Short-term diaries: India and Pakistan

Robbie Strachan

I haven’t been 100% the last few days and I have used evenings to rest rather than write. Nothing serious, only a slight fever and what they call ‘Delhi lung’ - a cough caused by the air pollution and dust in the city. I had an interesting conversation with an American missionary today, who has been in Delhi for 12 years. He says that his whole family have had bad health problems - asthma, stomach issues, fatigue - for pretty much their entire time here. In Delhi, it seems bad health is an occupational hazard. Interestingly, this family’s health improved drastically when they stopped eating out at McDonalds... 

On Sunday we attended two Delhi Bible Fellowship (DBF) church services. One was a much more traditional Hindi service, in a poorer area of the city called Dakshinpuri. Everyone sat on the floor, the women on one side of the building, with their heads covered, and men on the other. The music was heavily percussion led, including traditional Indian Tabla and Bhangra, and the service contained lots of bible, including two sermons - one from an elder and one from the Pastor. Pastor Devender’s sermon was translated for us by his wife. 

The second service was at DBF central - an English speaking congregation in a much wealthier part of the city. The congregation was younger, more affluent and came from all over India. Many middle class Indians come to Delhi to study or work. Pastor Sandeep, who is married to a woman from Norfolk, preached passionately on four chapters in 1 Samuel and really preached Jesus from the Old Testament. At both services God’s word was central. It was encouraging for me to see how a network like DBF delivers biblical, gospel-centred preaching, well applied to two very diverse and different contexts. 

Earlier this week I had the chance to join with a regional North India Bible Training (NIBT) workshop. This consisted of three days of preaching, training in bible-handling skills and fellowship, with the aim of encouraging expository preaching and faithful ministry in a number of different areas. The course was attended by young Sunday school leaders, women’s workers and experienced pastors. 

Pastor Devender teaching at NIBT

It was exciting for me to see a bible-handling ministry run entirely by local gospel workers. NIBT was established by UK missionaries in the 1990s but has been successfully handed back to the Indian church. At times this local leadership felt frustrating to me - I would find myself thinking, ‘ooh, I’m not sure I agree with that’, or I felt that the way something was being expressed was not clear. On reflection, though, these frustrations were trivial in comparison to how much fruit comes from good contextualisation. NIBT isn’t just the Cornhill Training Course parachuted into Delhi - it’s effective and thought-through bible training, tailored to the needs of the North Indian Church.

One of the most admirable elements of NIBT is the way that the whole set-up is designed to encourage people to pass it on. Those who attend for their first time are called B-Trainers (‘trainers’ because the expectation is that they’ll teach others in their church). Those who have completed a number of NIBT workshops become A-Trainers. The A-Trainers gave example sermons as part of one of the sessions in the conference and they travel around with NIBT to train others. It was obvious that this multiplication model of teaching bible handling and theology really pays off. 

In the last 20 years or so, North Indian Hindus have been turning to the Lord in large numbers. There are many pastors and church planters who are keen evangelists and passionate preachers, but who desperately need training. Pastor Devender reflected that church plants in Hindu contexts often start with energy and enthusiasm, attracting large numbers, but without training and discipleship many fizzle out within two or three years. NIBT is doing an essential ministry.

Read part 3 of Robbie’s short-term diaries here. To re-read part 1, click here.