2018 Report from Elijah-Challenge trained servant of God who prefers to remain anonymous
“The music in Bishop David Bharti’s church above explodes out of people’s hearts like hot oil spewing out of a wildcat oil well. “Loud” is not sufficient to describe it. The volume shakes the six-inch-thick concrete floor and vibrates the glassware of the Bishop’s home, situated on the second story directly above his worship center. There we sit in his tiny living room, filling all his chairs, eight of us drinking thick coffee with buffalo milk. His sons and daughters-in-law serve us, bustling in and out and drawing in plastic chairs to partake in the conversation. Grandchildren play in the next room, every once in a while threading their way through the seated adults to ask a question or climb into a mama’s or the bishop’s lap.
The Bishop is my age but really like a father, a pastor to me. I love him with all my heart, and he has embraced our ministry and teaching with a fiery and unquenchable zeal. A slight man with thick, wiry gray hair, he wears what resembles a military uniform and speaks with the gravelly voice and the unquestionable authority one might expect from a four-star general. When we first met, someone asked him, ‘Pastor, tell me a little about the organizational structure of your church.’ With no hesitation whatsoever, as if we had asked him whether the sun rose every day in the west, his raspy voice growled, ‘In my church, I am the supreme commander,’ and motioned to his youngest son for another cup of chai [tea].
“Jesus — yes, Jesus — appeared to him.”
Still, for all of his military air and bravado, he cries each time we meet and then again when I hug him goodbye. He is a pioneer here in the faith. He was saved as a young man in a federal prison cell, convicted and sentenced to decades in prison for inciting rebellion as a communist organizer and terrorist. After being severely beaten by prison guards one night and then thrown almost unconscious on to the concrete floor of his cell, Jesus — yes, Jesus — appeared to him. ‘I have called you and ordained you,’ Jesus told him, ‘and, from now on, you will serve me. In three days, you will walk out of this prison a free man, and you will spend the rest of your life serving me.’ Three days later, the same judge who had sentenced him to more than 20 years of hard labor commuted his sentence without explanation, and prison guards who had beaten him ushered him off of the premises.
With coffee finished, I’m told it’s time to go down and teach. When I step out of the second-story entrance to the Bishop’s home, four young men are carrying a flowered canopy, and they yell at me over the noise of worship to walk under their canopy through the teeming crowd to the front of the church. They are my designated escort. ‘No,’ I told them. ‘I am deeply honored, but, please, I won’t do that.’ They reluctantly agree, but Duke and I and our partners David & Vijaya Samuel are ambushed by four young women who start throwing dried flower petals at us as soon as we enter the worship center.
Nearly 800 people sit on the floor. The petals cascade around us. Seated people — women in radiant sarees, smiling teenagers and men, some in the brilliant dyed turbans of their Punjabi heritage — stretch their arms, reaching over one another to touch our shoes in a traditional greeting of deep deep respect. Somehow, we hopscotch through the crowd to seats on a small raised platform. The noise of drums, singing, clapping, a box accordion and at least one electric guitar pounds and shivers the walls.
I have taught more often here than in any other place in India, and I’ve never experienced this level of enthusiasm or over-the-top greeting before. There are dozens of people here that I have come to know and deeply love. Bishop Bharti’s first convert, Jorday Singh is now a pastor and still his best friend. Between the two families, there are five sons — all pastors — and one daughter. Three of their sons have traveled with and ministered alongside us for extended periods before. Ten other men who were ignited by the power of our first teaching here five years ago are now pastors themselves within new church plants. Last year, I participated in their ordination service. We have ministered deep and powerful healing to women here, cast violent demons out of house boys and former prostitutes, and seen God open wombs and deliver children to couples who came to us tearfully frustrated over their inability to conceive. Then Sunita is there, a 35-year-old woman crippled by polio, her electric smile shining in spite of tiny legs, ravaged by childhood polio and folded up underneath her. Her glowing smile is the last straw. I simply stand and weep.
“No one here knew this was possible”
The service began with a tribute, one of the pastor’s sons explaining that, before we came this time, they had assembled a video. ‘Pastor-Ji,’ he addresses me as a token of respect, ‘five years ago, you came here not to impress us with your ability to heal and deliver but, instead, to teach us how to walk in God’s power and love in our own. No one here knew this was possible. Today, we want to show you the fruit of your love and work among us. In five years, our church has grown continuously. We have planted 12 more churches with strong and independent pastors, all walking in and teaching healing and deliverance as you taught us. We have spoken to these pastors and counted from their records. Whether our numbers are correct or not, God knows, but we believe that more than 15,000 people have come to Christ in this time. We are grateful to God for His grace and power, and grateful to you for teaching us.’
In this state, the Punjab, believers are required to officially report their conversion to Christianity at the time of their baptism. Even by those records, the Punjab now has the fastest growing Christian population in all of India. I’d like to believe we have had a part in that.”