By Kevin Smith

Thoughts on Ministry to Students from India

Relationship is the key.

My experience is that some Indian students come with an “attitude” toward Christians. If we begin with apologetics or debate we just get categorized. All of my “reasoned” discussions with Indians have gone nowhere (they may have been long, but they don’t lead to fruit - at least if that is all I have with a person: reasoned, or “Apologetic,” discussions).

So I find I just make friends. I attend their events. I ask questions. I become a friend. In the midst of that all I model my faith: I make it clear (in any way) that I love Jesus and I am devoted to Him and my lifestyle affirms this (at least I strive to make that true and I hope I do).

I also let it be known that I lead bible studies to help people learn about Him. I said above my apologetic discussions go nowhere, but in friendship I’ve had great discussions when asked, “Why do I believe … ?” Or in relationship to some story about Jesus I’ve just shared. I find, when it is clear that I am a friend and come to Indian events just to be in the event, that the questions from a student change from “aggressive challenges” to my beliefs and become questions relating to what is really on the students mind.

I actually find that studying the Bible with Indians is quite revealing. Their minds are so tuned in spiritually that they seem to be able to grasp the truth of bible passages quite quickly (they grasp it, but they don’t always embrace it). They make some amazing statements. Sometimes it sounds like they are embracing Biblical truth, but I find that the way they talk can be similar to what a Christian says but they are meaning something quite different.

My favorite example of this is when I was in a Bible study and one student started talking about how important it is that we consider our eternal destiny. His language, in the context of the Bible study we were having, made it sound like he was tracking well and was realizing some Christian truth. But in my follow-up discussion with him I discovered he was talking about the importance of remembering to create good Karma.

It seems to me that if we want to attract interested Indian students into our group we need to rely less on “traditional ISM hooks” (free food, English lessons, experience American culture … ) and just go where they are and become a friend. That friendship might lead into sincere religious discussion. I am a good cook and they praise me when I try to cook Indian food. But when we have an Indian potluck they show up in large numbers and they are thrilled! So it seems that myself as a source of food (or my volunteers) is lessening and our potlucks are increasing. I make this sound easy (I just re-read what I wrote) but I find it very difficult. Indians are always polite to me so I’m not sure what they are really thinking. They also seem to be a fairly closed community that I am a welcomed guest into but not a member of.

This leads to the second key: We need to get Indian Christian students with a vision of saving the lost into our fellowship. These Indian Christian students will become the anchor of our witnessing community in the Indian community. Please note that I say Indian Christians “with a vision for saving the lost.” This last phrase is the tough part. In my experience, which has been confirmed in discussions with others, there is a problem in India in getting the Indian Christians to develop a vision for saving the lost.

Many Christian Indians seems to have a “leave them alone” attitude towards Hindus. (This is a quote from both a personal discussion and from a article I read in an Indian Christian magazine when I was in India). We have had Indian students join our group who were Christians and often they have had a reluctance to reach out to Hindus. I have also heard of some Indian Christians who do not come to our meetings because too many Hindus come. But those Christian Indian Students who do join and who do develop a vision for ministry to Hindus, they have become incredible partners in ministry on campus. So our approach is to befriend all we can and pray for God to send us an Indian with a vision for saving the lost -even Hindus.

Our group on a good night (which we don’t have very often near Divali or at the end of a semester) can have up to 15 Indian Hindu students at our Bible study. We have just 3 Indian Christians in our group (and one rarely comes these days). This semester we have seen two Indians say that they are loving Jesus and love to pray to Him. They also still say they are Hindus, but I love watching the progress of their new interest in Jesus.

(This is just my experience at the University of Arkansas - 200 Indian students, 300+ Indian families working at Walmart headquarters).

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