Gospel Multiplies Among India's Lingayat People

by Mark Kelly

God has moved so dramatically among one Last Frontier people group in South Asia that missionaries working among them since 1997 are planning to shift their focus to another people without access to the gospel.

When Marty and Jodi Hunter* decided to accept responsibility for taking the gospel to India's Lingayat people, other Christian workers didn't offer them much hope of success. In 1997, researchers could count only 800 Christians and no churches among the Lingayats, a high-caste Hindu group that numbers 15 million.

"People discouraged us, saying the people were hard-hearted, that the work would be fruitless," Hunter said. "Today, we're looking at about 3,000 believers-most of them people who have come to faith in the past two years." The number of Lingayat believers is growing so rapidly that Hunter believes they will see 18,000 believers in 1,000 house churches this year-a movement strong enough to be left in the capable hands of local believers trained to reproduce themselves.

Several factors have played a role in sparking this church-planting movement, reflecting a spontaneous, rapid multiplication of the gospel:

Prayer: "Southern Baptists prayed specifically for this people group in 2000," Hunter said. "Not many months later, we began seeing an amazing outbreak of the gospel that has been going on now for three years. We see a direct link between the outpouring of prayer and Lingayat people coming to Christ."

Lingayat witnesses: "We knew that, ultimately, Lingayats are going to receive the gospel message best from one of their own people," Hunter said. "Previously, we had only trained willing Christians from other people groups. We saw a turning point in 2002 when we trained the first Lingayat believers to reach their own people."

Customized material: "We had some Lingayat believers write gospel tracts for their own people, using some of their own distinctive symbols and vocabulary," Hunter said. The Lingayat team had planned to print 10,000 of the tracts, but the Bible society insisted on a minimum press run of 100,000. "We saw that the principle of sowing abundantly and reaping abundantly holds true with gospel seeds," he said. "Before long, we found ourselves ordering a second batch of 100,000 tracts-and now we're on our third!"

Family evangelism: "When Hindus have come to Christ in the past, they often were encouraged to leave their families. New believers became isolated and didn't have a voice with their families," Hunter said. "Now we emphasize that new believers should go back to their families with the gospel. We point out that the Geresene demoniac wanted to leave his community, but Jesus told him to go home and tell them what the Lord had done. When Jesus came back, a multitude of 4,000 people wouldn't leave His feet! When Lingayats see that God's will is for them to stay and win their community to Christ, the gospel spreads rapidly."

Training trainers: The Lingayat team also trained new believers in a set of simple concepts they could easily pass on to people they led to Christ-harnessing the passion of new believers and transforming them into multiplying trainers. "In one case, I trained a group of 10 believers. They came back and reported that 30 people had come to Christ," Hunter recounted. "I told them that when we came back in another 10 days, we would not discuss who they had led to Christ, only the experience of those 30 new believers who had been trained to share their story. When they came back, they reported that those 30 new believers had led 270 people to Christ!"

Even when the time comes to leave the work entirely in the hands of Lingayat believers, the Hunters won't have a hard time finding another people group in need of the gospel. "There are nearly 1,000 other people groups just like the Lingayat in South Asia-hidden people groups that have been overlooked with the gospel," Hunter said. "About 50 percent of Last Frontier people groups are Hindu peoples. That is such a major bloc of the Great Commission-one that's really neglected."

* Names changed for security reasons.<![if !supportEmptyParas]> <![endif]>

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