|MUMBAI, India – Jim McNiel, staff evangelist, Tower Grove Baptist Church, St. Louis, issues an invitation to follow Christ to hundreds of Indians during the Peace Festival Crusade Dec. 2-5. McNiel was one of 50 Missourians who traveled to India to spread the Gospel. McNiel often preaches in costume and in this case was portraying Christ.|
God takes a few Missouri Baptists, then does a mighty work in India
By Bob Baysinger
December 16, 2003
MUMBAI, India – A small group of Missouri Baptists made a big impact on one of the largest cities in the world – Mumbai , India – the first week of December.
The missionaries, representing Tower Grove Baptist Church, St. Louis, Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City, First Baptist Church, Arnold, and West County Community Church, Winnwood, spent four nights (Dec. 2-5) sharing Jesus Christ with the Gospel-starved people in Mumbai, a city with a population of more than 20 million.
Jim McNiel served as evangelist for the meeting. McNiel, the minister to senior citizens at Tower Grove, has earned a reputation as “The Walking Bible" due to him committing most of the New Testament and some of the Old Testament to memory.
While McNiel was churning out God’s Word in Mumbai , Missouri Baptist evangelist Clyde Chiles preached a three-day crusade at Amnedbad, a city of several million located about one hour north of Mumbai.
Night after night, Indians – many of the Hindu faith – filed forward at invitation time to renounce their faith in one of 360 million Hindu gods and profess saving faith in Jesus Christ.
“When I saw that," said Danny O’Guin, Tower Grove pastor, “all I could think was that the Gospel can penetrate any area. It truly is the power of God to salvation to all who believe. It penetrates the darkest of the dark."
Conducting a crusade in the nation on the opposite side of the world – 10,000 miles from Missouri – was not easy. Crusade participants faced opposition and discouragement at almost every turn.
There were problems obtaining a site for the crusade.
The original plan called for the evangelistic event to be at a large arena in Mumbai. Rental prices quoted for the arena were increased dramatically, forcing crusade organizers to go looking for another location.
Banzi Brahambatt, a native Indian and minister to international students at Tower Grove, was able to negotiate a deal with a Catholic girl’s high school and obtained permission to use their grounds. What appeared to be one of the worst situations actually resulted in good fortune because several nuns from the school attended the crusade and responded to the invitation to receive Christ.
Crusade workers also were concerned about plans by charismatic evangelist Benny Hinn to conduct a crusade in Mumbai, with the dates overlapping the Missouri Baptists’ crusade.
Hinn began pumping cash – a reported $500,000 – to the financially-starved Indian churches to get their support for his “healing" crusade. A reported threat on Hinn’s life put an end to his planned event, but the turmoil surrounding Hinn caused the Indian support for the Missouri crusade to decrease dramatically.
Add to these problems the fact that two states in India , including the state where Mumbai is located, have adopted anti-conversion laws, making it a crime for a Christian to approach an Indian citizen and attempt to convert them to Christianity.
Several crusade members ignored the law, believing it is better to obey God than man in spiritual matters. They shared Christ with Hindus prior to crusade services, on airplanes flying from city to city in India , in restaurants and on buses carrying crusade team members to various locations. Several team members reported that they were able to lead Hindus to Christ in a public setting while other Hindus listened and watched.
There was also one other apparent obstacle.
Southern Baptists have one International Mission Board (IMB) missionary stationed in Mumbai. The missionary was contacted during the planning stages of the crusade and invited to participate. As time for the crusade drew near, the missionary provided no support and did not attend any of the crusade services. It was later learned the missionary refused to participate because he did not agree with mass evangelism.
In spite of the setbacks, the crusade team forged ahead.
How it all began
With planning snafus apparently settled, the team boarded airline jet on Sunday evening (Nov. 30). When the jetliner banked to the east after lifting off from Lambert Airport in St. Louis , little did the team know that more problems and disappointments were ahead – even for the mission-minded members of Central Presbyterian Church, St. Louis , and Southern Baptist workers from Georgia and Alabama .
After a 16-hour flight with brief stops at Chicago and Frankfurt , Germany , the group touched down at the Mumbai International Airport at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2. Suitcases belonging to several teams members were not on the plane when it landed. To make amends, the German airline carrying the team gave $2,000 Indian rupees to each person whose luggage did not arrive on time.
The trip from the airport to a hotel in Mumbai and the trip to the crusade site later in the day proved to be a severe culture shock for some members of the crusade team.
Christy Boen, West County ’s representative on the team, described her first impressions of Mumbai as “astonishing."
“I have been astonished at almost every site around me," she said after spending her first few days in the third-world country. “The poverty is unbelievable and very sad. Everywhere you look there is trash and rubble. There are shacks lining the streets where by day people will sell you anything from tires to flowers. By night in front of their shack on the street they will sleep next to each other lined up.
“I even saw a man sleeping in the median between two concrete barriers. After dark there are people sleeping everywhere you look – on the streets, in their cars, on a cart, under a bridge, everywhere.
“The beggars are shameless," Boen continued. “I had an impoverished little boy run up to me out of nowhere on the beach and grabbed my Coke, screaming, ‘Give me, give me.’ There are dogs and cats everywhere. I never see anyone showing them any attention. They just wander around scavenging for food like the rest of society. I saw my first group of cows going through trash on the side of the road. I even saw a pig in the trash with a bunch of dogs.
“It is like nothing I’ve ever seen before."
Many team members were almost speechless after seeing the thousands upon thousands of people lining the streets and traffic jams that would put to shame any traffic jam in Missouri .
One Missouri Baptist team member likened the setting to “tackling Hell with a water pistol."
In spite of the setbacks and culture shock, the Missourians launched the crusade on Tuesday evening after being on Indian soil only 12 hours.
McNiel’s topic the first night was “the greatest birth ever foretold." He presented the life of Jesus Christ, using Scripture only.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of the Lord moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light," McNiel said, quoting the first three verses of Genesis 1.
“And Jesus Christ was the light," he added.
McNiel did not use an interpreter because many Indians speak English. India was a British colony until 1947. The first crowd of about 500 was less than what had been hoped for, but McNiel described the invitation response as “excellent."
With many of the Indians bringing friends, the crowd increased the second night. McNiel concentrated on ‘the greatest love story ever told," quoting John 18-21.
“Everywhere Jesus went, he went about doing good," McNiel concluded his message. “But not everybody loved Him. Do you love Him tonight?"
Some special things began to happen at the second service.
Two young Hindu men stopped by the crusade out of curiosity. They remained in the back of the seating area. When approached by a member of the team, they said they were just waiting for an American to stop and talk to them. The conversation continued as the crusade service began, and with music blaring at the front, the two young Indians bowed their heads and asked Jesus Christ into their heart.
McNiel found it difficult to get away after the service.
A Christian Indian mother asked McNiel if she could introduce her daughter. McNiel questioned the daughter about her relationship to Christ, and learned she was not a believer and had little interest in becoming one. When McNiel asked the daughter if she would reject a gift offered by her mother and explained that she, in effect, was breaking God’s heart by rejecting God’s gift, the young lady began to weep.
She, too, became a believer.
The crowd doubled in size the third night when McNiel zeroed in on “the greatest event yet to come — the rapture.
Another large crowd appeared for the final service with McNiel quoting the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). The evangelist, dressed in costume as Jesus, entered from the back of the arena, quoting Matt. 5:1. Watching intently was a 34-year-old Indian man who had accepted Christ only moments before.
As a member of the Brahaman (high) caste in India , the man had been invited to the crusade by a friend. He was introduced to a member of the American team as someone who wanted to know more about Jesus. At first there was difficulty getting the Indian man to see that he had to renounce Krishna and make Jesus Lord.
When told that his name would be written in the Lamb’s book of life in heaven if he would receive Jesus, the man said he wanted to do that. After praying the “sinner’s prayer," he jumped to his feet, pointed heavenward and hugged the American.
McNiel’s invitation at the final service consisted of returning to the back of the arena and asking all who wanted to follow Jesus to follow him to the front. Hundreds of people jumped to their feet and followed McNiel to the front.
The man who had received Christ before the start of the service was one of the first to get in line behind McNiel. At the front he could be heard yelling to McNiel, “I have put my hand in Jesus’ hand."
As the crusade team departed the arena after the final service, some said they realized it was God’s will for them to travel to India . Several of the Americans were seen shedding tears when they saw one man skipping out of the crusade arena, tapping his chest and shouting, “I’ve got Jesus in my heart."
There were more victories to come after the Mumbai crusade.
The team traveled to four different towns to minister and see a part of India ’s history.
In one city, about a dozen men on the team were invited to preach in local churches, with more decisions for Christ reported.
At about 1:30 a.m. in a hotel restaurant, a young Hindu waiter confessed Christ as savior.
On a plane ride to Delhi , another Hindu man received Jesus. He became so excited that he began telling others on the plane that he had become a Christian. He even turned on his cell phone and called a friend to share the news before the plane landed.
During the final days of the stay in India , the crusade team traveled to tour the Taj Mahal. On a tour bus returning from the Indian monument, a tour guide made Christ Lord of his life. The guide told the group before departing that he had started the tour known to them as “Sunnai" but was ending the tour as a “Son of God."
There were only a few Americans, but were used by God, to make a big impact.