by Jillian Pettit
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
As the video crew began recording an interview with Reverend Samuel Stephens, everyone leaned in with anticipation and sat quietly transfixed. For the next two hours, we listened to him pour out his passion for the people of India. Not even the click of a camera would interrupt what he had to say.
The interview took place in an empty metal warehouse on Third Street. Aside from Covenant’s camera crew, the space was filled with almost nothing but dust and shadow, yet filled to the fullest with a vision from God and the brightest white light. A quiet strength, clothed in soft and resounding words, radiated from this man who lives a life of continual surrender and obedience.
Throughout the whole interview, I was captivated by Rev Stephens’ story – his passion and vision for India Gospel League (IGL), his love for the people of India, and his unrelenting desire and mission to have a church in every village. What riveted me most was how ripe each fruit of the Spirit was in his life. He is an individual filled to the brim with both life and peace. His strength encompasses humility and gentleness, patience and longsuffering, joy and peace, kindness and faithfulness. As I sat there, I knew I was witnessing a man who had fully surrendered every aspect of his life to the Lord, and continues to yield to the work of the Spirit each and every day – his strength in the Spirit was truly unstoppable. And I had to question, “Why would anyone choose to settle for anything less?”
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”
1 John 1:5
Rev. Stephens shared that despite the cultural differences across India, his country is hungry and relentlessly seeking God in countless places, people and religions. As a result, they are open and spiritually receptive to conversing and hearing the gospel. He described the people as brought up in a spiritual darkness, and he longs to share with them the light. We raptly listened as he shared stories of the miracles and healings that have taken place in the villages of India, where he has witnessed demons fleeing when barefoot pastors entered the villages. It is truth that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5). Darkness flees from the light, and the light is unstoppable as these barefoot pastors live into their full calling and enter the front lines to spread the gospel.
Christ is evident, walking along the earth in these villages, working through these pastors and touching these people. It is only through Christ that this mission is possible. As we rely on Christ to be faithful with the promises and vision He has given us, it is up to us to not control a movement of God, and to learn to be creative in the circumstances we find ourselves. Both surrender and creativity come from abiding in the Spirit. Rev. Stephens shared that when we try to control a movement, we end up building walls that contain how the Spirit is moving. Every situation and context determines how God is moving and what is required of us throughout the adventure of reaping the harvest.
We also must learn to be creative. Somehow, humans have a tendency to anchor themselves to the past. We must be willing to respond to the Holy Spirit, and not try to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions, or let our comforts distract us from living into the calling Jesus has given us.
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
The knowledge Rev. Stephens has about India is bottomless and multifaceted, driven by his passion to reach his people. He painted a picture of what India looks like, explaining a diverse country full of different dialects, languages, and foods. While approximately % of the population live in the urban areas, the other % live in villages. Crossing into each new village is likened to crossing into a different country, each a unique patchwork of cultures and ethos, and vastly untouched by the technological urban world. It is this % with whom Rev. Stephens is ardent to touch and share the gospel. However, because of the differences in linguistics and cultures, there is an intricate complexity in bringing the message to these villages. The role of barefoot pastors is vital in connecting with these people. With the leading of the Spirit, the growth that IGL and Rev. Stephens hopes to accomplish is entirely possible.
Rev. Stephens is committed to building up the Kingdom of Heaven. His obedience in glorifying God is the key to the expansion and growth that IGL has already experienced. Listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit that told him to start leading in a new way, he began to drift from the dissonance of the world’s standards in order to fall in harmony with the Spirit’s. After a short time in leadership at IGL, his eyes were opened to a new way the Lord was working. He began to see God raising hundreds of indigenous witnesses who had personal encounters with Christ, and who were passionate to spread the gospel but were largely unsupported. From that point forward, he began seeing his mission not as the only one to share the Gospel, but to serve, support, equip, and encourage the barefoot pastors who put their lives on the front lines every day as Christ calls them.
As Rev. Stephens concluded the interview, I was struck by how perfect the pairing is between India Gospel League and Covenant Church. Although separated by physical location, there have been movements and new visions within both organizations that have led up to this partnership. Rev. Stephens believes there is a Kairos moment in India today. Doors are being opened and the Holy Spirit is reaching the nation in unprecedented ways. Similarly, Covenant Church is nearly a year into their Vision2020, focusing on discipleship that stretches into a believer’s sphere of influence, while pushing people out of their comfort zones in order to fulfill the Great Commission.
The vision of these two organizations are aligning on different continents, and seeing God sweep across space and time to join these visions through a partnership is awe-inspiring. We serve a God who isn’t hindered by any limitations, and who invites us to participate in this adventure. As the interview closes, Rev. Stephens calmly invites us to come visit, to experience the power of God, and to catch the zeal. In that moment, I found myself questioning again, “Why would anyone choose to settle for anything less? What have we got to lose?”
Jillian Pettit works at East Carolina University as a Research Associate, and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Sociology. She has a passion for serving on the Prayer Team at Covenant ECU, North Carolina, connecting with people and hearing their stories, painting, writing, french fries and coffee.