Undaunted by the task to bring the gospel to regions of India where only two percent of the people are Christian, eight members of First Baptist Church in Ville Platte packed sausage, roux and Bible lessons for a 10-day missionary trip to the area of Valiveru, India in late May. The trip was physically tasking and adventurous and brought them very near to danger and under close scrutiny by the Indian police.
“Two years ago, a missionary trip like this was in none of our immediate or even long-range plans,” said Pastor Kevin West, “yet God moved mightily through a new church member, Suresh Chiruguru, who joined the church in 2010. Suresh was on fire for mission work, specifically to support and encourage the little church from his home town in India where Christians were meeting in a dirt-floor hut with no air conditioning. Suresh was ordained as pastor of evangelism and missions and Revival for All Ministries (RFAM) was birthed in his rent home in Ville Platte, powered and sustained by serious fasting and prayer.
“Suresh began to work with his Christian brothers back home to forge a connection with First Baptist in every way possible,” West said. “Prayer meetings were held on Skype, videos shared and a newsletter was published. When the time came, we were able to step out in faith for this mission trip that changed lives at both ends of the globe,” West said.
“It is one thing to hear about what the Holy Spirit can do on a mission trip,” Pastor West said, “but it’s another thing to see it. It brought home to me what the first church in Acts must have been like. Even with opposition, they love the Lord and expect miracles to happen. They expect God to move. In America we go through programs rather than have expectations that God will show up and move.”
Pastor West said pastors of all Christian denominations attended the pastor’s conference on core values. “They are not begging for handouts,” he said, “but want to learn how to stay the course and persevere. They are begging God to move.”
Pastor Kevin is no stranger to the India church. His Sunday sermons in Ville Platte are translated in Telugu and broadcast to the little church where women in colorful saris fill the floor in prayer and the men serve dutifully. Pastor John Babu Moparthy leads the congregation of about 500-700 on Sundays.
Since the inception of RFAM, the 500 member church in the struggling neighborhood of Valiveru has moved its worship services from the thatch-roofed, door-less hut to a beautiful stone building made possible mainly by offerings from First Baptist Church in Ville Platte. It is within these walls that the Indian pastors are allowed to preach, but foreigners are forbidden to bring the gospel message.
On day two of the mission program, the arrest of a local political leader made the danger very real. The man was Hindu, but converted to Christianity in Valiveru Baptist Church and supports Christian communities and churches. Routinely, Indian police would visit the church where the Ville Platte group was ministering, asking about the purpose of the Americans’ visit. “We were very concerned that we would not be able to continue with our work,” Chiruguru explained, “but the Lord prevailed.
“The Christians of India put us to shame with their faith and conviction,” said Sunday school director Neil Ortego, one of the travelers to India who led a youth service. “We take so much for granted here. They don’t, and they are the most servant-minded people you will ever meet. So many of them are poor, but they are content and happy in the Lord. There are even orphan children sleeping on the roof of our church there.
“I just can’t get their smiling faces out of my mind,” said Sara Bieber. “We’ve become so close to them. They were so eager, happy and excited that we were there working with them.” Mrs. Bieber, her husband Graham, Grayson and Ashley Bieber and Lance Bertrand led the children of Valiveru in Vacation Bible School.
“If you want to meet a Christian, go to India,” said Bertrand, speaking in a church service upon their return. “Hinduism made me mad,” he also said, “seeing things like no funding for schools if you were Christian, but looking through God’s word made me see that we need to hate the sin and love the sinner.” Because of Revival for All Ministries a local school that was closed by the government was able to re-open.
Bi-monthly, a small magazine with articles from Ville Platte church staff members and the pastor’s Sunday messages are translated from English to Telugu and distributed in and out of the state of Andhra Pradesh to Telugu reading communities.
“When we started publishing the magazine people were so hungry for the gospel message,” Pastor Chiruguru explained. “We bumped the circulation from 500 to 750, then 1,000 and they kept asking for more. Right now we print 3,000 copies and we still cannot keep up with the demand and the financial need is great to do this.”
While in India, the Cajuns joined the local clergy to visit the sick, aged and poor in the area; enjoyed a high school celebration and the birth of a new baby, ordained two pastors and taught the pastors’ wives and families how to bar-be-que and make gumbo.
“I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get the sausage through airport security but we did,” said Ortego, who was head chef in India. “The sausage was stored in a neighboring home that had refrigeration and the ladies were amazed that a man would cook. In India, the cooking is left strictly up to the women. The pastor ordered seven chickens to be killed for the meal and I showed them how to make a grill for the bar-be-que. The women caught on very quickly.”
The group also held a conference for pastors and deacons, conducted regular church services, and led a children’s vacation bible school and youth service.
The work in India continues. Pastor Chiriguru, a former teacher at Ville Platte High School, stayed in India with family for several weeks after the mission trip. He and other pastors went into the forest to minister to tribes of people who were converted to Christianity and led by former terrorists who also became Christians.
“It was a double threat,” Chiriguru explained. “We were in danger with the police who oppose Christianity and with terrorists in the forest. But we see the Lord doing great works, even more than we imagined.”
(Anyone interested in supporting India missions may contact First Baptist Church at 337-363-4240.)