I wanted to take a few moments and give a report of my mission work in India, from January 19 – February 5, 2016.
Listen to the report given at Oak Grove church of Christ on February 28, 2016 HERE.
A Brief History of the Work in India
Jim O’Connor’s work in India began in 1974 and John Shafer began making trips with Jim in 1999. Through the years, the groundwork has been laid for the work we are doing. Many sacrifices were made by Jim and his family and by many other preachers in order that the gospel work could continue in India.
Jim did not start the church in India. (n fact, according to early Christian historians, the apostles, Bartholomew and Thomas first brought the gospel to India in the First Century.Chapter One of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs states:
“Bartholomew preached in several countries, and having translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India, he propagated it in that country. He was at length cruelly beaten and then crucified by the impatient idolaters… Thomas, called Didymus, preached the Gospel in Parthia and India, where exciting the rage of the pagan priests, he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.”
We know the church was established there around 2,000 years ago, as to whether it survived there for the many centuries prior to the 20th Century, we may never know. Some efforts were made by the Churches of Christ in America to evangelize in India in the 1880’s and again in the 1920’s without a large amount of success.
According to Ira Rice’s autobiography, Pressing Towards The Mark, there was Indian man, named Prenshon Kharluki who in 1940, studied the Bible on his own and established in his home city in the State of Assam, what he called the Church of Christ.
News of this was brought back to the United States by a missionary from the Disciples of Christ denomination. Upon hearing of this, Bro. Glenn Wallace, from the Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas went to India and discovered that this was indeed the Church of Christ and that the number of Christians there numbered over 750.
It was decided that these Christians were doing just fine without help from their American brethren and so no efforts were taken to support them at that time. Unfortunately, according to Brother Rice, the Disciples of Christ denomination did not leave them alone and were able to pull most of the New Testament Christians into their denominational error.
It was not until the early 1960’s that the church became firmly re-established in India. It was 1963 before any American missionaries were allowed back into India, after they gained their independence from England in 1947. Even then, they would not allow any U.S. citizens to be granted missionary visas, as the Indian Consulate thought there were too many American missionaries already working there.
There was, though, a Canadian preacher named J.C. Bailey, from Moose Jaw, Canada who was granted a missionary visa and arrived in India with his family on April 25, 1963. He worked with the church there in Assam for a short period of time, but had many difficulties in preaching the gospel there. After three months he visited Madras (now called Chennai) and decided to center his family’s work there. Later, in 1964, U.S. brethren: J.C. Choate, Don Perry and Ira Rice (among others) were able to enter into India to preach the gospel.
These efforts, up to this time had been in the far NE region and the far SE region of India. In 1964, bro. Bailey, working out of Madras, advertised in a number of English language newspapers in India for a Bible correspondence course. A young man from Kakinada, in Andhra Pradesh, by the name of Nehemiah Gootam responded to the advertisement and began to study the Bible along with the correspondence course. He discovered that the course was indeed teaching the truth and wrote to bro. Bailey offering to translate it into the Telugu language.
How the Work in India Continues
Instead of sending out the entire 27 lesson course, he sent money to bring Nehemiah to Madras, where he was able to have a personal study and then baptized Nehemiah into Christ. Bro. Bailey and Nehemiah Gootam along Nehemiah’s brother Joshua were later able to establish the Kakinada School of Preaching in 1971 with the first class graduating in 1973. Bro. Nehemiah Gootam directed the Kakinada School of Preaching for over 40 years, training hundreds of Indian brethren to preach the gospel, including many of the brethren we still work with in India.
The church was well established in Andhra Pradesh by the time bro. Jim O’Connor began his work there from February to March of 1974. Jim was able to build upon a foundation that had been well laid down by these other brethren. Jim’s efforts were mainly in strengthening the churches, giving further training to the preachers and speaking in gospel meetings and lectureships in the churches across Andhra Pradesh.
It was like the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7,
“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
Others had planted, Jim had watered but God gave the increase. Those of us, and the Indian brethren, carrying on the work continue to water where others have planted. We continue to build upon the foundation that was laid by the evangelists who have gone before us.
After a few years of working primarily in the Hyderabad area with works established by other missionaries, Jim began a new work in the Vijayawada area, which at the time was receiving little attention from American missionaries. So, seeing the need that was present in Vijayawada, Jim organized the efforts that we are continuing still.
I am very sad to report that within a week after I returned to Oak Grove that brother Jim passed away. I am saddened that because he was in the hospital and I had come down with the flu shortly after returning, I was not able to visit with Jim after my trip. He will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. The Indian brethren took the news of Jim’s passing very hard.
Jim is now at rest from his labors, but his work continues on
“Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” (Revelation 14:13)
Our Current Work in India
The work in India is now under the oversight of the elders of th 39th Street church of Christ in Independence, MO. John Shafer of Kearney, NE is currently the point man for this work. He began travelling with Jim in 1999 and since has taken over Jim’s work after Jim was no longer able to travel. Jim still maintained involvement in the India work until the day he passed away.
Our India work takes place primarily in three areas in the state of Andhra Pradesh. In each of these areas there is a trustworthy gospel preacher who handles the setting up of gospel meetings in his area and who serves as a contact person for the Indian preachers supported by the 39th Street Work. Currently there are about 25-30 preachers supported to some degree through this work.
- 39th Street, Independence, MO
- Blue Springs, MO
- Chipman Road, MO
- Kearney NE,
And, other churches who donate with the 39th Street congregation overseeing the funds. We do not just work with preachers who are supported by USA brethren. Many of those with whom we work are supported through other efforts or are not supported at all.
This year we departed the U.S. on Monday, January 18th and arrived in the city of Hyderabad in Telangana State on
Wednesday, January 2oth. We had traveled over 24 hours and then there is the fact that India is 11.5 hours ahead of Central time in the U.S. which accounts for us arriving on Wednesday. John flew to India from Kearney, NE and I flew from Kansas City, MO.
Our arrivals timed pretty well, as John arrived in Hyderabad about an hour after I did. We were met at the airport by our driver and our translators. We drove from there to Vijayawada, which is about a 5 hour drive. We arrived at the hotel about supper time and had to leave almost immediately for our first meeting. We worked out of the Vijayawada area from January 20-24. We worshiped with the church at Gunadala that Sunday morning the first worship service held in their partially completed building.
There in the Vijayawada area, our contact person is S. Karunanidhi, we call him Nidhi. Nidhi sets up our meetings in the area. He is one of our primary translators and preaches full-time for the Gunadala church of Christ. This is one of the few congregations that is, to some degree, self-sufficient. Nidhi does receive some support from the Oakey Blvd. Church of Christ in Las Vegas, NV, but he also receives funds from the Gunadala congregation, which is a rarity as most church members are very poor. The building at Gunadala is located on public land.
For the last few years, the state of A.P. has been building an overpass directly behind the church building and it was thought that they would have to tear down the building to make way for the overpass. The church there decided they needed to relocate and attempted to purchase a piece of property for about $50,000 U.S. The church had no credit, so Nidhi put his own house up as collateral.
The church was unable to keep up with the payments on the loan for the property and Nidhi lost his house as a result. The congregation has since stepped up and increased his support.┬á They are essentially paying his rent plus a little extra. The church has also taken on more responsibility for their building. Now that they know that they will not have to relocate at least for the foreseeable future, they have taken on the expense of rebuilding the entire building from the ground up.
On Monday, January 25 we departed early in the morning for the town of Tanuku, about 100 miles from Vijayawada. While in Tanuku, I was able to teach in the preacher training seminar out of the book of Exodus and we also were able to hold a meeting for a group of lepers and their families.
We spent two days working out of Tanuku visiting local congregation and then we moved on to Rajahmundry, which is about a 30 minute drive from Tanuku. We worked out of Rajahmundry for a few days. It was there that I experienced my first case, albeit a mild one, of Delhi-belly. I got sick from something I ate and had to miss one of the meetings, staying in the hotel room. Over the next few days, I maintained a diet of nothing but plain white rice, fried eggs or fruit. Once my stomach settled back down, I went back to eating the local diet. I really do like Indian food. We worked with several congregations in this area and met many faithful Christians. We were in this area from January 25-30.
In the Tanuku / Rajahmundry area, our contact person is M. Jaya Raju or J-Raj for short. J-Raj preaches for the church in Tanuku. He also preaches for a congregation composed of lepers that are supported by the Tanuku church. J-Raj is a very hard worker. He conducts a preacher training seminar that takes place over a four day period each month. It is a 2 year program that provides supplemental training for a number of preachers, who each are involved in preaching the gospel in their towns and villages.
Many of these men receive no funds for their efforts and are in effect tent-making preachers. J-Raj is constantly trying to raise funds for these men. J-Raj does a LOT of work in gospel meetings, probably holding 8-10 meetings per week away from his local congregation. Often he receives no compensation for these meetings and pays his own expenses. J-Raj is also involved in a local television program that airs in the Tanuku and Rajahmundry area. J-Raj is supported fully by the 39th Street work. I believe that he is worth every Rupee that he earns!
From Rajahmundry, we moved on to our third area in which we focus our work the region around Koyyalagudem, which is about 80 from Vijayawada. We arrived on a Saturday morning and held two meetings in the area that day. On Sunday morning, we worshipped with the church there in Koyyalagudem where GDVK Prasad preaches and then later that evening we held a meeting at the congregation where his brother-in-law preaches in the same town.
They are both named Prasad and are both school teachers in Koyyalagudem. We held a number of meetings around the area where several of Prasad’s family members preach. We stayed in at a hotel in Koyyalagudem that had hot running water that is we called for hot water and someone came running with a bucket of it. This hotel was not as nice as any of the other hotels we stay in, but is very much like how all of the hotels were about 15 years ago.
Our contact person there is G.D.V.K Prasad. Prasad is a primary school teacher for Grades 1-5 in Koyyalagudem. He receives some outside support for his work as a gospel preacher, but derives most of his income from his teaching position. He preaches each Sunday morning in two different congregations. One is in Koyyalagudem and the other congregation is in Vadalakunta, which is about a 20 minute motorcycle ride from Koyyalagudem. Prasad’s father used to translate for Jim O’Connor and it was Jim who encouraged Prasad to attend preaching school at Kakinada.
Most of the men in Prasad’s family are gospel preachers. His father was a preacher, his brothers-in-law are / were preachers and several of his nephews are preachers. We held meetings at congregations where his brother-in-law preaches and where his nephews preach. Prasad uses almost all of his unpaid vacation time from school to work as our translator.
Through the years, these three men, Prasad, Nidhi and J-Raj, have proven themselves to be very reliable and very faithful in their efforts in working with us and in their own work as evangelists.
We departed Koyyalagudem for Vijayawada on February 2. We held two meetings on the way and one meeting in Vijayawada that evening. On February 3, we spoke at a gathering of the preachers from Vijayawada and gave them further encouragement before departing to Hyderabad and the airport.
I cannot emphasize enough, that the work John and I do, the work Jim did and the work that others who travel to the area do, is mainly that of support. We are not so much working as evangelists over there as we are simply supporting the local evangelists. They are the true workers in India!
Jim traveled there for nearly forty years, often staying for a month at a time. Even with those extended stays, his work was that of supporting the local efforts. Even still, our visits to the various works in India are very valuable. We provide encouragement to the churches. We reinforce the message that they receive from the local evangelists.
Our efforts this year resulted in 100 baptisms! Almost every one of these baptisms was with those who were already studying the Bible with the local evangelists. One notable exception to this took place at our last meeting, as we trekked our way back to Hyderabad. We held a meeting at the city of Miryalagudem, having had 93 baptisms for the trip. This meeting was held under a tent just down the street from the church building. At the end of that meeting we had six people come forward wanting to be baptized, but by the time we walked down the street to the baptistery only five people came to be baptized. No one knew where the sixth lady went off to! Meanwhile, after I had preached the lesson, some people approached John and engaged in a Bible study with him, so John was not present at the baptisms.
After the five baptisms, I had come back to the tent and had been sitting in on the Bible study for a few minutes when I was tapped on the shoulder by the local preacher who said that two more people wanted to be baptized. As it turns out, the one lady who had come forward and then disappeared had gone home to get a change of clothes and met her denominational preacher along the way. He had also been present at the meeting and she took the time to encourage and to help convince him to obey the gospel too! That’s how we ended up with 100 baptisms instead of only 99!
Why are there so many baptisms while we are over there? Often it is because, with some of those with whom the Indian evangelists have already been studying want to wait until they hear the Americans before deciding to obey the gospel. I was worried that they felt that it was kind of a ‘status symbol’ to be baptized while the American missionaries were present, but the local evangelists assure us that often these are wavering on whether or not to obey the gospel and when they hear the Americans preach the same things as the Indian evangelists, this often will be the final thing that convinces them the truth of the gospel.
I believe that this is a reason why we should do as Paul commanded the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 1:10,
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
This unity of doctrine is a great proof that the message they receive is authentic. The unity that stems from the Word of God is truly a wonderful thing! We should do everything in our power to strengthen this unity, even as Paul encouraged the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 4:1-6,
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
After arriving back in Hyderabad we checked into our hotel by about 10:30 PM and went straight to bed, tired. Unlike last year, this year, when we had to be at the airport by 5 AM, our flights were not until the afternoon and the evening of February 4th. John had to be at the airport by 2:30 PM, but I did not need to be there until 8:30 PM. So after we dropped John at the airport, I treated brothers Prasad and Nidhi and our driver to an afternoon at the Hyderabad Zoo. It was a nice afternoon and I really enjoyed getting to know those men a little bit better.
I departed about 10:30 that night and flew to Abu Dhabi and from there straight through to Chicago which is about a 15 hour flight! I arrived in Chicago on Friday February 5th and after a two hour layover and another two hour flight, I was met at the airport by my wife and kids. We then went straight to Five Guys burgers and I ate a big cheeseburger! I don’t remember much else from that day, as I was sound asleep by 4:30 PM! Then, by Sunday, I had the flu and passed it on to my wife Kathy and son Elijah. It was not the welcome home I was hoping for.
I am very happy that I was able to go on this great trip and am looking forward, already, to my next trip in the coming year or so, I hope. My thanks go out to those who helped me with travel expenses and other support so that John and I could carry on this work.
I urge you to consider sending any support you can towards this work by contacting the 39th Street Church of Christ in Independence, Missouri. (15331 East 39th St, Independence, Missouri, 64055.)
Thanks for your help and fellowship in the gospel.
-- Jack McNiel March 7, 2016