All Aboard For India and Southeast Asia
Jerry & Paula Bates
No two trips are the same. We make plans; then we have to adapt along the way. Yes, it is an adventure and a great way to learn to trust God and also develop patience. We have made a mission trip to India many times now, but we are still amazed at the time required to transverse this great earth, some trips taking as much as 30 hours flying time one way. As missionaries we work with the World Evangelism team in Winona, MS, an effort begun by JC and Betty Choate, and we are sponsored by the Strickland Church near Corinth, MS. Since there are restrictions in India that make it difficult for missionaries to live there, we try to make at least three trips a year. As you might expect, this makes for a busy schedule. When we are in the U. S., both of us help with the day-to-day operations at the World Evangelism office. This year begins our sixth year as missionaries to India and Southeast Asia.
India has a population of 1.2 billion and speaks about 22 different languages. Early on, the Choates decided that some form of mass evangelism was necessary. So, they began their printing work in many languages and later preached on radio and television. Many know their work from reading the Voice of Truth International which is now in its 21st year of publication,. Through our literature distribution we are able to help mission efforts all around the world. Every year World Evangelism ships tens of thousands of books to preachers and other Christians, most of whom have no access to study books. In addition, about 20,000 English copies of the Voice of Truth International are distributed quarterly to many countries. The publication is also translated into four India languages— Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, and Paite. Several copies have been translated into Spanish, and recently into the language of Nepal.
World Evangelism also funds several weekly TV and radio programs. Thousands requests Bible correspondence courses, which results in many baptisms into Christ. Native men and women do all the follow up work.
As the church grows, the need for trained preachers and leaders also grows. Therefore, our association with the Extension Program of the Bear Valley Bible Institute is an important part of our work. We work closely with two schools in India. The Visakha Valley Bible College in Visakhapatnam and the North India Bible College in Chandigarh. Jerry has also taught in other Bear Valley Extension Schools including Honduras and Tanzania. One may wonder how we can work with both organizations. Actually, it works very well together. For example, as we go to teach, we can also talk to them about their need for literature and how we can help them in that regard. We feel that it is a good use of our time and resources to combine both ministries, although it does keep us very busy.
We work hand in hand with the native brethren, since they understand their culture and speak the language. However, rarely do they have the funds for schools, literature, or television. So we still need to help them, but we do not need to do for them what they can do for themselves. All through the year we communicate with our contacts and preachers through e-mail and telephone. Our best times are when we go in person and listen to their problems and discuss ideas. It also helps us understand the people better because we have been to their churches and their homes.
A typical trip starts in the country of Sri Lanka, a small island off the southern coast of India. We also travel in the spring of each year to Myanmar to teach in a Bible school in the city of Yangon. Both of us teach every day to students from all around the country, some of them traveling as much as two days. It is always very hot, but when we start teaching we forget the temperature. The church in Myanmar has grown tremendously over the last ten years, even though the government does not allow any public teaching or advertising. Hopefully, one day we will see this change. Actually, great changes are already taking place.
India, on the other hand, allows TV programs, church buildings, literature distribution, and open air meetings. There is some persecution, since this is a Hindu country, but it is mostly confined to local areas. We have had no problems with preaching and teaching anywhere.
Our travels in India take us from East to West and North to South. We normally teach in Visakhapatnam and Kakinada in the state of Andra Pradesh on the East Coast. We also visit Delhi, the capital of India and travel one hour north to Chandigarh, the home of one of the Bear Valley Extensions.
Nepal, a separate country, is only a two hour flight northeast of Delhi. Jerry has taught several times in the city of Kathmandu, where a Bear Valley Extension is located. He and Gary Fallis first taught there in 2011.
We feel blessed to be able to go and take the gospel to a lost and dying world. God gave “some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). We cannot all go, but we are blessed that we can all help and do our part.
Graduation Of The First Master’s Class In Visakhapatnam, India
Nine students from the Visakha Valley Bible College received their Master of Biblical Studies degree from the Bear Valley Bible Institute February 1, 2013. The graduation exercise took place on the flat roof of the school building. A tent was erected for the approximate seventy-five visitors from as far away as New Zealand.
John Dean Muppidi, co-director, served as the master of ceremonies. Jerry Bates, who serves as the Bear Valley Coordinator, and I were the guest speakers. Because of our flight later that morning, we had to abbreviate our remarks. That is hard for long-winded preachers to do!
The graduates included Samuel Muppidi, the director of the Visakha Valley Bible School. More than twenty years ago, Samuel purchased the property in Visakhapatnam with the dream of beginning a school of preaching there. This dream materialized in 2009. His foresight has been validated because the price of the land has soared since that time.
Most of the graduates are teachers in the Visakha Valley Bible College in Visakhapatnam and the Skinner’s Garden School of Preaching, which is located three hours away in the state of Andra Pradesh. Some teach in both locations; others only in one.
Each one also preaches full-time in one or more congregations and has years of experience in preaching the gospel. Though all live in the state of Visakhapatnam, they must travel long distance to study and teach in the school.
G. Vamsee Bhushanam, the director’s on-in-law, was the valedictorian. Vamsee, an exceptional student, also has a doctor’s degree in Hindi, the national language of India. Having Vamsee and Samuel in class was like having two co-teachers.
You can see that I think highly of these men. During the five trips that I have made to Visakhapatnam, I have come to know them well. The graduates and I have a mutual admiration society. They also have deep appreciation and love for Jerry Bates and Denton Landon who contributed to their education on both the bachelor and master’s degree level.
Christianity In India
India has the second largest population in the world next to China. However with 1.2 billion people, it is the largest democratic country in the world. Growing at the rate of two children per second, India will soon overtake China in population.
The strength and the weakness of India is its diversity in religion, community, caste, culture, language, etc. There are 18 official language accepted by the government of India, and people follow many religions. The three main religions in India are Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Other religions include Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
The Lord’s work in the cities of Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram was small when compared to the Coastal Belt of Andra Pradesh. Churches of Christ were few. Converting people and planting congregation is necessary, but this effort takes a long time. The Visakh Valley Bible College was established to provide trained preachers for that area. For this reason M. Samuel Raju purchased property and completed the first floor of a building inn Visakhapatnam to be used for teaching men to preach God’s Word. Later American brethren of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver, Colorado came forward to work with Samuel at Visakhapatnam. Indian preachers who wanted to learn the Word of God in depth and strengthen their own congregations came forward to become the first class in 2009.
Steadily the work among the Churches of Christ in Visakhapatnam started to grow. Students who composed the first class were already working with eleven congregations. Three new congregations have been planted as a result of the school. Visakha Valley students have reached many villages by means of tract distribution and Bible studies. Efforts are regularly being made to plant new congregations during the regular campaigns weeks which are part of the school’s schedule. Sixty-one have been baptized into Christ by students in the first class, and thirty-five in last six months. (This is just the record of the students while in school and not the record of the faculty nor of the working staff in the VVBC). Because of the amount of time required for their studies, the students’ time is limited to some part of the weekend. After graduation, they will be among the people where they can devote their lives to winning souls for Christ and planting new vineyard for our God. Without doubt the Visakha Valley Bible College will be a Sunbeam for Jesus for years to come. Just as the Lord commanded Paul and Barnabas, we are now today the light of the Gentiles, “'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'" Acts 13:47.
We desire the same thing for our students as the apostle Paul desired from the saints at Philippi. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless....children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life... (Phil 2:12-16
—G. Vamsee Bhushanam, Valedictorian of the Master’s Class