How do you reach an enormous city like Kolkata, India?
That was the dilemma puzzling local Seventh-day Adventists.
Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is the cradle of Adventism in India, with the first Adventists arriving in 1893. But today the bustling city has only several hundred members in a greater population of 15 million.
Undaunted, local church members got to work. The result: an unprecedented, four-year initiative culminated in June with church attendance nearly doubling and 123 people giving their hearts to Jesus.
“We praise God for His blessings on the city of Kolkata,” said Ezras Lakra, president of the Southern Asia Division, whose territory includes India.
How did it happen?
The initiative kicked off in January 2016 with local leaders hiring 18 gospel workers on 11-month contracts. The senior pastors and a prominent laity trained all 18 workers over the course of seven to eight months, and the workers were set loose with instructions to go house to house to pray, said Shekar Philips, an outreach leader and the division’s associate health ministries director.
”Go to a house and say, ‘Can I pray for you?’” Philips said, recounting the instructions given to the workers.
The workers branched out across the city, knocking on doors in the early morning.
“Can I pray for you before work this morning?” they asked at house after house.
Surprised people began to ask, “Who is this person who prayed for me?”
In September 2016, local church members held a week of prayer for the gospel workers. Some local members created 24-hour prayer chains, while others joined the prayers across the Northern India Union.
Church members organized temperance rallies to help people stop smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and chewing paan, an addictive substance comprised of paan leaf and areca nut. Children chanted pro-health slogans at the rallies, and health professionals spoke on street corners. People crowded around for the lectures, which typically lasted about five minutes. Small puppet shows also were organized and proved popular.
Then members donned T-shirts bearing the church’s name for a citywide clean-up day. Equipped with gloves and brooms, they swept the streets and sidewalks.
“People knew they were from the church, and this created a good feeling in the community,” Philips said. “People came to us to ask, ‘Why are you doing this? Tell us more about you.’”
A series of sporadic mini-health fairs were organized with free blood sugar tests and fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Gospel workers offered free body massage and hydrotherapy. The free fairs attracted considerable attention, Philips said.
“People were astonished and asked, ‘What kind of people are here?’” he said.
The gospel workers ended each therapy session with prayer, leaving a strong impression on the patients, he said.
The outreach efforts led to the formation of small groups throughout the city.
In April 2018, church members decided to place a major emphasis on the mini-health fairs and scheduled them for every Sunday. Booths were set up beside busy roads to provide free medical checks.
“The fairs yielded 1,200 contacts,” Philips said. “This was very important for making contacts.”
As the number of contacts increased, so did the prayers of church members.
“We needed to pray a lot,” Philips said. “Every Monday we fasted and prayed.”
Results began to happen. After months of not making any contacts, a gospel worker, Alti, gained 40 contacts. Another worker, Raghunath, became known as “the Man of Prayer,” and people actively sought him out for prayers, including at their non-Christian festivals.
“He has the most contacts as a result, even though he is a very quiet man,” Philips said. “He has 31 families.”
Nizam, a former non-Christian, refused to discuss his activities for many months, saying, “I can’t tell you what I’m doing.” But finally he broke his silence. He acknowledged that he had been telling people, “Come along, I’m going to teach you from your sacred book.”
“He used another religion’s sacred writings to teach about Jesus,” Philips said. “He ended up with 20 contacts.”
The outreach work culminated with a reaping campaign in June 2019. As of the end of the month, 123 people had passed through the waters of repentance, another 300 to 400 were attending worship services regularly, and the outreach was continuing.
“Prayers and community outreach really work,” said Lakra, the division president. “We praise God for what He is doing in our division.”