It would have been easier to stay in the south. That was their home. Same culture, same language. Lots of Christian friends. But Sathish and his wife Mini decided to move to the north of India, to a state where only 0.001% of people knew Jesus.
Their new home was in Haryana, the second floor of a two-storey house. It was a friendly neighbourhood. During Hindu festivals their quiet street would turn into an impressive spectacle of noise and colour and dancing, as people emerged from their houses in bright, colourful clothes to celebrate together. Their neighbours had never met Christians before and were curious about this young couple from the south. Why had they come all this way to live here?
A challenging start
They had come to reach out to university students. That was their intention at least.
But doing so was not going to be straightforward. For one thing, they couldn’t speak the local language. They had no formal lessons; only three years of slowly picking it up from patient friends, one word at a time. In the shops they would point to what they wanted to buy: ‘this thing’, ‘that thing’, was all they could say.
Another huge barrier was the students’ lack of free time. As soon as class was over, the local students would all leave campus and go directly to their family’s fields to work. The only opportunity to spend time with them was during their 45-minute lunch-break each day. Countless hours would be spent on buses, travelling between universities to catch snippets of time with students. It was a slow and challenging start.
But then Sathish met Rampal. He was an ordinary village boy. A student at university, who, like many of his peers, had never left Haryana. He’d never seen the mountains of India; he’d never seen the big cities. But he was curious to know more about this person of Jesus. What did He say? What did He do? How did Jesus compare to other gurus he’d heard about?
Sathish and Rampal read the Bible together each week, and after two years, Rampal gave his life to Christ. He proved to be a key first disciple. Ever Wednesday lunchtime, Rampal would bring his friends along to meet with Sathish, and together they would open the Bible. Over time, several professed faith. Once they returned home however, many fell away. Their decision to follow Christ would disappoint their whole family, and sometimes the opposition was too strong.
Worshipping the wrong god
Rampal faced opposition from family too. He was the first and only believer from his village, and his Hindu family did not approve of this ‘western religion’. It was not easy to go against their wishes — and indeed against the wishes of his whole community.
One Tuesday night, his village had gathered together to sing Bhajan — songs to Hindu gods. Rampal was getting ready for bed and heard the singing. It suddenly occurred to him: “They are not doing the right thing. They are worshiping a god who’s not God.” So he took his Bible, went to find them and told them the message of the gospel.
“We’ve been worshipping these gods for ages, but what change has it brought to our lives?” he said. “The God of the Bible is the real God.”
It didn’t go down well. They thought he was out of his mind. But over the following three years, several families in that village turned to the Lord because of Rampal’s witness.
Rampal is now studying at Bible college and will return to continue as a UESI staff-worker in Haryana next year.
UESI tentmakers move north
Rampal is not the only one making the decision to work in the north.
UESI has a thriving graduate ministry. For 40 years, they have been challenging graduates to consider moving north as ‘tent-makers’, to live and work among Hindu communities. It’s estimated that in recent years over 200 people and their families have done so. Initially they are viewed with some suspicion, facing questions like: Why are you coming here? Are you missionaries? How many people have you converted?
Job-hunting is also not easy. It’s often a matter of moving there and just finding any job they can. Over time they can build trust and look for a job that better suits their skills and interests. These mission-minded graduates gather once a year for a ‘tent-makers’ conference, to encourage each other through the ups and downs of life in the north.
Student missionaries move north
The call to move north is made to students as well as workers. They call them ‘student missionaries’. 100 student missionaries, mostly post-graduates, joined universities in the north in the last 3–4 years, intentionally moving to campuses where there is no Christian student witness.
One engineering student from the south, Asha, got admitted to a university in the north to do her Masters degree. Rather reluctantly, she went. She started to invest in the UESI group there, and through her involvement the group grew. Realising the opportunity, she had to make a difference as a committed Christian, she then chose to apply for a PhD course at another northern university. Asha’s since taken up the leadership of that UESI group.
Student missionaries don’t have it easy. Usually they go without their parent’s approval or financial support. They’re dependent on UESI graduates to pray for them and fund their studies, but even then, money is tight and having food each day is not guaranteed.
Not in vain
For now at least, the cost of moving north remains high, for students, tent-makers and staff-workers. It’s easy to get discouraged when faced with opposition or indifference. The ground is hard. Just sowing seeds is a struggle. Please pray with us that Sathish, Rampal, Asha and others would persevere, knowing that their prayers and witness are not in vain. Pray that revival would come to the north of India.