ADMEDABAD, India (BP) -- Social, political and religious barriers make sharing the Gospel difficult in Admedabad, the fastest-growing city in India and third fastest-growing in the world, as ranked by Forbes magazine in 2010.
Once known as the textile capital of India, Ahmedabad's businesses have expanded to finance, information technology, education, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, making it the hub for trade, commerce and culture in east-central India's Gujarat state.
Ahmedabad's population was approximately 4 million at the time of the last census in 2001. Lloyd Kinder*, an International Mission Board worker since 1991 who has served in Ahmedabad the past six years, estimates that it is now closer to 7 million, with Hindus comprising about 80 percent of the population, Muslims 19 percent and other religions 1 percent.
An anti-conversion law in Gujarat state outlaws bribing, tricking or coercing people into another religion, and anyone suspected of converting others could face jail time. Any individual who changes religions, meanwhile, must inform the government and be investigated.
Such threats, however, don't deter Kinder and his wife Roberta* from teaching local Christians how to share their faith in what the IMB workers regard as a city in need of special attention and prayer.
There's not much room for other religions under the anti-conversion law, especially when combined with deeply ingrained cultural pressures. Kinder tells story after story of people coming to faith in Jesus but being too afraid to be baptized for fear of their families finding out.
"It's not so much the Hinduism as much as it is the tradition," he explains. "No one's willing to break out of the family traditions. If they do, that means that not only do they lose their family but they lose their identity."
The Hindu religion influences all aspects of life, from whom they will marry to what their occupations will be. For those who embrace faith in Christ, their family most likely will disown them and cut off all resources. Kinder admits it's a hard choice: Christianity or family.
"It's quite common to hear the statement, 'I can't come to Christ while my parents are still alive,'" Kinder says. "Many of them will wait until their parents are dead and then they'll make public their commitment to Christ."
Kinder teaches local believers the basics of personal evangelism so they can spread the Gospel whenever possible. "We're training how to share their faith, how to share just a prayer or tract -- anything that gets the name of Jesus out in front of people," he says.
Lloyd sometimes is limited in where he can travel in Ahmedabad. Tourists or foreigners are not common in the city, so people are usually suspicious of him. However, an Indian believer goes into areas he can't.
Large groups cannot gather to hear the Gospel, meanwhile, or have a worship service because it would arouse government suspicion. So, Kinder and his Indian partners focus on face-to-face contact. That's why he says Baptist volunteers are important for spreading the Gospel in the city. Their trips to join his team for a week or more help them meet more people.
"We can only face so many people every day, so whenever we have a volunteer come, that's one more face that we can add to our team that we're able to encounter and have a positive effect and plant a seed in their life," Kinder says.
"... Our team's goal is that every person, whenever they stand before God, no one should say, 'I never heard about Jesus Christ,'" Kinder says.
Despite the strongholds and challenges, the people of Ahmedabad must have the chance to hear the Gospel.
"It's God's task to save them," Kinder says, "but it's our task to do the telling."
PRAYER FOR AHMEDABAD
-- Pray that the people of Ahmedabad will have the chance to hear and respond to the Gospel.
-- Pray that they can overcome the fear and the strongholds of their culture and encounter the love of Jesus Christ.
-- Pray for good spiritual and physical health for Lloyd and Roberta Kinder and their family as they continue their outreach in the city.
*Names changed. Laura Fielding is a former International Mission Board intern. Workers like Lloyd and Robert Kinder rely on Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (www.imb.org) and through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention (www.cpmissions.net) to provide for their ministries in India.
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