It’s Christmas Day.
Dishes and laundry and tubs of rice dry under the sun between the thatched huts along the dirt road in a tiny village in southwest India where a group of tribal people make their home. At the center of the village a nativity scene, with its own thatched roof, is set up in front of a church.
No TV reception is available, so Pastor Joshua* has invited fellow villagers to a VCD showing of BGEA’s My Hope program at his church.
Joshua is one of thousands of Christians throughout India who welcomed friends, neighbors and family into their homes and churches over Christmas week to watch a television broadcast or VCD of a story that weaves in a clear proclamation of the Gospel and gives opportunity for a response. Pastors and lay Christians alike have been trained so that following the program they can give personal testimony to how the Lord has worked in their own lives and then assist guests who desire to put their hope in Jesus Christ.
Just outside Joshua’s hut, food for a luncheon after the program cooks in huge pots over an open fire.
Joshua says that though the villagers have shown interest in knowing more about the truth he shares with them, they are preoccupied with making a living. “The people are so busy working and [going] into the city to sell that they don’t have much time to think about God,” he says.
But they take time out for the novelty of watching a VCD program. At the back of the church, the only modern building in the village, some tribal members from the older generation occupy a few rows of stackable red and blue patio chairs, but most sit on their mats, or chappas, on the cement floor.
During the My Hope program Billy Graham addresses viewers with the question, “What difference could a Baby’s birth almost 2,000 years ago make to our world and lives today?” Light streams through the front door of the church as latecomers slip inside. Joshua’s wife, Anu, urgently motions for the children to slide forward.
“Christmas, to have meaning, cannot be separated from the cross where Jesus was put to death,” Billy Graham says. “Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived, but His primary reason for coming was to reconcile God and man. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Before the end of the program, more than 100 children and adults have covered the church floor.
When the program cuts back to the main storyline, viewers see the story’s lead character, Johnny, humble himself before the Lord in brokenness and tearful repentance: “I have sinned and been greedy. … Remove the darkness of my life. … Is there any hope for me? I confess that I have fooled myself … Father God, please forgive my sins.”
In a dramatic way, Johnny recognizes God at work in his life. And at the end of the program the actor, no longer in character, explains what it is to receive Christ. Then he offers a simple prayer.
Pastor Joshua’s lunchtime feast is soon to be served on banana-leaf “plates” outside the church, but many inside pray and commit their lives to Jesus; several linger, eager to tell how the Lord spoke to them through the program.
Rachish says he was an atheist and wanted to know, “Is God alive? Is He interested in this world?” Although Rachish had heard about Jesus–that He was the one true God and that he should believe in Him–Rachish didn’t. “But when I saw the film,” he says, “I came to know there is a God and that Jesus died for my sins. All I did in the past was wrong, but now I accept Jesus and I will do what God wants.” Gupta, too, said that in the past when Pastor Joshua told her about Jesus and invited her to church, she was not interested. “But after I saw the miracle in [the character’s] life, God did a miracle in my own heart,” Gupta says. “Please pray for me, that I will not leave Jesus Christ.” So affected by what he heard, 14-year-old Satip felt an immediate desire to become a pastor. “All through these days I wasted my life,” he says, “but this day I want to commit myself to Jesus Christ–and tomorrow I want to sow for the Kingdom.”
Holy Life, Witnessing Life
A few hours away, in an area where non-Christian religions are strong, Pastor Samuel leads women in Bible study with My Hope follow-up materials.
“Through [the programs], people realize what Christ has done for them,” Samuel says. “After that, they ask what they have to do [to have a relationship with Him].”
At this day’s study, Samuel teaches about living a holy life and making right choices.
“Daniel resolved not to defile himself …” he reads. A woman in the circle adjusts the drape of her black veil over her head and shoulders. She nods slightly as the pastor speaks. He directs the women to turn to Psalm 119:30 to read more about the way of truth. Samuel’s daughter Susi leans over to help Sheela, the woman in black, flip the pages of her Bible to find the reference.
Sheela is being discipled by one of the other women, Meri, a neighbor who came to Christ through the 2005 My Hope project at Samuel’s church. At a follow-up study, Meri was gripped by the words in her “Thirty Discipleship Exercises” booklet: “When we become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ, we become responsible to tell others about Christ. There’s no greater privilege than sharing the love of God with your friends, family and neighbors.”
Though 90 percent of the community where she lives is of another religion and people have threatened to throw her out of the neighborhood, Meri began to speak daily to those around her about Christ and to invite them to her house for Bible study and prayer. Sheela is one of those neighbors who is now following Christ.
“The peace that I could not get through our religion I can get through Christ here,” Sheela says. Before coming to Christ, her husband had left her. As a Christian, she began to pray for his return and to believe that God could bring him back–and He did. Her husband is now showing interest in Christ. Sheela is primarily concerned that her children follow Christ. “My children, they must follow truth,” she says.
Morning sunlight shines through the window where the women, sitting on their chappas, listen to Samuel reading in a soft voice. As he closes their time in prayer, Sheela folds her hands over the Scripture still open on her lap.
Finding The Greatest Gift
A thousand miles north, in a Delhi neighborhood, roads are 12 feet wide and jammed with pedestrians, bicycle rickshaws, cows, chickens and motorbikes. Vendors offer fruits, fabrics, shoe shines, and even haircuts in front of a makeshift mirror. The road is uneven and dusty leading into one of the largest slums in India, where Pastor Matthew David and his wife, Ammy, have ministered for 12 years.
Across the street from their Christian school, a cow and its calf slurp their supper from a plastic bucket. A few loops of Christmas lights, strings of crepe paper, a tilted “Merry Christmas” sign and a handful of children leaning over the school’s balcony railing welcome guests to a Dec. 23 My Hope program geared to young people. Before the program begins, the children are laughing and frolicking in the street. Fifteen of them belong to an orphanage run by the Davids, who also run the school, a church and a Bible college in this same complex where they make their home.
The Davids have no running water, and they received electricity only a year ago. Matthew says that his friends don’t want to traverse the bumpy roads to visit him. They ask, “Why are you staying here?” Matthew replies that at any other place you have to search for people. “But here,” he says, “the people are searching for us” –including little ones off the street who joined his orphans for the My Hope program The Greatest Gift of All. Matthew says that many of the children are from a non-Christian religion, but their parents trust the Davids and are eager to have their children educated at the Christian school.
An iron gate swings open to the Davids’ living room, where they were planning to hold the showing for the orphans and perhaps five or six other children from the street. But as the program begins, about 30 pack into the small living room, and stragglers quietly continue to come in. All roughhousing ceases and only a single fluorescent tube and light from the television illuminate the room. Now even the street is quiet save for the ring of a bicycle bell. The children, silent and wide-eyed in front of the television, watch the drama of creation, the fall and redemption unfold before them.
“Did you know that everyone in the world has been a bad friend to God?” asks a pudgy character named Miguel. “Even you and me! There’s a price to pay for all the bad that’s in us before we can be God’s friend–but we can’t pay it. No one can. But God gave us a way to be His friend where the price is already paid.”
After the program, a leader asks the children about what they saw. “Who was the big gift mentioned?”
“Jesus!” they chorus.
The children bow their heads and press their palms together as they are led in a prayer. Afterward, about 10 indicate that they have prayed a prayer of salvation. Then four elementary boys come to the front to lead their peers in singing a chorus:
I’m trading my sorrow, I’m trading my shame.
I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord!
I’m trading my sickness, I’m trading my pain.
I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord!
When the children are asked what they learned from the program, a little girl named Miri timidly stands to her feet. Rocking on her heels and clasping her hands, she says, “Jesus gave His life for all of us and shed His blood on the cross for us.”
‘Go To The Street’
Even as the My Hope program reaches Billy Graham’s segment on a television screen in a tiny Bangalore living room, a young man named Satu is urging people outside his home to come in and hear this Good News.
Earlier, Satu had gone into the streets of his neighborhood and invited more than a dozen households to his home. Now with the program half over and more than 15 people packed into his 8×10 living room, Satu continues to urge those standing outside to come in and those inside to make room for more. He is the picture of Matthew 22:9-10: “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find. So the … hall was filled with guests” (NIV). Like the wedding hall in the Bible, the young man’s home is filled to overflowing. A handful of boys, having been relegated to the adjoining bedroom, crowd at the door to see the television screen.
After the program concludes, six people indicate they want the hope of Jesus that Billy Graham spoke of. A friend of Satu’s emphasizes that Jesus is the only Savior, that He came into the world to save the world from the penalty of sin, and that He wants to live inside us. “In a country of 330 million gods, people may think Jesus is just another god,” says Charlie Abro, executive director for My Hope training. “So it is so very important to explain the Gospel message clearly.”
Satu tells how he had looked into several religions in his search for God and truth, and found them empty. He was on the verge of suicide when he simply pleaded, “God, reveal Yourself to me!” That night, Satu says, “God spoke to me in my heart and gave me a confidence that Jesus is the real God.” Satu immediately felt that he wanted to live for God the rest of his life. “Whatever You ask me to do, I will do it,” he had told the Lord. The more he prayed, the more his passion for souls increased, especially for those in his own neighborhood. “I want to live for the Lord Jesus Christ and pass it on to other people,” he says. As a tea vendor he travels the streets on his motorbike selling cups of tea to 100 to 200 people each day–sharing the Gospel and inviting them to his home for prayer and Bible study.
Since he came to Christ, Satu has welcomed 70 people into his home to further share the love of Christ, and about half of these now believe and are following Him. “I accepted Christ and have peace in my mind,” says Satu. “I want the same for other people. I want to make sure all those in my neighborhood know the Jesus I have in my life.”
The My Hope gatherings have been most popular among lower and middle class families who live in small dwellings close to each other, says Amit Diwan, a My Hope regional coordinator. “Their kids play together, and if they have a need for a little yogurt for a dish, they go next door,” he says. “People share a lot of things, so many of the parties involve neighbors.”
Rami, who was trained to be a My Hope host, met Biju and his wife after seeing their children playing outside her Mumbai apartment building. Although the family did not respond when she shared the Gospel with them, they agreed to watch a My Hope program in December 2005. Immediately following the broadcast, Rami gave her testimony, which had a deep impact on Biju’s whole family. That night they all committed their lives to Christ.
When Biju’s mother heard his testimony, she came to their fellowship and also believed. She has become “the evangelist of the family,” Biju says, and has witnessed to more than 50 people. From the testimony of Biju’s family, cousins, aunts and other relatives have also come to Christ–so that now they are a church family as well. The 40-member congregation officially launched in January.
Between the December 2005 and 2006 My Hope India television projects, more than 70,000 churches were trained to equip their congregations to hold outreach gatherings. Leaders estimate that almost a million Christians opened their homes to guests for My Hope programs.
And Gospel seeds continue to be sown. “The Holy Spirit has created an unprecedented hunger in the hearts of people,” says My Hope regional coordinator Sebastian Joseph. “We cannot make even one person a child of God; it is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We are only agents. When we operate in the will of God and stand on the promise and presence and power of God–He will take care of things.”
Though the My Hope India television project concluded in February, Christians will continue to reach out to their nation of a billion people by using program VCDs for evangelistic gatherings. In one church alone, 30 hosts plan to show programs in their homes throughout the year.
But what is happening through My Hope must not stop with individual transformation, says Pastor Selkuma. The Church must be transformed and make an impact on the community–and the community on the nation.