Out and About in India

(28. Okt. bis 23. Nov. 2011)

Manipur is situated in a picturesque setting surrounded by green hills in the state of India. Many people call themselves Christians here. Due to the work of missionaries around the turn of the 19th to the 20th century whole tribes were converted and accepted the gospel.

Particularly Nagaland is still regarded as officially Christian, with up to 90% Baptists. The Nagas were once feared head-hunters, but the power of the Gospel changed this completely. They use a phrase here, "they turned from headhunters to soul hunters". The pioneer missionary of Manipur was William Pettigrew. He came to this part of India in 1895. In 1901 he founded the first church in Ukhrul, near Manipur's capital Imphal.

Edwin Clark was a pioneer missionary to the Nagaland. It's unbelievable, what happened there at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

The tribe of the Hmar were especially feared in Manipur. Even in 1871 these tribalmen still decapitated over 500 british soldiers. They were the terror of the mountain villages in India, that are so close to China and Myanmar.

As one of the first converts from this tribe, Rochunga, witnessed about who Jesus was at a meeting in Delhi decades later, it resulted in disturbances among the present Hindus and Muslims.

But then Rochunga reported:
The members of my tribe are almost all Christians, even without the help of white missionaries. In earlier times, we cut off the heads of my people's enemies. Today we pray for our enemies. In earlier times we were headhunters. Now we are helping the weak, so that they become strong. The issues of suicides in the past? In my tribe many took their lives. Today this doesn't happen anymore. These changes were not caused by colonization, not by whips and guns, but by a book!

Rochunga won that debate. He became more and more aware of the power of the Bible. Without the help of a single missionary, with the exception of the five-day stay of Watkin Roberts, almost half a century later, he had converted the majority of the 100,000 of the Hmar from spirit worship to the Christian faith. (Mawii Pudaite, "Das vergessene Volk", Hänssler-Verlag, 1989, p. 76).

In contrast to this remarkable story lies the recent news from Manipur. There have been clashes between two ethnic groups namely the Nagas and Kukis. The Kukis are also officially recognized as Christians and came to India from Burma between 1830 and 1840.

The Kukis make up about 6% of the total population. But all of a sudden, they have claimed the so-called Sada Hills District as their territory and they should be granted administrative rights.

Traditionally this district has belonged to the Nagas, who make up 20% of the population in Manipur. This district now consists of 117 Naga villages. The Nagas are completely against this change and this eventually led to violent confrontations. Trucks went up in flames, the two main access roads were blocked. These blockades have been going on for more than 100 days.

Result: The price of food, fuel, electricity and much more has skyrocketed. There is a kind of siege but the state government of Manipur so far remains more or less inactive. Lines at the gas stations were almost endless (see picture on the right).

Also the Bible school, where we were living, the so-called Chil Chil Theological Seminary in Kanglatongbi, near the capital, Imphal, was affected by these blockages. It resulted in some supply shortages, electricity was limited. Projects were delayed and construction or modernization had to be postponed or could not be finished on schedule. Frank and I were housed in rooms that had not been connected to the electrical line. The showers did not look too rosy either. Instead of a refreshing stream of water from the shower every morning, there were two buckets of hot water, which were brought by helpful hands. The result being, one could then "set" the right temperature.

This bible school, which currently trains 210 students, is still connected with an official elementary school of 1,500 students. We spent almost a week here and I was scheduled at the local conference, which led to 4 lessons a day. Other days were not as fully booked.

As a result: I'm supposed to come back for the next major conference in November 2012. Many doors have been opened and deepened, mostly fueled by the desire that many students have to further their knowledge of biblical teaching. Not least because to be able to discern the many false teachings in our days. Frank was also asked to teach at the elementary school. On Sunday, November 13th, he even held a sermon in church.

To some extent Frank and I experienced a literal change of time. At 5 pm it gets dark very quickly in this part of the world. Around 10 pm the lights went out everywhere: the electricity-producing generator was turned off. The alarm clock rang at 5 am, breakfast was at 6 am. Lunch was scheduled at 10 am - at first I thought I had misheard - dinner was served at 4:30 pm. Usually I drink my afternoon tea at this time. But Frank and I were both amazed at how quickly we had adjusted to this new situation.

The service began at 6.30 am. Imagine what would happen if a church service was scheduled at this time in Germany. No one would attend. As we walked from our house to the church, the loud voices of students singing Christian hymns came from the building, which was already packed with people.

Peter Thiumai, dean and director of this Bible school, told of how in the '80s, the Nagas evangelized, preached and taught and a total of about 5,000 congregations were founded. Then the charismatic movement came, mainly under the influence of India's most famous late healing evangelist Dhinakaran. What Oral Roberts was for the U.S. and possibly Bonnke for the southern part of Africa, Dhinakaran was for India. With the charismatic movement, it did not take long for flesh-stimulating music to appear. Dhinakaran promised prosperity, success and above all, health, and collected huge sums of money through prayer partners - once even approximately $800,000 in a single service, allegedly because the greater the gift the greater the blessing would be for the giver. Instead of supporting church planting, he would encourage healing; worship and praise dances replaced the study of the Bible and the former soul-catchers became preachers of a "gospel of success". Ecstasy began to suppress the word of God and people were "slain in the Spirit". Even the drum was reintroduced. Paganism was able to return in a Christian apparel.

This happened in Nagaland. Peter told us, that if we do not take a stand against it, similar things will occur in Manipur as well.

Since I was a little skeptical and I didn't want to pass on something not correct, I asked several times about this situation, other brothers as well, but it was confirmed that everything had more or less happened as stated above. This reminded me of a statement of the former chairman of the German Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Rolf Hille, commenting The Charismatic movement is for him ... "the most tragic movement in the history of the Church" (ideaSpektrum 36/2009, p. 14).

However, I was also made aware of how even in theologically conservative circles with sound doctrine, various divisions took place, very often due to personal reasons, where ambition, power mongering and personal vanity were often disguised with Christian motives.

Next to these sad developments, there are other more encouraging events in this vast sub-continent, such as church growth. As we were told by a bishop, that their communities, mainly in the state of Andhra Pradesh, have grown from about 350 to about 3000 in a relatively short amount of time. First and foremost these are made up of Dalits, the casteless people labeled as "untouchable", who turn to Jesus Christ.

We accompanied Jim Starr most of the time, who has a heart for India and the millions of unreached masses that it contains. That's why in 2000 he founded his own missionary project, Vision 2020 Asia. He is convinced that God has put a large potential in this strategically located point on earth. Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, Burma, all of these countries with their millions and billions of people are in close proximity. The state of Mizoram is also accounted as over 90% Christians. The many Bible colleges in the south also rely on these Christians from the north. They mostly do not look typically Indian, but rather Asian-Mongolian. These people are now trained and grounded in God's word and could easily plunge into the surrounding sea of people without hardly any problems and preach the gospel. It is quite conceivable that large opportunities could open up here. Also they are not as spoiled and demanding as we western citizens tend to be and are therefore much better suited to reach these people that are ethnically and culturally so close to them.

At these different places and gatherings, there were constantly many conversions. There is a great openness to the gospel. Once we even had an opportunity to evangelize among soldiers. It led many to a decision for Christ, as an American evangelist with a burning heart for Jesus spoke to them.

Jim Starr beim Aufruf zur BekehrungMy American friends were always inviting to come forward and make a decision for Christ and the numbers that answered the call went into the hundreds. How many of these young converts have really had their hearts changed, God alone knows. Sometimes it seemed a little too easy, but sometimes I had the impression that God had spoken clearly at least to some.

Jim Starr (see picture on the right) was accompanied by Dr. Gene Gurganus, who is 82 years old, by far the oldest member of our group. He is a biblical patriarch, who served as a missionary to Bangladesh for 17 years. During 61 years he has, as he told us, read the Bible 75 times. Such a bible saturated man has become increasingly rare nowadays and are some kind of an "endangered species".

Right at the beginning of our trip we also visited the semi-autonomous state of Sikkim. In Darjeeling we met a local missionary family (on the left with their two children; on the right, a missionary couple from Brazil), who made a deep impression on Frank and me. A brother, although he was qualified to teach at a Bible college through his training, was willing to live with his wife and children under the simplest conditions. Their room consisted of a cabinet with a curtain and one bed and the restroom is shared with 5 other families. He shares in the lives of these people and thus their poverty. God is seemingly confirming this commitment, as he has already been able to reach Hindus and see some fruit come out of this. But Muslims are also coming to faith in the living Savior and are being baptized.

Links das Ehepaar mit ihren beiden Söhnen in Darjeeling / Rechts ein Missionarsehepaar aus BrasilienThe gender role in this part of the world is still reasonably intact. The sari is elegant and appropriate for the Indian woman. Even at maximum confusion no one would get the idea to change the role of man and woman or to force them out of their specific roles.

Gender-ideology has not been heard of either. When I mentioned that unisex toilets are being set up in new schools in Germany, because the autonomous man should be able to determine his own sex, the reaction was disbelief. One comment from a brother was "insanity". This word is probably just as short as applicable, on where the self-determining human being has landed, thanks to the new "enlightened" education. With this "insanity", we are now on the verge of backing the EU's new "heavenly" world order. It is even more shocking, to what depths of decadence fallen men have come. In Australia one can check a third gender slot in addition to male and female in his passport. But, as I stated, you only receive incredulous comments on this new trend in India and Asia.

I was more than thankful for my companion Frank Hickman (picture on the left). For the first 10 years he grew up in the U.S., so he has mastered English as well as German. Instead of bringing a dictionary, I was able to ask him. We were also able to get to know so many Christians, burning evangelists, which was a true blessing for us. Our perspective widens in unexpected ways, especially when you come into contact with the worldwide church.

Frank mit einigen der GrundschülerOn our trip we went through many different locations. Arrival on October 28th in Calcutta, which for some time now is named Kolkata. Our next flight on the following day was to Bagdogra and then we continued to Siliguri in West Bengal by car. Siliguri lies about 30 minutes from the border of Nepal. From there, we went in a roundabout way by car to the capital of Sikkim, Gangtok. We had to take a detour, because the roads were barely passable due to a recent severe earthquake.

On November 9th we flew from Guwahati, the capital of Assam to Imphal, the capital of Manipur. Almost a week later, on November 15th, we were on a plane to Hyderabad, with a short stop in Delhi. After a few days in Hyderabad, on November 19th to be exact, we flew further south to Bangalore, which is also known as the capital of India's evangelicals. And there as well, I had a few speaking engagements before our final departure. On November 23rd our final flight back to Frankfurt was scheduled from Bangalore.

I witnessed many happy reunions with brothers who I've known for decades now. My first visit to India was exactly 25 years ago. I look back at these past trips and this current trip to India with much gratitude. Although there were some surprises and some planning had to be spontaneously changed, we always knew ourselves in the secure hand of God.

This trip was made possible to the largest extent by the many people who have thought of us in prayer and supported us financially. At this point I would like to express my special thanks to those who have donated us with gifts for this trip. But most of all I would like to thank the faithful who have constantly kept us in their prayers. Only eternity will reveal what this intercession has accomplished.

Alexander Seibel


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