be strategic.
Sometimes, high-caste pastors will assist in this process. Because the pastors resemble high-caste priests, the people are more receptive to their presence. After all, priests can go into the places they can’t.
The people are more open to hearing the pastor’s teachings about Christ because they are so culturally familiar. This is especially advantageous when MICM and the pastors go into villages that are predominantly Hindu.
For villagers to even be open to hearing the Gospel in the first place, they have to see that the ministers care for them. Being loved and cared for opens the people’s hearts to hearing God’s word.
The Gospel brings with it a hope that most of these people never experience until they’ve met Jesus. They learn that they have value to God and, consequently, to the world. This is such a stark contrast to the cruelty of Hinduism’s gods.
“They want to hear about why we would choose to help them, why we live the way we do, why we care about people, and why we want good things for them,” Kristi says. “The Hindu people don’t care about that, but Christians do.”
Baptizing in Spite of Constant Danger
Among the minuscule Christian community in India, baptisms are held in secret to avoid dangerous--and often deadly--legal retaliation.
“There’s no explanation for them being there in the water, getting baptized, except that they’ve chosen to follow Christ. We can’t get people to come up and get in the water in the US because their hair will be messy when they’re done.
“It’s an example of faith that so many of us can’t fathom that level of commitment--not even about their family,” Kristi says.
Despite the danger, MICM reports 100 baptisms per church every three years, on average.
For the ministry group, connecting with the Christian people of India was a profound callback to the days of Paul’s ministry, after Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection.
“It feels so biblical,” she says. “How scary it must have been to be Christian on Paul’s journey, fighting the good fight, trying to encourage people like Priscilla and Aquila. That’s where the Christian people of India are, spiritually speaking: a modern-day Priscilla and Aquila.”
Encouraging India’s Christian Communities
The team’s visit to the churches in India provided a much-needed boost of encouragement and enthusiasm for the locals working to keep spreading the Gospel.
“The hope and excitement seemed to be pouring out of every person we came in contact with who was affiliated with the church in any way,” she says. “They were so glad we were there because they feel very alone.
“They really are on an island; they have to be so quiet about what they’re doing, and they can’t be open about their faith. They were so excited to tell us about what they were doing--to have someone come from somewhere else to encourage them, help them do the work, support them.”
Kristi says encouragement from outside the country adds fuel to their fire, helps them to keep going, and reminds them that what they’re doing isn’t for nothing.
“We’re all working toward the same thing together,” she says.
“I think we take for granted the encouragement we get from each other here--being able to come to church and be surrounded by other Christians and people who think the same way we do,” Kristi says.
In contrast, she says Christians in India “feel like foreigners in their own country.” The beauty, though, is in the unity among Christ-followers who understand we’re all in this together.
“They don’t split hairs, bicker and fight over things like scriptural interpretation,” she says. “Their belief in Jesus binds them together.”
A Profound Worldview Shift
Kristi says that, from the United States’s vantage point, we tend to understand the Great Commission’s command as if it means to “go into all the world from the United States.”
“Even in America, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing if the disciples hadn’t been bold enough to spread the word from where they were then. We have religious freedom because of what they did back then.”
Here in the US, Christianity is a comfortable religion for many because we’re so far removed from the dangers of persecution in other parts of the world, like India.
“We have the luxury of being lukewarm,” she says. “I feel like we try to squeeze God into all the other things we’re doing, but these people in India are so committed to what they’re doing that they could go to jail. They’re choosing to go against everything their family believes; they’re committed to it completely.
“For them, faith is a way of life. Some of them pray for five hours a day; no one does that in the US. If they’re not passionate about it all the time, who’s going to follow them?
“They don’t have the comfort of religion, the comfort of following Christ--they’re all in, all the time. That’s inspiring to me.”
Why Time May Be Running Out for Evangelism to India
Recently, new elected officials took office in India. The government is becoming aggressively Hindu, and is making a big push to officially declare India a Hindu nation.
How does this affect MICM and the Christians in India? It will mean tougher crackdowns on Christians and places affiliated with Christianity.
Soon, Christian churches in India may be forced to sustain themselves without outside help or visits from other Christians. There may come a time when we can’t even send money to the Christians there, much less the MICM.
We must do what we can now to get God’s word out throughout India.
Even if the country closes its doors to us, the church in India needs to be able to keep growing. Right now, our time is precious. It’s important to get MICM what they need to continue the work.
“Once you’ve been there and seen it, your heart says, ‘No, they need more--what else can we do?” Kristi says.
“We need to equip more people, give them more opportunities, and keep helping them. The people are so desperate for the hope Christianity provides.”
If you’re interested in contributing to StoneBridge’s work with MICM, contact Mitch Chitwood.
Should YOU Spread the Gospel in India?
Traveling on a mission trip to India isn’t for everyone; but, it’s an extraordinary, grounding experience for those who do. Because of the cultural differences--specifically, the outlook on Christianity and womens’ rights--the idea of traveling there can be frightening.
“It’s a little scary for everyone who goes,” Kristi says. “But no one comes back from India saying, ‘I wish I hadn’t gone on that trip.’ Instead, it’s, ‘I can’t believe this! It’s mind-blowing!’
“That’s why it’s so important to take teams over there. Until you see it, it’s hard to cast the vision. It takes a brave, faithful personality to go on the India trip--but I think everyone should go. Seven thousand percent, yes.”
If you’re even minutely considering the trip yourself, Kristi says, you should not let the opportunity pass.
“For every opportunity you don’t take to help move the ministry forward, wherever you’re at, you can’t know how many souls are affected by your decision to not go do that.”
She reflects on the founders of MICM as they set out to establish their organization in 1969.
“What if they hadn’t started MICM? Where would all these people do now, if they had been too scared to do it?”
If you’re interested in getting involved with supporting MICM financially or traveling with our next ministry team, let us know. We’ll get you everything you need to get started.