Reaching Northeast India
This is a big year for World Outreach. We’re celebrating our 90th anniversary as a Mission Agency. To celebrate this anniversary, we’re going to be looking back at our heritage through our 2022 Nations Issues.
We enthusiastically invite you to join us as we take you on a journey from our humble, faith-filled beginnings to be poised at one of the most pivotal moments in modern day missions.
From a small voice suggesting “return home”...
to thousands of home churches
Born into a family whose whole life revolved around church, it is difficult for me to remember when I had not known or heard about church. I was born in a hospital next to a church building, then brought home to a church building. I knew more of churches and buildings than my own father, who was absent when I was born, as he was posted in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, prior to the division of India. His company driver took my mom to hospital and hence laid claim of fatherhood to me for as long as I can remember. As a child I played in the church compound and my family’s idea of fun was attending church or church meetings.
“Church planting” is not a term found in Holy Scripture but coined by a missiologist for want
of a better term. The roots of the term “church planting” were found in the 19th century, but it is a term that dominated the missiological world of the 20th, and now spans into the 21st. I be- came aware of this term as an infant when I would only see my mother when she was home and not involved in some church work at any given point in time. It became a term I did not want to hear and abhorred in my growing-up years, though I was not free of it, as I had to be the driver for my mom, uncles, and brothers, who were all involved in it in one way or the other. For my brothers, they were planting churches even when they were studying at university.
The Still Small Voice
To make a long story short, it was in the year 1978, while living in the United States (US), a still small voice inside me suggested I return home to India. I had been offered and considered settling down in the US to work as a partner in a business and, once established, I would bring my family across the pond to live as a family. It was a challenge to give up the American dream, but the decision to forego this opportunity was made easier by my wife’s hesitancy to change and transplant cultures. Our children were still very young. It took me the whole of 1979 to prepare to return, not knowing what I would or could do. All I had was a very clear instruction from the still small voice that I start working for the Lord in church planting, but not for a salary or in a paid job.
I had not made many friends in the Christendom of the US at that time who could potentially sup- port us. Consequently, I was unsure how we were going to survive back in India, so I had to depend on what I had in my hands. It was to be the start of what I would later know as a life of faith and its outworking.
Once back in India, I started getting involved in the traditional way of establishing churches, but with an emphasis on reaching the regions beyond where historical denominations already had a presence. It was a long, arduous, hard road, though not impossible. The challenge was to find the right person to lead a fledgling church. Then, when you found one, the need arose for the appropriate resources to fund them.
Living By Faith
Thus, my journey began. I joined a church organisation and started the adventure. Between 1980 and 2000 we established hundreds if not thousands of small local congregations. However, the attrition rate was also very high. This was due to many reasons though chiefly it was the economy of these little congregations that left them vulnerable.
It is a dilemma that baffles those involved in establishing congregations in the modern world, a world where ministering comes with the expectation of a financial package being provided. It is much easier to say, “live by faith”, but so difficult in its outworking. There are some who do succeed, but many do not. I became unsatisfied with the finished product of the so-called church planting.
Meanwhile, by 1983, I got to know David Wallis of World Outreach (WO), who, at the time, was living in South India. He was a teacher facilitating leadership development for most of the Pentecostal leaders of South India. In my meeting with him, he expressed the desire to have some inroad into North India and other places. David was an incredible teacher, though I didn’t always agree with his theology. He was my first contact with World Outreach, and through him, John Elliott (former International Director of WO) came into the picture. David Wallis was John Elliott’s leader while they were in the Philippines, and they were good teammates. John had moved to Hong Kong and came to India for a seminar in my city. When he visited with a few others, the start of our association with World Outreach began.
World Outreach, which was never a funding agency, was a good facilitator of relationships. In a journey of undeniable development, they cast a vision for local churches to reach the unreached. We started organising “Life in Christ” seminars and publishing the “Life in Christ” magazine, which was a great tool for leadership development. Together with David Wallis, we were the first to enter Nepal and Myanmar with leadership development seminars before those countries fully opened.
I met Peter Smith (former Field Ministries Director of WO) for the first time in 1992 in Singapore and our friendship started and has stood the test of time. Thus, my journey with World Outreach began and, as they say, the rest is history.
It wasn’t until January 2006, while I was attending the Strategic Coordinator’s course in Singapore, that I became convicted of the way things were being done. My conviction came with the realisation that Jesus said, “Follow me and I will teach you.” While all that time I had been trying to teach others. It struck me that the church must go back “home” if it was to be established. I made the mistake of trying to get people to church when what I should be doing is taking the church to their houses. The church must come home! Jesus brought the church to Mary & Martha’s house, Paul took it to the house of the Philippian jailor, Jesus went to the centurion’s home, he went to Peter’s house, he even went to the upper room of a house for the last supper.
The Man of Peace
The father or mother of the house are the key to their family and, if a church is to be established, it then must be in their houses and not in the temples. What a paradigm shift! I didn’t instantly become an expert but, in my amateurishness, a light dawned, the sun rose, causing the Son to rise in my heart, and eureka!
For me personally, I saw the light! “Christ, the head of the home” is not a slogan or poster we put on our walls, but a reality we must put in our hearts. Thus, the next part of the journey began, and I started moving in that direction, where I can see every father as a pastor, every son an evangelist, and every mother and daughter as a teacher.
For me, it was a real divine strategy. He incarnates himself in every family that opens their hearts, opening not to a theology but to a reality they can all be disciples. The secret was in finding the “man of peace” in either a house, a village or a community, but most importantly, the house. The very important paradigm of seeing the father/mother of a family as being the lead pastor moved the strategy from being exclusive to being inclusive.
This house church then becomes the place where the meal becomes a sacrament, the bathroom can become the baptismal. Seeing the sanctum sanctorum not as a place in a special building but in the heart of a house took the strategy back to the first century, pre-Constantine and pre-Roman world. This was a big revelation and a revolutionary thought directly challenging the traditional institution. To some, it is sacrilege. To the institutionalist, an abhorrence. To position-seekers, a threat. This model cannot be done where tradition has already been established, but it can be done in the regions beyond where no stigma is found, and future constituents are not tarnished.
Thus, the world where Jesus sends us becomes larger. Identifying and discovering that “man of peace” is so important. We’ve learned that you do not go in because a young son or daughter could be extracted- ed from the family; instead, we must have the patience of waiting for the family to be opened and the man of peace to be the door opener. Thus, new fields opened in different places across India where the traditional churches have no presence and where families do not feel threatened by a new religion.
Learning from the incarnation of Jesus, we begin to understand that we do not go to change their culture, but to redeem it. How they pray is not wrong, but to whom they pray is very important. When, in their own family, they can see that the One to whom they pray brings healing from hurts and deliverance from oppression is a great opener. Where they do not need a special person from outside their community but that they can go directly by themselves to the altar bringing change.
Since this discovery, thousands of churches in homes have begun to emerge across India and other countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and many other places. It’s like wildflowers growing in unknown valleys all around the world.
As a term, “church planting” is a misnomer. Jesus never commanded the church to be planted; he said he will build the church. He is the builder, the finisher. He is the mason and the carpenter. All that he requires of us is to be obedient as workmen to build according to his design. It is not a one-size-fits-all philosophy, nor one design for all churches. He wants us to respect the cultures we go to, not to change them, and allow the process of redemption to be outworked. May his commandments be obeyed, his steps followed, and his words embedded so that his life will thrive in the nations.
Author: Dr Kitbok R
Aside from Dr K’s work, there are many other church planting teams in Northeast India. Over recent years, more than 60,000 people have been baptised through their work. In addition, WO has a thriving team operating out of Mumbai and a couple of effective works among vulnerable young ladies.