By Laura McKillip Wood
Christian work in India has a long history, including such well-known missionaries as Amy Carmichael, Mother Theresa, and William Carey. Much of the work has focused on humanitarian relief and social services. In recent years, Christians in this large and diverse country have begun to see the need for new direction and focus in their work.
Robert and his wife, Melodie, (last names are omitted for security reasons) minister with a team in a large city in India where they focus on reaching high caste Hindu students and young professionals who will provide leadership for the country some day. “The high caste has the ability to reach all of India because of their influence in society,” Robert said. Instead of providing humanitarian relief, the team works to evangelize the high caste members in a way that fits their culture and their understanding of the world. Then they disciple these new believers, providing them with tools to reach their own families and friends with the gospel.
Robert and Melodie chose to go to India because they saw it as a strategic location. India has about one third of all of the unreached people groups of the world. It contains many different castes, languages, and beliefs. India has more unreached people than any other country. “High caste Hindus are the most unreached people in the most unreached country in the world.” Robert sees these Hindus in leadership as strategic in the future of India and valuable to the spread of the gospel.
“We make ourselves uncomfortable to make them comfortable coming to Christ. We want to remove as many obstacles as we can so they can see Jesus for who he really is and follow him only,” he stated. “We believe when high caste Hindus become followers of Jesus, they will be examples for others.” The team searches for ways to contextualize the gospel; they let the gospel reach the people with whom they work in ways that are meaningful to the Indian culture without requiring them to accept a Western version of Christianity.
An example of this is seen in the life of one girl the team works with whose mother had a room in her house where she went to pray to Hindu gods. When the girl became a Christian through her contact with the team, she shared Christ with her mother. Her mother removed the images she had in the room and began using it as a place to worship Jesus. She kept the Indian practice of setting aside a space in her house for worship, but she changed her worship to focus on Christ.
It’s Home to Us
Robert and Melodie have two young daughters, one of whom was born in India. They are part of a team of 14 Americans who live and work in the same neighborhood. In other ministry organizations, team members sometimes live in different cities and might focus on different ministry goals. In contrast, Robert and his teammates live near one another and work toward the same goals. They support one another and have become like family. After having lived in India for seven years, Robert said, “It’s home to us now.” One challenge in Robert’s role has come in learning to lead his teammates in a healthy way toward unity. “God has shown us a lot of grace and has taught us that he’s the one who does the work.”
Robert said, “I never felt a call or a passion to be a missionary. I went to college to be a petroleum engineer.” Involved in a campus ministry at his university, he began to learn about cross-cultural work. “We’re commanded to go make disciples of all nations, so as a follower of Jesus it’s our responsibility.” He said that this may mean moving around the world to where unreached people live, or it may mean reaching out to those in our communities who are from places where the gospel has not been presented. It might mean mobilizing others who go or supporting their work with prayer or finances. There are many ways to be active in the Great Commission.
Robert encourages everyone to examine their hearts and see where God might lead, whether around the world or across town. Opportunities to reach out cross-culturally are everywhere.
Laura McKillip Wood formerly taught missionary children in Ukraine and now works in the academic office of Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska. She and her husband, Andrew, have three children (lauramckillipwood.com).