In all the Christian Ministries, the most difficult work anywhere, in my opinion, has got to be the Mission Field. The work becomes even more difficult when you travel to a non-Christian majority nation and attempt to make disciples there. Yet, many are not only brave enough to do it, but do it for years at a time as a part of their call to the Ministry. Indeed it is an integral part of our Faith, and many choose to do it because they feel led by the Holy Spirit to obey “The Great Commission” which is the commandment that Jesus gave us after He was resurrected: “Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:14-18
My personal experience of research in this area has been the country of India where the majority of the folks are Hindu, a small percentage Muslim, and the remainder scattered between Christian, Sikhs, Buddhist, Jains, and no declared religion. It is interesting to find that the Christian population in the country has remained steady between 1951 and today, a mere 2.3 percent. (Data sourced from the Pew Research Center https://www.pewforum.org/2021/09/21/religious-composition-of-india/ Indeed the article states that Hindus made up 79.8% of India’s 1.2 billion total inhabitants in the most recent census, conducted in 2011. That is 0.7 percentage points less than in the previous census in 2001, and 4.3 points below the 84.1% recorded in 1951. Meanwhile, the share of Muslims grew from 13.4% in 2001 to 14.2% in 2011 – up by a total of 4.4 percentage points since 1951, when the census found that Muslims comprised 9.8% of India’s population. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, who together make up nearly all of the remaining 6% of the population, were relatively stable in their shares since the 1951 census.
In my frequent travels to India, I have met Christian missionaries and residents from numerous denominations --- Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Mormons (who call their missionaries Elders) non-denominational Protestants, Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others, all who attempt to carry on Church Services, Fellowship and Bible Studies as though they were in a Christian-majority nation. Fortunately, India has thus far (other than the occasional disruptive event) been largely accepting of Christians and Christianity as well as all the other religions which have thus far attempted to worship and grow here. However, this may not remain the case over the long haul if the Indian Government feels that a second religion is challenging the dominant Hindu religion here. However, there are glimmers of hope, even here. In the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, a full 25 (twenty five) percent of residents claim to be Christians. India is home to some really beautiful old historic Churches and Cathedrals, dating back to the period of the British and French occupation of the country. It should be noted that even though Christians and Christianity comprise of only 2.3 percent of the population, that number makes up 28 Million Christians in a country with a population of 1.2 Billion people. While this may not sound much, realize that the number of people who claim to be Christian in India surpass the number of all residents living in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana combined. Yes, the number of people residing here in this small, densely populated country is absolutely mind-blowing, and jars the psyche.
Here are the Challenges in the Mission Field as it pertains to India:
- Resistance to Change. It has always worked for me this way, and these are the God/Gods I have always worshipped. Why should I change? Convince me that Jesus is real and that Christianity is better or superior to my religion. This is an argument you hear often. The problem with this argument is that other than to narrate the story of Creation and the Bible, and what Jesus did for us on the Cross, there is absolutely nothing else a missionary can do to bring someone to faith in Christ, except to pray for the person. As Christians we know that the Holy Spirit must work within a person before they generally accept Christ. However, as Bill Hybels once said, you can push the door of acceptance to Christ open just a little bit more, and it may take many people over the course of a lifetime to do so before the door is finally fully open for Christ to walk through it. We can do our small part in conveying the message, but it often takes many messengers to make real change happen.
- No concept of sin. How can you convince a person that they need to be saved of their sins when they live in a society where sin is not a concept. That is like selling mosquito repellant or snake-venom antidote to an Eskimo in Alaska. There is no perceived need to be saved from one’s sins because the concept of sin doesn’t exist. There is a concept of right and wrong, and actions and consequences, however, there is largely no concept of sin. Hence no concept of the need to be saved from your sins or having to give account to God for your sins.
- The Hindu concept of Karma. The Hindu concept of Karma is that when you die your soul takes on another body and you return as another creature or person. If your deeds in this life are bad, you may return as a snake or as a mongoose or as a rat or something dreadful, and if your deeds are good, you return as a human being with greater rank, comfort and privileges than your current life, and this cycle of Birth, death and rebirth continue endlessly until you finally achieve Nirvana (Salvation) and are one with God. Seriously? Do I want to be reborn and re-attempt life a million times until I get it right, when Jesus promises us instant Salvation when we believe upon Him?
- The majority imperative and ease. It is extremely easy to go along with the majority of people in your county and believe what they believe than to go “against the grain” and be different. It requires a kind of grit and determination and stick-to-it-iveness which many don’t have. It is easy to cave in, to pressure by friends, relatives and others around you who are not believers and relapse into old habbits and the old way of thinking, Indeed the pressure to conform can be a huge factor in backsliding into a person’s former religion.
- Plurality in Religions. The concept that all religions lead to the same God, is extremely prevalent in the Hindu religion. Many Hindus will read the Bible, acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God, or at least a Prophet, and then claim that all religions and all paths lead to the same God and go back to their idol worship. They seem to conveniently ignore or misbelieve John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- Persecution. While it is fortunate that India does not persecute Christians and allows us to gather and worship as we please, it is extremely difficult to do so in other nations, especially in Muslim-majority nations where Christians are severely beaten, tortured and even killed for their beliefs. The Martyred Church has had many strong believers who would rather give up their lives than renounce Christ, and I have discussed some of these in my posts over the years.
These are just a few of the challenges of the mission field in India. The Churches, Seminaries and Fellowships which are succeeding and gathering large followings seem to generally be tucked away in distant rural areas, away from the large Cities where they may gather the scrutiny of the press and the mobs which gather from time to time to enact or inflict damage upon anything they perceive as a threat to their old ways of doing things.
How can you help?
- I would encourage all Christians to consider picking a country (any country) and financially supporting a missionary outreach cause there.
- I would encourage all Christians to spend at least six months over the course of their lives to give of themselves --- their time, talent and treasure, in the Mission Field.