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Impressions, Challenges, and Hopes regarding Cross Cultural missions efforts being done from India With Special Emphasis on Case Studies of Grassroots  Initiatives

Bangkok Forum

Thomas M Parackal

April 10-12, 2019

 

 

Introduction

 

This paper seeks to present a broad brushstroke, painting impressions, challenges and hopes regarding cross cultural mission efforts being done in India. This is more intuitive and leaning on personal experiences and observations, instead of a more objective survey or research-based approach. With no formal education in theology or missiology or any training or deployment with any church or mission agency, I am quite conscious of my limitations and potential blind spots. However, I draw boldness from the fact that God invites all His children to participate with Him as He builds His kingdom and fulfils His purpose. There is also great encouragement in the fact that He has provided every resource and gift as He has deemed necessary for those responding to this mandate across the globe.

 

Next in this paper, several case studies relating to "grassroots mission efforts are presented that are first hand and experiential in nature. This allows me to share some of the major challenges and hurdles faced by these initiatives.   And in conclusion, I have attempted to point out from these experiences, my suggestions on what needs to be changed or improved in order for grassroots missions efforts to be more successful in India. 

 

 I come from Bangalore - a city in South India which is home to more than 500 mission organizations, with most of them having their headquarters located here.

 

Indian Cross-Cultural Missions in recent history has been driven from two clearly disparate camps - National and Multi-national.

 

National Missions has done a commendable job in the last century, but now seems to be in decline. The rallying cry was "indigenous i.e Indian money, Indian men and Indian management. The levels of ownership and accountability shared by the rank and file of these organizations is praiseworthy. These organizations were welcomed as respected influencers by the church and grass root level support was extended to them. A number of leaders of these organizations were highly regarded and sought-after speakers at evangelistic conventions, cutting across denominational considerations of mainline evangelical churches.  Today, however, these organizations seem to be struggling. Leading organizations in National Missions like IEM and FMPB have reported drastic shortfall in new recruits owing to a scarcity of people willing to join them. They seem to have been affected by a shift in the churches' theology of mission favouring social work over the conversion of souls.

Multinational Missions agencies have always depended on foreign funding for their comparatively larger scale operations. Clearly defined ministry supply chains emerged between the financial backers in developed countries on one end and mushrooming local churches at the other end. As mission became a project with many demands across this supply chain, accountability in the system gave way to a numbers game. Numbers on reports assumed greater significance than quality of disciples. Scalability was simply proportional to the amount of money being pumped into the chain. This has in all probability resulted in significant damage to the cause of cross-cultural mission in India.

 

Revival of National missions therefore is much desired. This is where the question of grassroots mission efforts being encouraged to spread through the Indian church assumes significance.

 

I would like to now sketch the following case studies of what I would consider as grassroots mission efforts in India. I have the privilege of being connected with each of these and therefore right at the outset I would like to point out that these may not fully represent what might be happening across the great land of India with its several hundred languages and thousands of ethnic groups.

 

The first case is about the formation of small teams sometimes also called Mission Interest Groups, around a common purpose that is strongly anchored in cross cultural mission. These teams comprise of 6 or 7 people and their families who adopt a mission objective and commit to engage it holistically with their time and resources. True to small team characteristics, the roles and gifts, including talent and skills possessed by each member of the team is expected to be different yet complementing each other towards the common purpose. Such teams are     volunteer forces that are autonomous. Being small and commanding limited resources, they are forced to be highly adaptive and innovatively make the most of every situation. Their transformative impact depends on how quickly they can attract others to form similar teams to multiply teams.  This grassroot level effort found expression in two distinct areas -  the cross cultural evangelistic initiatives of the local church to which I belong and a team that was focused on mobilization for cross cultural mission to reach the unreached and unengaged in India.  Here in brief are their stories.

 

1.       The St Thomas Evangelical Church of India (STECI) was set up in 1961. It actually came out as the result of a reform initiative within the Mar Thoma church. The Mar Thoma Church itself was the result of a reformation in 1857 within the Malankara church in Kerala. This reformation is sometimes referred to as the reformation of the East.

STECI was set up with 3 main objectives - 1. Right doctrine - based on the 66 books of the bible 2. Right living - a holy lifestyle and 3. Right Mission - the task of evangelizing India. The Board of Evangelistic Work was set up as the special arm for engaging the Mission objective.  However, until 1998, there was hardly any traction with respect to the mission objective. As is perhaps a common pattern in the global missionary movement, a lateral initiative was birthed in 1999 after few people committed their lives to work for evangelizing the Hindi Belt - the heartland of India comprising of Hindi speaking states such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajsathan and Bihar. By 2008 the Hindi Belt Mission (HBM) which was rapidly growing captured the imagination of young people who were part of this church and dispersed across major Indian cities owing to vocational compulsions. Ever advancing communications technologies and the advent of faster and cost-effective travel options saw this informal network consolidate few key tenets - Every believer a missionary, every family a mission station and every local church a mission center. Meanwhile the formal leadership and structure of the church was persuaded to consider this development as a credible initiative aligned to the mission objective. Thus, the idea of a very decentralized structure of State Missions working on the model of Mission Interest Groups that were autonomous, was endorsed by the church.

HBM continued to grow and experienced a breakthrough when the new believers spontaneously started witnessing without any formal strategies or training. Out of their love for the Lord they witnessed to their relatives, friends, colleagues and brought them into the church. Several churches in Hindi Belt Mission began to multiply and grow in their mission activities, as a result. This became a great encouragement for local churches in other states as well. 

Today we have 2 mission interest groups active in our local church in Bangalore, which has a membership of about 120. Each team comprises of about 7 to 8 members each. There is one family that is financially supported by the teams that is exclusively engaged for the role of evangelism. All the rest are volunteers, but actively involved in engaging Sunday school and educational empowerment for children and young people cross culturally. Annual events like VBS attract hundreds of children and it is heartening to see the entire local church rallying together to support the event. The desire is that every member of the local church becomes a part of a mission interest group.

 

Regular and consistent involvement of these teams have witnessed a few significant socio-economic developments among a backward community. The most important change was in young girls opting to continue their education towards university graduation, that enables them to breakthrough into a new space of opportunities.  

 

In a recently concluded consultation of the HBM in Amla , Madhya Pradesh, a poignant observation was made about the health of bahya kerala churches (churches outside Kerala, spread across India). Wherever such churches refused to embrace the local culture and stayed in their comfort zones of congregating only as Malayalee migrants (people from Kerala) these churches have tended to extinction and eventually the sale of infrastructure and property they accumulated. On the other hand, there were two wonderful examples where such local churches embraced cross cultural engagement and witnessed a completely different outcome - a thriving vibrant local congregation deeply embedded in the local culture.

 

2.       The story of Frontier Education Services began in 2001 when 6 young families from different vocations yet having a common upbringing in the UESI (Union of Evangelical Students of India)  came together to explore greater involvement in cross cultural mission. This eventually led them to study the course - Perspectives on the World Christian Movement and form an organization - Frontier Educational Services (FES) whose mission was to mobilize the Indian church for cross cultural mission. FES was indigenous and supported by its founding members.  The primary channel through which mobilization would be achieved was education, delivered through courses like Perspectives and Kairos. All projects were designed to be self-sustaining. Effective mobilization was expected to forward generate involvement and indigenous resourcing for scaling up cross cultural mission efforts. We eventually had a corporate leader who after completing the Perspectives course, resigned from his role, joined FES and to this day promotes and conducts the Kairos course across different locations in South India.

 

The second case is about cross-cultural mission engagement in the context of the marketplace, promulgated by business entities. Being one of the four stakeholders of such a business entity, I am happy to present our perspective on such entities.

 

The history of commerce and economics throws up some interesting pointers to the marketplace as a significant area for mission engagement. In the early period and the middle ages, trade and commercial activity was by and large restricted to families. Until the reformation, the doctrine of creation governed arguments on the proper use of wealth in the Judeo-Christian world. The Industrial Revolution that followed the British Enlightenment accompanied by scientific advance and its impact on advance of economics eventually created todays marketplace. The post-industrial era, though only two centuries old in human history, has set the premise that Accumulation/Maximization of Wealth should be the primary goal for individuals and business entities. Its values are shaped by capitalism and the free market economy with wealth creation as the sole bottom-line. The marketplace thus serves as a system (an ism) that shapes the values and beliefs of people.

While it is possible for Christian employees in any organization to become points of influence for Kingdom values, it is through businesses or organizations in the marketplace that this value system is propagated. In some ways, these business entities play the role of high priests, enforcing the tenets of the marketplace such as materialism, individualism and self-promotion into the lives of people, challenging the premise of the Word of God that we are only stewards over all of Gods resources. Businesses drive the values of the marketplace through people management, hierarchies and control structures, power centers, culture and end-justifies-the-means worldview. Therefore it provides the opportunity for a new kind of business entity – the Business As Mission (BAM)-  to propagate a counter culture in the Marketplace and turn the keys to a momentum towards Christ. This holds the potential to re-shape the value system in the marketplace, beginning with specific industry verticals and growing further to nationwide impact.

 

To maintain its integrity as a missionary enterprise, the BAM must have committed disciples taking on leadership in the key stakeholder roles of investors, executive leadership and technical /functional leadership.

These roles have the strategic advantage of visibility and influence and provide platforms for disciples to be witnesses to non-Christian employees through word and deed of the coming King and His Kingdom, by modeling the stewardship of all resources (including money) in the marketplace in ways that honor God, by displaying the power of transformed God-honoring relationships, and by governing the influence of work at the marketplace on all other walks of life, including family, service of the needy, government and governance, and the efforts by front line missions to take the Gospel to unreached peoples.

The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) reveals that discipleship is mans responsibility, which, in partnership with Gods transforming work, brings about Christ-like character, the fruit of which in turn makes Gods kingdom known to the whole earth. This is the underlying purpose of all mission initiatives across history, and BAM is no exception.

 

Our company, registered as Stylus Systems Pvt Ltd. In Bangalore in the year 1999, has identified the following 7 disciplines for continuous learning and inculcation amongst its key "stakeholder" roles of investors, executive leadership and technical/functional leadership. These disciplines are focused towards building Christ-like character.

 

Discipline 1: BE OF ONE ACCORD

Definition

Increasingly practice unity, as displayed in the Trinity, (John 17:21) in obedience to Gods purpose for the BAM, in defining, understanding, and implementing decisions within the organization.

 

Indicators:

1.       Consistently replaces ones own opinion with the groups opinion once an agreement is reached.

2.       Takes initiative to be clear about all relevant aspects of the agreement.

3.       In all public and private statements, articulates the consensus reached as a group and does not add own words or leave out any part of the consensus.

4.       Enthusiasm to evaluate various views, arrive at a common understanding, to implement the conclusion in order to solve problems.

5.       All agreements are reached in a spirit of humility and love.

 

Discipline 2: ENGAGE IN STRATEGIC PRAYER

Definition:

Strategic Prayer is the exercise of prayer for the identification and removal of root causes that hinder the movement towards the goal of glorifying God in global worship.

Indicators

1.         There is a regular identification of root causes through prayer and data gathering.

2.         Personal and corporate time spent (frequency and time) in prayer

3.         Keeping abreast of the latest developments in the movement towards the goal

4.         Acknowledging and Identifying personal and corporate sins with humility.

5.         Diligence in taking corrective actions for personal and corporate sins

 

Discipline 3: VERBALIZE THE GOSPEL

Definition:

Verbalizing the Gospel is making sure the hearer understands all aspects of the Gospel (Gods absolute righteousness and Gods justice, Sin and sinfulness, Gods judgment of sin, Gods love for sinners and Gods salvation) and calling people to respond in obedience

 Indicators

1.         increasing over time instances of sharing one or more of these concepts.

2.         increasing prayer for individuals and their needs.

3.         strengthening relationships with people – more intimacy in relationships.

4.         relationships with more people.

5.         increasing ability to connect and leverage day to day events/situations to explain the gospel.

 

Discipline 4: STEWARDSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Definition:

We acknowledge ourselves to be managers, rather than owners, of all resources at our disposal, and God as the giver of all resources. This means that our mandate is not to enrich ourselves, but to faithfully [efficiently and effectively] use the resources at our command to meet the Masters goals for the business.

 

 Indicators

1.         Clear measures that connect to the Masters goals for the business.

2.         Transparency in how the resources are used to achieve the goals.

3.         Willingness to let go when required.

4.         Resources are being used in the most productive way for the Masters goals.

 

Discipline 5: CONTINUE LEARNING

Definition:

An ongoing process of learning related to Gods kingdom and purpose and stock take to see if BAM and its concepts, efforts and methods used in the business are meeting that purpose

 

Indicators

1.         Learn, document and share new insights connected with BAM.

2.         Is acknowledged as a Subject Matter Expert on more areas connected to BAM.

3.         Clearly able to articulate Biblical solutions to business related problems.

4.         Have measures to show how the business impact's God's glory.  

 

Discipline 6: FOSTER KINGDOM CULTURE

Definition:

The practice of identifying, defining and modelling Organizational values, based on biblical values that are valid within the organization's context.

 

Indicators

1.         Periodically evaluates effectiveness of the values to keep the organization faithful to its BAM purpose.

2.         Increasing number of decisions influenced by values.

3.         Universally acknowledged as a champion of the values.

4.         Number of instances of Verbal reinforcements of the values.

 

Discipline 7: MENTOR / DISCIPLE OTHERS

Definition:

The Mentoring Discipline is the ability to enlist others into BAM (goal, roles and disciplines) and impart ones expertise so as to equip the other to be effectively used by God to fulfil His purpose for the BAM.

 

Indicators

1.       Is enthusiastic to help, support and transfer, skills, expertise or experience to another individual for their development.

2.       Is acknowledged as a SME or has experience or expertise for reaching a Goal or developing another individual

3.       Draws up Mentoring Milestones to transfer skills, expertise and experience in a structured manner.

4.       Keeps the Mentee focused on the Mentoring Goals and Milestones.

5.       Has the ability to use process and systems to review mentoring progress and make course correction.

6.       Adds significant value to Mentee in terms of knowledge, skills and expertise.

7.       Persists in supporting and inspiring Mentee to work through the Milestones and meet Mentoring Goals.

8.       Demonstrates confidence in the Mentee.

9.       Provides regular feedback to the Mentee and supports or handholds Mentee in taking in additional activities, learning or exposures to reach Mentoring Goal.

10.   Provides latest information, technology or practices in the agreed Mentoring area to the Mentee.

 

Challenges faced by these initiatives.

 

While the journey of nearly two decades has been rich in learning and often paradigm shifting, it also has been replete with challenges.  While I believe

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