Driven from his village when he became afflicted with leprosy, the Malto witch doctor huddled forlornly in a rocky enclosure some miles from his family and friends. He felt shame at his condition,which had caused his people to reject him. He felt betrayed by the people who used to seek him out as the respected village healer. The shaman thought of his lifelong devotion to the spirits and how it had brought him to this, the lowest point in his life.
Broken, the Indian found himself willing to listen when a missionary from a nearby town approached to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Realizing he had nothing to lose, the former spiritual leader called out to this Jesus to forgive and heal him.
After praying, the leper went to wash his face and hands and found that the oozing sores that had covered his body were no more. He was clean.
Overcome by such an awesome demonstration of His power, all the villagers now opened their hearts to the living God. They also welcomed the former leper back into their lives. Restored in body, mind and soul, he is now their pastor… This true story illustrates just one of the many ways our God is using the Friends Missionary Prayer Band (FMPB), an indigenous Indian mission agency, to show Himself strong among the Malto people of Bihar, a state in eastern India. Before FMPB missionaries began working among them, the Malto were a ferocious tribe given to idol worship, drunkenness and violence. The group of some 55,000 has been so ridden with witchcraft and lawlessness that even the government has feared to go among them.
However, over the past ten years, 28,000 of the Indians have turned to Christ, according to Hemachandar, assistant general secretary of the mission organization. Entire villages are being transformed as dramatic miracles, such as the dead being brought back to life, are being witnessed. The people now devote hours each day to prayer and worship, singing and dancing with all of their hearts.
Malto believers are also sending missionaries to other tribes and at this point the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus have been translated into their native tongue. Their dialect is one of more than 1,600 spoken by India’s nearly 900 million inhabitants, fewer than four percent of whom are Christians.
The Friends Missionary Prayer Band, a completely indigenous mission agency, got its start in southern India when a group of university students in Madras got together to seek the purposes of God for their live.
“We were mostly new believers, but we began to ask ourselves,’What is God saying to us?’… A number of us went on a hilltop, and we fasted and prayed. We felt as if God was leading us. Then in one late-night session God’s Spirit moved among us and it seemed as though we needed to invest our lives into telling India about the Lord,” Sam Kamaleson, a founder of the group and now Vice President At Large for World Vision, Inc., recalled.
This conviction that they needed to accomplish such a task came as a surprise to many of the group who were specializing in such fields as statistics and veterinary medicine, and who hadn’t any previous intention of pursuing full-time ministry. However, the intensity of the vision was so gripping that the students found themselves becoming more and more committed to furthering the cause of Christ among those groups in their beloved homeland who have yet
The FMPB was formed, and sent out its first missionary in 1967. It now sends 550 missionaries cross-culturally to work among 100 of the 1,800 unreached people groups in India, and supports 250 local evangelists as well. By AD 2000, the mission agency’s goals are to more than double those numbers and penetrate another 200 peoples who are currently beyond the reach of the gospel.
According to the latest figures, the FMBP has now built more than 200 churches and established 1,100 fellowships in 14 states and two union territories. Some 60,000 new believers have been baptized into the faith, most of whom come from the 10 people groups which have proven very receptive: the Malto, the Kukna, Vasava, Varli, Santhal, Gownder, Reysikh, Chammar, Ho and Kathodi peoples.
Phil Bogosian, Director of the Adopt-A-People Campaign, who recently visited FMPB headquarters commented on these goals, ” I was deeply moved by seeing a large board of statistics listing goals and current progress toward those goals facing the desk of Patrick Joshua, the General Secretary. Every day this Godly leader is willing to be reminded of these goals and cry out to the Lord for their fulfillment as well as thank Him for what He has done. I was humbled and challenged. Am I willing to hold myself that accountable?”
This dependence on prayer is a central focus of the Friends Missionary Prayer Band, and permeates the mission, from top leadership to lay supporters. “To make prayer the central focus of our work was a result of the Word of God, the impossibility of the task and the extreme limitations of the unknown…How to move a whole church to think about unreached people groups? The only way to do it was to pray to God,” Kamaleson said.
This resulted in a powerful and innovative structure to provide both the needed prayer and finances to carry out mission work in a country presenting the most difficult of spiritual and financial challenges. All over the world emerging missions are wondering if they can engage in missionary activity because of their people’s limited incomes. Few, however, have per capita incomes lower than India. Yet the Holy Spirit, through much prayer and fasting in the mission’s early days, showed them a financing plan that yields $700,000 annually in missionary support, and a prayer structure that is forcing the powers of darkness to release their grip on peoples they have kept in darkness for centuries. That structure is the thousands of prayer bands, small groups of 10-20 committed believers from all walks of life, which meet weekly to bring the missionaries’ needs before God. They also petition Him on behalf of the millions of souls trapped among the unreached peoples which are yet in spiritual darkness. At this point there are about 3,500 prayer bands comprised of some 50,000 believers.
Every year the FMPB holds missionary and deeper life conferences which result in the continual formation of new prayer bands. “We present a challenge to form a prayer band and we suggest a people group and a missionary for them to adopt,” explained Simon Poniah, who directs church mobilization.
“We asked them to pray and the desire to give was what the Spirit gave them. Because you can’t be praying and saying, ‘Meet that need, it’s too huge,’ until He begins to say, ‘What have you done?’ So you don’t have to tell a prayer group that is praying, ‘Give.’ It gives. You don’t have to tell a prayer group, ‘Send,’ because it sends,” Kamaleson noted.
“In fact, they enjoy giving to the Lord,” adds Kingsley Arunothayakumar, associated director of communications. “They don’t think that it is a burden on them but they think that it is a precious privilege for them to give whatever they have to the Lord. Some people take a handful of rice every day and pool the rice together and sell it. Then they forward the money to us. Similarly, children set apart a particular hen and each egg it lays is sold for missions.”
This type of sacrificial giving has enabled many of the prayer bands to completely support one missionary family. This is giving born in prayer out of a love for Christ and those for whom He died. (If this model were used around the world it would easily release the necessary finances to finish the task. If it were used in the West, it would mean that a group of 15 would each give $200/mo to support a missionary family.)
This dependence on prayer has enabled the FMPB to form one of the world’s largest non-western mission agencies with no non- Indian support for their missionaries. However, while no outside support is accepted for workers, those wishing join with the FMPB as it reaches out to unreached peoples are invited to help with special projects.
With each of the unreached peoples that FMPB is working, they plan to build a Bible school to train pastors and evangelists from that people. When large scale people movements start as they have with the Malto and other groups, large numbers of people rapidly come to Christ. (Presently, with the Malto, about 1,000/m are coming to Christ.) Trained workers from these groups are urgently needed to shepherd these new believers. Will your church or fellowship be one that is used by God to help provide one of these training schools to help reach one of the unreached peoples of India?