The anti-Christian bent of the government that took power in India in 2014 renders the work of indigenous missionaries all the more important, a native ministry leader said.
Foreign missionaries are viewed with increasing suspicion, and the public preaching that many undertake is less tolerated in the recent, more hostile climate, a ministry leader based in southern India said. One-on-one evangelism has become more important as Hindu nationalists have attacked open-air events, and indigenous missionaries with intimate knowledge of local culture are best positioned for sharing personal faith, he said.
"There is opposition all over," the ministry leader said. "Missionaries used to come to our grounds. Now if somebody comes, depending upon their visa, they are not allowed to speak in public. We can do an indoor program, but not in public, especially if they come on a tourist visa, and most come on tourist visas. There are more restrictions now."
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014 in a government coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist atmosphere has encouraged violence against Christians as extremists attack with little fear that authorities will take action against them. At least 134 incidents of violence against Christians in India were carried out in first half of 2016 alone, compared with 147 in all of 2014 and 177 in 2015, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India's Religious Liberty Commission.
The attacks from Jan. 1 to June 30 represent just a fraction of the actual cases, according to the commission.
"We used to just go to the streets and preach the gospel," he said. "It's pretty much condemned. In the remote villages it may happen, but in other areas there will be opposition."
"Our government has the philosophy now that India is only for Hindus," the ministry leader said. "If I ask somebody from the U.S. to come to my area and preach at a public meeting, somebody will come and say, 'You can't do that.' They view Westerners as changing people's minds, their culture, converting them to their world, and the allegation is that we'll give money to them."
Public, open-air meetings still take place without government knowledge, especially in remote areas, but they are not as common, he said.
"We used to just go to the streets and preach the gospel," he said. "It's pretty much condemned. In the remote villages it may happen because the community will say, 'Okay, this is their form of worship' and let them have their peace, but in other areas there will be opposition."
Indigenous missionaries are well suited to address mindsets ingrained with centuries of Hindu culture, he said.
"Our approach is more individual, meeting a personal need," he said. "A person will say, 'I have a need that my god didn't meet. This pastor came and prayed, and my child got well. What is it about this God that helped me?' This is the kind of transformation we're seeing, which is more personal, as opposed to sitting in a mass evangelistic event listening to someone say there is a God who saves you."
The 64-year-old ministry, which was founded on the principle that evangelists should go out to people in their community settings rather than wait for seekers to come to them, has trained pastors ministering in more than 1,200 churches in 18 states - not counting innumerable house churches.
Its flagship Bible college enrolls 22 to 25 students at any one time, and that institution along with affiliate schools train 300 to 400 leaders each year.
"Our method now is to equip the local people, give them training, give them the resources that they would need and then ask for accountability from them," he said. "They'll receive additional training in a mentor relationship with the church pastor they're working with."
The ministry's main facility meets social needs such as providing food and tutoring for children, treading cautiously before the watchful eye of the increasingly vigilant government.
"We would say that since they are coming to our facility, we have to give them a story time - and the story is from the Bible, which the government cannot ban because we are not going into the streets to do that," he said. "So they're learning about Noah or Moses or even God from a literacy point of view, not from a religious point of view."
Workers make home visits as part of the social service to the children, so parents are opening up their homes, he said.
"If I say I'm a gospel worker, they'll shut the door, but if I'm working on behalf of the child, asking how is the welfare of the child, they're going to open it up," the director said. "That would allow some conversation about God or what their social issues are, and if you lead them into a discussion on the cost for peace, the cost for need of a Savior, you get into that love."
Different ministries are empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out different tasks, and without the work of the Spirit, there is no authentic transformation in people or society, he said.
"Without prayer, nothing happens," he said. "We pray not just about personal needs but about the revival of India. It is difficult to communicate the gospel to areas where people view you suspiciously, believing 'You're coming to poison us, to poison our children.' This is the concept that people have, and without prayer, that can't change. We pray that as our people go in, the people will get ready to receive the gospel as well."
Earlier this year in a northern state, the ministry's reliance on prayer and the Spirit was in evidence.
"In five different locations, 49 people got baptized in five meetings," he said. "There are lots of people converting, and of their own volition; it's not the church converting them. But in the Book of Acts, you see that as each church was planted, there was opposition. There is opposition and there is revival."