In just the first half of 2003, we saw God’s hand move in ways we never expected. The New Year brought with it an excitement for my third trek to India with Mike Silva International (MSI) to build up the local church and proclaim the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. As always with MSI, at the core of our outreach, there was going to be a week-long festival featuring several conferences for pastors/leaders, women, businesspersons as well as a friendship evangelism and counselor training. The week was going to culminate at a large outdoor crusade where more than 50,000 people were expected to attend on Friday and Saturday evenings.
As plans were finalized, the anticipation grew. This year, the 18-member team was heading for a new city in the southwestern state of Tamil Nadu, one that was even more industrialized and less evangelized than areas where our team traveled in 2001 and 2002. But the New Year brought an unexpected new policy. In the state of Tamil Nadu, where Mike Silva and his team had ministered exclusively, anti-conversion laws were passed making it illegal for anyone to convert from Hinduism to Christianity. Suddenly, Tamil Nadu became a dangerous place for a crusade. As quickly as that door closed, another door opened. New plans were put into action in a neighboring state. It seemed that everything was moving along smoothly until just one week before we were set to depart. A report came that Hindu opposition was increasing in the area and the threat of violence was real. One of the MSI’s partner evangelists was physically beaten immediately after giving the gospel presentation at a pre-crusade meeting. Mike Silva and MSI Crusade Director Bill Sands made the difficult decision to not take our team. Any other American team members who were already in place for the crusade events were sent home. Each team member breathed deeply and sorrowfully for the Indian people.
OUR SORROW turned to joy when we heard the reports of Mike’s trip to India. It was scaled down to only essential personnel and as it turns out, it was the most unusual crusade they ever experienced: speeding motorcades, taxis with blacked out windows, and travel routes that were never the same twice. In spite of the fear of Hindu opposition, hunger for the truth about Jesus was even greater, and the people came. More than 10,000 accepted Jesus, and more than 300 pastors and leaders from local churches were strengthened and encouraged.
AND IN SPITE OF what we believe to be logical or even understand, God opened a door for this ministry in Central America. We never would have thought Central America would be a safer place to travel than India. Along with the original India festival team, we made our way to the small war-torn and earthquake-damaged Central American country of El Salvador with MSI at the end of March where we were greeted warmly and saw unprecedented crowds converge on the crusade grounds. Before the crusades even began, some 700 Christians marched from downtown San Salvador to the crusade grounds, stopping in the middle the streets to pray. Onlookers were drawn to the crusade and stood for hours just to hear the good news. Through an amazing turn of events, God provided TV coverage of the event which broadened the scope of the team’s message tremendously. MSI Crusade Director, Bill Sands shared, “It was incredible to walk by a restaurant or peek into the lobby of a hotel and see groups of people watching TV and listening intently as the Praise Team sang and Mike shared the gospel.”
And since everyone was watching the crusades on TV, the team was recognized anywhere we went. So many people approached on the streets to ask about Jesus. We were able to talk about Jesus and pray with people as they began their faith journeys. Even better, we could lead them to area churches who were waiting to care for the new believers.
The good news doesn’t stop there. The door to El Salvador remains wide open for next year, and it seems that it is a gateway to Central America.
THE BIGGEST NEWS is that right now, I have been invited by Mike Silva to travel back to Central America, this time to Honduras for a crusade that will reach thousands of people and train pastors, church leaders and lay people to care for the new Christians.