It is observed worldwide that over 50% of the missionaries first become interested in missions and evangelism between the ages of 15 and 24 years. This is what happened to a group of students of the colleges in Karaikudi and around in Tamilnadu of South India between 1963 and 1970. Of the only six Engineering Colleges in the State at that time, the one in Karaikudi was least attractive to the youth. The place was dry and the town underdeveloped. As Godís usual method is to choose unknown men from obscure places (Mic 5:2), He threw His fire on us in the Karaikudi campus.
About a dozen of us from the Colleges of Engineering, Arts, Teachers Training and Physical Education gathered daily from six to seven-thirty in the evening for self-examination, Bible meditation and group intercession. The Lord by His Spirit planted a burden in our hearts for the unreached, untouched and unchurched. Reading of missionary biographies added fuel to fire. A passion for "other sheep" (Jn 10:16) and "other places" (Lk 4:42,43) gripped us. We realised we must do more than just praying. We chose village evangelism as our main activity. The following observations about the villagers inspired and invited us to them.
1. Villagers are simple in their thinking and lifestyle because they are not much affected by the sophistication and complexity of urban life.
2. Villagers in general are less hypocritical than city-dwellers. Their response is not formal.
3. Indian villagers are known for their loving hospitality. Even the poorest of the poor will come forward with "water for feet and oil for head!"
4. Because 80% of Christian money and manpower is spent in cities and towns which hold only 20% of the countryís population, villages are a virgin soil. Therefore the harvest is always better.
5. Less educated and less civilized people get easily excited about the Good News (1 Cor 1:26,27).
6. Villagers have more free time than their urban counterparts. Therefore they listen to the message more leisurely.
7. Children in villages come flocking to listen to the visitors! The visiting urbanites are respected as educated and wise.
Our first job was to gather basic informations about the surrounding villages. We made enquiries with the people and collected Taluk and District maps from government offices. After all India lives in villages! Whichever direction we went, there were villages on either side of the highways. We used these informations for prayer and planning.
As students with all our laboratory work, workshop practice and home assignments, we could think of only weekends for outdoor evangelism. We therefore set aside Saturday and Sunday evenings for the same. During the prayer gatherings on the working days, we specifically interceded before the Throne for the weekend ministry. We also used to have fasting prayer on Sunday afternoons. The Lord stirred and strengthened us through His promises.
Because Christ has commanded us to go into "all" the world to preach to "every" person, we didnít wait for an e-mail from Heaven as to which village we should go. But the prayer preparation kept our hearts sensitive to spot guidances when we set out to go.
Unless otherwise there was a valid reason, we would never cancel the weekend outreach in villages. Regularity is indispensable for any fruitful ministry.
Some of us had our own bicycles and others hired. My bicycle was the oldest which daddy had got for me for Rs. 45/- in 1963. He could get it so cheap because it had been so badly damaged in an accident that the two wheels could never be aligned! We carried Testaments and Tracts in shoulder bags and bicycle baskets.
Bicycling or walking to villages for evangelism is still most effective. No doubt we can cover more villages and save time if we use fourwheelers and motorcycles. But this gives an impression in many villages that we are foreign-funded agencies. We advise our missionaries to leave the vans on the main roads and walk to the villages as far as possible.
Jesus "walked" to the villages and towns. He walked even on water! He taught His disciples some of the profoundest truths about the Kingdom while walking through fields and by seashores. Youth should not be addicted to motorised vehicles. Save yourself from the curse of the comforts of this age. At the command of Godís Spirit, Evangelist Philip "ran" to overtake the chariot of the Ethiopian official in the Gaza desert. For his return journey, the Holy Spirit gave him a free lift! (Acts 8:26-40).
We fabricated a megaphone out of tinsheet because we could not afford a battery-operated one. Our musical instruments were a drum, a tambourine and a pair of cymbals. None of us was a musician!
On arriving at a village, we would divide ourselves into two by two and each pair would take up a street. A loving smile and simple enquiries about their welfare usually brought the villagers out of their hesitation to converse with us, strangers. If an old person or a sick man was lying in the verandah or open air, we would sit by his bed and make loving enquiries. This was usually a starting point to talk to the entire family. "How is the harvest this year? How about your cattle? Where do your children study? Do you have a hospital here?" These are matters which villagers are interested in. We found the conversational type evangelism most effective. How naturally Jesus developed the subject of Living Water for the Samaritan woman! (Jn 4)
One team would visit the village headman (Mt 10:11). On several occasions these headmen invited us to preach from temple courtyards! Community binding is strong in villages. We must not dilute our message to please men, but at the same time we should not antagonize anyone. In our enthusiasm at the beginning we sometimes tried to preach the "whole" gospel to the "entire" village in the "very first" instance. But this didnít work. We then learnt to do the job in stages. The first one or two visits could be just to establish contacts and build rapport.
In most of the villages there was atleast a handful of people who at one time or other had listened to a gospel radio broadcast. Such folks were delighted to see us.
After about an hour of door-to-door visitation in the streets, we would gather in a common place and start singing simple gospel songs. We avoided songs about "Zion" and "Jerusalem" and Hebrew words like "Hallelujah." These would be Greek and Latin to the non-Christian villagers! We nearly always had good gatherings, especially from the families we had personally visited.
Instead of singing all the seven stanzas of a song at a stretch, we broke in between once or twice and preached short sermons of three or five minutes. The ultimate message was, "We are lost; Jesus is the Way. We are in error; Jesus is the Truth. We are dead in sin; Jesus is the Life." For college students, it was rather difficult to speak a simple and colloquial language. But in course of time we improved. We found that people understood the message better if we used simple illustrations. Sometimes we played skits. Sunday School roll pictures were useful.
When one of us started to preach, others would close their eyes and be murmuring prayers. We later found that the villagers were not comfortable with this practice because they thought that we were chanting some mantra to cast a magic spell on them! We therefore stopped this "superspiritual" practice and kept our eyes open and faces pleasant towards the audience, and appeared normal and natural!
After proclaiming the Gospel, we would call the people to lift up their hands or come forward if they were willing to receive Jesus. Sometimes the response would be encouraging and many times it wouldnít be. But we would remind ourselves of Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 and go on labouring. We are not called to Christianize the world but to evangelize it!
We would then invite the sick for prayer. If we found them hesitant, as was the case mostly, we would go near them offering prayer. When they watched what and how we prayed, they would relax.
Demon-possession was common in villages. Being totally inexperienced, we the collegianers at first were quite hesitant to deal with the demonized. But as we studied how the seventy disciples of Jesus were taken by a surprise when demons obeyed them, we ventured. The Lord honoured the frail faith of us "babes" (Lk 10:17-24). We realised that God had not given us a spirit of fear but of power (2 Tim 1:7,8).
When we left a village, several people with folded hands would request us to visit them again. Youngsters would come with us as far as to the main road to send us off. If we found keen candidates who could read, we introduced a Bible Correspondence Course to them. As students we had our limitations, but we did as much follow-up as we could. We visited certain responsive villages frequently and introduced the seekers to the nearest Churches.
We also came across a group of lepers and committed ourselves to visit them once a week. We used to buy eatables for them from our pocketmoney. These outcasts became our good friends. Some of them regained the lost sensation on their dead flesh after prayer. One elderly Christian told us: "Because as young people you are so lovingly ministering to these untouchables, God will bless your future with great rewards!" Now after so many years, each of us from that team can testify to the accuracy of those prophetic words.
As far as I can remember, Seminars on Evangelism or Soulwinners Training Camps were rare in the 1960s. But the Lord in His rich mercy and sovereign grace chose us and trained our hands and fingers for His work. True we made mistakes, but we learnt by doing. Most of todayís activities of the Blessing Youth Mission were carried out spontaneously in a miniature scale by the Karaikudi student teams in the 60s, eventhough the Mission was founded only in 1971. "Who has despised the day of small things?" (Zech 4:10)