Southern Seminary students confront ‘grinding poverty’ of India with the Gospel

Communications Staff — June 9, 2005

As Brian Vickers walked through the streets of Calcutta, India, he saw small children carrying starving infants and begging for money. He passed Hindu religious parades, heard Muslim calls to prayer and observed “grinding poverty” among the city’s 13-15 million residents.

Vickers, who serves as assistant professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was in India as part of a mission trip involving 19 Southern students and faculty members.

He said the scenes in Calcutta reminded him that poverty and pluralism must be confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“People had their eyes opened to the reality that there are places in the world where the Gospel has not yet had a great impact and that there are almost unlimited opportunities for people who God might call to a place like India,” he said.

The team from Southern traveled to India in mid-May and worked with missionaries to build relationships with and spread the Gospel among Muslims. The work served as a reminder that God is able to change lives in any cultural setting, Vickers said.

“Regardless of how difficult India is, it is ultimately no more difficult for someone to come to faith in Calcutta than it is across your street in Louisville,” he said. “A person in Calcutta isn’t any less reachable. … God is no less sovereign in Calcutta than He is in Louisville.”

Bennie Tomberlin, a master of divinity student from Callahan, Fla., experienced the power of the Gospel firsthand when he spoke with a self-professed Marxist communist in a village near Calcutta. Although the man was initially resistant to the message of Christ, the Holy Spirit appeared to convict him as the conversation progressed, Tomberlin said.

“We were able to share the Gospel explicitly with this guy,” he said. “That was the one instance that we were able to share with those listening where the guy was visibly under conviction. … He was feeling the weight of coming to a holy God. I just told him, ‘That’s exactly where you need to be to come to Christ.’”

Tomberlin said the trip complemented classroom learning by providing practical exposure to people holding worldviews in opposition to Christianity.

“It just put everything into perspective,” he said. “… You can learn about things in theory. But once you sit down with them and talk with them, it opens your heart up to them. … That can’t happen in the classroom. When your heart opens up to people, that’s only going to happen when you’re sitting there with them in their village, in their culture.”

Michael Adams, a Boyce College student from Jacksonville, Fla., said the trip presented opportunities to shine the light of Christ in places that had not heard a Christian witness for decades.

As he worked in Calcutta, Adams had one opportunity to speak with the leaders in a 100-year-old mosque about Jesus and the teachings of Scripture. Many of the leaders said they had never read the Bible and agreed to hear several Bible stories from Adams.

“I made it a real point to just sit there and think, ‘This is probably the first time these men have ever heard this message, and it’s probably the first time it’s been spoken in this place,’” he said.

One of the lessons Adams learned was that people in India are largely hungry for spiritual truth and willing to listen to Christians.

“There was some resistance but for the most part they recognized that these are important things,” Adams said. “They were really welcoming. They wanted to sit down and discuss these things. I really didn’t think they would be so open to sitting down and just having a discussion about Jesus, about God, about the Bible.”

Vickers concluded that the trip provided all participants with valuable ministry and learning opportunities.

“A trip like this can be formative in someone’s seminary experience,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that everyone who goes on a trip like this then has to be called to go to this place. But I think these short-term trips are good ways to have your horizons enlarged to the various places and callings within the Gospel ministry. Somebody can go to India, and that trip to India can have a positive impact on the work they do right here—either in the classroom or in the church.”

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