Look Back to Go Forward
From Unleashed—Sam Stephens' newest book
Below is an excerpt taken from Unleashed, Chapter Four, Look Back to Go Forward
In the mid-nineteenth century, India was still pocketed with royalty, and young Raju Munisamy’s family were considered aristocracy. Despite his connections and comforts, Raju was an outlier and an extremely independent thinker. One evening during the early years of the Salvation Army’s ministry in India, Raju walked past a street meeting and heard the gospel preached for the first time. He stopped and stayed. Standing on the streets of Chittoor that night, he gave his life to Jesus. Brimming with excitement and buoyed by a profound sense of freedom, Raju rushed home to tell his family what he had heard about the one true God and about what he had done. His parents were not happy.
So often, people movements begin among the marginalized, the outcasts, and those who have been oppressed or subjugated. As Christ was proclaimed in India, more often than not, those considered “untouchable” were the people who responded to God’s love and grace. Raju’s family, aghast that their son might be counted among these low people, put all their efforts into convincing him to recant. He would not. Soon, he got his hands on a Bible and started reading it around the house. The pressure was on. The entire family tried in every way to induce him to return to Hinduism. Still, he would not.
Not many weeks after Raju met Christ, his brother came to him privately before the evening meal, his face pale and strained. Quickly and quietly he warned Raju that their parents had poisoned his food. This was a huge blow to Raju. He realized that his parents would rather have him dead than to be dishonored by his “outcast” faith. Raju packed a few things and fled from his home. He came under the protection of the same English Salvation Army missionaries who had shared the gospel with him and given him his Bible. They convinced him to take on an alias, an English name, and he became Raju Stephens. If you haven’t connected the dots yet, Raju Stephens is my great-grandfather. From that time on, Stephens was our family name. Each subsequent generation has come to know Christ and has stepped into his service. My great-grandfather Raju who changed our family’s legacy.
All of my great-grandparents were first-generation Christians, and from the time they gave their lives to the Lord, our family of faith has grown along with our earthly family. There is great enthusiasm among first-generation Christians. They believe that the most valuable, the most worthwhile thing in life, is to serve the Lord. Of course, that’s the human side of things. On the other side—the more powerful side—is the Holy Spirit’s call upon people’s lives. Raju was independent and an outlier before he came to Christ, and the Lord used those bold, tenacious qualities for the kingdom as he led Raju into service. My great-grandfather was ninety-six years old when he passed away, and until the very last months of his life, he was still working as an evangelist and an indigenous church planter.
In a sense, the focus on indigenous ministry in my spiritual family goes all the way back to Raju’s early years as a Christian. As a young man, Raju refused to adopt the cultural mandates of the denominational missionaries. He wanted to be independent of those mandates, and he trusted the Lord’s call on his life to lead him in ministry. My grandfather, Devaprasad Stephens, Raju’s son, worked with Christian denominations for a time during his early years, but he developed a discomfort for the culturally irrelevant practices he saw imposed on the Indian church. Neither he nor his father viewed Western wineskins as vessels that would effectively carry the gospel across India. They dove headlong into building indigenous churches where the gospel could be preached in the people’s heart languages. As such, these men had powerful platforms to proclaim the gospel, and they, along with their brothers and sisters, reaped an abundant harvest.
About the book…
If you’ve read my book The Kairos Moment, you know that I believe we can see God working in specific ways and at specific times—and that the spiritually discerning believer does not hesitate to join into this work. An absolute work of God is unfolding in India right now. Frankly, not many days go by that I am not thinking about, praying about, dreaming about, and talking about where I believe this work is going. And I believe that in the next twenty years, another unexpected—and perhaps unbelievable—event will come to pass. I believe that we will see all of India reached with the gospel.
Because God has unleashed an equipping, discipling, planting, indigenous church in India, it is not a “what if” but “when” everyone will hear the name of Jesus Christ. There are millions here who have yet to even heard his name. Close to half of all unreached people in the world live in this country. Yet I firmly believe that by the end of the next twenty years, the unleashed indigenous church will have taken the gospel out to every one of our 600,000 villages, where the vast majority of those unreached people live. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. Watch, pray, and join in as this miracle unfolds.
Now, my Western friends, I’ve found that my burden for this miracle in India has been intertwined with a burden for you. Think back twenty years. Could you have predicted the state of the Western church today? American churches are losing their youth, and they may not get them back. Studies conclude that America has already joined Europe as post-Christian.
Western churches have tried to combat this loss by catering to a rotating, ever-more consumer culture in which many are seeking the best worship experience, coffee, and childcare rather than the freedom and joy found in Jesus Christ. The “Nones” are the fastest-rising religious demographic. And while you are witnessing the decline of Western Christianity, from my across-the-ocean point of view, I am seeing a declining interest in world mission from the States. I’ve wondered if these things are connected. Perhaps in a concern for their own local churches, Western believers are turning inward, appropriating an “America First” or “focus on local” model to the body of Christ.
What is happening at this crossroads? Where is God working in the West? What is he doing? Where is he going?
One of the biggest drivers motivating the underground gospel revolution in India is a recognition that life comes from death and growth comes from giving. The poorest of the poor are offering their last coins to advance the gospel, and they are quite literally giving up their lives for Jesus and the people they love. There is no better way (because it is God’s way) for a Christian, for a church, to strengthen what remains than by living this loving, radically other-centered life. If the church in India is ignited by radical other-centeredness, then why not the American church as well?
Work where God is working. Grow through giving. This is how we are multiplying in India. I believe that you can apply these principles in your context at home and apply them by joining in our work in India. I’ve attempted to write this book in a practical way so that you’re able to take the material and use it to evaluate your own role in the story God is writing in our world.
Do I believe that your participation in God’s work in India can ignite your life? Your people’s lives? Your church? Absolutely. It is an opportunity, if taken, that will not only connect your people with the unprecedented work of God in India but will ignite and strengthen hearts for God’s work at home. It is an opportunity for all of us.
Unleashed is due out this spring. Follow us on Facebook and make sure you are signed up for Field & Prayer Updates for further details.