HANCOCK COUNTY — On Friday mornings, Manubhai Mecwan rises at 5 a.m. to have a church service over the phone with a group in India.
“We sing a song, we read the Bible, we share the gospel — then we pray,” he said.
The phone calls continue throughout the day. Another call to India. A prayer group in California. Over their course, he will pray with and instruct nearly 100 people.
The day is capped with two in-person Bible studies in hotels. He returns to his home in the Cumberland area around 9:30 p.m., in time to sleep before another phone call with a group of 20-30 people in India the next morning.
Story continues below gallery
Recently, however, Mecwan was able to encourage his friends in India face to face. He traveled there with Greg Ruble, pastor of Living Streams Community Church, and church member Mike Dickey. Theirs was one of three recent trips, independent of each other, that local pastors have made to India.
“Every year we make plans to go and disciple them,” Mecwan said. “We try to encourage the pastors and church.”
During their trip in February, that encouragement took the form of pastor conferences. Ruble said they urged spiritual leaders to continue in their prayer times and in personal evangelism. This is a season when pastors can use some cheering on, he said; some watching current events in this country, believed to be on pace to eclipse China as the world’s most populous nation, say new leadership is making life more challenging for Christians.
For some there, the decision to live as a Christian will mean shunning from family members, Ruble said. Still, he said about 50 people made that decision during the trip.
“They’re very spiritually open people,” he said. “… It’s pretty exciting to see what’s going on.”
Ruble first traveled to India in 2013. Likewise, the Rev. Frank Everett’s recent journey to India was a return trip — his fourth, to be exact.
Everett, pastor of Greenfield Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), said when he first traveled to India in 2007 he wasn’t counting on falling in love with the country. But he did. And so he returned in 2009, 2011 and again in January.
“It’s always kind of an eye opener,” Everett said. “The poverty is overwhelming … and yet they’re a very giving and generous people.”
Everett’s group visited sites that receive support from the Disciples of Christ’s general ministries. He’s made a video about the trip and will report on it so more church members can make a connection between the money they give and the work it funds.
The group visited Family Village Farm near Vellore; it serves orphans but also includes a school serving nearly 1,000 children from about 30 villages. The group offered basic health screenings for the children.
The group also visited a shelter for women who have been widowed or abandoned. They learn skills such as sewing and weaving to help them find work.
Finally, while visiting a hospital that serves nearly 8,000 outpatients a day, Everett saw a shop that makes simpler, more inexpensive prosthetics for those who’ve already lost digits to the disease but need help gripping an object or completing other basic daily tasks. He said seeing that shop and thinking about the people served by it was one of the more poignant moments of the trip for him.
Another memorable moment was a visit to an ancient Hindu temple. The visitors were Christians. Their driver was a Muslim. Their guides were Hindu and Buddhist.
“We all got along fine,” Everett says.
Rev. Mark Wright and Kathy Wright found themselves among a diverse group on the trip to India that they took in late January and early February. Among the team that went to offer pastor conferences and Vacation Bible School were people from the countries of Brazil and Mexico and from the state of Kansas.
“It’s amazing home a common purpose bonds us,” said Kathy Wright.
The Wrights traveled with Dr. Ray Easley from their congregation at Brandywine Community Church. Easley was a college professor in Mississippi in the early 1980s when he met Ghuna Kumar. Mark Wright said Kumar has planted hundreds of churches in the years since then and called him a modern-day Apostle Paul. Kumar invited a group to come train pastors. They led classes for about 200 pastors and their wives.
The Wrights participated in a baptism ceremony during the trip.
“The baptisms there were so cool,” Mark Wright said. “It’s a big deal, because they’re going from one faith to another, and often persecuted for it.”
Because many names are derived from names for Hindu gods, the ceremony includes a new name for the new believer. The Wrights got to help name some of those baptized. “They record it, and that’s what they go by,” Kathy Wright said.
The person baptized receives Communion for the first time before even stepping out of the baptism waters. The person also receives a Bible and new clothes. “It’s all symbolic of newness,” Mark Wright said.
Group members also met with women at a sewing school and a medical school started by Kumar’s ministry. Women at the school receive a sewing machine when they graduate to help them start their own businesses. Women in the medical school receive training to become lab technicians or licensed practical nurses. Students do not have to be Christians to participate in the program, but the curriculum does include Christian devotions and prayer.
Kathy Wright and other women in the visiting group were dressed in saris by the students; it broke the ice. The next day, one of the young women ran across the courtyard to grasp her hand in friendship and walk in with her. It’s a moment she treasured from the trip.
Another such moment was when she gathered a group of pastors’ wives to talk about their dreams with a translator and a videographer. One woman talked about biking into the mountains with her husband to share their faith. One older woman said she wants to run faster than she has before in that same work.
Kumar’s son, Joel, plans to visit Brandywine in a few days. Mark Wright referred to the book “Experiencing God,” which urges joining God where God is already at work. “We see that there” in India, he said, and so he ponders ways to continue to encourage pastors in India and come alongside them in their work.
“I’d love to have an opportunity to train more,” he said.
-Disciples of Christ partnership in India:
-Ghuna Kumar’s ministry:
-Manubhai Mecwan welcomes calls from those with prayer requests or spiritual questions. Call him at 317-985-0322. Learn more about his ministry at www.fcfindy.org.