Dear Friends, 2015 was a year of dramatic growth for the church in South Asia, by God’s grace. It was also a year of increasing pressure on Christians.
The political climate in India today has shifted in favor of Hindu fundamentalism, which has led to a noticeable uptick in Christian persecution. One study by the Catholic Secular Forum noted more than 365 attacks against Christian institutions in 2015, up from 120 just a year earlier. Eight Christians are known to have to have been martyred last year, and more than 8,000 reported being attacked or severely harassed by extremists. Reports emerged throughout 2015 of “forced reconversions” – that is, believers in Jesus being forced to conduct worship rituals for Hindu idols. Of course, many attacks go unreported due to ongoing threats.
Believers in other South Asian nations face similar difficulties.
For this reason, we continue to pray for our God’s protection of our network, which now involves more than 85,000 village congregations. The church is growing at such an exponential rate – resistance should come as no surprise to us! As Jesus explained to his disciples in John 16: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
For the first time in history, the gospel work is multiplying in this area of the world to such an extent that the statistics are beginning to change. Years ago, we estimated that more than 500,000 villages still needed their first church. Today, that estimate has fallen to just 370,000. (Still a lot of work to do, no doubt, but there is much to celebrate!) Tribal, rural areas that have never before had a Christian witness are now home to thousands of new believers – many of them young people who are boldly stepping up to live (and die, if necessary) for Christ. (In 2015, IGL churches reported more than 148,000 baptisms!)
The pastors and frontline workers of India Gospel League are committed to continuing their work despite increasing pressure from the world. In fact, the difficult political climate and the increase in resistance has strengthened our resolve – we must finish the task Jesus gave us to accomplish, we must see achurch planted in every village!
Increasing militancy against the Christian faith underscores a key reason for our strategic approach at IGL. We believe that churches should be self-sustaining, self-led, self-replicating organizations – not dependent on outside leadership or resources. And, for those of you who know our ministry well, you know this is one of the reasons for the significant growth we’ve seen over the past two decades, even with relatively few supported pastors. The vast majority of IGL work is designed to sustain itself – meaning that if the political or economic winds change, and international partnership is no longer possible, the work of the gospel will continue moving forward.
Outside support (from friends like you!) is used to help jumpstart important new work in additional villages and unreached regions, equipping pastors, offering ministry tools, etc. But once a work has begun in a given area, we immediately take steps to bring the fledgling church to a place of healthy self-sufficiency (or God-sufficiency, to be more accurate). This is one of the reasons we lay so much emphasis on leadership training, theological instruction and church-based ministry. We aren’t looking to be the “hero” in unreached villages – we want to empower churches to reach their own communities effectively.
I’d like to think that this approach makes our work much more “persecution-proof” than it otherwise would be, if IGL was run as a top-down denominational-style organization. And, because almost all of IGL’s 85,000 planted churches are self-sustaining, the light can continue shining all across India regardless of economic or political circumstances. However, our church planting pastors are still very much in need of prayers – from their own congregations, and from friends across the world. Your Partnership
When I recount all the ways God was at work through IGL last year, I really stand back, amazed and excited. Jesus is building His kingdom in ways we never thought possible, at a rate we never could have strategized to accomplish. What is happening in South Asia today is, by all accounts, supernatural. We are seeing the presence and power of God, touching lives and transforming communities! Although numeric reports can never tell the whole story (as every number represents one precious soul, one person whom God loves deeply), I want to offer you a few statistics to celebrate as we think back to last year. And, for those of you who have partnered with us in 2015, I want you to know that this celebration is yours as much as it is ours. Because you stood with us, more lives have been touched, more families have been reached, more churches have been planted, more leaders have been trained. For example, in 2015:
These and other statistics seem almost too good to be true! And yet, is this not what we expect when God is at work? He deserves all the glory for what is occurring in South Asia today.
Looking forward, I want to encourage you to keep praying. Yes, persecution is growing. Opposition lurks everywhere, and extremists are feeling empowered to carry out their dark agenda. But right alongside that darkness, a great light is shining. Jesus is building His church, just as He promised to do.
Every day, on the front lines of the gospel’s advance, lives are being transformed. Families are surrendering to Christ. Pastors are following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, forging into areas that have never heard the name “Jesus.” And across the world, God is prompting more and more partners to join the work – to help us cross the finish line, to take advantage of what may be the greatest gospel opportunity in a generation.
In 2016 we are praying for God to continue exceeding our best expectations, “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Looking forward,
Sam Stephens President, India Gospel League
P.S. We currently have more than 300 church planters in need of startup support to push into new regions, about 7,600 children who are awaiting sponsorship, hundreds of pastors interested in receiving theological training, whole regions available for adoption – there really are opportunities everywhere. If you’d like to be a part of the IGL story in 2016, we’d love to partner with you, for God’s glory. Just contact our U.S. office to get started!