Illustrated Gospel illuminates Bengali believers

Bill Thomas describes a visit to India with his wife Grace and ShareWord Global.

This mission trip to India started with a snowy start, a delayed flight, a missed connection and an eight-hour delay in arrival with no sleep at all. Nonetheless, in God’s grace we arrived safely in Kolkata (Calcutta) and even had our luggage as well. We were met by Philip Solomon, a full-time worker for ShareWord Global, had a quick lunch then off to visit Pastor Sylvester Singh in an outlying village.

Pastor Sylvester is an inspiring and godly servant of God who initially started out independently, but now pastors seven churches and tells me two more are on the way. The challenge is that many of his church members, numbering about 300, cannot read and so a printed copy of God’s Word is of limited use to them. However, they are a warm and godly group who undoubtedly love Jesus deeply and recently 40 of them have been baptised.

Many of them received a beautifully illustrated gospel of John in Bengali, called The Light as it reveals the Light of the World, which they are using as an evangelistic tool to share the gospel with others. For those who could not read, we gave them an audio Bible chip in Bengali that they could listen to through their phone.

Several of them shared how they came to know Jesus as their Saviour through the power of His Word and the glorious message of the gospel. Many gave moving testimony of how they used to visit the Hindu temples to no avail, but since coming to Jesus, they were now healed and rejoicing and wanting to live for Him. One lady asked for prayer because since becoming a Christian her brother wants to throw her out of the family home. These are dear people who, through the power of God’s Word and His saving grace, are serving him so faithfully in a very challenging  environment, and were so appreciative of our visit and the copies of God’s audio or printed Word.

Sunday started with a service at St Mary’s Anglican church. They warmly welcomed us, giving Philip five minutes to talk about ShareWord Global and then gave us twelve minutes to share God’s Word with them. The congregation was a little sparce as the previous day they had celebrated their 130th anniversary, and that morning there was also a major communist party demonstration close by the church. Nonetheless, those who attended were most appreciative of what we shared with them.

In the afternoon we travelled to Serampore, William Carey’s Bible College on the banks of the Ganges River, where we were met by Pastor Haldare, a professor at the College. Unfortunately, we were an hour late in arriving due to a religious procession clogging the town with traffic. However it was impressive to see the College, the first to be founded in Asia, and which currently has about 170 Bible students enrolled. It was a privilege to see the remarkable heritage that William Carey gave to India.

House of healing

After that we attended a most amazing house church. It had started when a Hindu lady, who was suffering from a stomach problem, was told by a young girl who cleaned for her that Jesus could heal and save her. It reminded us of the servant girl who shared a similar message with the leprosy-stricken Naaman (2 Kings 5). This lady came to Jesus, was healed and saved and now she is involved in a healing ministry and her house was full of new converts. In fact the day before, Pastor Haldare had baptised 14 of them.

When we arrived there were so many people in this little house, formerly full of Hindu gods but now full of Christian love, that we had to go up on the roof for our meeting. Afterwards, several again shared their testimony of how Jesus had healed and saved them. This appears to be one of the ways God is graciously using to break into the Hindu religion through healing. In the west we have had the Truth revealed to us but have turned our back on it through secular materialism and amoral teaching. However, in countries where Hindu and Islamic beliefs predominate, God is using means such as healing and dreams to reveal Himself.

These folk were radiant and it was deeply humbling to be able to witness the power of the gospel at work. Many of them will face persecution as a result of their conversion; they may lose their jobs, be thrown out of their homes and, if ill, will have to sign that they are Christians and pay for any treatment that Hindus will get free. Very few had Bibles in Bengali, but we promised to send them more copies of God’s Word in the form of John’s gospel in the Light magazine. This church, known as the Agape Church, now needs a building in which to meet as it is growing so fast, and we have promised to pray to this end.

On Monday we attended a meeting of 75 ladies involved in Christian ministry. Grace was able to address them and encourage them in that, although we all come from different cultures, speak different languages, face different challenges and opposition, we all serve one God and our Lord Jesus Christ. She was assisted by Pastor Asish who interpreted for her. The ladies were all most enthusiastic about receiving copies of the illustrated John’s gospel and 12 gave testimony as to how attractive these were and how the Lord was using it to reach out to others.

After that we went to Bishnupur Sikha Sanga School where the teachers, and then some students sang some choruses to us. There were about 300 students there who very enthusiastically received John’s Gospel in the Light booklet and promised to read it. It was an exciting and exuberant time.

Samson’s strong vision

The following day we attended a meeting of 167 pastors from rural and persecuted churches. This was a most inspiring and humbling occasion. Some of these pastors had been waiting for several years for copies of the Bible and in God’s grace we were able to present 20,000 Bibles in a modern Bengali translation.

This project was started by a Christian called Samson, who in 2010 began collecting names of Pastors and folk who were desperate for a Bible but could not afford or obtain one at all. He collected 250,000 names in beautifully kept files with no idea how the need was going to be met. He was then put in touch with ShareWord Global who were able to provide the copies of God’s Word for these people in phase one of his project. He has now collected another 350,000 names in phase two, and along with the 20,000 we were able to give out, another 60,000 have been presented to date. There are still over 270,000 folk on the current list awaiting Bibles.

After the distribution of the Bibles, which were then to be transported back to the villages in trucks, a coach and even a bicycle trolley, we were able to go with one of the pastors to two village churches. These were basically house churches, and were small and cramped as the numbers attending are growing all the time. It was again most humbling to see the joy and appreciation on their faces as they received their first full Bible in a language that they could understand.

There is no doubt that as God’s Word is distributed in these small village churches, the church of God is growing in India in spite of so much overt opposition. The testimonies we heard were so moving and it was a privilege to meet these Pastors who had given up so much to serve their local community and share the gospel – often without the blessing of copies of the scriptures. One Pastor sells pigeons to make ends meet and now pastors 35 churches, while another Pastor sells socks so that he can continue his ministry.

Overall this has been a most humbling and yet inspirational visit, and it was heart-warming to feel that we in the GideonsUK had funded these 20,000 scriptures and that we can play a small part in helping the church in this corner of God’s kingdom grow to His glory.

For those who could not read, we gave them an audio Bible chip in Bengali that they could listen to through their phone.

A lady came to Jesus, was healed and saved, and now is involved in a healing ministry and her house was full of new converts.

Many face persecution as a result of their conversion; they may lose their jobs and be thrown out of their homes.

There are still over 270,000 people on the waiting list for Bibles.