A Sabbath in India

Bob Paulson, a layman from Puyallup, Wash., and Garwin McNeilus, a Minnesota layman, conducted a 50-village mission in the city of Ongole, Andhra Pradesh, India, in January 2001. Fifteen thousand people were baptized, stunning the members in North America. In a matter of months, 10 evangelistic teams converged on Guntur, India, for a 50-village mission. Incredibly, 10,851 were baptized. (The coordinator reports that more than 13,000 have been baptized to date from that one series.)

It electrified many, including Merlin Fjarli of Medford, Ore., a dedicated businessman who is successful because of his dedication to God and the Lord’s work and because of his drive to carry through immediately on business decisions without “letting the grass grow under his feet.” He sponsored two more missions with total baptisms of nearly 30,000. One hundred churches have been built with 30 more under construction.

A fourth mission sponsored by the Fjarlis is underway in the Ongole area, with thousands attending and a large harvest expected. It remains a vibrant area where either foreign or local evangelists will find a harvest waiting only to be gathered.

Probably the question most often asked when we return from massive baptisms in India is “do they stick?” We did not need to ask that question for we saw the answer with our own eyes.

Let me take you to a church we attended recently in Allur, one of 57 planted by Paulsen and McNeilus two years ago. We met with Indian brothers and sisters who all sat on the floor with their feet folded under them for two hours. Pews were non-existent.

Sabbath School was well organized beginning with the superintendent’s welcome followed by joyful congregational singing, special music, an offering collection and a well-prepared lesson study. The gifts of the Spirit promised by God and distributed by the Holy Spirit were in evidence.

Sabbath School was not just “business as usual” but vibrant with personal testimonies. Patima told how a cobra had confronted her and how, when she prayed to the living God, the snake slithered away. Another woman, having to carry water at a great distance, told of how her empty water jar had been filled overnight.

To the astonishment of our Western group, a woman came into Sabbath School carrying a heavy sack of rice on her head. It was so heavy others had to help to lay it on a stack of rice-filled sacks where others had earlier brought their “tithes and offerings.”

A young girl carried one small egg and laid it in the silver tray at the front of the church where three other eggs had been placed beside bills and coins. There was also a small container of salt and another of spice or curry. These humble gifts to God are sold to other members or at the village market.

This church is composed of Dalits, the landless and poor “untouchables” of India. Do they become responsible, contributing members of Adventist churches? You be the judge.

June 01, 2003 / Oregon Conference