The India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) today has more than 50 new and re-established congregations and preaching stations, thanks to a challenge issued three years ago asking seminary graduates to start their own churches.
Graduates of Concordia Seminary in Nagercoil, India, typically serve a three-year “probation” in a local congregation before being approved for ordination. But three years ago, the seminary faculty challenged the 21 graduates to plant a church instead of serving an existing one.
Although the IELC is the Missouri Synod’s oldest mission partner — with about 400 congregations and some 50,000 members — only 2.6 percent of India’s population is Christian.
“All over India are villages where no church has been planted,” said Dr. Herbert Hoefer, area director for India and Sri Lanka with LCMS World Mission and a mission consultant to the IELC.
Twenty graduates accepted the challenge to start congregations in the so-called “probationers-as-church-planters program,” and “God has richly blessed their venture of faith,” Hoefer said, enabling them to start “two to four congregations in most places, worshiping 20 to 100 baptized believers,” many of them former Hindus.
“These young evangelists moved boldly forward in the face of daily persecution by Hindu radicals and with the possibility of imprisonment by the government,” he said. “Converts come forward knowing that they and their children will lose the government benefits provided them if they remain as Hindus. It is truly a work of God’s Spirit in the hearts and lives of these people.”
Perhaps most important, Hoefer adds, is that “all of these new pastors have had the supreme joy of church planting. They will bring that zeal and skill into all their future ministry” and “have the eyes and the heart of St. Paul for the rest of their life.”
The IELC now is seeking funds to enable the new pastors to purchase land and construct church buildings. “All of the men report that more are ready to come for baptism if they have a church building in their village,” Hoefer said. “They want to be assured that the church will be with them when they take this huge, life-risking step of faith.”
LCMS World Mission and the U.S.-based India Mission Society are working together to provide funds to the IELC to support the next “probationers” group and to purchase land for churches. Contributions may be sent to LCMS World Mission, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please make checks payable to “LCMS World Mission” and earmark them for “India Project No. 92200.”
Posted Jan. 30, 2004