A different kind of Christmas celebration spread across the nation of India as hundreds of thousands of Christians invited friends and neighbors to watch broadcasts that were part of BGEA’s My Hope television project.
[Names in this article have been changed to protect the safety of individuals.]
In a one-room house, Ramesh is preparing for guests. Papers and metal pots are stacked neatly on shelves, and the floor is clear except for some benches and chairs along the blue-painted, corrugated metal walls. A borrowed television is plugged in and placed against the wall. The house’s wooden door stands open, a sheet hanging in the doorway.
As guests enter, they pass a small sign that says, “If God Be For Us Who Can Be Against Us.” The room, no larger than 9 feet by 12 feet, begins to fill–and keeps filling. Finally, some 30 people are inside. Mothers hold babies and toddlers on their laps.
The guests have come to watch a television program about Christmas and about hope. About Christmas, which seems to be celebrated throughout India but with little knowledge of its true meaning; about hope, which eludes multitudes in every nation, whether they live in a dump or in a palace.
They were invited by Ramesh, a quiet man who simply explains, “I want to serve God. That’s why I invited people here. I want people to come to the Lord.”
The sounds of babies crying, children shouting and adults talking filter through the sheet in the doorway during the Billy Graham television program. The guests ignore the commotion, their attention riveted on the screen.
After the program, the host normally would give his own testimony. But this quiet man defers to his pastor, who explains more about Jesus and asks how many want to accept Christ. Virtually every hand is raised. They pray, with guests repeating the prayer after the pastor. Ramesh says, “I want many people to accept Christ and to grow in Christ–and everyone’s faith to increase in the Lord and for them to know more about Jesus.”
He passes out cards for the guests to fill out with their names, addresses and what decision they have made about Jesus. They also receive a booklet that explains more about the Gospel.
Outside, as guests return to their own homes, Indian music is blaring from a boombox, and children play and weave between smoky cooking fires and wandering animals. As usual in Indian cities, vehicles can be heard honking their horns in the distance. Some things never change. But the guests of one humble Christian have put their faith in Jesus. And that changes everything.
A few kilometers away, an investment banker and his family welcome guests to their large, well-appointed flat. The setting is dramatically different from the house at the dump. But these guests, too, are hearing about the hope they can find through Jesus Christ. And when the program is over and the host has told how Jesus changed his life, more decisions are made for Christ.
Throughout India Dec. 21-26, in houses large and small, people accepted the invitation of Christian friends to come and watch programs that would tell about Jesus. Over and over, God used the My Hope broadcasts, and the prayers and testimonies of caring friends, to draw people to Himself.
From Despair to Joy
Kumar, a Christian in south India, was grieved because none of the 13 people he had invited came to watch the Dec. 23 broadcast. He began to pray, and around 9 p.m. he felt God compelling him to invite his wife’s sister’s family to watch the next night’s broadcast. Immediately he set about to contact them.
It wasn’t easy. His sister-in-law’s family had no phone, so Kumar had to call their neighbor and plead with him to go and bring them to the phone for an urgent message. When his brother-in-law, Satish, reached the phone, Kumar asked him and his family to catch a bus to his city as soon as possible. Satish said he had no money. Kumar encouraged him to borrow the money and said that he would reimburse Satish for the tickets.
Satish consented, and at 4 a.m. he and his family boarded a bus for the long trip to Kumar’s house. They arrived at 5 p.m., and an hour later they watched the My Hope telecast. Afterward, Kumar gave his testimony and asked if the others wanted to put their faith in Christ. They were all looking at one another, and Kumar wondered what they were thinking. Then Satish, noticeably distressed, stood and explained that he had lost his job because the tea factory that he worked for had closed. Further, the company was demanding that the family vacate their company-owned house. Seeing no hope, the family had decided that on Dec. 25 they were all going to commit suicide.
Now they saw that through Jesus there is hope, and they prayed with Kumar to accept Christ. Satish said he felt like a new man, and after staying several more days with Kumar, the family returned home ready to face the future with Christ.
Many others also found hope through Christ. After watching the program, one woman in Orissa wept and said, “We have never heard these things before in our lives.”
A Hunger for Christ
Christians say that Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is plentiful” (NIV), are true for India today.
Ravi Thomas has seen a change in the spiritual climate of this religious, yet largely non-Christian, nation during his 25 years of ministry here.
“Before, people were not that open,” said Thomas, who pastors a church in western India. “They were resistant. Now, people everywhere are in a search for truth.”
A family in a southern Indian city saw that search firsthand when 60 neighbors showed up at their house to watch the broadcast. They had invited 20. Those who couldn’t fit in the living room watched through windows and the open front door. After the program, the mother and father both gave their testimonies and 22 people committed their lives to Christ. Two days later, one young woman described her conversion: “Before, I was not very happy. Now I am filled with joy and happiness after seeing this hope program. I also want to bring my parents to know Jesus Christ. Please pray for my family, that they would come to know Christ.”
A university student in a western state teamed up with his sister and a friend to invite neighbors to watch the telecast. Although many Christians reported that it was easy to invite people to their homes, these three said they found it difficult because of the non-Christian backgrounds of those they were inviting. Even so, they found people who were willing to come, and the reaction of one man took them by surprise.
“Yes, surely I will come,” the man said. “I love Jesus. I will accept Jesus into my life.” He got down on his knees right there, and the three Christians led him in a prayer of commitment to Christ. The man said that he would bring his family with him to watch the program.
Children also invited friends to watch the broadcasts; two of the programs were especially appropriate for young people. Joseph, 11, had been praying for five of his friends. He invited them, and all five accepted Christ. After seeing them turn to Christ he said, “I want them to win souls for Jesus, and I want them to grow in the Lord.”
In a south central city, a schoolteacher, well known in her neighborhood for her Sunday school classes and tutoring, invited mostly young people to come and watch the program at her house Dec. 25. Well after the start of the program, teenagers were still arriving. At one point, 61 were crammed into the living room. A few minutes later the number had grown to 75. Then the host told her story of faith in Christ. Seventeen people made first-time commitments to Christ, and the teacher was ready to continue her long-standing ministry of Bible teaching, now with a new group of young believers.
The Real Meaning of Christmas
The occasion for the project was Christmas, a familiar yet misunderstood holiday. “All the Hindus here celebrate Christmas,” said one Baptist leader. “Most people think of Father Christmas [Santa Claus], but this program will open the eyes of so many people to know what real Christmas is. It is not about Christmas parties, it is about the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe this program will reap a great harvest, and it will be a good tiding of great joy to the people in India.”
Finding Real Hope
Many Indians who worship other gods admit that they lack hope and peace. Through the My Hope project many heard for the first time about the one true God who created them, loves them and has made a way for them to be in heaven with Him.
One woman, Lakshmi, said, “Before, I have been worshiping many gods, going to temples. But today I felt the peace that came when I received Christ in my heart. Today it was different; I worshiped the living God.”
Christian leaders say that demon possession is fairly common, especially among people who have been entangled in black magic. One leader remarked, “We are not much involved in demon possession, but somehow God has been giving the gift of deliverance through prayer and through words.” He told of one woman who was delivered from demons and who has since led many people to Christ. Each week she brings guests to church, and on Dec. 19 she brought 40 people to a Christmas gathering at her church.
At one My Hope event in western India, a family of five–all of whom were possessed–committed their lives to Jesus Christ. A spiritual struggle followed, with the mother and father passing in and out of trance-like states as Christians prayed for them. The situation was not resolved immediately, but their pastor reported that within a couple of days they were free of the spirits that had tormented them and that they are faithfully attending church.
What Leaders Are Saying
My Hope India could not have been accomplished without the cooperation of thousands of churches. And it is those churches that are now seeing growth, both in the spiritual lives of their members and in the many new believers coming to church.
A bishop in a southeastern city said that My Hope India was a valuable project for reaching people with the Gospel. “We use every situation, whether it is the earthquake, tsunami or floods, or now the My Hope project. We focus on the responsive people; we are out there harvesting the harvestable. We hear the cries of millions saying, ‘We want to see Jesus.’ We feel our prime duty is to respond to those cries and opportunities.”
One Christian leader in a western state says that God is clearly moving in people’s hearts. “We can see a great harvest in India,” he said. “One district near us has become 75 percent Christian. There is a lot of revival taking place in this area. God is working in a marvelous way.”
And a My Hope coordinator volunteer in a northern city said, “I really believe God has moved in more ways than we had anticipated. A lot of Christians now are more aware of the need, that the harvest is ripe around us. So this has rejuvenated or revived the people not to just live their life in a shell but to reach out to others.”
Around the Country
- On Christmas Day, 46 people turned out for the My Hope program at a Christian school in a northeastern state, which is sandwiched between the countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Thirty people accepted Christ.
- In a southern state in a tribal area that has few Christians, 200 people came to watch an outdoor showing at a church. Sixty received Christ.
- In another southern state, one church invited about 750 people to celebrate Christmas by watching the broadcast. After the program, 350 committed their lives to Christ.
- A couple living in south India invited seven students to their home for the program. Afterward, a Christian gave his testimony and answered questions for two hours. By the end of the evening, all seven students had accepted Jesus.
- A pastor in one of India’s island territories invited 10 people to his house on Christmas Eve, and all of them received Christ.
- Christians arranged for a My Hope showing to some 150 residents of a leper colony. The colony’s secretary said, “Such programs have never been held before, and only the Christian community accepted us and came forward to us.”