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Dialogue: A conversation with Babu Pothan

POTHAN, 56, says job skills and Bible training for ministers and children alike are vital for India’s growing churches.

By Erik Tryggestad
The Christian Chronicle

Babu Pothan and hiswife, Visa Latha, care for no less than 40 orphaned children — 20 in their ownhome. But Pothan, minister for the 145-member Mylavaram in India, knowsthat many more are in need, abandoned by their families or orphaned by poverty.He’s working to build an orphanage and Christian school for 400 children.

Pothan grew up in thevillage of Velagaleru. His parents were followersof Christ in the predominantly Hindu nation of India. In the mid-1960s Pothan’sfather sent him to a gospel meeting in a nearby village where he heard Canadianmissionary J.C. Bailey preach about the word of God. “I believed 100 percentthat it came from Jesus Christ,” Pothan said. He stayed for three days and wasbaptized.
Later he traveled toKakinada to attend a preacher training school.
Following Indiancustom, Pothan’s parents played a role in finding his wife, the daughter of afamily friend.
“My father and mothersaw her and they told me she’s the right one to be a daughter-in-law and a wifeto you,” Pothan said. He agreed.
The couple has twosons and two daughters.
Pothan preaches invillages throughout southeastern India and oversees a 45-student ministrytraining school. The Sanoma Avenue church, Santa Rosa, Calif., supports thework.

Why did you become aminister?

I was brought up insuch a way that I thought I must do something for my Lord’s sake. I saw so manypeople walking in every manner of Christianity. That perplexed me from the verybeginning. Here is a so-called Christian. He has a group. And here is (another)so-called Christian. He has a group. And each speaks against the other.
To understand this,after my conversion I walked throughout Hyderabad — to every church I couldfind — to understand what they preach, why they preach and why they are notpreaching as Jesus preached. I went to most of the main churches, walkingbarefoot.
What did you discoveron your barefoot trek across Hyderabad?
That these (churcheshad) human views — not the will of Jesus Christ, not the will of our heavenlyfather.
That led me tobelieve that if we desire to go to heaven we must, 100 percent, obey thecommandments of the Lord. He said, “I am the way.”
Why are churchesgrowing so rapidly in India? What is the gospel’s appeal?
People worship allsorts of images and animals — even stars and the sun and moon. We tell themthat these were all created by a true and living God, and that they areworshipping his creations rather than the God who created them.
We tell the greatlove story of the cross. We say, “He’s ready to help you, cleanse you anddeliver you from your bondage of debt and sin.”

That really strikestheir hearts. They just can’t believe that doing good deeds — or sacrificinganimals or making a pilgrimage to a temple — will save them. But the Bibledeclares that salvation is given in no other name except the Lord of theheavens. This makes them think deeply, and we follow with (Bible) studies.
We sow the rightseed, and God opens their hearts. He is showing light to people dwelling indarkness.
We’ve heard storiesof Hindus attacking Christians. What’s fueling that hostility? Aren’t Hinduspeaceful?
They had beenpeaceful, under the current government. (But) the former government hasattachment to orthodox Hindu people who believe that India is the country ofHindus — no other religions.

These people aregetting word that lots of people are being converted into Christianity. Theyaccuse the Christians of bribing (potential converts) with material benefits,which is not true.
As more gospelpreaching is done, more people are coming into the light, fleeing the darkness.In some villages leaders are converted and (Hindu) temples are closed.
How do the militantHindus react?
It makes them soupset. They try their best to turn the converts again into Hindus. They say,“If you convert to Hinduism, your children will receive free education andmaterial benefits.”
They’re also tryingto prevent the preachers from preaching, persecuting them. A couple of monthsago, two preachers were killed in our state. That’s the news, but what aboutthe things that are not in the news? God knows.
How has thispersecution impacted the church?
No one, to the bestof my knowledge, has left the church because of these things. If anyone has, itwas not the will of his heart. Maybe circumstances or poverty have forced himto return to Hinduism.

I’ve heard people inthe church say, “If we live, we live. If we die, we die.” But no change.
Is India’s growingmiddle class good or bad for the growth of the church?
It is not a bad thingat all, because it makes some families realize that they are blessed by God.
When strugglingpeople come into a better life they are more thankful to the Lord. Thesefamilies are more open to the gospel because they know that mercy has beenshown to them.
For those who think,“We struggled and we got here on our own,” their story may be different. Theybecome puffed up.

You’ve said thatwomen tend to be more likely convert to Christianity. Why is that, and whatdoes it mean for the church?
It’s the custom ofour country that women are more obedient — or should I say amicable? That isthe way women are brought up on our country. Unlike their husbands, they knowthat they cannot find a solution to their day-to-day problems other than amighty force.
When we preach tothem about the love and providential care of the heavenly father, that meansmuch more to struggling women (than it does to men). And when a woman comes toJesus Christ it impacts her own family and friends.
If a lady isconverted, doors open to her entire family. If a man is converted, chances areless because the influence of the mother is so great upon the family.

So Christian womenare more likely to bring their children to Christ?

Surely, surely. Shebrings her children along for Sunday school, meetings and Bible classes. Shealso brings her sister and her sister’s family whenever they visit. (This way)the gospel spreads into different villages.
In this way I can saythat a woman has a greater role in evangelism (than a man). There are manyinstances of a woman leading her husband to the Lord. I have seen this in my 40years as a Christian.

What are the mosteffective ways for U.S. churches to help India?

Money is a kind ofwalking stick. It will help a weak man to walk, but it cannot walk by itself. Financialsupport is a great blessing and an encouragement to the man contending for thecause. So any assistance for the furtherance of the preacher training school iswelcome.
Aside from money,there are some other ways — imparting any sort of skills to the poor Christiansand telling them how to start earning their own bread. By doing this, they willsupport themselves, and they will bring contributions for the benefit of theLord’s cause.

We have a vastpopulation, like the waters of the Pacific Ocean. But unemployment is thegreatest problem we have.
Many Indians arefinding employment in call centers and technology. Should churches be teachingthose skills to combat unemployment?
In the villagescomputer skills aren’t that useful. There’s lots of illiteracy. About 70percent of the people are unable to complete high school. Technology is usefulin bigger towns, but even in those towns I see a bunch of people sitting there.They do not have jobs.
The church needs tohelp, to give them something they can do, something they can make to earn moneyand support their little children.
If the church impartsthis to a man, his whole family’s heart will be won — not because of thetechnology, but because of the love and comfort that we have.
Technology itselfwill not do anything. It may be great for motivating, but only the love ofChrist will rule the heart.

March 1, 2006

Filed under: People

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