Mosques and temples clamor daily for the souls of 1.6 billion people in Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka – the countries of South Asia that make up the world's greatest concentration of people with no access to the gospel.
Muslims and Hindus comprise the overwhelming religious majority in South Asia. A staggering number of the estimated 225,000 people who die here each week enter eternity without Christ.
A mosque's Friday prayers spilling onto a street in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) reflect the vast spiritual challenge to carry the gospel to 1.6 billion people across South Asia. Yet, there are glimmers of hope of Muslims and Hindus coming to Jesus.
And yet, there are glimmers of gospel hope. God is working through local Christians and foreign workers who labor to bring Good News to South Asians. People are coming to faith in Jesus, the church is growing, and stories of God's redeeming power are emerging.
Here are six of those stories, as told by workers in South Asia.
A providential encounter
For years, a missionary couple tried to make inroads with the dozens of Muslim salesmen at a local night market, but they encountered roadblocks at every turn. You can imagine the wife's surprise, then, when a salesman from whom she had just bought a pair of sunglasses thanked her with “Jesus bless you.”
She stopped in surprise. A phrase like that isn't common in a predominantly Muslim country.
Astonished, she asked if he was Muslim, to which the salesman replied in a whispered voice that he loves Jesus and he reads the Bible. He told her that a Russian woman shared the gospel with him and gave him a Bible. He became a Christian and was rejected by his family.
That evening God intersected the couple's path with this new believer in Jesus, a man who now calls himself Mark but didn't know any other Jesus followers. The couple told him about another Muslim-background believer from his home country who lived nearby and was searching for Christian friends. Later, when Mark was introduced to him, he ran and embraced him, overjoyed to finally meet a fellow believer. The following week Mark was baptized and the two men began partnering in ministry to gather seekers and Christians into small groups to learn about God.
Courage for their family
A Christian husband and wife, formerly Muslim, were forced to leave their home after they received serious threats from a radical religious group. They reluctantly moved to a different city, leaving behind their parents, siblings and other family members. After a few months, however, the couple felt that God was calling them to share the gospel with their relatives. Even though it was dangerous to return, the couple decided to go back to where they had lived. They moved to the outskirts of the city and cautiously re-entered their old neighborhood to share the gospel with their relatives.
They began serving members of their family one by one by praying for them, doing intentional acts of service and sharing truths from the Bible. The wife, a gifted evangelist, led many women in her family to trust in Christ, including her sisters, her sisters-in-law, her mother-in-law and her cousin. The women in her family are so hungry to learn the Word and pray together that they meet daily for Bible study and prayer – right in the middle of the most concentrated Muslim population in the city.
A redeemed life
A local Christian was sharing the gospel in the slum area of a village when he heard screams coming from one of the houses. He rushed to see if he could help and found a young man attempting to hang himself. He grabbed the young man, pulled him down and saved his life. He learned the man's name was Subash* and that he was a rickshaw driver. Subash had owned a rickshaw but when he became sick he was forced to sell it to pay for medical expenses. With his only means of providing for his family gone, Subash felt hopeless.
The Christian told him about the hope that is found only in Christ. He left Subash with some gospel resources and prayed for Subash to find peace. He went back regularly to check on him and his family and continued to share the gospel with them. Soon Subash and his wife became Christians and were baptized. Although his financial situation has not changed, he says he has peace in his heart, mind and in his home.
When Vinod*, a farm laborer, became a Christian, he could not read the Bible for himself or use it to share the gospel with the people in his village. Three years later, Christian workers came to Vinod's village and taught him oral chronological Bible lessons to share the gospel with others.
For the next couple of years, Vinod used the oral stories from house to house in his village. When his young daughter wasn't in school, he brought her along to read from the Bible. People in the village began to believe in Jesus and be baptized, and now there's a network of more than 300 house churches.
Vinod's ministry expanded all the more after he received a microSD card with audio files of the entire Bible and materials for discipleship. Using this tool, he can share the gospel anywhere at any time through his mobile phone. He no longer needs to arrange ministry opportunities around his daughter's school schedule. He also travels with ministry partners into two of the most remote and difficult districts in his state to share the gospel through the SD card to make disciples and to plant churches.
A family's changes course
Before they became followers of Jesus, Lakshmi* and her household were full of strife, turmoil and brokenness. Her widowed mother was an alcoholic and beat Lakshmi when she was drunk. Lakshmi's husband also abused her.
One day a man shared the gospel with them, and Lakshmi, her mother and husband became followers of Jesus. When Lakshmi wanted to meet with other believers, people discouraged her by saying something bad was going to happen to her if she followed a foreign religion.
She told them it wasn't foreign, it was her own faith, and even if she was to die, she would still go meet with them.
The gospel, in fact, did change Lakshmi's family. Her mother renounced alcohol, proclaiming she was fully satisfied in Christ. Her husband became a church planter. Together he and Lakshmi disciple and baptize new Christians in the slum where they live. He and the man who had shared the gospel with them also go outside their city together – crossing linguistic, cultural and geographic borders – to bring the gospel of Christ to other people groups. As a result, they have ongoing Bible studies in four districts of their state.
Five faithful women
Five women living in a remote village are forced to raise their children alone. Their husbands, who earn their livings as rickshaw drivers in different cities, are only able to come home a few times a year. A Christian couple began meeting with the women in their homes and sharing chronological Bible lessons with them. The couple also gave the ladies a microSD card with Bible audio files so the women could listen to Bible stories on their own.
From time to time, the couple went back to the village to share lessons from the Bible. They learned the women were not only listening to the lessons but also discussing the stories together and were sharing the Bible lessons with other women in their community. Soon, the five women became Christians and were baptized. When their husbands returned to the village for a visit, the ladies shared the Bible stories with them. Eventually all the husbands believed the gospel and were baptized. To date there are five baptized women, nine baptized men, and 21 ongoing Bible studies in this village.
These are days of joyful harvest in South Asia. Workers are moving throughout cities and villages to teach the gospel and train believers to share Jesus. Yet for every profession of faith or church planted, there are millions of people who have never heard there is eternal hope in Christ. They are like the crowds that caused our Lord's heart to swell with compassion “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35 NIV).
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” Jesus said (verse 37). So we are praying earnestly and we ask you to pray with us for more laborers to join in God's work in South Asia.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Polly Maclean is a writer for the International Mission Board who serves with her family in Southeast Asia. For a prayer guide for South Asian peoples, click here. To consider serving in short- or long-term missions roles, click here.)