By the grace of God, our first opportunity of a sustained Gospel effort in India is granted to us through Bro Sujith Samuel, who has returned to India after completing his theological studies in FEBC. In our last Missionary Conference (June 2017), our Board of Elders commissioned Sujith as Gethsemane’s missionary (under probation), and since then he has been prayerfully working in the city of Visakhapatnam – or Vizag, for short – (a central eastern port city of India) to establish contacts and begin a Gospel work.
Recently, I was joined by Benny Skarih, Cornelius Koshy and Andronicus Koshy to visit Bro Sujith. We praise the Lord for the three days of fellowship and activities we had with Sujith and many of his contacts. This mission trip was very timely and a necessary one to understand the nature, challenges and needs of the Gospel work in that place and also to provide biblical advice to Bro Sujith. Upon our return, I received a short note from Sujith by WhatsApp – “Thanks for coming to Vizag irrespective of your busy schedule. It was a blessed time.”
Below, an extract from Cornelius Koshy’s report of the mission trip is published for your information and further prayer and support for our work in India. I want to thank all of you who have prayed for this mission trip, especially the brethren in Gethsemane Malayalam Fellowship who had laboured much in prayer and co-ordination with Sujith to organise this trip. May God prosper the Gospel work done by Bro Sujith and all faithful men in India for the extension of His kingdom.
Report on Our First Mission Trip to Vizag
Ibegin my report with Acts 1:8, where our Lord commissioned His disciples, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Such was God’s call of our brother Sujith, and we thank God for the first efforts to enter into the city of Visakhapatnam (in short, Vizag), in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in the Indian subcontinent. Andhra Pradesh is one of the five southern states of India – Tamil Nadu, Kerala (from which the Malayalees in our congregation originate), Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Sujith, being a Malayalee, does not speak Telugu, the language of the locals in Vizag. However, many in the city of Vizag speak English and Hindi, the national language of India, and Sujith is able to fluently communicate in both languages.
Day 1, Friday 24th Nov 2017
Pastor Koshy, Andronicus and I arrived in Vizag on the morning of 25 Nov 2017, and were warmly welcomed by Sujith and Praveen. Praveen attends a Baptist church whose pastor, Stevenson, founded a mission work called the Vision Hill Tribes. Sujith has preached on occasion in Praveen’s church because of the pastor’s recent ill health. Praveen, having a keen interest in studying God’s word, stays with Sujith in his apartment whenever he comes to study God’s Word under him.
After a quick hotel check-in, we met two Christians, Ravi and Deepanker, for lunch at a Chinese cafe owned by Christians, thus facilitating conversation over a meal. Ravi is the director of Baylogic Technologies, an IT company which runs software solutions for companies, including the well-loved sermonaudio.com. In fact, Ravi was educated in IT and theology for 3 years in USA before returning to Vizag, during which he became friends with Steven Lee, who then became the founder of sermon audio.com. Ravi is married to Neeta and they have 2 daughters, Sweeshi and Reeshi. Deepanker, a migrant from the neighbouring state of Chattisgarh, was originally working with HSBC in Vizag, but when he believed in Christ and renounced his Hindu religion, he transferred to join Ravi in Baylogic Technologies. Deepanker is married and has 2 sons, Daksh and Akshmit.
During lunch, issues surrounding Sujith’s long-term stay and the viability of setting up a church in Vizag were discussed. At present, much hostility exists towards Christian mission work; it has become very difficult to register new Gospel missions. From these brethren, Pastor was able to receive good and necessary information, which he will pass on to our elders for further prayerful support for our new Gospel work through Sujith.
That evening, Praveen drove all of us in a rented car to the outskirts of Vizag, to a village in Ayyannapalem, to visit a small village church led by a preacher, Dev Kumar. This congregation, as well as many other small clusters of Christian communities dispersed in Andhra Pradesh, are part of the Vision Hill Tribes. However, Dev Kumar’s church is now independent and selfsupporting. Nonetheless, they lack solid teaching of God’s Word, and the preachers and congregants are hungry for solid spiritual food. Sujith travels this long journey weekly by bus to nearby Pinagadi, and transfers in a shared auto-rickshaw into the village to conduct lessons on Theism. If Praveen comes along, he would go on Praveen’s bike.
In this trip, Pastor, continuing with the series on Theism, preached on the “Knowability of God”, translated by a brother called Leo, whose father is also a pastor. The key lesson from Pastor’s Bible Study is that man on his own cannot know God, and that all of mankind’s efforts to reach God have been futile; only through Jesus Christ can one fully know God. The Bible Study was attended by 4 local female students, Dev Kumar’s father (who himself was an itinerant and persecuted missionary) and mother, and Praveen. The team was later treated to some sumptuous homemade local Briyani, which was prepared by the sisters among them.
Day 2, Saturday 25th Nov 2017
The team set off early in the morning (5 am) in a “sleeper” train on a 185-km trip to a border town called Paralakhemundi in a neighbouring state, Odisha. The local spoken tongue there is Odiya, though many of them can speak Telugu because of their geographical proximity to Andhra Pradesh. The story of Sujith’s entrance into Odisha is worth mentioning, for it reflects the Holy Spirit’s working through Sujith’s ministry. Sujith was on a train once, where he met a Bible college lecturer, who then gave him the number of a man named “Henjit”, who was keen in studying the Bible indepth. Sujith then called Henjit, which then led to Henjit’s weekly travel down into Vizag to stay in Sujith’s apartment with Praveen for 2-3 days – to study God’s Word under Sujith. On weeks when Henjit was financially tight, he would miss that week’s journey and save up for the following week’s train expense. On occasions, Sujith would also travel up to meet Henjit, as well as other small churches in Odisha, which are Baptist in doctrinal persuasion.
Upon arrival in the railway station of Naupada (which is still in Andhra Pradesh), the team travelled another hour by car across the border into Odisha. We were effusively welcomed by Henjit’s family (with 3 children: Shine, Rejoice, Little). Henjit’s brother, Joyson, and his newlywed wife, were in the house too, and welcomed us with highest honour. Joyson expressed his keen interest in serving God full-time, and in joining Henjit in the weekly Bible studies with Sujith. In this short visit, Pastor introduced the idea of getting computers for them to engage in online and web learning of God’s Word via the GBI-online lectures and materials, which will be accomplished through God’s timely provision. Apart from weekly preaching in his house church, which is attended by 3 families, Henjit used to frequent the prison to preach to the inmates. At present, Henjit is waiting for the official issuance of a prison pass before continuing this prison ministry.
We then moved off to a small meeting room in Hotel Unique for the main purpose of the trip to Odisha: a pastors’ conference. 14 Pastors from nearby villages gathered for a two-part series on 1 Thessalonians 1, whereby Pastor taught them how to lead a biblical church. The teachings were translated by a very able translator: Nayan Kipchang Limau. The main thrust of the conference can be summarised thus: “A biblical church must have a work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope. They must be sure of their election of God, equipped with [our] Gospel which must be exemplified in their lives, and empowered by the Holy Ghost.” These preachers showed much gratitude and appreciation for the fruitful study. May God continue to use Sujith to equip these hungry preachers with God’s Word and teach them biblical doctrines, even to correct the misguided doctrines held by some.
We were joined by Benny Skariah midway through the conference, who flew into Vizag on Saturday morning, and was driven by Praveen all the way up into Odisha. We thank God for the labour of love shown by Praveen, who later drove the entire mission team back into Vizag, clocking a grand total of 370 km and 8.5 hours of car journey in a day – a tiring but nonetheless fulfilling day of ministry!
Day 3 (final day), Sunday 26th Nov 2017
On the Lord’s Day, the mission team joined Sujith to attend a house church begun by Ravi which meets at the home of a congregant, Anand Kumar. Of great encouragement and help to the congregation here is a European family in Vizag, who join them in the worship and service of the Lord. The order of worship is similar to that of our Bible-Presbyterian Church. Pastor Koshy preached on “The Supremacy of Christ” from Colossians 1, which exalts Christ as the express image and revelation of the invisible God. This message was relevant as some among the congregants seem to hold on to old traditions and myths of the Hindu faith, which liken Jesus to one of the many “avatars” (or manifestations) of God. Pastor therefore preached passionately against this prevalent notion. Cornelius led the children in Sunday School and taught on the Christian response to divine wisdom. Solomon likens wisdom to the gold earrings and ornaments which women adorn themselves with – a familiar sight in Indian culture indeed, thus using Proverbs 25:12 to teach the attitude of Christians towards godly wisdom. The service concluded with a fellowship lunch prepared by the congregants.
After a fruitful 2 hours of lunch fellowship with the congregants, the mission team proceeded to Sujith’s rented apartment – a sizable 3-room apartment with a living room which can comfortably sit 20 persons. However, Sujith expressed concern over accommodating a house church in his apartment because he had received complaints from his Hindu neighbours against any Christian activities in his flat.
With a burden to find an ideal location for Sujith to begin a church, the mission team went to view a small 3-storey shop, owned by Ravi, which potentially could be the space for Sujith to begin his church ministry. It is located along a main road, in the city centre. It can accommodate Bro Sujith and other students who come over to study, and a congregation of 30 people. This matter is yet to be considered by our elders.
The mission team then rushed to the airport to catch their flights – the Koshys to Singapore, and Bro Benny to Kerala – and thereby concluding the short but nonetheless very fulfilling mission trip.
The path ahead of Sujith is still rid with many obstacles. What lies ahead is uncertain, but just as God has guided and equipped Sujith in his pioneering 6 months of mission work, we trust that God will fulfil the good work He has begun in Vizag – even unto the other northern states of the Hindi Belt (as Sujith dearly wishes), and all the way to the Himalayas (as Pastor delightfully remarked)! To God be the glory!