By Sharon Williams
Paulus and Sumatha Thalathoti (Plains Mennonite Church) are on a life-long mission for the Lord. Dr. Thalathoti is the president of Peace Proclamation Ministries International (PPMI), an evangelistic and church planting ministry that trains pastors in India. Called by the Lord at an early age, Paulus pursued biblical studies, including a doctorate in ministry. Sumatha, the daughter of long-time Mennonite Brethren Church member and missionaries, has a keen passion for the people of their home country to know Jesus. They founded PPMI in 2011 with $120 and have kept it going with their infectious enthusiasm.
Pastoral training is one of PPMI’s foci. In-depth study of the Holy Scriptures through the lens of Jesus the Savior and practical ministry skills are the core curricula of the annual pastors’ conference. The conference is an incredibly refreshing and empowering opportunity for pastors who have little formal training but much passion for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ among their mostly non-Christian neighbors.
Another focus of the annual conferences is to equip the pastors’ wives to work as ministry partners with their husbands. Such partnership is a foreign concept in traditional Indian cultures, but becomes a very positive influence when the couples understand the biblical basis. “You could see God working, bringing the husbands and wives together in a new way,” remembers Sara Kolb (Plains Mennonite Church), who shared her own experiences as a pastor’s wife when she and her husband Noah Kolb helped to lead the 2013 conference. The women now accompany their husbands in personal evangelism outreach and lead prayer ministries.
In 2014, generous donors made it possible to give each woman a sewing machine, so a sewing class was added to the week’s events. “The sewing machines are wonderful tools for building relationships with friends and neighbors,” Sumatha explains. “The women are happy to serve the Lord in their new-found ministry roles.”
“It’s the closest thing to the early church I have experienced,” says Jenifer Eriksen Morales, Franconia Conference’s LEADership Minister of Transitional Ministries. Jenifer taught both men and women at the 2014 conference. Sumatha and Jenifer will introduce mentoring for the women this year. Sumatha will meet with each woman, and continue the mentoring by phone throughout the year. Jenifer will serve as a coach for Sumatha.
Sumatha and Paulus practice what they teach. Since 2004, this “Priscilla and Aquilla” (Acts 18) also minister with the Indian diaspora through Paulus’ Chairman role with Penn Bible Fellowship, which meets at Plains Mennonite, where the Thalathotis are also members. They support themselves through other jobs so that everything can be poured into the ministries. Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference’s executive minister, has aptly named Paulus and Sumatha “the Indian churches’ missionaries to the United States.”
“The Indian congregations enthusiastically worship and pray with us,” says Sharon Swartzentruber (Plains Mennonite Church). “PPMI is building a bridge for Indian churches to stir us to deeper commitments to share the gospel of Jesus and follow his Great Commission mandate (Matthew 28:19-20),” says Dr. Conrad Swartzentruber, who chairs the PPMI board. The Swartzentrubers served with the 2013 and 2014 teams.
Teaching team members return to Franconia Conference congregations and conference-related ministries as “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-14), bearing witness in our faith communities to the powerful movement of the Holy Spirit.
PPMI is a non-profit organization, supported by generous donors across North America, Plains Mennonite Church, Alpha Mennonite Church, and Franconia Mennonite Conference. “God has given us the opportunity to plant seeds by teaching pastors and pastors’ wives how to lead people to faith in Jesus. We are grateful to God for all who join with us in this mission,” say the Thalathotis.
Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.