Dust kicks up from the sandy footpath as Cornelius and seven other men hike from one small village to the next. Under the heat of the midsummer East Indian sun they notice that not many are working today in the fields just outside the small village in which they are arriving.
Setting up under a tree near the middle of the village, Cornelius and his team began acting out stories from the Bible. The louder and more animated they become, the larger the crowd that gathers. Over the course of the next two days they will tell stories from creation to the cross. The crowds are captivated and transformed. Some are Hindu, some are Muslim, and some are Animists, but through the power of God’s stories, people from this small village accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Cornelius and his team will continue to gather these new believers together and tell stories of the early church from the book of Acts. These first-ever believers in this part of the world will begin to grow and understand why they need to gather together as a church, the role of that church in their community and how the church functions in the world as the body of Christ. These new believers will begin worshiping together, will be baptized in a nearby local stream, partake in communion with each other, and begin learning the Bible stories they have heard presented under the tree in the middle of their village.
This is the format of church planting in rural East India. Most within these villages, growing up in Muslim, Animist, or Hindu families, have never had the opportunity for education and therefore lived their lives in a nonliterate world. What they know about life, farming, cultural issues, social norms, religion, and family has come to them through the stories passed on through the generations by the elders within the village. Now that they have heard the new stories that have come to them from Scripture, they are eager to learn the stories word-for-word so that they can share them with their neighbors, family, and friends.
Over the past 10 years nearly 70 churches like the one described in this village have been planted throughout the State of Jharkhand in the country of India. As these churches are planted, the new believers begin to give generously from the meager profits they glean from their agrarian society. Offerings consist of bags of rice, small amounts of cash, and in some cases eggs or small chickens.
The church does not hang on to these sacrificial gifts. Rather, it passes them along with a mind toward outreach and missions. Sixty percent of the food and the cash gifts that are given will be passed on to Cornelius and his church planting team for the work that they will do in the next communities they are led to in Jharkhand.
In 2013 Cornelius and his team began teaching the principles of effective stewardship to the members of these new churches. Many within these congregations took the message to heart and decided not to wait for a time when Cornelius and his team would be free to go tell stories in the next village. Instead, they took on the mantle of sharing the Gospel themselves, traveled to the next village, and shared the stories of the Bible from creation to the cross. As people in these new villages began placing their trust in Jesus Christ, the church began discipling the new believers through the stories from Acts. And so a new church is planted.
One Indian leader calls this new movement “spontaneous church planting.” The model is a three-legged stool; evangelism, discipleship, and biblical stewardship. The more churches take on the responsibility of the evangelism, the more Cornelius and his team find themselves concentrating on teaching effective stewardship principles in the new churches that are planted.
These new believers have broken through the bigotry of low expectations. Their self and social identities were once defined by a caste system, a shame culture, and a social structure that aims at keeping people in their place. Now they have an equal footing. They are in Christ the great equalizer. No longer outcasts and the marginalized, they are an integral part of His body and are actively working together with the leaders and evangelists who first brought them the Good News of God’s story.