HYDERABAD, India (BP) -- Construction is everywhere in the city of Hyderabad, India's sixth-largest city, with nearly 10 million people.
"The city is changing so fast -- it's a completely different place to live than it was when we first came," said Abigail Downey*, an International Mission Board worker based in Hyderabad with her husband Ben*.
Hyderabad, the capital of the Andhra Pradesh state, is a unique city, with a high percentage of Muslims -- rare in this Hindu-dominated nation -- and few slums, unlike other large Indian cities such as Mumbai.
As the second largest information technology center in India after Bangalore, Hyderabad has earned the nickname "Cyberabad." Other industries include biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, along with the Telugu film industry, or "Tollywood," a moviemaking hub akin to Mumbai's "Bollywood."
Located between northern and southern India, Hyderabad has developed its own unique culture, reflecting a very young population, many of whom migrate there in search of jobs and education in one of the warmest climates in India, where temperatures sometimes reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Though Hinduism is the predominant religion, accounting for about 55 percent of Hyderabad's population, there is a high number of Muslims -- about 40 percent. However, Christianity has a fairly strong presence in the city compared to other regions in India, with Ben Downey estimating the city's Christian population at about 5 percent. Some churches in Hyderabad are more than 100 years old, dating back to the influence of William Carey, pioneer Baptist missionary to India in the early 1800s. Persecution of Christians is minimal compared to some Indian states.
"The Gospel is here, and there are workers here, but in the city especially, people's hearts are just really hard," Abigail Downey said. "Pray for the Holy Spirit to work in them to break down the bondages of Islam and Hinduism. The people here really live in fear a lot."
Though numerous churches are located throughout Hyderabad, Ben Downey said many struggle with a legalistic mentality, imposing "extra-biblical" requirements on those who become believers, such as having to change their name to "Moses" or "Paul." But Downey and other national partners are encouraging churches to focus instead on discipling believers into a close relationship with Christ.
Although Downey spends much of his time in Hyderabad and has a few national partners who work in the city, rural areas of Andhra Pradesh state are his primary focus. He travels throughout the region training people to share the Gospel and start new churches, working with local Christian leaders and house church networks.
"We try to always keep before the different people groups in the state that are unreached and encourage them to try to specifically reach out to those groups," Downey said.
However, an additional IMB couple is needed in Hyderabad to focus on ministering to the city as a supplement to Downey's work.
"When I work out in the village and I talk to parents, I say, 'Where are your kids?' And they say, 'They're studying to be an engineer so they can get a job in Hyderabad. They're studying to be a doctor, they're going to school in Hyderabad.'
"So the village is moving to the city, just like many places in Asia," Downey said.
"There are just so many lost people," Abigail Downey added. "Sometimes, it's overwhelming."
The Downeys are asking Southern Baptists to pray that someone will answer God's call to witness among Hyderabad's masses. Pray that God will change the national churches' hearts to focus on His Word and discipling others rather than legalistic practices. Also, pray for the health of the workers in this area -- that they will stay strong so they can continue their ministries. Lift up the Downey family for safety in travel, as their three children are away from home attending school.
*Names changed. Laura Fielding is a former intern with the International Mission Board. Workers like Ben and Abagail Downey rely on Southern Baptists' support for their ministries through gifts to the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (www.imb.org).
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