A group of young leaders in South Asia have recognised something special happening in their country: God is on the move.
“We feel God is doing something in the country, and we want to be a part of that,” said Anika*, a national Jesus follower who leads OM’s work there. “The country has been through so much disaster and devastation and trials for so long that there's a young generation saying we want to see something new. And we want to write a new history for our country.”
The Church in this country is tiny but not new, with Christians living amongst Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. Half a century ago, early missionaries brought the gospel, building schools and hospitals alongside churches. Although the population embraced the educational and healthcare developments, after colonialism ended, they largely rejected Christianity. “Conversions were done forcefully when we were colonised. So as a result, when people received independence, they went back [to their religions] with much hatred and much more passion to hold on to their belief system and traditions,” Anika explained.
A small minority of people continue to follow Jesus but have primarily practised their faith within their churches, insulated by denomination and isolated from the population at large. When Anika stepped into leadership, she recognised that the role of the Church needed to change. “Church culture is too comfortable. We need to break away from this comfort and be out there where things are really raw and rough and dark. That's where we are called to be light,” she reflected.
Anika and her team have positioned OM to be part of a larger movement encompassing various denominations and organisations. “It doesn't have to be OM championing something,” she explained. “Let us as the Church come together and champion the cause of the gospel in this country.”
Disaster relief opens doors
In recent years, natural disasters and economic challenges have struck the country. “People are hurting; people are hungry, so we want to first make sure that they are fed, that they’re taken care of,” Anika explained.
OM has responded to these physical needs, partnering with 100 local churches across the nation to distribute practical aid, including in areas with strong Buddhist and Hindu presence. “Our goal is to really champion the local church and to come alongside them and help them be the brightest light post in their area,” Anika said. “These churches have been really struggling to survive in those communities… We want to come alongside them and say: ‘We are here to empower you so you can build relationship with the community around you.’”
One pastor reported that 20 new families opened to the gospel because he responded to their needs. “This is a pastor who's been in that area for so long and has really struggled, but now he is able to be a vibrant light post in that area that's drawing the attention of people,” Anika shared.
In another part of the country where suffering has been especially acute, OM distributed dry ration packs, including rice, flour, beans, spices and tea. “One father came crying to us, saying he wasn’t sure how he was going to feed his children the next week,” Anika described. His story was repeated throughout the area: mothers and fathers giving up their meals so their children could eat, older siblings abstaining from food for the sake of their younger siblings and girls staying home from school because they could not afford sanitary napkins. For OM, other organisations and all Jesus followers in the country, “this is such an opportunity for us not to forcefully convert, which is our history, but to demonstrate the love of Christ,” Anika said.
Bridging generational and denominational gaps builds unity
During the coronavirus pandemic, Anika, who is part of the millennial generation, said a group of young Jesus followers met on Zoom every day at 04:00 to pray for the country. Three years later, the prayer meetings continue. “They are continuing to pray, they are continuing to hope, they are continuing to ask God to intervene because our nation needs it,” Anika said.
“There are young people who are saying we know we need God, and we know that it's only through God that we can do this. So how can we partner with God and see His Kingdom come in South Asia? And this is across the board, across denominations. Young people are saying we want to work together. … And they are uniting over God's heart for our country. It's no longer about doctrinal beliefs or those things that always divided the church. It's an exciting time, and, as OM, we want to be right there discipling this generation that is so passionate and eager.”
In June 2023, Anika, another member of her leadership team, Paul*, and a small interdenominational core team held a four-day conference, bringing together 700 Jesus followers from more than 20 denominations “to inspire them, to challenge them and to think about what discipleship looks like in our generation and the next,” Anika shared.
Having recognised both denominational and generational gaps within the Church, the conference core team envisioned greater unity moving forward in working towards the Great Commission. Visiting a few of the conference attendees six months after the event, Paul reported on some of the emerging fruit: “I saw that they had taken so much [of what they learnt] back home and they have already started innovating new things in serving their own villages, churches as well as the cities that they are living in,” he said.
In multiple cases, two or three conference attendees have started youth ministries in their respective areas together, and new discipleship groups have formed as a result.
Various pastors have called Anika and her team: “We don’t know what happened at the conference, but our young people came back to the church completely different… They’ve come back with a passion, whether it’s to start new ministries or to be more intentional about their walk with God.”
One of the bigger testimonies that came out of the conference is to see the resulting unity amongst Jesus followers, Anika said. “Before this, we didn't even know each other because we were all kind of stuck in our own church bubbles and denominations,” she explained. “Now you're not seeing these barriers that keep us apart, but you're seeing friendships that are bringing people together.”
Discipleship is relationship
In fact, it’s this type of relationship—and friendship–that is the heart of discipleship, Anika and Paul said. “The young generation has been more exposed to programmes, a big production church atmosphere, and while all of that is great, it only provides entertainment sometimes and not a real relationship,” Anika explained. “They are really lacking meaningful connection and relationship. There is no new formula to reach them. It's exactly what Jesus modelled: one on one, sitting with them, imparting wisdom.”
“With Christ in us, we do have compassion to give out, to share, to care. I think that just being there when people need you is what's important,” Paul explained. “I'm talking about neighbours. I'm talking about your colleagues. I'm talking about your fellow students.”
For Paul, this has played out on the university campus where he studies. Being present and available and engaging with his professors and fellow students have afforded him opportunities to love them, pray for them and, in some cases, see someone decide to follow Jesus.
“There was one guy from a Buddhist background who was so broken down with family issues at home. I was in the cafeteria with him, and I offered to pray for him. I could see about 400 people looking at me, but I just didn’t care,” Paul remembered. “I prayed for him, and he accepted Christ, right there, that very moment.”
“My whole purpose of being at the university right now is not just to get my degree, but I believe that’s where I encourage others as well,” Paul said. “Wherever you are placed, you’re there to do the Great Commission.”
Pray for God to help Anika, Paul and the team in South Asia to see what He wants to do in their nation. Pray for wisdom and for the team to establish a firm foundation, rooted in Him. Pray for those who attended the conference to continue to seek opportunities to serve Christ and put into practise what they learnt.