Cali Mendel*, a junior nursing student at Clemson University, asked an Indian student to share a story about one of her Hindu gods.
Hinduism, the student replied, is her parents' religion, telling Mendel she knows little about it. The two students easily converse back and forth as Mendel tells a story about her own God.
Mendel was one of 10 collegians and two short-term volunteers from Crosspoint Church in Clemson, S.C., who came to India as part of LINK -- Laborers Impacting Nations for the Kingdom, a six-week summer missions/discipleship program -- partnering with a local house church and International Mission board representatives.
Interacting with their Indian peers about Christ is nothing new for the Clemson students. Students from India are the largest group among Clemson's international student population. Crosspoint makes an effort to reach out to the students in the United States and, via LINK, connects their local student ministry directly to India.
The Clemson volunteers admitted they expected to find more traditional Indian culture than they experience with their friends at the university. Instead, they found iPhones, Justin Bieber and a widespread addiction to social media -- not too different from their own U.S. culture.
Many young people in India identify more with Western culture, said IMB representative Rodney Cregg*, pointing out that some Indian students dress in Western clothes instead of "kurtas," Indian shirts that look like tunics.
"Spiritually, while they still practice Hinduism, in their heart, they're tending to be more materialistic, spiritualistic modern worldview," Cregg said.
Through volunteer teams like Crosspoint's coming to India to work with youth, Cregg saw a need for planting a church, The Fold, to reach this generation of "westernized" Asians.
The Fold utilizes contemporary worship songs in English; most of the people read their Bibles on iPhones and Blackberrys; and they study the Bible and discipleship in group discussion settings.
Prakash Achari* fits the image for new believers who are members of The Fold.
Achari got connected to The Fold through Clark Barner*, a volunteer from Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. Barner and his wife Mandy* came as team leaders with the Crosspoint team and will help The Fold for one year as short-term volunteers.
Barner met Achari in a mall. Dressed in designer jeans and a crisp button-down shirt, Achari listened intently when Barner shared about a God who doesn't require good works to save a soul.
Later that week, Achari brought his cousin to hear more about the Gospel from Barner and the other summer volunteers. "I was so fascinated," he said.
Achari said he knew Barner and the college students spoke truth. Both Achari and his cousin decided to become followers of Jesus that evening.
Achari already is getting connected to The Fold. He'll begin a six-week discipleship course that will ground him in his faith and encourage him to make disciples -- much like the Clemson students did all summer.
Crosspoint's involvement with LINK, which includes a one-year internship, entailed volunteers this summer traveling to India, Boston and several cities in South Carolina.
In India, Crosspoint partners with The Fold and IMB representatives Dave and Caroline Tucker*. Prior to coming to India, Tucker was involved in the International Mission Board's LINK program as assistant director.
Discipleship is the key to reaching this generation, whether in India or the States, Cregg added.
"The best way I can describe it to people, especially Americans, is what is happening in India, and really around the globe right now, is the same thing that happened in America 15 or 20 years ago -- the younger generation shifting, and as the church, we're missing it," Cregg said. "I think where we missed it is engaging their worldview with the truth of Scripture, which happens through relational discipleship."
A lack of discipleship is how Laboni Radha* fell away from the church.
Radha grew up in the church but was never challenged to own her faith. She spent her high school years in a hostel, where she started going to nightclubs, drinking and taking drugs. She recently connected to The Fold and found discipleship and community there. It got her life back on track.
Radha spent a portion of her summer sharing the Gospel alongside the Clemson students, who understand Radha in a way only peers can in reaching their peers on two continents with a timeless message that connects with their generation.
*Name changed. Caroline Anderson is a writer living in Southeast Asia.
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