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Visiting the Congregations of the BELC (India)


In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.

Dateline—July, 2015. 

Pastor Thangavel is a member of the Berea Evangelical Lutheran Church (BELC), in southeastern India. He is also a grade school teacher. He has given over his upstairs as a monthly meeting place for the pastors of the new Ponneri District. This is the kind of generosity we want in the church. That’s why the lesson I presented to this group of pastors was, “Do good unto all men and especially to those of the household of faith.

While out visiting the new men in their homes, one thing that struck me was that there were three younger men preaching.

Rajan is twenty-three and the son of another BELC pastor, John. Rajan serves a new station of twenty-four souls.
He had fifteen in VBS this summer.

Partheeban is twenty-four and serves 80 souls in
a village of 750.

Ajanthan is twenty and in the large city of Minjur serves 180 souls! His VBS had seventy children.

Lesson—As Paul wrote to Timothy, let no one despise
your youth.

Samuel came out of the Church of South India in Perattur with about twenty people. One who came out with him was Victor, a brother of District Chairman Sampath. Victor is also the father of another of our pastors, Michael Alexander.

Lesson—Work along family lines, like Andrew telling his brother Peter of the Christ. 

Anbu in the Tamil language means “love,” and that is just what Pastor Anbu is busy about, telling the love of Jesus to the people.

At Thiruninravur where he lives and preaches, they had a VBS of fifty. Just a year and a half ago they completed their church building in this large city.

At Sembedu (eighteen kilometers away) where he preaches, they had a VBS of seventy-five, with church membership just under fifty.

At Karuvappukundu (twenty kilometers away), they had a VBS of thirty, from which grew the congregation of fifteen believers.

Lesson – Only one life, ‘twil soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

Pastor Bhasker was with the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church, but left them over women’s ordination, among other things. He learned about the BELC when he attended a function held by Chairman Sampath. He saw that Sampath was an upright man, and inquired of him about the BELC.

Lesson—Let your light so shine before men.

Pastor Vanjee is a tailor. We picked him up at his shop and accompanied him to his home for a visit. He has been preaching for seven years and serves sixty-five souls. He learned of the BELC from Thangavel. In turn, Vanjee told Idhaya Raj, who joined the studies also. Idhaya Raj is busy going through studies to complete his MA.

Lesson—“Tentmaking,” as Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila did, is an example for our pastors who must earn a living beyond congregational offerings. 

And there is more, but let this suffice to allow you to praise God.

Dateline—August, 2015 

There are fourteen men preaching in the district of Ambur. In eight of the villages they serve, there is no other Christian church. This is important in our considerations, as we want to be like Paul, preaching where Christ is not known. Half of the men came out of another Lutheran church body in India. This gives us a leg up when instructing them. These 14 men serve 457 souls. The highest attendance in a VBS was sixty. The oldest pastor is fifty-eight. The longest a man has been preaching is thirty years, while the shortest is four years. Several of the men were Hindu converts. Arul Das, who is forty-three, became a Christian eighteen years ago and has been preaching for the last seven years. Before that he worked in a shoe factory. Ramesh Timothy serves in a village with no other Christian church, and in seven surrounding villages there is also no Christian church.

There is contact between these men and others nearby. Ambur is not far from Vellore. We held an informational meeting at Vellore for twenty-seven preachers. Subjects studied included “What is a Lutheran?” “Baptism,” “Communion,” and “The Position of Women in the Church.” In addition to giving them Tamil-language copies of these subjects, we handed out studies on “Close Communion” and “Being an Evangelist,” also in their language.

I love to give a handful of candies to pastors’ children, as well as to other children we meet as we walk to the pastor’s house. This is a good reminder that Christ died for all, just as candy is also given indiscriminately. It is a true joy to be out among the brothers and sisters and see and hear and learn and pray.

Dateline—January-February, 2016

In the Berea Evangelical Lutheran Church, there are new pastors and preachers who were accepted as students over two years ago. One of my greatest privileges and blessings is to be able to visit the new men in their homes and villages. We do this to know them better, and to find out things we can pray for and help with, as well as to encourage them in their ministry. Most of the time we are able to meet their wives and children. And it is very informative to go into the village and stroll down the street. What good fellowship it is to sit in the pastor’s house and discuss and pray over things! They give us biscuits and drink, and we give them some things also. This is the two-way street of fellowship under the gracious hand of our Lord. While we are with them, we pray about what we have heard, and encourage them as brothers in the faith.

Some interesting things we found out are as follows:

Several of the men in the congregation at Nindra have now gone forth to preach at new preaching stations. Having heard the Word, they now want to reach out with it to others, and are gathering congregations around that life-giving Word.

Five of the new pastors live in the village of Rayapedu. One man holds services there, and the other four travel from that village to preach in other congregations that have been established. This is a true center of BELC outreach.

The congregations served by the men in this visitation ranged in size from 22 souls served to 240!

The oldest pastor is Isaiah, at sixty-four; and the youngest is Devan, at twenty.

While the pastors do come from different church backgrounds ranging from independent, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, and so on; there is a healthy number who came over to us from the South Andhra Lutheran Church. These men required less instruction, already having knowledge of infant Baptism and the real presence in communion.

Of the many pastors in the BELC, the following pertains to seventy-eight of the new men whom I visited recently:

There are fifty-four villages where our men preach where the BELC is the only Christian church in town

There are sixteen men who serve two stations.

There are two men who serve three or more stations.

The 78 men serve 5,327 souls for an average size of 68 in a congregation. Although there are several congregations which are larger than the average, most are smaller, and the men have not been serving very long. This indicates the rapid spread of the Word.

I would just like to say that it is a privilege to visit these men and their families. Though they are poor in worldly goods—a material poverty the likes of which few in the USA could understand—yet they are rich with the precious treasure of God’s Word.

David Koenig has served as a foreign missionary in Africa, India, and elsewhere. Though officially retired, he continues to be active in the synod’s mission endeavors.