BANGALORE, India (BP)–Throughout southern Asia, Southern Baptist workers are hosting Christmas parties to introduce Jesus to Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist friends who do not yet know the true meaning of Christmas.
Last Christmas, one large party led to the start of three house churches and other fellowships in one city in India.
“God allowed all the [International Mission Board] workers in this city the opportunity of hosting more than 500 people” who passed through his home for a Christmas celebration, Devin Ballew* said. “We proclaimed the Word, shared testimonies, sang praises and distributed New Testaments to more than 200 families.”
The Christmas season, which follows a series of Hindu and Muslim holidays, offers IMB workers throughout southern Asia opportunities to share the Gospel with friends and neighbors. The region is home to 1.4 billion people in the countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives.
Southern Baptist representatives are hoping this year’s Christmas parties again will lead to friends and neighbors finding new life in Jesus. The parties will range in size from large gatherings like the one Ballew had last year to quiet dinners at home with a few neighbors.
“Christmas Day will be exciting for us. We have invited five nationals to brunch to hear the Christmas story and to learn why Christians celebrate this holy day,” one IMB worker said. “Each man has received a Bible in advance, so they can read the story prior to Christmas. Pray for these men who seek information about our beliefs and who long to know more about Jesus Christ.”
Mitch and Nellie Ingleheart* said they and their two children plan to have a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” party.
“Moms will probably attend with their children. They will have cookies and other snacks, tell Christmas stories, and Nellie will share the true meaning of Christmas,” Mitch Ingleheart said. “Please pray that God will work through this party. More and more people are celebrating Christmas in India, but few know the real meaning. We pray that Jesus will be the star of the party.”
Juliet Eddington* and her team are planning a large-scale party for Christmas Day that will be similar to an Indian wedding celebration.
“To make this a success in our Indian friends’ minds, there is certain protocol for parties we need to follow,” she said. “We have to send formal invitations, set the party to begin at 9 p.m., organize the program correctly with dinner served last, get flowers and arrange a stage. We can’t leave out any formality.”
The team will present a cake with five layers of icing in different colors to share the Gospel in similar fashion to “power bracelets” that have five different colors of beads representing different facets of faith. They also will give New Testaments to everyone in attendance –- an anticipated 700 Hindu students and family members.
“It is our desire that God will begin house churches and new relationships with Jesus among the student population of our city,” Eddington said. “The event will be significant for the students, as we are inviting their families. If parents approve of the message we are presenting, then it paves the way for students and parents to accept.”
In the city where Ballew ministers, national believers will lead this year’s Christmas celebration –- after Ballew and his team modeled the party for them last year. Some of the leaders this year are men and women who decided to follow Jesus shortly after last year’s Christmas party.
“Foreigners will not have any part in the party program this year,” Ballew said. “We are merely in an assisting role.
“This year’s party will have the sharing of the Christmas story in Hindi, and two believers will give their testimonies of how Jesus was the greatest gift who changed their lives forever,” he said. “New believers have written songs in their heart languages for worship and will perform them at the party.”
Christian believers also have painted a series of seven wall murals depicting scenes of the Christmas story, which they will use during the party with a storytelling format, Ballew said. There will be a children’s Christmas party as well.
At this year’s party, each family will receive a copy of the New Testament, along with a video CD of a Christian testimony and an evangelistic CD of worship music, he said.
Last year’s Christmas party came about after a volunteer team led one family to Christ the previous summer. Ballew then discipled the family, and the family soon began holding meetings in their home.
At Christmastime, the family invited relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors to the Christmas party, Ballew said. Each family in attendance received a New Testament.
“By the first week of February, as a result of God speaking to people through the printed Word, three additional homes started house fellowships that have developed into churches,” he said. “In these homes, many have decided to follow Jesus. There have been baptisms, Lord’s Supper observances, tithing and appointment of leadership from within the group.”
The results from last year’s Christmas party did not stop with those initial three house groups, Ballew said. In all, there have been three house churches, about 30 baptisms and two additional house fellowships. Another 15 “storying” groups made up of seekers who have not yet chosen to follow Jesus also meet.
“To maintain these three additional fellowships, I began to meet twice a week with the four sons from the first fellowship and taught them stories from the Bible to share with the new homes,” he said. “Slowly the excitement of sharing about Jesus has grown in the four sons. As a result, they are boldly sharing with everyone they know. By the end of February, two additional homes requested and started having weekly meetings in their homes.”
In another home, teenagers who had attended the Christmas party and had been reading the Bible, persuaded their parents to open their home to learn more about Jesus, Ballew said.
“While it is all exciting, there is still great hardship being faced by the people with whom I am working,” he said. “Their needs are great, and their idols could not help. On them the Light is shining and is bringing peace and joy in the midst of incredible hardship.”
Moreover, the requests for house meetings continue. One came from a young man who read John, Luke and Philippians from the Scriptures in the week following the party.
“He said when he read about Jesus, his heart became excited and all his problems went away,” Ballew said. “Two days later, this same man excitedly informed me that he and his entire family wanted to follow Christ.”
The church that resulted from this man coming to Christ has reproduced home fellowships to a fourth generation, he said.
In the northern part of the city, another three families and one single woman said they were ready to follow Jesus and have meetings in their homes as well, Ballew said.
“We have a huge amount of follow-up work to do still,” he said. “Pray that the Holy Spirit will speak to the hundreds of people who are reading the Word for the first time and that the Holy Spirit will tune their hearts to Jesus.”
In addition to hosting small and large parties, IMB missionaries reach out in creative ways during this time of year.
In southern India, Neill and Margit Mims’ church reached out to slum children last Christmas.
“Nine of our church’s children presented a puppet show of the Christmas story for about 250 slum children. Afterwards, we were able to pass out a large warm blanket, juice and peanuts to each child,” Margit Mims said. “Pray for the slum children throughout India, especially those who live in colder climates, that they might have warmth and food this winter season.”
This year, Ted and Eydie Salter* are working with 20 young people -– most of whom are not Christians -– who will perform a Christmas musical in their apartment building.
“Eydie has heard some very interesting comments from the young people,” Ted Salter said. “They say this is something that they will remember the rest of their lives, and singing these words helps them feel such peace. One asked if Jesus was the great I AM.”
Missionaries ask that Christians everywhere pray for them as they share the Gospel during Christmas in southern Asia. “Please pray as we share a meal, music, gifts and the Christmas story,” Hayden Monticello* said. “May the presence of the Lord and the truths shared create a hunger in them to know more about our blessed Savior.”
* Names have been changed for security reasons. Ethan Leyton is a missionary serving in the South Asia region with the International Mission Board. For more information on praying for the peoples of South Asia, e-mail AsiaSouth@pobox.com. For more information about the region, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.go2southasia.org.