Francis Foulkes, in his book entitled, The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, states, “Apostles and evangelists had a particular task in planting the church in every place; prophets, for bringing a particular word from God to a situation. Pastors and teachers were gifted to be responsible for the day-to-day building up of the church.”
But what can we say if a man of God, with a heart and passion of a pastor, is instrumental in planting a church? Pastor Saji Abraham was such a man. He commented, “I don’t have the gift of an evangelist. The capacity in which God has called me to serve Him is as a Pastor-Teacher.” And within that capacity, he planted a church in India.
Hosur is an industrial town in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is located about forty kilometers southeast of Bangalore. Hosur is known for its manufacturing industries and Mediterranean-type climate.
It is in this city that Hosur Bible Fellowship Center, one of the established churches of the Asian Christian Academy, exists. This church is located at a pivotal point in the town of Hosur.
Pastor Saji Abraham is a graduate from the Asian Christian Academy (ACA),* hailing from Kerala, South India. He presently resides in the same premises as Hosur Bible Fellowship Center and pastors the children of God there.
Towards the completion of his ThM in 1996, the Lord worked through Dr. Joy George, President of ACA and Tim MacManigle, Director of Missions at Fellowship Bible Church in Winchester, Virginia. They encouraged him to be an instrument for God in church planting and missions work.
He had many opportunities to visit the villages of Hosur during his student life. After participating in the outreach and evangelism ministries of the seminary, a great conviction and leading of the Holy Spirit encouraged him to pursue ministry in this area. After much prayer, he willingly accepted the offer put forward by them to work with ACA in the Church Planting Department.
He prayed for a strategic location from where he could have easy access to many villages. With a single-minded determination to establish a local church in the area, he settled in the Hosur region. He has been involved in this ministry since 1996, serving as the Pastor-Teacher. He is fully confident of the fact that the Lord has called him for this kind of ministry.
He believes that the utmost gift a church planter should have is a love for God and love for people. He also believes that the gifts he has as a church planter are availability, adaptability, compassion, an ability to show mercy, a willingness to listen to the problems of people and the ability to lead people to God. The missionary organization was also able to identify his availability and willingness to serve the Lord; the founding members also recognized the call he had received from the Lord.
His wife, Elson, has been a moral support in his ministry and instrumental in counseling, encouraging and motivating other women to come to the church. She has a remarkable gift of hospitality. She is balanced in her role as wife, mother and social worker, adding strength and confidence to the ministry of church planting.
“I was very sure that God wanted me to establish a local church which is God-focused, Christ-honoring and Bible-centered. Christ is the only hope for any community.”
In 1996, a room was hired in Hosur to establish a local church that exalts Christ, exhorts people and expands its borders. Initially, to gain acceptance in the community, a reading room was opened, using different language literature to meet the multi-ethnic community. Free tuition for school children was offered in the evenings. A free English coaching class was also conducted. In all these areas, the students and staff from Asian Christian Academy helped Pastor Saji. As more opportunities to interact with people increased—and as they got to know the people—the gospel was shared. Many heard the gospel reluctantly; others were truly interested.
Such interactions began as one-on-one meetings. Slowly, open-air preaching, home visitation and evangelistic public meetings were arranged. Many Hindu families, who were facing many problems, showed interest in coming to the meetings.
Thereafter, a Sunday service began with a few interested people from the local community, as well as students and staff from ACA. Around 25 children from a nearby children’s home also began to attend, resulting in the beginning of a Sunday school. The presence of the children made a difference in the church service. Pastor Saji recollects the early days, stating, “It took two to three years to form a small community of believers.”
Hosur Bible Fellowship Center is a pioneer ministry in partnership with ACA. During a survey of the locality, it became clear that there were hardly any Christians in most of the villages. In order to establish a base, a core group of Christians was needed to stand with Pastor Saji to reach out to the unreached as a team. So the initial focus was to contact some nominal Christians whose spiritual needs were not being met elsewhere.
Pastor Saji comments about his initial plan, saying, “Primarily, I wanted to focus on the unreached people groups in the villages. For this I needed a core group of believers who would stand with me and support me. Therefore, I began to visit some nominal Christians who were not regular in going to their respective churches. They had many struggles in their lives and their spiritual needs were not being met.”
The ministry of HBFC basically began with meeting some of the social needs of the people through the reading room, free tutoring, and spoken English classes. Also, the Sunday school and Vacation Bible School programs helped publicize the existence of the church in the area. It was an avenue through which they received access to several houses, which also resulted in Bible studies being started.
In order to reach others for Christ, personal evangelism, household evangelism, open-air preaching and literature distribution were the means adopted. In the villages, it was found that the best method of church planting was to focus on the children by conducting Sunday school programs, followed with home visitation.
In the Indian context, a building for prayer and worship is of some importance. After Pastor Saji married, they rented a house; the church moved from the rented hall to this house. However, some folks found it difficult to gather in a house for worship. In 2003, a piece of land was purchased and a church building was constructed. Ever since, there has been steady growth in the membership of the church. Believers from other churches, whose spiritual needs were not being met, and the people from the unreached populace began to attend the church services.
About the church growth, Pastor Saji says, “Church growth was slow but steady through these years. We never focused on quantity but always looked for quality. Our focus and concern was always to mature believers in Jesus Christ and to equip them for the work of the ministry.”
Today, after the inclusion of two assistant pastors, the church is buzzing with many programs and ministries. Bible studies at three different locations are being held; prayer meetings are conducted every Wednesday and cottage meetings every Friday. They mobilize the new converts to be witnesses to their family members and their communities. They identify the gifts of each believer and get them involved in various avenues of ministry. Separate men’s and women’s fellowships have been arranged for the believers where they can share from God’s Word, encourage each other through testimonies, voice their opinions and get their questions answered.
Regarding training leaders in the church, Pastor Saji says, “We have identified potential leaders among the believers. We meet with them for discipleship and prayer.”
The church has recently started a training program called Grace Bible Training Center. This program is designed to train believers, elders and pastors of other churches, equipping them for the Lord’s work and ministry.
Commenting about the struggles and problems he faced in church planting, Pastor Saji says, “Indeed, it is difficult to open a pioneer work among people whom you don’t know.”
There were various problems and frustrations that Pastor Saji went through when he began this ministry. There was a feeling of isolation at times. But it was overcome as he started to work in partnership with ACA. “The management and friends from ACA were a great source of encouragement.”
Fear was another great obstacle that was encountered when they started home visitation. In the Indian situation, especially in a village set up, it is not desirable for a man to visit houses alone. Since it is mostly women that are at home, a man coming to visit is not appreciated, nor will he get acceptance into the house.
“As a bachelor, I had plenty of time to move around and focus on ministry. But it had its own limitations. To meet with families and discuss their issues and problems was difficult.” When Pastor Saji started his ministry, he was a bachelor; after his marriage, his wife was always with him, especially when he went for ministry related to the church. Marriage helped him gain acceptance; he now received a rich welcome during visitation and had more opportunities to share and more effectively solve problems.
Pastor Saji faced yet another fear: language. In Hosur, multiple languages were spoken—he was not well versed with any of these languages. This compelled him to be selective in visiting houses. “To start with, I was very choosy in selecting houses unless I was invited for prayer or sharing. Most of the time, dialogue began at a friendship level.”
There were also times when there were difficulties and problems in Pastor Saji’s life. At times he had doubts, wondering if he had really been called for such type of ministry. Thoughts ran through his mind that he would have been more useful in another place, with another sort of ministry. He would get discouraged when things didn’t work the way he had intended or when God seemed distant or when answers to prayers were delayed.
But during such difficult times, God always encouraged him. Pastor Saji says, “But God always brought me to the right focus, with the faith that He is the One who brought me here, and I need to be here as long as He wants me here. He comforted me saying that all types of ministry are equally important in His sight. God also cleared my doubt and strengthened my faith through my wife and friends at ACA.”
There were also a few disruptions in the church when people prohibited believers from coming to church—believers who had trusted the Lord from Hindu families. Their own family members opposed their coming to church. As a result, a few stopped coming to church meetings. Pastor Saji still keeps in contact with them, counseling them to be patient and willing to suffer such difficulties so that they can win their family members to Christ in the future. Such an approach helps to keep them from being expelled from their family and community.
The vision and goals of the church are the following:
- To establish a Bible-based, Christ-centered church where Christ is exalted, members exhorted and borders are expanded by reaching the unreached.
- To see the members becoming mature in Christ.
- To see the members active in evangelism.
- To have each house of believers be a Bible study center for others.
- For daughter churches to be established.
In sharing his dream about this ministry, Pastor Saji says, “I wish to see this ministry as a self-supporting, self-promoting and self-reproducing church.”
*Asian Christian Academy (ACA) is a ministry in Hosur, India that provides post-graduate theological training and Christian education in the Indian context. ACA has a seminary, a children’s school, a home for destitute children and a hospital. David Fletcher, founder of XPastor, has been involved with ACA for many years, serving as their American Council’s Treasurer and starting their Doctor of Ministries program.