I’m seated on a crowded Indian night train surrounded by students enjoying the five day holiday of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The train car is full with boisterous laughter in India’s many languages and the whir of fans, scented by the closely packed bodies and chai, served in plastic cups from a gleaming steel canteen.
I’ve just spent the last few days in the western state of Gujarat, five hours north of Mumbai. This has been by far the most rural part of this trip. My companions for this part of the journey have been a group of church planters working among among the tribal people in the remote villages.
Originally from the villages that they now serve, these courageous men and women have dedicated their lives to spreading the good news of Christ and to humbly serving those around them. They are accepted because they understand the language and culture of the people. God is blessing the work in this area they are seeing new churches planted and villages changed for the better.
Although the industrialized cities of Gujarat have nearly twice the Gross Domestic Product of the rest of the country, the rural areas are extremely poor. Most of the rural people I met engage in very small scale farming of rice and sugar cane and grow some vegetables for their family. Illiteracy is high, as most of the rural tribal areas lack schools. Increased water shortages in parts of the state are an ever growing challenge for farmers, and often result in poor sanitation.These are some of the world’s poor who live on less than $2 per day.
Despite this poverty, the Christians I have met are deeply inspiring because of their generosity. Their willingness to share with each other and to respond to the needs of their community has resulted in the Church living out the love of Christ in a way that is holistic and practical. As we traveled, I heard testimony after testimony from villagers who shared how they first became interested in Christianity because the followers of Jesus cared for one another. In the West we often struggle to follow the early Church model of sharing what we have with the needy. And yet our Indian brothers and sisters are living our their faith in a way that care for those around them.
As exciting as that is, I found the commitment of these rural believers to support indigenous missionaries in other parts of India even more profound. The Indian organization that I was traveling with raises the majority of their support from within India. Most of the people I met in the villages of Gujarat have never traveled beyond the next village, let alone to another region of the country. Yet these villagers – “the world’s poor” – are living sacrificially to spread the Gospel in other parts of their country. Practically, that may translate into giving up a meal, or going without shoes. Christ offers a hope – a hope that the many gods of Hinduism cannot offer – and these people have responded faithfully.
Those who we think of as poor, those whose annual income might be less than $1,000 USD – are giving to advance the Good News to Judea, Samaria and beyond. As we live in the prosperous West, it should make us think differently about what we can give.