Asia Biblical Theological Seminary Student Standing as Light Amidst Darkness
At Asia Biblical Theological Seminary (ABTS), the vision and mission is aimed at equipping Christian leaders in Asia with theological education within their own context. As this plays out in the classroom, one of the contextual factors that cannot be understated is the environment that a student comes from, especially the religious landscape of the area as it relates to the political climate. Many students that come through ABTS' programs are from countries, cities, towns and villages in Asia that are experiencing persecution for their Christian faith. The degree and nature of persecution may vary from place to place but religious freedom is a very real and present issue for many of our students. We are encouraged when we see these believers strengthened by the knowledge that they gain from our programs. Yet what they also need is our prayers, that God would give them the faith needed to persevere through difficult times.
Interview with a Current ABTS Student
One of ABTS' current students, John, who is based out of New Delhi, India, spoke to us recently about his experience in hostile environments. John has been working with a missions organization for the past 18 years. The organization is involved in church planting and social development projects such as non-formal education, health camps and sewing projects.
Can you tell us about the area of ministry in which you're working and the surrounding environment?
John: "The organization I am serving with, we have church planters (pastors) and house church leaders (elders) in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. My role as the team leader is to visit the house churches and encourage the leaders, elders and believers. I am constantly in touch with the pastors for input and accountability.
"Uttar Pradesh is one of the largest states in India and is headed by the Chief Minister who is a Hindu priest. In short, it is a Hindu state. Individual Christians and the church itself have always faced incidences of persecution and rejection. It is a known fact that there are groups that work against the Christians and Muslims in this area. However, with the state now anti-Christian, groups that share this stance are even more emboldened with support from the government.
"One of our house church leaders, whom I had baptized myself, used to lead Sunday worship services in his village. The church was flourishing with instances of healing miracles and a growing number of believers. Unfortunately, the villagers saw this as a threat to their Hindu religion and they complained to the police. The pastor was arrested and imprisoned for about three months. Since his release, he has been warned to discontinue running the church.
"In other villages where we have previously evangelized and baptized believers, they are prohibiting us from returning as the situation has grown very hostile. But knowing that the church does still need to be supported, we are in touch with them over the phone and maintain discipleship in whatever way we can. Christian gatherings in these villages are now more creative in their meeting. They meet on weekdays at homes as that would be considered as a mere prayer meeting and not a church. We also bring the leaders, all of them farmers, to Delhi from time to time to receive training and discipleship.
"Himachal Pradesh is close to the Himalaya and is always a challenge to visit. The people there are highly suspicious of outside visitors. One of our church planters there is the first Christian in his family and since his conversion, he has been disowned as they see him as a traitor. He left his village and family and married a first generation Christian lady. Together, they serve to bring the Gospel to the Kinnauri tribal group. The villages of these people are ruled by the temple where they worship a snake god. There is a network of a few house churches amongst the Kinnauri but everything is highly secretive due to security reasons.
"Typically when I visit, I am taken only to the houses of Adopt a Student believers or seekers. Many have tried evangelizing to this people group but results have been very very slow. We continue to pray for these people and the pastors that are living among them."
How have you witnessed God's work in this area especially in this difficult time?
John: "Even though the small churches are fearful and often feel intimidated they have not given up on their faith. They continue worshiping the living God in secret and their faith grows day by day. The days of open evangelism are gone, but now we see God moving through small groups and discipleship. We can see a strong foundation is being built in secret. God is continuing to move in these places.
"It seems as though it is a time of testing from the Lord. He is building His church and He is asking who's faith will stand firm amidst persecution. I am encouraged knowing that the Lord is with us even during this difficult phase for the Indian church."
How has your education at ABTS (or other training) been helpful?
John: "ABTS is a godsend. I am so happy that I have the opportunity to be a part of this program and learn from great professors who are knowledgeable and godly. Previously I was like a mason who was building a house without a foundation, I used to be easily swayed by different teachings. ABTS has taught me to be both a critical and biblical thinker.
"When I first started out in church planting, it was all about targets and numbers. But my studies have shown me the importance of a healthy church, and that has changed the way I serve. I am challenging my team to move from relying on emotionally high experiences to being grounded in God's word and sound doctrine. Only then, will there be healthy churches and strong believers."
How can we pray for you?
John: "I would appreciate your prayers for:
- Wisdom so that we are sensitive to the times that we are living in. We need discernment to plan strategically as we plant churches in these uncertain environments.
- That I would be able to lead the team according to His purposes.
- As I am a single parent to two boys (aged 9 and 13), pray that I can balance between ministry, family and ABTS studies."
Adopt a Student
The Adopt-a-Student program is designed to assist Asian church leaders in funding their education with ABTS.
The particular cohort we're currently seeking assistance for are students who are refugees from the Karen ethnic group. They live in the Mae La camp in Thailand with 40,000 other refugees. Many of them have fled their homes in Myanmar to escape violence and persecution.
Educational opportunities are limited in the camps, with Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School & College (KKBBSC) being one of the few options available for a bachelor's-level degree. ABTS has partnered with KKBBSC to offer the first-ever master's degree for refugees within the Mae La camp. The students are pursuing a Master of Religious Education degree in ministry.
There are nine students in this cohort, men and women aged 23-39. Many of them teach as their ministry, in the Bible School, the Mae La Camp School or Sunday school in the church. Others serve as evangelists, trainers or youth leaders.
We encourage you to consider partnering with ABTS through your support of the Karen students.