having spent the morning chasing around various police stations in bangalore to register one of our team who is from pakistan (it was actually a great way to see a bit more of the city), we then met with people involved in two ministries.
the first was young life. i am fairly familiar with their work from the US and their model of relational youth ministry has shaped a lot of pete ward's underlying approach which i know very well. what was interesting as we shared stories with them was how similar the issues they face are to those faced by youth workers on our team. i think it's because it's an urban context. youth ministry is small and results are slow - young people aren't that interested in christianity. so their approach is very much to build friendships and work alongside young people.
the second was completely different. in india there are vast rural areas with tribal peoples. the india evangelical mission trains missionaries and sends them to live in these villages to share the love of God with the people. it is very exciting to see this indigenous mission movement. one of the missionaries happened to be passing through the centre so it was wonderful to be able to hear his story first hand. they live with the people in a hut in the village and face the same diseases and so on - a very incarnational approach. it takes about 2 years to learn the language. then they will find ways to share the gospel. they start where people are at - so usually they will tell the story of creation as this resonates. it was amazing to hear that they might take 2 years before the missionary will share about the life of christ - they wait until it seems appropriate. it varies from district to district but there are government regulations surrounding conversion - so when some of the tribes say they want to become christian there is a legal ceremony/blessing and they fill in a legal form to record it. this is not true everywhere and as far as we could tell is particularly for people of lower castes. the govt also regulate to see that the missionaries are not alluring people by false means - i.e. giving away free medicine or whatever to entice people to become christians. i actually thought that there was something really positive about that - if you couldn't try and persuade people to follow christ but could just share your own faith journey and answer questions, it would only work if there was something real and attractive about your faith. there are bible translators working over 25 years to translate the bible into these tribal languages.
one of the stories about the villages was of a particularly hostile tribe. after several years of patiently sharing with and showing love to them one of the key hostile people's child died. he was angry with the spirits and when he went to the witch doctor heard god's voice speak to him saying 'what are you doing here? go to the church' which he did. he became a christian and is now a dynamic evangelist. 750 of that tribe are now christians though they have experienced 5 years persecution. they have also struggled to be accepted by the institutional church as they don't fit the box so have tended to just grow the church in small groups meeting in peoples huts. it was hard to build up a full picture but part of the reason for the govt concerns and the persecution is that people becoming christians is seen as a potential threat to the culture or the landowners - the poor are low down in the caste system and work on landowners estates... (because of the sensitivities of these issues i have not written the names of people, tribes or districts).
so it seems from today's visit that the church is struggling in the urban areas with many of the same challenges we face in the west. but it is emerging amongst the poor forgotten tribal groups in rural india in amazing ways.