These don’t disappear
The global church is a dizzying phenomenon. Linking it is the marvel of jet transportation and social media. Relationships blossom everywhere in unexpected places.
In 2007, Fran Martin, a middle-aged American Mennonite businesswoman, followed up a friendship with an Asian immigrant to the U.S. by taking her first trip to India.
But it was not an auspicious venture, and before the trip was over she vowed never to return.
Little did she know.
Along the way she met a young Indian, whom I’ll call Jay, whose parents had left him orphaned years before. He had become a Christian about the time of his parents’ death. Afterward he found places of service here and there in the Indian church.
After Martin returned from her Asian trip, she struck up an email correspondence with Jay.
Correspondence led to friendship, friendship to more Asian trips, and today she and her spouse, Lew Martin, are “Mom” and “Dad” to hundreds of people, many of them new believers, on the other side of the globe. For God had given Jay, orphaned and abandoned, an extraordinary vision.
He had seen the spiritual need of his people. He had also seen the failure of many well-intentioned efforts to share the good news with them.
One common method was to provide small salaries to pastors who would then lead little congregations as long as they were supported.
However, he saw that after 10 or 20 years, when the external support dried up, the pastors and congregations disappeared. This had happened to Jay’s church and to many others he knew.
In the meantime, most of the 39,000 villages in his region had no Christian witness.
Jay thought: “We need churches that don’t disappear!” So he began to cast a vision for training and commissioning village evangelists who are not paid to serve. Fran and Lew encouraged him.
“Don’t stop farming,” he said to one friend. “Stay on your farm in your village, and share the gospel in the region around you as you have time.” As a result, today there are 400 new Christian households and 15 house churches in that region.
To another, Jay said, “Don’t stop teaching,” and to another, “I know someone who can teach you a trade.”
In his vision, the home of every evangelist becomes a new training center.
In less than a decade, 50 new house fellowships have been formed, and these are multiplying to form others. There is no center of control and no flow of funds to prop up the movement. People are meeting Jesus. Some are healed of diseases. Some are delivered from evil spirits. Lives are transformed.
What’s the Martins’ role? It’s mostly love, prayer and friendship. Along with friends in Franklin Mennonite Conference, they’ve helped to support a small network of teaching centers for underprivileged children, which Jay also initiated.
In North American terms, these children’s centers might be the big news, since there’s a little money (very little) involved. But in God’s kingdom terms, the really big news is an emerging movement of house churches in each of 39,000 villages.
Meanwhile, the Martins and a few of their friends in Franklin Conference get to walk with brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe in a pioneering movement to Jesus.
Richard Showalter lives in Irwin, Ohio, and travels in Asia, Africa, the U.S. and beyond as a teacher, preacher, writer and servant.
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