Our Trip to India, December 2015

Revs. Kuiper and Griess are pastors of Edgerton, MN PRC and Calvary PRC in Hull IA, respectively. They are both members of the PRC Foreign Mission Committee.

There is a legend, that the apostles Thomas and Bartholomew carried the gospel to India. But a more credible statement is that the Christian teacher Pantaenus of Alexandria journeyed to that country about 190, and that in the fourth century churches were found there.1

Although the legend cannot be conclusively proved, it persists. In Chennai (formerly Madras), India, is located the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Thomas, built over the site of what is purported to be Thomas’ tomb.

Whether Thomas did in fact bring the gospel to India, and die there, we do not know with certainty. However, the legend reminds us that in the early centuries of the Christian church, the gospel went east from Jerusalem and Antioch, as well as west. Christianity has come to India. Even so, 80-85% of the 1.3 billion people in India today are Hindu. Only 3-6% are Christian. Most Christians are Pentecostal. The Reformed faith is largely unknown. Reformed believers should count it a privilege to be used of God to support the spread of the Reformed faith in India!

The legend also relates, because Chennai, the supposed place of Thomas’ death, was to be our arrival and departure city.

Our ultimate destination was the city of Vellore, a three-hour drive west of Chennai. Vellore is the name both of a major city and of a district (comparable to a county in the USA). The city’s metropolitan area has a population of about half a million, while the district of Vellore has a population of almost 4 million. In the district and near the city lives Pastor Paulraj and his wife Kasturi. In the city is also found the Vellore Protestant Reformed Church (PRCV, Tamil speaking) and the Vellore Christian Church (VCC, English speaking). Prominent in the VCC is Dr. Ronald Carey, who is seriously considering leaving the medical profession to prepare for the gospel ministry. Dr. Carey has a supportive wife, also a practicing physician, and a young son. His desire is to spread the gospel in India under the oversight of a local congregation, and he is prayerfully considering the possibility of coming to the PRC seminary for training.

God’s will was different from the plans we had made; we were to fly into Chennai on Thursday morning, but because of major flooding the airport was closed. So on Friday morning we flew into Bangalore, which is more than four hours west of Vellore.

Our itinerary

Following is a brief review of our teaching labors. In addition to teaching, we made several visits with Paulraj to individuals—three to men in the area, not part of the PRCV, who are involved in gospel outreach, and at least five pastoral visits to members of the PRCV or frequent visitors of the congregation. Also, we spent parts of Monday and Wednesday preparing for our upcoming conferences, and had profitable meetings on Wednesday with Dr. Carey and on Friday with the officebearers of the PRCV.

Friday evening, December 4, we met with the saints of the Vellore Protestant Reformed Church (PRCV) at a special Bible study. “Bible study” means a time of prayer, singing, and exposition of Scripture. Rev. Griess spoke from Revelation 1. The PRCV consists of approximately 120 people, about 50 of whom are the chilchildren of the Grace Foster Home (GFH). We noted that the congregation contains members of all age groups, and a goodly number of men as well as women. Some understand English, but Tamil is the mother tongue, so Pastor Paulraj always translated into Tamil. The PRCV is an instituted church with one pastor, two elders, and one deacon. Two other men are being trained to be officebearers.

On Sunday, Rev. Griess preached in the PRCV from Revelation 1:12-17, while Rev. Kuiper preached in the Vellore Christian Church (VCC) from I Timothy 2:6, pertaining to limited atonement. The VCC is smaller than the PRCV; it consists of about 20 members. Men and women again are equally represented; but most are adults who teach or study at the Christian Medical College, or are affiliated with the CMC’s hospital in Vellore. Two of the families have a small child. This group is not officially organized, but is as committed to the Reformed faith as is the PRCV. On occasion the PRCV and VCC combine services; and once a month Pastor Paulraj preaches for the VCC. But its distance from the PRCV warrants it being a separate group.

After the services were over, we gave lectures to the members of the VCC. Rev. Kuiper lectured on unconditional election, after which Rev. Griess lectured on total depravity. Sunday evening we visited two poorer, outlying villages, bringing the gospel briefly to each. These villages were two of several village outreaches that Paulraj and the PRCV regularly visit.

Tuesday we traveled two hours north to Pakala for a conference with area pastors on the subject of TULIP. About 54 attended, many hearing these Reformed distinctives for the first time. The speeches were translated into Telugu. Afterwards Paulraj explained that the substance of our messages was not new, but was as old as John Calvin and Martin Luther; and he explained the five solas of the Reformation. A visible evidence of the interest of some 8 or 10 of these attendees was that they resolved to come to our conference in Vellore on Thursday.

On Thursday, December 10, we conducted a conference at GFH. Rev. Kuiper spoke on the covenant, and Rev. Griess on Reformed worship. In the evening, we had a Bible study with the VCC at Dr. Carey’s house, on the subject of the church visible and invisible.

On Sunday Rev. Kuiper preached in the PRCV from Luke 22:31-32. At the service several young adults made confession of faith, and the sacrament of Lord’s Supper was administered. Late Sunday afternoon we had to leave for Chennai, because our plane departed at 1:50 Monday morning.

Why we went and what we found

Paulraj was trained by Rev. Kortering when the latter was in Singapore in the 1990s, so he is not a new contact to us. When the denomination of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore dissolved, the 2007 Synod of the PRCA designated monies from the Myanmar Special Projects Fund to “be given to a PR church for the support of the work in Myanmar, Rajastephen in India, or Paul Raj in India, when a church agrees to take up this work” (Acts of Synod 2007, Art. 42). The churches that agreed to take up this work were Hope (Myanmar), Byron Center (Rajastephen), and Georgetown (Paulraj).

Georgetown PRC assists the PRCV primarily in its work of preaching the gospel and church extension. More on that in a moment.

Secondary to this primary assistance is Georgetown’s help in maintaining the Grace Foster Home (GFH), which houses approximately 50 orphans and fatherless children. Pastor Paulraj’s wife Kasturi supervises the GFH, under the oversight of a board of directors. This is to say that the GFH is the private endeavor of a member of the PRCV, and not the work of the PRCV as such.

We are not denying any connection between the PRCV and GFH, but we are saying that the connection is organic, not institutional. In the GFH, the children are taught the Scriptures and the Heidelberg Catechism; they all attend the worship services of the PRCV; and several now have, upon reaching years of discretion, been baptized and/or made confession of faith in the PRCV. But the GFH is not a mission of the PRCV.

Any visitor to the PRCV will inevitably visit the GFH. Evident to us was the Christian compassion and benevolence shown to the widows, fatherless, and orphans. In its care of such, and its Christian compassion toward such, the GFH stands nearly alone in Vellore, and has attracted both the hatred of some Hindus, and the admiration of others. Hinduism provides no foundation to care for widows and orphans. Until two hundred years ago in India, widows would have been burned. Even today, widows and orphans are often shunned by their Hindu relatives.

We return to the primary assistance that Georgetown gives the PRCV. The PRCV not only preaches the gospel in its own worship service, but has several village outreaches, and Paulraj has numerous contacts with other pastors whom he instructs in the basics of the Reformed faith. To support this work, Georgetown has sent its own annual delegation to Vellore for several years now. Rev. and Mary Haak were there for much of November 2015, and Deane and Donna Wassink arrived in late November and returned to the USA when we did. Georgetown asked the Foreign Mission Committee (FMC) to begin becoming familiar with the work they are doing, and to assess whether and when, to send a missionary there. This visit was important to begin answering the questions. What follows, then, is a preliminary evaluation of two men, not a final conclusion of the FMC. More visits and more work will be necessary before a final conclusion and recommendations to synod can be made.

First, the need for a missionary of the Reformed faith in India is obvious, for two reasons. One, Hindus make up 80-85% of the population, whereas about 3-6% are Muslim, with the same percent Christian. But, as Dr. Carey said, some Indian people are realizing that Hinduism does not provide solid answers to life’s questions and struggles. Consequently, there are many opportunities to bring the gospel. We know that God will cause every elect Hindu to come to the knowledge of Christ as only Savior, and recognize that this will happen through the proclamation of the pure gospel. The second reason is that the work Paulraj is doing in village outreach and in instructing other Christian pastors about the Reformed faith is impressive, covers a large geographic area, and has laid good groundwork. But we sense that he is spread too thin—more work could be done if more men were there.

Second, it appears to us that a Western missionary and his family could live relatively safely in southern India. For one thing, the government gives its people freedom of religious preference. For another, in the south more than in the north, the crime rate is relatively low due to a greater Christian influence and higher level of education. The area is democratic, and has a rising middle class and a fast-growing economy. The man and his family would have to realize that Indian standards of living are different than Western standards, and would have to adjust accordingly. As far as education of children is concerned, an English-speaking Christian school is available in Vellore.

Yet third, while we believe Georgetown has done good work toward preparing the field for full-time PRC missionaries, and Georgetown and the PRC through the FMC should continue working towards that end, the FMC will not be recommending to Synod 2016 that we call missionaries. We believe that more groundwork must be laid, possibly by having PRC ministers or missionaries travel to India for several months, at regular intervals, to give more consistent instruction to area pastors and interested groups, and to help pave the way for a full-time missionary. In the past, especially in our domestic mission work, we found the approach of sending a man “part time” to be not helpful. The situation is different in India at the moment, especially with the fact that Paulraj is continually engaged in the work.

What you can do

Keep watching. That is, keep watching for Christ’s return, and keep noting that the signs of His coming are being fulfilled. Specifically for our purpose, to watch is to note that the gospel continues to be proclaimed in all the nations (Matt. 24:14), and is to be ready to support the faithful church in her work of foreign missions.

Keep praying, or begin praying, if you have not yet. Paul beseeched the churches to pray for him, as he brought the gospel (Eph. 6:19; Col. 4:3). So ought we to pray for those in India who are busy in spreading the gospel. Pray also that the Lord of the harvest raise up and send forth laborers (Matt. 9:37ff.). Pray for Pastor Paulraj and his wife, as well as for all of the saints there, that they be faithful to Him who called them. Pray for Georgetown PRC, that God will give them wisdom and grace to aim for His glory in the work they do. And pray for the FMC, as it continues to look for places where we can bring the gospel.

And keep remembering, that to whom much is given, much shall be required (Luke 12:48). This parable applies the principle to material goods. This application can be made to members of the PRC, who, as a whole, are wealthy in the things of this world (even the poorest among us has far more than most inhabitants of the world today). And collectively, the PRC has the financial resources to do mission work. But the principle can also be applied to the spiritual treasures we have—the gospel of grace, the knowledge of the Reformed faith, a more specific understanding of sovereign grace, particular grace, and an unconditional covenant. We have much! Let us be ready to use what we have as good stewards, that we can answer to our Lord when He returns regarding how we have used His possessions and opportunities.