Before 1991 the gospel had managed to attract very few converts in a particular district in Central India. Seven years later hundreds of newly baptized believers from at least 24 different people groups are learning to follow Jesus.
Bhimrao was a local, third generation Christian who had been a social and political activist for impoverished farmers. He cooperated with an Indian mission organization to open avenues for the gospel among the Kowadi people. As an agrarian peasant group, the Kowadis have largely adapted their animistic traditions to the religious practices of the surrounding rural Hindu culture. They had resisted previous mission efforts, viewing Christianity as a religion for
peoples of lower social standing than themselves. To present the gospel to the Kowadis in a way that they could understand and value, Bhimrao first confronted the failure of the two sources of power in which they had placed their hopes for social and economic upliftment: the government and their traditional gods.
His message to them focused on Jesus: Since Jesus had created the Kowadis, Jesus has always been their rightful Lord and God. Yet they had never known his blessing because they had placed their hope in others. He had made the way for them to again come under his Lordship
and know his blessing, but only if they would put their hope in him. Bhimrao spent three months explaining this message in 150 Kowadi villages. At the end, 41 Kowadi affirmed Jesus as “Their Lord and Lord of the Kowadi” by taking baptism.
Opposition Tests Faith and Attests to Credibility
Hindu religious zealots immediately disrupted the intended plans for follow-up and establishment of churches. The Kowadi people, known for their timidity, appeared to
withdraw from further contact with the missionaries working with Bhimrao.
“Why Should We Follow Small Gods?”
With the intention of initiating a movement of self-reproducing churches filled with worshipers
of Jesus and not merely a scattering of baptized believers, a group of potential leaders were soon identified and gathered for a week of teaching. A visiting foreign Christian researcher conducted one of the sessions. He simply shared stories of people groups in other countries that were embracing Christ as well. At the end of the week, participants indicated that that session had been the most significant for them. “We can see now that this Jesus is greater than all other gods. All the gods we have ever known have been gods only of a village, a tribe, a region, or of the nation of India. But this Jesus, he has followers from all over the world. Why should we follow small gods, when we can follow the greatest God of all?”
God Sends “Angels”
One such team had located in a village populated entirely by Poharis. The Poharis are highly transient hunters who engage in animistic rituals while honoring Hindu brahminical priestcraft. They had asked for someone to come and teach them also about Christ. But the only ones available were a short-term team of young Scandinavian women.
While discussing Christ with these young women with pale skin, bright blond hair and blue eyes, the Poharis began telling about a particular priest in their village. Five years prior he had passed through a period when most of the people thought he was crazy. He often seemed tormented by spirits. They brought him repeatedly before various gods & goddesses for healing. All the while he kept saying, “People who look like angels will come from around the world to our village.
They will tell us about the real God. We should follow him.” So the team asked him what he saw in his vision. He said, “I saw people like you, white kind of people—they were angels. They will come and tell about God.” When they asked, “Do you think that we are those people?” he responded, “I don’t know yet.” But after four days of listening he trusted the Lord Jesus Christ and received him as his savior. In the end, most of those residing in that particular village were baptized.