India's IT elite lend an ear to storytelling

Baptist Press
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Posted: Feb 01, 2012 5:52 PM
India's IT elite lend an ear to storytelling
EDITOR'S NOTE: With more than half of the world's population now living in cities, Baptist Press is taking a multi-part look at a number of the world's major metropolises, such as Bangalore, India. The series by International Mission Board writers, which is appearing each Wednesday in BP, will highlight the multiple people groups living side by side in the cities. Many come from hard-to-reach places but now, as city dwellers, they are more accessible than ever before to share the Gospel.

BANGALORE, India (BP) -- The blue Skype icon bounces on the bottom of the computer screen in front of Lekha Katti*, an Information Technology professional in Bangalore, India. When her Bible verse of the day arrives via an instant message, she copies it to her Facebook profile. Katti also hopes her coworkers will notice the Scripture on her desktop when they pass her cubicle so she can share her new favorite Bible story: Daniel and the lions.

This young believer who works for a major IT company has a heart for sharing the Gospel with her tech industry peers. IT professionals often feel torn between traditional Hindu culture and Western culture because they've had so much exposure to the West.

In India, where castes define social, financial and religious status, Katti's coworkers are well-educated, high-caste Hindus. Katti's peers work for top international IT companies like Hewlett-Packard, Siemens and Infosys. Many grew up speaking English and have worked abroad in the United States or United Kingdom.

While at work, women in the IT sector dress like Westerners in jeans and T-shirts. Outside these insular IT neighborhoods, however, the women forsake their jeans for saris. "It's like they are living in between two worlds," says Margot Gladding*, an IMB representative in Bangalore.

On the surface, the IT community has a Western mindset. While many claim to be agnostic, most turn back to Hindu gods in a crisis or to find a spouse. Many high-caste Hindus come from the priestly caste, so leaving their heritage isn't easy.

" are a third culture and they're a changing culture," Gladding says.

IT companies in India employ 2 million workers, with millions more employed in other IT jobs, Britain's New Statesman reports. Katti's demographic is therefore an important group of people for Christians to understand and address. That's why Margot Gladding and her husband Carver* share the story of Daniel and the lions' den.

The ministry of the Gladdings, native Texans, focuses on storytelling and on equipping other IMB representatives to share Bible stories with the people of South Asia.

"Everybody loves a good story," Gladding says. Before coming to Asia, the Gladdings ministered to African people groups with predominantly oral literature.

Gladding meets weekly with Katti and several other Hindu-background believers who work in the IT field to teach them a set of Bible stories she and Carver are developing specifically for IT professionals.

Christians in IT have trouble reaching their middle- and upper-class coworkers, since the needs-based ministry that churches often use in India doesn't apply to people with big-screen TVs.

What these professionals often lack, however, is a sense of purpose. Many are questioning whether their long work shifts and material goods really give them a sense of fulfillment. Choosing Christianity, however, could further alienate them from their coworkers and neighbors. It's a lot like middle-class America, Gladding says.

Gladding addresses their concerns by sharing stories about men and women in the Bible who found purpose and fulfillment. Daniel is one of Katti's favorite characters because of the way he used his position and influence for God's glory. Katti is the only believer in her family and work network, so it's lonely and hard for her to stay strong in her faith.

"She's looking at Daniel's life and being in exile in a pagan country and being so alone and isolated, and yet at the same time, having huge influence over the government because of his position," Gladding says.

Katti shared Daniel's story with her unbelieving parents, who have started to consider following God. She also shares the Bible stories in her workplace, via Skype, Facebook and her desktop.

Many Indian IT workers are afraid to share their faith, not because of physical persecution, but for fear of ostracism and inter-office gossip. Gladding says that sharing the Gospel using stories is less intimidating to new believers, though they are well-educated and read books in English.

" has really been inspired to take even a stronger stand for Jesus in her workplace and in her family," Gladding says. "She really felt the urgency to share her faith and not worry so much about what people are going to be thinking about her."

Gladding and her husband currently live in a community largely of IT professionals in order to reach this demographic for Christ. Instead of only meeting people through Facebook, Gladding makes friends in her neighborhood the old-fashioned way: with cookies.

"Hi, I'm your new neighbor," Gladding says to a neighbor, offering an egg-less cookie -- most high-caste Hindus are vegetarian.

In addition to making friends face-to-face, Gladding also ministers using technology. She sends mp3 files of Bible stories to Katti and other believers' cell phones using Bluetooth. Katti and other IT professionals often listen to the stories and podcasts on the bus to work.

The increasing ease of digital file-sharing means that a growing number of Katti's coworkers also now listen to Gladding's stories on their commute -- and share with their friends in turn.

With every Skype chat and Facebook wall post, Katti is seeing that she can make a difference in her nation just like Daniel did in his.

Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Asia. For more stories specific to Asia, visit www.asiastories.com.

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