A Vision for India

Reaching One Billion Souls
Calvary Chapels join with Serve India Ministries to bring the Gospel to one billion people.

Calvary Chapel pastors join an effort to build God’s kingdom in India through teaching God’s Word verse by verse.

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Steve Shambeck

In a small room outside of Bangalore, India, Pastor Lokesh sat down slowly, unsure of what to think of the two men kneeling at his feet. One was an American pastor who had come to instruct the leaders of small Indian churches who had gathered there. Next to him was Pastor Ebenezer Samuel, who had founded Serve India Ministries a decade ago. Today, their team had taught him and nearly 40 other rural pastors how to study and teach the Bible; now, these learned men were doing the unthinkable: washing each man’s feet.

According to India’s caste system, Lokesh was from an “inferior” class. Yet here he was, with these men of God washing his feet like servants. Tears welled in his eyes. They even knew his shameful past: Once a radical Hindu, Lokesh had beaten and persecuted Christians—especially those who tried to convert others to Christianity. One day, a strange sickness had come upon him that seemed incurable. Desperate, he tried to commit suicide. To his amazement, he sensed God speaking to him, telling him to go back to a pastor he had beaten and whose church he had tried to destroy. He began attending the small fellowship, and then gratefully accepted the Gospel and God’s forgiveness.

Once a radical Hindu, Lokesh had beaten and persecuted Christians—especially those who tried to convert others to Christianity. One day, a strange sickness had come upon him that seemed incurable.

An Indian pastor, left, prays as Pastor Ebenezer Samuel of Serve India Ministries, center, and Pastor Jim Jacobson, Calvary Arlington, WA, front, wash his feet. Serve India trains and encourages rural Indian pastors and is closely connected with Calvary Chapel.A few years later, he answered God’s call to share Jesus with others. Many were amazed by the changes in his life. One by one, he led others to Christ. They looked to him to teach them more about God, so suddenly he was a pastor. Serve India had offered precious Bible training and practical help—even financial support for a few years so that he could travel to the churches he planted. Yet, today, this display of humility was more than he could comprehend. Why were these men on their knees?

Pastor Ebenezer’s words had astonished him: “We are here to serve you. We love you; we are here to help you and support your ministry—not to build ours.”

Praying aloud for each rural pastor, Pastor Ebenezer knelt beside Pastor Jim Jacobson of Calvary Arlington, WA. Ebenezer looked around the room. Many of these men had no money or were from lower classes—all their lives feeling unworthy, unwanted, and outcast. These pastors fearlessly shared Christ in rural villages, despite danger and hardship. Tonight, he could see in their tear-stained faces that God was doing a deep work in their hearts. He thought of Jesus, who had washed the disciples’ feet.

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” John 13:14-15

Pastor Jim’s church, Calvary Arlington, supports 10 of these pastors, so he had asked to wash their feet. He reflected, “Jesus came not to be served but to serve. We wanted to communicate to them that they aren’t here to serve us or Serve India Ministries. We serve alongside them.” He added, “These guys are doing the work of the ministry despite poverty and persecution. God is blessing them as they share the Gospel and start these churches.”

Jim added, “Their circumstances are similar to what we see in the Book of Acts. They are persecuted, but almost every pastor has seen God do miracles. The church here is exploding. These guys are living radical Christian lives, as we are all supposed to live radically for Jesus.”

 

Reaching One Billion Souls

Pastor Ebenezer grew up in a Christian home in India—a rarity, as India is two percent Christian, 80 percent Hindu, and 14 percent Muslim. After a personal crisis and encounter with God at age 19, Ebenezer felt called to be a missionary for Christ in his own country. After serving in various ministries for three decades, he started Serve India Ministries 10 years ago.

“There is a great opportunity, a great need for the Gospel here,” Pastor Ebenezer explained. “India is a very religious country: Hinduism is an ancient religion with 33 million gods and goddesses. So there are one billion people here who believe in a god, yet they need the Gospel.”

“India is a very religious country: Hinduism is an ancient religion with 33 million gods and goddesses. So there are one billion people here who believe in a god, yet they need the Gospel.”

One challenge is that, when an Indian person converts to Christianity, many view that as “destabilizing the family [structure] by crossing over to a foreign religion—like a betrayal,” Ebenezer said. Consequently, Christian persecution includes shunning, beating, and even killing.

Another challenge is that 69 percent of this sprawling, massive country’s population lives in more than 641,000 villages—each with about 500 to 5,000 people. For this reason, Ebenezer explained, “God has given me a special calling to reach the rural areas where the Gospel is much in need.”

Equipping the Called

To do this, Serve India comes alongside those God has already called—pastors who have been planting churches in slums, deserts, mountains, and jungles on their own. Pastor Ebenezer related, “In 2006, God gave me a vision to find these national pastors in the villages who aren’t on anyone’s radar—to go out and equip them right on the field.” Serve India sends experienced trainers to live in areas where they can personally train pastors in Bible teaching and practical ministry for five years. Trainers mentor several large groups of national pastors each month; pastors then go out to various unreached villages as God leads. The aim is to help the pastors become rooted and grounded in God’s Word, and for their ministries to grow and become self-supporting.

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2

Pastor Jim Jacobson leads a group of men, women, and children to a reservoir for a baptism ceremony in Kerala, India.

One important aspect is that Serve India does not take pastors away from or dictate their work, but rather offers support, training, and encouragement in each man’s God-given vision for five years. Ebenezer explained, “We function as a catalyst and not a denomination. We encourage the pastors to exercise full ownership of the churches they plant—not to be depending on anyone for their needs, and to grow and multiply as God leads them.” He believes this is why Serve India has grown so rapidly: Approximately 5,700 pastors currently serve 20,000 villages across 23 states of India.

Multiplying the Message

Serve India encourages a ministry of multiplication: that each pastor reach at least five villages. Their goal is to train 20,000 pastors to reach 100,000 villages by the year 2020. In a country of 1.2 billion people, Pastor Ebenezer feels these goals are not outlandish but essential. That’s why each of the 100 trainer/mentors will be equipped in verse-by-verse teaching. While foreigners are generally not permitted by the Indian government to convert people, they can help train Christians in closed meetings.

Their goal is to train 20,000 pastors to reach 100,000 villages by the year 2020. In a country of 1.2 billion people, Pastor Ebenezer feels these goals are not outlandish but essential.

“We desire to teach them the Scriptures,” Ebenezer said. “The people in their churches don’t need to be preached at; they need to be taught the Word of God. Our vision is a lot like Calvary Chapel’s that way. That’s why I asked Pastor Dan Finfrock and other Calvary pastors to come teach them how to study and teach the Bible, verse by verse.”

Rightly Dividing the Word

Dan Finfrock of Intensive Care Ministries has traveled the world, teaching thousands to rightly divide the Word of God. While a missionary in the Philippines, he taught Inductive Bible Study (IBS) to the native pastors for six years. In 1991, Pastor Chuck Smith asked him to continue that work in Russia, where multitudes had come to Christ through The Jesus Film and Campus Crusade for Christ and needed discipleship. He’s also trained several hundred Calvary Chapel pastors in the IBS method, as teaching the whole counsel of Scripture is a Calvary Chapel distinctive.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

“It’s not programs that will change people’s lives; it’s the Word of God. If we aren’t teaching the Word, then we’re going to lead people astray,” Dan said. “Look at the way Jesus taught: He made an observation, then He explained it, and then He makes the application. He was very inductive in the way He taught. That’s why the IBS method makes so much sense; it’s the logical way to teach.” Inductive Bible Study looks at the context of a passage and then examines it verse by verse through observing what the verse says, interpreting what it is teaching, and then applying that truth to one’s life. Pastors do not pick and choose which Scripture to talk about; instead, they teach through a book of the Bible, as God presents it—verse by verse, “precept upon precept, line upon line” (Isaiah 28:10b).

“It’s not programs that will change people’s lives; it’s the Word of God. If we aren’t teaching the Word, then we’re going to lead people astray.”

“Everywhere we go in the world, we see God doing an incredible work, getting the church ready in these last days,” Dan related. “The Word is our only hope to stand in these incredible storms because they are going to get worse in these last days. But God’s Word is our anchor.” He cited Psalm 1:1-3, in which those who delight in God’s Word will be like trees near a river, healthy and bearing fruit.

Miracles Affirm the Message

The native pastors in India recounted many miracles. One man was born sickly and deformed, so his unsaved relatives mocked his Christian parents’ faith and even tried to kill him as a baby. But God spared his life, and in time, his limbs grew to normal size. An unhappy young man, he tried to kill himself repeatedly: He hung himself, but the branch broke. He stuck his leg in a cobra hole, was bitten, suffered for two days, and miraculously was healed. Afterward, he gave his life to Christ. He began to share the Gospel and testify of God’s miracles. The relatives who once mocked his parents’ faith accepted Christ, as did many others in his village and surrounding villages.

“And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” Revelation 12:11

Near Rajasthan, Pastor Suta was beaten and left for dead. One attacker felt guilty and told his wife, who insisted they tend to Suta’s wounds. That night, Suta regained consciousness. The wife said, “You look like a man of God. My sister is sick; will you help her?” Their shaman had not cured her. Suta rose from his bed, laid hands on the sister and prayed. To their amazement, she quickly recovered. Before morning, the whole family had accepted Christ. Five years later, there are 60 believers in that village.

Pastor Prasad, in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, testified that, over the years, the Bible training has helped him grow in God’s Word and in boldness. He added, “I began to bear witness to my Hindu fellow men zealously, and I have won about 500 people to Jesus so far. By God’s grace, I have 300 regular worshipers in my church.” He desires to plant 400 churches in the next 10 years, as Uttar Pradesh has more than 200 million people.

Women labor in the tea fields.Prasad explained, “Serve India encouraged me to train up leaders. Each of my 20 leaders has raised a worship group with at least 20 believers.” He added, “Serve India brought together the native pastors of my region as a team. In times of persecution, I am blessed to realize that I am not alone—and that other pastors are suffering like me, standing with me, and praying for me.” He cited Isaiah 41:10, which says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Strength in Fellowship
Pastoral fellowship is vital, noted Pastor Larry Otto of Calvary Mill Creek, WA: “In Seattle, the CC pastors regularly gather for fellowship and prayer. We develop relationships so we can reach out for advice or counsel from another pastor.” Larry and the team biblically answered native pastors’ questions: reaching the community, navigating church splits, and working to support their families.

Hands-on Partnership

Many CC pastors enjoy being directly involved with Serve India. Pastor Jim said, “We didn’t just get a ‘vision tour’ of the ministry; we got to meet the pastors, connect with them, hear their stories, and teach them how to teach the Bible. There is a transparency and authenticity with Serve India that, to me, is very important.”

Strat Goodhue, a CC church planter in Washington state, is also the U.S. Executive Director of Serve India. He encourages other CC pastors to join in the work God is doing in India. “Some pastors talk to each other to form a team; others contact us, and we put the team together,” Strat explained. He urges believers to visit the website and learn how they can pray specifically for the ministry in India. “This is a spiritual work, and the most important thing you can do is support us through prayer.”

“This is a spiritual work, and the most important thing you can do is support us through prayer.”

Pastor Jon Sanné of Calvary Chapel Olympia, WA, added, “Serve India Ministries allows believers in the States to engage in making disciples of the nations. Beyond simply writing a check each month, we can send short-term teams over to work with the pastors we’ve adopted. Serve India is very passionate about making disciples—feeding the flock, loving them—just as we do at Calvary Chapel. At CC Olympia, we really want to reach the most unreached people groups, because we believe that every people, tribe, tongue, and nation is going to worship before the Lord.”

Pastor Jim agreed. “I have heard some pastors say they are not interested in India. What? I feel like I’m on a quest—to reach that last person with the Gospel so we can all go home to heaven. Also, we have a lot to learn from them. These brothers have such love for the Lord to serve Him in abject poverty. I am encouraged, and my church is encouraged, by hearing their testimonies. It renews my excitement and passion for God.”

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