Monday, February 26, 2007

Teaching Mission to India---Empowering and Equipping the Saints

by Bernie Daniel, International Projects Manager (The Voice of the Martyrs)

A fascinating country in the southern Asia, India is the largest functioning democracy in the world. It is also one of the most religious countries on earth. As the second most populous nation, one in six of every human being is also an Indian. Economically, the country is growing at 9.2% which is second only to China's staggering 10% growth rate. The country has recently lunched glitzy ads in the international media hailing itself as a growing superpower under the catch phrases "Incredible India" and "India Shining". However, the story for Indian Christians has been far from the rosy picture India is trying to portray about itself.

Here at VOMC, we have been getting many heartbreaking reports of suffering and persecution facing our Christian brethren in India mainly perpetrated by Hindu extremist groups. These include killings, rape, severe beatings, and burning of churches and homes belonging to pastors and followers of the Lord. According to Mr. Glenn Penner, the CEO of VOMC, "the country with the worst types of persecution in 2006 in terms of the types of suffering and the number is India". This alarming trend seems to continue unabated in these early days of 2007. In the last few weeks, the majority of our reports in our Prayer and Persecution Alert have been coming from the land of India.

It was against this background that VOMC took the initiative in consultation with highly reputable partners, the All India Christian Council (AICC) and FARMS-India, to sponsor and conduct teaching conferences on the theology of persecution and discipleship to key church, para-church and lay leaders of the Indian Christian movement. The teaching seminars took place in Hyderabad and Chennai, India, on January 30 - February 8, 2007. The teaching was based on the book---In the Shadow of the Cross---written by Mr. Glenn Penner. This very important book is gaining wider acceptance as one of the most comprehensive writings on the theology of persecution and discipleship. The material was born out of a deep desire to prepare the church for and in persecution. I do strongly believe that the treasure in the book which God has entrusted Glenn is both timely and very important message to the Body of Christ around the world.

In these In the Shadow of the Cross Seminars at Hyderabad and Chennai, hundreds of pastors, church leaders, and other servants of the Lord from all over India attended the sessions. The teaching was well-received by the participants as insightful, timely and highly relevant for the church in India. A professor in two Bible colleges stated: "I have been studying and doing research on suffering and persecution for the last 25 years. This is by far the most comprehensive and insightful teaching I have seen." And a pastor who has been serving the Lord as a shepherd of a 5000 member congregation in northeast India added: "In all my years in the ministry, I have never been exposed to this kind of relevant and scriptural presentation on suffering and persecution". Many also remarked that the material was their first in-depth and biblical exposure to such an important teaching. To our God be all the glory!

Encouraging and empowering Christians to fulfill the Great Commission in areas of the world where they are persecuted is a cherished purpose of VOMC. The organization is blessed with a dedicated leadership with a deep commitment to serve the Persecuted Church around the world using various forms of aid. In a strategic sense, one of the important services we can extend to the suffering part of the Body of Christ is to edify it using this great teaching on suffering and persecution as a central aspect of true and biblical discipleship. In his book Faith that Endures, Ronald Boyd-MacMillan stated:

"Clearly, the best and deepest way to combat persecution is to make mature disciples of Christ. This is the work of the church, and it is struggling in its most basic task! Our job then is to help with this perennial priority" (p. 250).

Yes, the suffering church in India and around the world needs our help with its task to build committed Christians who are cross-carrying messengers of our cross-centered Gospel. It needs to clearly know that a careful study of Scripture reveals that the cross of both His Son - Jesus - and His sons and daughters - us - is central to the eternal plan of God in restoring the world to Himself. Indeed, it needs to know that suffering, persecution and death are not senseless. They are the very ways by which God accomplishes His purposes of spreading His message of love and grace in a fallen and sinful world. And its leaders need our support to carry out their responsibility to teach these truths to those who are under their care.

I am again grateful to the Lord for this great treasure and resource - In the Shadow of the Cross - God has placed in our hands. By God's enabling grace, Glenn has written this very insightful and important book primarily for church leaders of the Persecuted Church in the hope of helping equip them to minister more effectively to their congregations. The book is also very beneficial for all believers to gain a clearer understanding on suffering, and to leaders who provide pastoral care to those undergoing suffering of a more general nature.

Glenn had done a great job of teaching parts of the book in Sri-Lanka, Ethiopia, Colombia, Nicaragua, and here in Canada and the USA. Oh, how I really wanted for him to go with me to India. I had hoped to learn from his rich teaching experience and expertise of the subject, and share a small part of the teaching mission with him. But, as you may be all aware, with the health challenges our dear brother has been facing, that was not possible. So, it was very humbling for me to be assigned with the responsibility to teach the material to the precious saints in India. I was joined in the trip by our VOMC representative in Ethiopia, Brother Joshua, who did a great presentation on the prevailing persecution of Christians in Ethiopia. The presentation gave our Indian brethren a greater perspective on persecution and a sense of fellowship with other persecuted saints elsewhere.

In 2007, the leadership of VOMC is prayerfully considering possible opportunities of conducting these In the Shadow of the Cross Seminars. Please pray for wisdom, discernment, and resources to undertake this very important strategic task of serving the Persecuted Church. Please pray fervently for the complete restoration of the health of our precious leader, Mr. Glenn Penner. I am praying and hoping that he will be able to pick up more teaching responsibilities as the loving Father continues to restore his health. We have an important treasure to be shared with the Persecuted Church. And the courageous and committed saints who are being built and edified by the teaching are very grateful for it. At the end of the seminar in Hyderabad, a noted Christian leader from one of the most restrictive states in India, came to me with moistened eyes and said: "Please tell the writer of the book, and the saints in Canada who have supported in this venture how indebted we are to them. The suffering church in India says a heartfelt ‘Thank you' to them. Please pass our love and gratitude to them. All I can do is to pray for the Lord to richly repay them!" I am sure you will agree with me, when I took the liberty to respond to him saying: "I thank you on behalf of Glenn, and on behalf of the believers in Canada who care for the suffering part of the Body of Christ and support us. It is our privilege to serve you, as you are serving our Master, and suffering for the sake of Him."

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