IF WATER BUFFALO-SHAPED UTTAR PRADESH WERE A country, it would be the sixth most populous in the world, after China, India, the United States, Russia, and Indonesia: 175 million souls and counting. As it is, the state straddles and is part of the northern rim of India, one-fifteenth of its land mass into which one-seventh of its people are shoehorned.
Forget Schwarzenegger, and China's first taikonaut in space. What hits the papers in heaven is what's going on in this parcel of South Asia that I had never heard of before last Tuesday.
Is it because Raju Abraham's report to our church happened to coincide with my own devotions in the book of Acts that I sat transfixed as the neurophysiologist-turned-missionary briefed us on a phenomenon, happening as we speak, that looks for all the world like Acts of the Apostles II?
Here is how the church of Christ used to grow in the old days: "the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). "And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem" (6:7). "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied" (9:31). "But the word of God increased and multiplied" (12:24). "So the churches ... increased in numbers daily" (16:5). "So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily" (19:20).
That was normal kingdom growth circa a.d. 70. Today in America we're happy enough to be in a holding pattern, not losing too much ground to the combined ravages of materialism, malaise, gender confusion, and surfeit of comfort and entertainment.
Reading the Bible is a hazardous undertaking. If you're not careful, it just confirms your prejudices. Do you believe that God is a tyrant, a softy, a sadist? You can find support in the Bible. Whatever your lifestyle is, you will undoubtedly read the Bible as sanctioning it. And unfortunately, if you don't see much exciting going on around you spiritually-by way of unbelievers coming to the Lord on a regular basis-you will likely interpret Scripture's footnote that "there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41) as describing God's way of jump-starting the church in the first century, but not a pattern to be expected today.
Perhaps it is possible to read one's own unbelief back into the Bible.
The Uttar Pradesh leadership team consists of four ethnic Indian men who include, besides Raju, a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force, a former Hindu and retired colonel in the Indian Army, and another neurologist, all of whom walked away from lucrative careers for the vision. Here is the goal: saturation church planting in UP. Here is the methodology: Target that great and influential state that is "the heartland of Hinduism," and from which the majority of India's prime ministers have hailed.
Here is the strategy (and where the military logician's influence tells): Utilize administrative districts already set by government, placing two recruits in each "development block." "Block coordinators" (local converts) in turn train 100 volunteer church planters, who in turn plant 10 cell churches.
Step one is research-finding out who is the village headman, what are the village's cultural idols, etc. Step two is intensive daily prayer (and where the spiritual influence tells) for each of the 10 villages in your assigned sphere, "prayer-walking" through town, sometimes for months before any overt action is taken. Step three is good old-fashioned knocking on doors and offering to pray-and if the family agrees, to then visit the home at least once a week for prayer, sharing the gospel with each visit, and leading up to a three-day evangelism stint (step four). As the people of these "worthy homes" (Luke 10?) see answers to prayer, step five is following up with a challenge to follow Christ-leading to the establishment of a house church. Step 6 is a 21-day training for potential house church leaders.
Begun in April 2001, the UP Mission by June 2003 deployed 1,000 laborers to 500 "development blocks," where 4,000 villages were visited, and 23,000 houses opened to prayer, 2,500 of which became cell churches.
You're not going to believe the long-range goal: 1 million house cell churches in Uttar Pradesh in 10 years' time. Hubris? Presumption? Doomed to lose steam? Bound to degenerate into a thousand cults? Maybe. Or maybe (here is where I must study Acts more carefully), maybe Raju Abraham is just crazy enough to believe that the book of Acts is normal Christianity, and that "Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."