Report by Pastor Ike Graham
Wow, what a trip! I’ve been to 12 countries so far in my life, but this was the most physically exhausting trip yet. However, it was well compensated because it was so spiritually rewarding. Let me tell you what happened.
It all began with the Tsunami in 2004, I received an e-mail from Paul (P.T.) Rajan of Coimbatore, India. Paul is 47 years old and the Principal of the Karpagam Polytechnic College in Coimbatore. He was an elder in a Plymouth Brethren assembly. He, along with some other Brethren, found the task of helping the victims of the Tsunami an overwhelming task. He was also disillusioned with the weak organizational structure of the Plymouth Brethren in his area and their inability to band together. He and his wife both testified that there were other internal problems. This led him on a search for other Brethren to partner with them. Searching through numerous web sites, he came across the website of the Orrville Grace Brethren (OGBC). He e-mailed me in early January 2005.
Since I’ve received e-mails from the Philippines, Africa and India seeking partnerships, I was skeptical of this one too. So I set up a series of check points to evaluate whether Paul Rajan was genuine; and whether the CGBCI should pursue this lead. Over the next two years, the following checks were followed:
- DOCTRINAL AGREEMENT
- Did he agree with the Statement of Faith (SoF)?
- Was he trine immersed, or was he willing to be trine immersed?
- Would he/they hold to and practice three-fold communion?
- Are there any doctrinal points of disagreement?
Paul and the others have been baptized by trine immersion. There was a series of e-mail correspondences through which I answered their questions about why three-fold communion is biblical. This resulted in sending them the Practorium course: Brethren Beliefs and Practices in the summer of 2006. They (church planters/elders) studied the material and came to the conclusion that it is indeed biblical and that they should implement three-fold communion. We enjoyed the first three-fold communion with these Brethren in Pondicherry on January 28, 2007 and inCoimbatore on February 4, 2007. As far as the other points of the SoF, there have been no points of disagreement. There is an obvious need for ongoing theological training, but they readily acknowledge this and welcome it.
- MORAL INTEGRITY
Paul seems to have a good reputation. Everyone who met him for the first time while we were in India acknowledged his position, the Technical Institute and gave no negative evaluation. His wife, Sarah, is very gracious and does not work outside the home. She is heavily involved with the women who are believers and is reaching other unsaved women. All correspondence with Paul has been on a professional level. His passion for reaching the lost; his vision for India; and his clear thinking about aspects of partnership have been appreciated. Very little has been said about money and he himself cared for many of our expenses while we were in India.
- FINANCIAL EXPECTATIONS
Paul has personally funded ministry and outreach inIndia. He has been helping the church planters; the one solid church and, as I mentioned above, paid for a number of our expenses while we were in India. He knows that we are a small Fellowship and any financial involvement from the CGBCI will have limits.
- VISION FOR INDIA – How do we work together and where are we going?
Since foreign missionaries are highly restricted, and since the rise of Hindu Nationalists, who openly oppose Christians, is very strong currently; our partnership would consist of:
- Prayer for the church planters and all involved in outreach.
- Supply of Practorium materials for the further training of the elders and church planters.
- Financial aid per a written plan.
- When (if) possible, visits to teach/train men.
- Visits for accountability, fellowship and encouragements.
- Outreach plans and supplies for evangelism.
In addition to the e-mail correspondence from January 2005, there was a personal meeting with Paul in Orrville,OH on October 31, 2005. There is a video tape available of the interview Pastor Graham conducted. That visit along with the satisfactory fulfillment of the points listed above, led to the planning to a face-to-face visit in India and meeting of the church planters and the Brethren there. So off we went on January 24, 2007.
After about four hours of sleep in a 44 hour period, including a 13 hour layover in Bombay (Mumbai), we arrived in Coimbatore. Coimbatore is a textile industrial city of just under a million people. Brother Paul Rajan, his wife, Sarah and their 11 year old son, Meshach, met us at the airport very warmly with flowers. Before we left the airport, Paul prayed and thanked God for answering prayer for our safe arrival. They took us by taxi to a hotel near their home in the worst traffic I have ever experienced in the 12 countries that I have visited. After getting settled and a nap, they took us out for supper. Then, we went to their apartment to review the details for the week.
While reviewing our schedule for January 27-February 5, 2007, Paul told us how he, Munisamy, Samuel, Moses, Daniel, and a single man by the name of David, have been studying Brethren Beliefs and Practices. Having been Plymouth Brethren, they were surprised (by their own lack of insight) to have not seen before that the bread and cup follows the meal. Most likely, he thinks, because “that’s the way we always did it before,” i.e. just bread and cup. The Tamil Bible clearly says in 1 Corinthians 11 – “after supper.” Paul acknowledged that the Bread and Cup came out of the meal. This was the final factor in their decision to leave the Plymouth Brethren and join the CGBCI. They are calling themselves “New Grace Brethren Churches.”
Paul also mentioned that the church meeting place in Coimbatore has been moved twice because when the landlord discovers that they are having worship, he asks them to leave. This has been an inconvenience. Paul is energetic with a sense of vision and purpose.
January 28, 2007 – Sunday – Pondicherry
After a 10 hour red-eye train ride to Pondicherry (arriving at 6:00am), we experienced an historic moment for the Grace Brethren. For the first time, the newly formed “Grace Brethren Church of India” held three-fold communion. Pastor Hoyt explained communion: feet washing, love feast and bread & cup. All the believers present participated. Pictures were taken and it was also videoed. Prior to this, Pastor Ike Graham preached the morning worship message on “idolatry” with Paul interpreting. Paul also interpreted for the explanation of communion.
This is a church of about 40 believers with two elders (Munisamy – 62 and Mohan – 45). A month ago, they began building their own church house, and though it isn’t finished, it was very adequate for our worship and communion. The new building has a baptistery. They plan to finish the building as funds become available.
January 29, 2007 – Monday – Chennai
Sightseeing and shopping in the capital of Tamil Nadu (the city of Coimbatore).
January 30, 2007 – Tuesday – Kerala
Visit with Brother Abraham Thomas and the Christian Workman’s School of Training for men at his house. He has a very large house which includes a dorm for students. Students study 4 days per week and work part time.
January 31, 2007 – Wednesday – Coimbatore
Bible study with the Brethren in Coimbatore after traveling back from Kerala. This was our first time to meet these believers and P.K. Moses (42). There were 14 in attendance in addition to us. Pastor Hoyt spoke from Acts 6 on Stephen and the fullness/filling of the Holy Spirit. We gave time for questions and answers. One former Hindu shared how he came to know the Lord. After this, we had supper at the Rajan’s. Paul shared more about his church background and that he was drawn to us because of our emphasis on practicing what we believe. He really likes our motto: “The Bible, the Whole Bible and Nothing but the Bible.”
February 1, 2007 – Thursday – Coimbatore/Rajapalayam
Paul and Sarah have a ministry to very poor women to teach them to embroider and sew in order to make a living. They do this for at least 3 reasons: 1) in 2001, Paul had a mild heart attack. Sarah also had been having medical problems. She had a tumor removed and an appendectomy. As they were talking about this, they came to the conclusion that they should spend their material resources for the Kingdom of God; not themselves. They determined that instead of getting rich, they would pour monies into ministry; 2) if they openly share the Gospel, Hindu Nationalists would shut them down. These kinds of “relief” ministries provide opportunities to share the Gospel. Ike was given the opportunity to share the Gospel with all 14 women at the training center (12 Hindus and 2 Muslims) and explain why Christianity is from God; 3) the Bible commands us to do this in Acts 20:25.
At 5:00pm, we attended the children’s outreach at the home of the Rajan’s. There were about 13 children there ranging in age from 8 to 14 years. Ike presented an object lesson using a balloon and wire to demonstrate 1 Corinthians 10:13. After supper with the Rajans, we went to the train station to take the red-eye to Rajapalayam. We found out that we would not get to meet Daniel (37) because his sister was hospitalized and he was at the hospital with her.
February 2, 2007 – Friday – Rajapalyam/Aruvankulan/Vannanparai/Paruvakkudi
We arrived into Rajapalayam at 7:00amand checked into a hotel. After getting cleaned up and breakfast, we had a discussion with Paul about how our Fellowship is structured; what a sponsoring church is; and the elements of a written plan put together by both the sponsoring church and the church planting team. We also reimbursed Paul for many of our expenses though he wouldn’t take a complete reimbursement. He said it is his joy to give too.
Paul explained to us that there are 3 church planting teams:
- Munisamy and Mohan in Pondicherry
- Paul and P.K. Moses in Coimbatore
- Samuel and David in the south
We reviewed their original written plan and made a number of modifications based on this information. See the written plan for details. We also learned that there are Plymouth Brethren assemblies in the area which either 1) have no leadership (elders), or 2) are functioning on their own outside of a Fellowship of churches. The result has been that their attendance has been declining. Moreover, the Pentecostals have been stealing sheep and splitting churches to do it.
In the evening, we visited one Plymouth Brethren assembly with close ties to the team in the south. Aldo spoke from Acts 6 on Stephen and the filling of the Spirit. Paul Rajan had discussed with them the possibility of joining us, but they refuse to accept threefold communion. Prior to this meeting, we met Paul’s father, Thangiah. We video taped our meeting with him as he recounted the history of the Plymouth Brethren in that area some 65 years ago to the present. Paul’s father was the interpreter for those missionaries in years gone bye. He confirmed that they baptized by trine immersion and that he, Paul and the others were baptized by trine immersion. Now, at 83, he cares for a number of orphans, single parent children and provides education for children who are working in the Tea Estates. Indiahas a different perspective on child labor. There were about 15 children; one teacher and their cook.
February 3, 2007 – Saturday – Puliyankudi/Sankarankoil
We traveled to Puliyankudi in the morning to meet Samuel and have a Bible study with the believers of a former Plymouth Brethren assembly now being led by Samuel. Ike spoke from 1 Samuel 17. There were about 20 present (4 men; 8 women and 8 children). Afterwards, we did some sightseeing, traveled back to the hotel and took the red-eye back toCoimbatorefor the Sunday worship and communion.
February 4, 2007 – Sunday – Coimbatore
We arrived into Coimbatore at 4:30am, took a taxi to the hotel. After getting some rest and getting cleaned up, we joined the believers for worship and their first threefold communion. Ike spoke from Zechariah 4 “Good Things Come in Small Packages.” Then, Ike explained threefold communion and why the bread and cup are only a part of communion. Paul did all the interpreting. There were 26 in attendance; 6 men, 5 women and 15 children.
The communion was exciting! It was historic! Everyone was rejoicing in participating – most for their very first time ever. Of course, there were some logistical glitches trying to get started, but we overcame them and I washed Nathan’s feet to give them an example.
Both Pastor Hoyt and I are recommending to the 2007 Conference that we recognize these Brethren as part of the CGBCI. A formal presentation will be made. Also, we will request that the Foreign Mission Panel endorse the three church planting teams. Thanks so much for praying!