[b]Gospel for Asia's K.P. Yohannan a Quiet Revolutionary[/b]
TIRUVALLA, KERELA, INDIA -- K.P. Yohannan, the Indian-born founder of Gospel for Asia, is a quiet revolutionary who is leading the charge to bring the Gospel message to the 10/40 Window, which is an area of the world that contains the largest population of non-Christians in the world two billion of them. The area extends from 10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator, and stretches from North Africa across to China.
His 16,500 native missionaries are based in10 countries that include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal and India. Each missionary goes through intense training.
In an interview at his headquarters in the Indian state of Kerela, K.P. spoke about that training which is bringing a Revolution in World Missions.
We have 55 Bible colleges where we are training hundreds of brothers and sisters who go through three years of instruction along with six months of practical training before we send them to the mission field, he said.
When I say missionaries, I dont mean people from America or Europe coming to these countries. We are talking about people in these nations who are called by God -- especially young people -- who can be trained and sent out to their own culture, and a lot of them cross-culturally to places like Burma, Nepal, India and Thailand, to preach the Gospel.
I pointed out to K.P. Yohannan that many of his missionaries know that they will face persecution when they move out into their mission fields and I wondered if he felt bad about that.
Well, part of the significant training we do for our missionaries in any of these countries is found in chapters nine and ten of Matthews Gospel, he said. In chapter nine we read that Jesus, seeing the multitude, was moved with compassion for them. But, in chapter ten, he says that hes sending them out, but he makes a promise they will be accused, abused, persecuted, imprisoned and they may lose their life.
But then he says, Dont love your life. So as it was then, it is true today. When you serve God amongst people that dont necessarily believe in Christ or like the Gospel, they will hate the light and there will be persecution.
Do I feel bad about it? Im sad when I hear about one of our missionaries gets killed, or they are abused or have their house burned down, but then I say to myself, Heaven is a much better place than being here on earth, and Its a privilege that the Lord gives to His people to have the grace to endure this persecution.
Its a priority of missions for India and many other nations; the most significant thing is to train nationals and send them out, but at the same time, God is calling people from everywhere to go somewhere else also to preach the Gospel. So its all of us together doing everything we can to see the lost won for Christ.
I then asked K.P. Yohannan if we in the West, who have our Christian life so soft, compared with those sharing the Gospel in the 10/40 Window who daily risk their lives, had got it wrong about the normal Christian life.
Well you know, theres no glory in physical suffering or living without food or clothes, he said. But heres the thing; Jesus said, If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. He also said, Love me more than father, mother, son and daughter. I kind of wish he had stopped there, but he went on to say,
more than your own very life; unless you do it you cannot be my disciple. So, for our missionaries and believers at large, theres lots of persecution.
Recently, one of our missionaries was in jail for two weeks. His crime was for preaching the Gospel and baptizing people. But during the time he was in prison, he started a Bible study and hes now released. Strangely enough the officials from the prison now send word to our senior area pastor asking that they send him back to conduct this Bible study saying, Wed sure like to have him here.
So who is right? Who is wrong? We all are wrong when we dont want to accept suffering.
I told K.P. that back in 1975, I had interviewed Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and asked her how she coped with the poverty of India. She told me, Young man, the poverty of India is nothing compared with the spiritual poverty of the West. I asked him to comment on what she had said.
Well this is true, he said firmly. For 30 years of my constant travels throughout North America and many other countries, I run into believers who have been going to church for 20 or 30 years, yet they have little understanding of godliness and of God. The reason is that information, rather than submission and obedience and understanding the ways of God, has become spirituality.
So there is great poverty among the people of this country, but you go to the people of God and the church here, and the believers and you meet some people who walk twenty or thirty kilometers to go to church to worship the Lord. They stay all afternoon and you look in their eyes you see hope and life and contentment. They are not distracted with another movie coming out and this and that, so I rather choose to know the Lord and have this life than have everything else and then live an empty life.
I then asked K.P. Yohannan how he had personally experienced a great change of heart over his philosophy to just preach the Gospel, but not be involved in humanitarian work after discovering the plight of Indias Dalits, or Untouchables.
Well it was about 10 years ago when, along with a few other Christian leaders here in India, that I ran into this huge reality, which I honestly didnt know about, regarding the 285 million Dalits who are not even part of the caste system, and are considered by the other castes to be sub-human. They are abused terribly and when I saw the poverty, the suffering, the rape, that they have to endure, I found it quite unbelievable among these poor folks.
I did not know that God had prepared their hearts to give up this terrible caste system and embrace another faith for hope and liberty. Many of them opted for Buddhism and some Islam, but the largest block of this people know that Christ is their hope and when I began to learn about this reality and also the ninety percent illiteracy, I knew I had do something.
Bridge of Hope
I saw that the Dalit kids had no hope and that they would die just like their parents and the grandparents without hope. And thats when the Lord touched our hearts to open Bridge of Hope centers schools where we can train these kids and give them education. There are 49,000 children that were helping, but what is that in light of the fact that thee are 162 million child laborers in India, most of them being these Dalits kids?
So that is when I had a change of heart. Ive always been actually focused on one thing; to preach the Gospel and get people saved, then baptize them and plant churches. When I began to travel and see the leper colonies and the slum dwellers and the Dalits and the suffering of the children, I realized there was something else that was missing.
Through a process of learning and asking questions, I came to the place where I knew I was wrong about my understanding of the situation. I also saw that we could keep our focus but, at the same time, care for these people and share with them about the love of Christ. And we have found that, at some places, we are four-hundred percent more effective in this through caring for the physical needs and the children.
So I guess for us, it was a growing and a learning process and Im terribly excited about the possibility that someday we may be able to help half a million children.
K.P. Yohannan said that once the Dalit children learn about Jesus as well as getting an education, they then go back to their parents and share this Good News with their parents.
In a given community, you have maybe 10,000 people living there and we are able to take maybe 200 kids, he said. That is one center and what they do, they are sent to school, they learn the normal things and the hope is that they will go to high school, but every day they hear about Jesus loving them as well as learning Bible verses and choruses and, of course now, they learn to pray before a meal because they are fed and they do that at home and tell their parents and in many, many places parents are giving their lives to the Lord because the kids gave their lives to the Lord. So its a daily thing that theyre able to hear the Gospel.
Another outreach Gospel for Asia is involved in providing Jesus Wells for a community.
I dont think people in the West can even begin to understand that there are people living, like the Untouchables in India or Nepal, where people have to walk eight, nine, or ten miles with a water pot, to draw water from some pond, and often its a dirty pond because they are not allowed to draw water from the public well where the upper caste are also drawing water from, he said. When our missionaries and pastors began to understand this, we felt that one of the best things we can do is to put up one of these we call a Jesus Well. It is a tube well and we have hundreds of them now.
Now, thousands of these Untouchables and all kinds of poor people come and draw their water and we provide some of the best drinking water in the community. We put besides the well, a Bible verse from Johns Gospel, where Jesus said, I give you living water, and all that drink of this water will never thirst again. And again, it is a means to meet a tremendous need for clean water without which people are suffering but also the means to share with them about Christ.
Asia Bible Seminary
I conducted the interview with K.P. Yohannan in the magnificent tropical campus of the Asia Bible Seminary in Tiruvalla, Kerela, and so I asked him why he needed this seminary when he has so many other Bible colleges.
Well, he said, all of our 55 Bible colleges have a three-year training for work in their local regions and in their local languages. However, this is the only seminary that we have that in the medium of English. Usually people who come here are those who are trained for leadership. Thirty-one denominations send their people here for training and so they can acquire better skills to lead the church. This happens to be the largest accredited evangelism seminary in this country and it is very significant that, no matter where you go in India, youll find people who are graduated from our seminary here and are in leadership in some church or organization.
Here in our own ministry, this is where our leadership comes from. So I wish we had more training centers like this because the leadership needs more training.
As a result of GFAs work, some 20,000 local churches with a minimum of 20 baptized believers have been established in South Asia
There are other places where people gather for Bible study and prayer and all that, he continued. But church growth here has to do with evangelism and people coming to know the Lord. Often church growth in many of these places, like in America, is people going from one church to some other church. But here we are in the midst of a tremendous possibility and God is working and this is Gods time for these nations.
Local worship music
K.P. said that much of the worship music in his region is local.
I wrote a few of these worship songs, but I cant sing, he laughed. There are over a thousand languages spoken in this country, and then you go to Nepal or West Bengal and the culture and the dress everything is different from place to place to place. So their music and everything has a lot to do with their own cultural environment. But the focus is always Jesus and glorifying Him.
I then asked K.P. about Myanmar and I wondered what Gospel for Asia was doing in that troubled country.
Lots of people all over the world have been praying for Burma (Myanmar) and our work started there 15 years ago, he said. Under the military rule, its not been easy, but we have some 500 churches planted there. Close to 400 students that have studied in our Bible college, and their burden is to go to unreached areas and to see churches planted. Its been a huge experience. Right now, people need to pray like never before for the country because of the situation is quite critical.
Needs for Gospel for Asia
I asked K.P. Yohannan to outline some of the needs that GFA have and how people can help.
One of the most significant needs we have right now is to have people become sponsors for our children, he said. We have 49,000 children, but we need help for maybe another 100,000 children that we could take into these homes and give them help. I pray that people will do that.
Secondly, we need to see Bibles produced for the number of people coming to know the Lord. We need to see Bibles produced in at least a dozen languages which we do all the time.
Also training and sending out missionaries remains one of the high points of our work because the harvest is there and laborers need to be sent out.
So people can go to our website www.gfa.org -- and get all the information on our ministry and wed be happy to send them a copy of my book, Revolution in World Missions, totally free, which will give them a lot of information as to how to get involved practically to do something.
Radio and television ministry
K.P. Yohannan explained that GFA is deeply involved with radio. We broadcast in 103 languages, and our hope is to increase that so we will have the programs in 200 languages. People are responding very, very strongly. Radio remains a very powerful medium.
He also noted that television holds much promise.
Television here is like a match box, he said. For instance, in the slums of Bombay where people are living literally in holes, they have antennas on the top of their hut for television signal. So it has become one of the most powerful media available. We have been working on it, producing programs, and soon, the Lord willing, those programs will be going out across the entire Indian sub-continent, Australia and even covering part of Europe.
Our programs will be in different languages. About six hours a day will be in English and the rest will be in different languages.
He concluded by saying, I think that we need to pray for safety and an open door, but also we must pray for the suffering church that the Lord will give them the grace and His presence is so real in the midst of their suffering. I would think we need to pray also that the Body of Christ will understand the heart of God for His body and so well feel the pain for His people around the world.
For more information on Gospel for Asia, go to www.gfa.org.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon