by Conrad Swartzentruber, Plains
I sat and listened in amazement as one Peace Proclamation Ministries International pastor after another told his story of ministry in India. Rajiv told of the physical challenges in starting a small congregation with some neighbors throwing stones at the church. “We continued praying for all our neighbors and showing God’s love to them,” he recalled. After one family joined his church, the father recounted how he had participated in these oppositional activities. After seeing the congregation’s response, his family accepted Christ. “Following Jesus is a continuous process,” Rajiv reflected. Rajiv hopes to take God’s word to new villages in the area.
From July 31-August 12, I traveled with my wife, Sharon Swartzentruber, Noah and Sarah Kolb, and Sumatha and Paulus Thalathoti to the Hyderabad area of southern India where PPMI works. Our trip had two primary areas of focus: a four-day pastor and wives retreat from August 5-8 and visits to several churches and pastors from August 9-11.
During the retreat, Noah gave a devotional each morning from Philippians for both pastors and pastor’s wives. The two groups then met separately for the rest of the day. I presented sessions from the book of Nehemiah related to leadership. Paulus taught from the book of John. We observed the pastors supporting each other through prayer and encouragement. Sharon, Sarah and Sumatha taught from the book of Ruth and on the topic of prayer for the pastors’ wives. For many of the wives, this was the first time they had attended a resourcing event. The retreat sessions for pastors’ wives were well received and one of our most significant contributions during the visit.
After the retreat, we visited several PPMI churches, including an open air service, church dedication, and baptismal service. Our visits took us to remote areas and farming communities. After services, we were often asked to pray for people, in groups and individually. Our team felt involved and able to contribute while we were learning from these gracious hosts.
One common theme through the pastor’s personal stories was of unique meetings with Christ, often through a tragedy or illness. I was most moved by the frequent stories of receiving open opposition to their work and responding with patience and love. In several stories, these Christ-like responses were the turning points in which significant oppositional leaders became pillars in the church.
Rao was born into a Hindu family. When he was 20, he was bitten by a snake as he worked in the fields. In the hospital, the doctor told him he had 20 minutes to live. In that moment, Rao remembered hearing about Jesus as a child and called out to Jesus at for the first time; he survived the snake bite and now states, “God saved me from the bite of this snake for a reason.” Ten years ago, he started a small congregation of 3 members that has now grown to 30 members.
Paul works in a particularly challenging area with a majority Moslem population and there was significant opposition to the church initially. When a Moslem neighbor became ill with typhoid fever, Paul went to pray for her. As a result of his patient love and care for his neighbors, twelve Moslems are now coming to church and three were recently baptized.
PPMI’s role in these Indian communities is simple – providing encouragement, training and limited financial support for pastors and their wives. In this process, we learn much from our brothers and sisters in India and we are blessed by God in sharing our lives with others.
I left India with a deep respect for these pastors and wives ministering in settings with obstacles few of us can imagine. I was struck by their patience in the face of opposition that could invoke anger rather than love. I was challenged by the constant reminder of prayer. We were frequently requested to pray for individuals, families, churches, and visions of future ministry. I was encouraged to observe a simple, profound faith in God to lead, protect and bless.