Through help from North Carolina Baptists, Biju Thomas is on a mission to bring spiritual and physical change to Bihar, India.
“I believe it is the birthright of every person in Bihar to hear the gospel at least once in their lifetime,” said the founder and president of Transformation India Movement (TIM), which is partnering with North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM).
Sharing Jesus with everyone in Bihar is no small task. The population exceeds 100 million people and less than 0.5 percent claim Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. The majority of the people live among Bihar’s 45,000 rural villages. Poor roads often make access to the villages difficult and most villages lack basic necessities such as clean water.
Instead, villagers often have no choice but to drink water from contaminated rivers, ponds or open wells, leading to a high rate of water-borne disease in Bihar.
Yet, Thomas is determined to fulfill his mission through a holistic ministry that begins with something as simple as giving people clean water in the name of Jesus Christ. Through its clean drinking water project, TIM provides water wells to villages in need throughout Bihar. Most of the funding for the project is provided through TIM’s NCBM partnership.
Because of N.C. Baptists, Transformation India Movement (TIM) is able to reach Indians for Christ through its wells. Providing clean drinking water opens doors for TIM to share Christ but also to hold events and train people to better their circumstances.
The partnership began in 2007 after Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director-treasurer, witnessed firsthand TIM’s ministry and the conditions in Bihar. “I was really blown away by what they were doing and the need in Bihar,” he said.
Shortly after Brunson’s first visit, NCBM furnished TIM with a truck and portable well drilling rig and began raising donations to help fund additional wells. Since 2007, the partnership has installed more than 950 wells.
Additional funding is provided for the training and long-term support of indigenous church planters, sewing training for women, literacy training and sponsorships for children in need. These ministries support TIM’s holistic approach to reaching Bihar for Jesus Christ. The goal for the partnership is to plant a church in every village. Wells are a crucial first step in that process. “If somebody were trying to stir up trouble and say that Christians should be run out of town you would have a tough time finding people in those villages with clean water that would feel that way,” Brunson said. “Their attitude is different because they have seen that Christians care about them.”
A change in attitude toward Christians has allowed Thomas and his team of church planters to proclaim the gospel like never before.
Each well has a permanent inscription in Hindi that proclaims Jesus as the giver of living water. In most cases, that well is the only Christian witness in a village.
The well is a powerful witness that is breaking down barriers to the gospel, Thomas said. “The clean water well project has become an evangelistic tool to take the gospel to many villages that were previously closed to the gospel,” he said.
In 2009, TIM began to build on this goodwill by conducting evangelistic rallies in numerous villages on Christmas day. The rallies included dramas, singing and the proclamation of God’s Word.
In the days prior to the rallies, teams of church planters and volunteers went door-to-door in the villages handing out Bibles, sharing the gospel and inviting villagers to attend a rally.
That first Christmas the teams shared the gospel with 13,000 villagers. The following year that number grew to 62,000 people, and the 2011 Christmas outreach was the most successful yet.
The goal for Christmas 2011 was to share the gospel with 75,000 people, but about 115,000 people were reached, most hearing the gospel for the first time.
“In many areas, the whole village was reached with the gospel,” Thomas said. “People were very touched to hear the message. After the preaching, in many villages people were asking what to do next.”
More than 1,500 people at the Christmas outreach responded by praying to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. In addition, house churches were started in 22 villages as a result of the 2011 rallies.
All total, about 7,000 people have come to faith in Jesus Christ since the partnership began, and 1,200 villages have been reached with the gospel.
Thomas believes it’s a great start toward achieving his goal.
“God is moving in Bihar like never before,” he said. “People are responding to the gospel and the opportunities are wide open. I believe the seeds that have been planted will yield its fruits in due season.”
In many cases, sowing seeds in Bihar is as simple as providing clean water in Jesus’ name.
“We are called to meet people’s needs in Jesus’ name and there is not a place I can think of that is in greater need in the world than Bihar,” Brunson said. “And we have a great way to do it and make a big difference in a place that over the years has seen very little of the light.”