I am writing to thank you for your contribution toward my mission trip to India this year. John Shafer and I met at the Kansas City Airport on the afternoon of January 19th. John preaches for the Church of Christ in Kearney, NE and has been going to India almost every year since 1999. We boarded a plane to Chicago and arrived there about 7:45 PM. We departed Chicago bound for London, England about 9 PM and arrived mid-morning local time in London. We had just enough time to go across the airport and board our flight to Hyderabad, India. We departed around 2 PM London time (Jan. 20) and arrived in Hyderabad about 5 AM local time (Jan 21). We lost a day in travel! Total flight time, excluding layovers, 19¢ hours.
We were met at the airport in Hyderabad by our two translators and our driver. The translators are both gospel preachers named: G.D.V.K. Prasad, who is both a school teacher and a gospel preacher in Koyyalagudem (He sacrificed 16 days of vacation time from his school to work with us.) and S. Karunanidhi, who preaches for the church of Christ in Gunadala, which is a suburb of Vijayawada. Our driver was not a member of the church and his name was Subbarao. Both translators worked on converting him from denominationalism, but have thus far been unsuccessful. Hopefully, we will be our brother in Christ when next we meet.
From Hyderabad we drove 273 KM (169 MI) to Gunadala where we checked into our hotel. The travel time by car was just over 4 hours on the national highway. We were met at the hotel by several members of the Gunadala church and by some of the local gospel preachers in the Vijayawada area.
While we were in India, we had a very busy schedule. We had at least 2 gospel meetings per day and sometimes 3 for every day that we were in country, excluding the day arrival and day of departure. I believe there were a total of 34 meetings, including the sermons we preached that were part of the worship service on the Lord’s Day. I do not know how many people total were in attendance at these meetings, but I believe there were over 3,000 people in total that heard John and I preach. The largest meeting we held was in Tanuku, with an audience of about 500. We had at 300 or more in attendance on at least two or three other occasions. Many times the audience was in excess of 100 or more. We met and worked with a number of faithful gospel preachers and dined in the homes of many of the faithful brethren there. What a wonderful time of fellowship it was!
We worked in the Vijayawada area for 3 days, preaching both in the city and in some of the rural villages nearby. We worshipped that first Sunday in Gunadala where S. Karunanidhi preaches. There were several baptisms there, including Karunanidhi’s youngest son, Nitish. Total number of baptisms for our time in Gunadala/ Vijayawada was 14. After lunch that day we departed for the town of Tanuku, about 40 Km. (25 Mil.) North of Vijayawada, about a 2 hour drive.
There we met M. Jayaraju, another faithful and diligent gospel preacher. J-Raj, as we call him, set us up to preach with several local congregations in that area. On the next day, Monday, we met with quite a few preachers that assemble in Tanuku one week per month for some in depth Bible study with J-Raj. I was able to teach them from the book of Isaiah for a couple of hours over 2 days. Later on that Monday, we had a meeting with some folks from a nearby leper colony that J-Raj looks after and their families. There were 18 people, mainly lepers, who were baptized that afternoon. Later that same day, there was an evening meeting, organized by 11 congregations from the area. At that meeting they had set up 480 chairs in an outdoor pavilion and most every chair was taken and there were quite a few people sitting on the ground. The response to that meeting was that 27 were baptized! Just in that one day we witnessed 45 baptisms. We preached in the Tanuku area for 3 days, with a total of 68 baptisms.
From Tanuku we travelled to the mid-sized city of Rajahmundry about 30 miles West of Tanuku. In the two days we spent in Rajahmundry, we held 6 meetings and witnessed another 32 people added to the church! It was interesting when we held two meetings in the city of Rajahmundry, there were a number of baptisms in the Godavari River, which is one of the 4 sacred rivers of Hinduism. The local brethren asked that John and I not go down to the river with them, because the local HinduÔÇÖs had been causing them a lot of problems and had been harassing them when they were baptizing in the river and it was felt that our presence there would cause more problems. Those were the only baptisms to which John and I were not present. The church of Christ in India face persecution from the Hindu’s, but they are still growing despite that opposition.
From Rajahmundry we departed for the town of Koyyalagudem, about 45 miles north of Rajahmundry. We spent two days there in Koyyalagudem. We worshipped that LordÔÇÖs Day with the church in Koyyalagudem, one of two congregations with which G.D.V.K Prasad works. He preaches every Sunday at 2 different congregations along with his school teaching, Monday through Saturday. We held a meeting that afternoon in the village where Prasad grew up and one that evening at the second congregation Prasad works with. In the two days there, we were able to witness another 10 people added to the church.
We left Koyyalagudem and travelled back to the Gunadala area a distance of 150 miles. Back in Gunadala we held 4 more meetings in two days, witnessing four more baptisms. We departed Gunadala on February 4, heading back to Hyderabad. We made one more stop on the way to Hyderabad in the town of Miryalagudem. There were over 300 in attendance at that meeting. We witnessed 3 more added to the church there in Miryalagudem. This was our last meeting before we flew out of Hyderabad. All together there were 130 people baptized during our trip. It was a very fruitful visit (not to mention all the actual oranges and bananas that were given to us everywhere we went).
We flew out of Hyderabad bound for London about 7 am, except it was actually almost 10 am before we departed after sitting at the gate for 2 ┬¢ hours waiting for an engine starting generator that actually worked. Our flight time to London was supposed to be 10 ┬¢ hours, but with the 2 ┬¢ hour delay we arrived at the same time our scheduled flight was departing. After crossing Heathrow airport twice and going through security twice, we put on a later flight from London to Chicago. The flight time was about 8 ┬¢ hours. We made it (barely) in time for our scheduled flight from Chicago to Kansas City, MO.
Otherwise we would have spent the night in Chicago. We finally arrived in Kansas City about 10 pm that night. Total travel time 21 hours in the air, and something like 27 hours total time ÔÇô all in the same day! We found the day that we lost on the return trip. Our luggage arrived at our homes, about 4 days later!
This was one of the best experiences of my entire life. I loved every aspect of the work there in India and was so very encouraged to see the gospel have such an impact in the lives of the Indian people. They are a very poor country, but the brethren there are rich in good works and in an attitude of reverence and awe for Christ and His Church. I cannot thank you enough for your generosity in allowing me to go on this life-changing journey. I look forward to going again to India in the future. I already have a travel visa that is good for 10 years, as I am prayerfully planning to make this trip again next year and in the years to come.
Thank you and God be with you all.
Jack W. McNiel, Oak Grove Church of Christ
John has uploaded a video to YouTube with many pictures and video clips from the trip.