By Alexa Lee
SOUTH ASIA – Roy Carter* leans forward in a flimsy plastic chair, elbows on his thighs, and tells the story of Jesus. Bare feet in the dirt, he talks to 11 young men—and the black goat tethered by his chair.
A rainbow of saris forms as women and children gather, sitting cross-legged on a mat of sewn-together sacks. Before long, the group nears 50.
“Can I share the story again?” Carter calmly asks his translator. He reorients the chair.
Cows bellow nearby. A tractor playing loud music drives past. But Carter, a student in the International Mission Board’s Face2Face summer program, continues talking to the gathering men, women and children.
The group grows to more than 60 people, some hearing the story for the first time.
One young man, red smudge on his forehead, hangs on every word. He asks a question about a problem in his life; Carter answers by sharing how God changed that problem in his own life.
Soon, the young man decides to follow Jesus.
Over two months traveling around unreached villages in South Asia, Carter and his teammate
Zack Owens* have seen the story of Jesus turn lives around completely. And they’ve witnessed more than 300 people respond positively to the Gospel.
“They want to hear the story,” Carter says. “A lot of times, the only thing that’s standing between them and starting a walk with Christ is just hearing.”
Carter and Owens signed up for two months of ministry through Face2Face. But they could never anticipate the ways God would use two students from small Tennessee towns.
Scripture brought to life
When they hop out the back of a silver truck, stretching cramped limbs, the students usually step onto the rutted road of a remote farming village. But it’s more than that.
“It’s definitely a place where the Scripture comes to life,” Carter says. “You can see that the harvest is plentiful.”
They’ve witnessed the wobbly steps of a girl, once lame, healed by prayer. They’ve seen and prayed for demons cast out. They’ve preached to hundreds, Muslim and Hindu, through a village’s call-to-prayer speakers. They heard a 45-year-old woman vow to cut her hair for the first time, never having cut it in dedication to a goddess, after hearing about Jesus.
Miracles abound, but not by chance. For when they arrived in South Asia, Carter and Owens stepped into an intricate network.
In 2011, Christian worker Jack Rhine* conducted church-planting training with a small group of local believers. Soon, trainee Aurush Ganesan* spearheaded training in his home district—an area brimming with an unengaged, unreached Hindu sect.
Often, if you speak of Jesus in these villages, “they think that this is a name of the Coca Cola Company,” Ganesan says.
Rhine connected Ganesan with a Southern Baptist church from Tennessee looking to engage an unengaged people group through the IMB’s “Embrace” program. Since 2013, the church consistently has sent teams to partner with Ganesan and his team of leaders, including Rohit Sandhu.*
Ganesan trained Sandhu, pastor from a smaller subdistrict, and he now oversees 11 of his own leaders and nearly 40 house churches in his area.
Person to person and village to village, the web of believers and churches continues to spread.
For a place with such a harvest, hundreds of Christian workers wouldn’t be enough, Owens says. “But we can train thousands of [local believers] and then those thousands will go train another thousand.”
The Embrace church recruited the students through the Tennessee Baptist Convention, sending them through Face2Face into South Asia and into the growing network.
Opening doors to new places
Sharing the Gospel in South Asia isn’t easy. But foreigners can go where locals can’t. And students can go even further.
People are often more willing to listen to foreigners, Carter says. Then, the local believers can follow up in places that might not have listened as quickly, or at all.
In one unreached village, the students met with one family, who excitedly accepted Christ. Two return visits later, they received an invitation to speak at a school funded by Hindu temples—with the village leader in attendance.
The house of peace became a village of peace.
Traveling with local partners, Carter and Owens visit up to three villages a day, delving into territory both new and reached. Whether sharing with nonbelievers or training believers, the students open doors.
They act as catalysts, says Rhine.
“The work that I’ve been doing isn’t just going to stop when I get on a plane to go home,” Carter, returning to Union University in the fall, says. Out of hundreds touched, “God can just use one of those to impact so many people.”
Sharing His story boldly
All it takes is one fire.
Owens suppressed the fire for five years, running from missions, from the discomforts and the challenge, until a mission trip to Haiti finally fanned the flame.
Still, at Face2Face training, Owens prayed for protection, terrified of what could go wrong. But something said during training struck a chord. He began to pray for boldness, for God to use him as a vessel.
“There’s nothing that I can say that would convince anybody of anything,” Owens says, in his trademark Tennessee accent. The miracles, the number of responses—that’s God’s work.
“We are just tools that God is able to use to share His story,” Carter says.
And God can use anyone.
Owens admits to feeling underequipped. The student from East Tennessee State University has never taken an academic Bible class and often uses the topic pages in his “Every Man’s Bible” to find needed verses. He loves joking around with Carter and the local pastors.
But Owens doesn’t joke about boldness. And being put on the spot in front of audiences ranging from small families to entire villages has revealed his newfound passion for telling the life-changing story of Jesus.
“I don’t see myself in the [church-planting] movement, and that’s the point,” Owens says. “I want to be a catalyst for that.”
A red and white baseball cap stained by dirt and sweat shades his bearded face as Owens, along with Carter, teaches a gathering of locals how to share the Gospel. They’d visited this village before.
“He doesn’t call you to be fearful,” Owens says to the large crowd of all ages. “He calls you to share this story boldly.”
He calls a local believer to the front of the crowd to practice.
As the young man shares, the two students make eye contact for a moment, and grin.