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Church pastor Seth Norris pictured with some of the teenagers during a youth conference in Southern India.
Photos courtesy of Perkinsville Baptist Church

Originally published: 2013-10-28 10:54:55
Last modified: 2013-10-28 10:58:15

Perkinsville Baptist Church forms new partnership in India

by Sherrie Norris

Earlier this month, four members of Perkinsville Baptist Church of Boone, including the pastor, spent 12 days ministering to the people of Southern India.

From Oct 7-18, Pastor Seth Norris, Ryan Kissel, Amy Burcham and Erich Rosenbusch joined six team members from other churches through Hands on Missions, a ministry based in Shelby.

"Hands on Missions works in numerous countries throughout the world," Norris said. "We have formed a new partnership with them to help spread the gospel."

Norris referred to his team's recent visit to India as "a unique opportunity," as they worked with the Karunya Community Development Ministries based in Bangalore, India.

"We worked in Bangalore and Chittoor and filled our days with several areas of ministry," he said. "The children's conference, as well as the youth conference, brought hundreds of children and teens from the slums and villages of the Chittoor area. The pastors' conference brought 40 pastors from the region together. We also helped build a shelter for the ministry's school buses, and we reached out to widows and about 250 children in one of Bangalore's slums."

It was an unforgettable experience for his team, Norris said.

"The entire project focused on evangelism. We were able to see many people receive the awesome news of one God who loves them dearly."

Norris said it is hard for the billions of people of India, many deep-rooted in the Hindu faith "with thousands of gods," to conceive of the idea that one God not only created them, but loves them -- and that they don't have to spend their entire life attempting to please the gods."

Upon the team's arrival at the airport in Bangalore  -- "a city of 8.5 million," they went to the home of Suresh and Latha, a couple who leads numerous ministries throughout the area and helps knit together the partnership with visiting ministry teams.

A time of acclimation with sightseeing and buying "traditional clothing" for the female team members took up their first day in India, Norris said.

The next day, they traveled four hours to Chittoor. "It's about the same distance between Boone and Charlotte," Norris said, "but difficult because of their road conditions."

"Chittoor is a smaller city," Norris said, "but it's where Suresh and Latha own property and have developed an international school and where they host conferences and retreats."

After Suresh "advertised" their arrival and conference plans throughout the impoverished village of about 7,000 homes, hundreds of children came.

"Materially, many have nothing," Norris said. "It was really evident that the caste system, although now illegal, is still alive and active in their culture."

Prior to the ministry's intervention, Norris said, "One village didn't even have running water."

Most of the villagers do not work, Norris said, and tensions were strong during their visit.

 "A strike was going on while we were there and all life-supporting infrastructure was shut down," he said. "There were road blocks and it was pretty tense. The Indians are used to these interruptions -- that s how they live."

In the midst of the turmoil, Norris said, schools were shut down and many students were forced to protest.

The team participated in a dedication ceremony for two school buses that had been purchased with donations from here in the states.

"Out of nowhere," Norris said, "at least 100 people came out -- and they ended up hearing the word of God, through our interpreters, before they left."

"Hundreds of little children," came to the conference designed just for them. "Amy worked with them and had them singing, learning new songs and just enjoying the experience," he said.

The youth conference ran concurrently with the Americans teaching at both events.

Everything the ministry does includes a meal, he said, which consisted of large pots of rice and curry chicken.

"They line up the kids on the sidewalk and place the food in front of them, either in a plate or sometimes just on a little mat, and give them a cup of water" Norris said. "They eat with their hands, which is a cultural norm. For many, it's their only food for the day."

The most beautiful thing about sharing the Christian message in that country, Norris said, was giving people the opportunity to close their eyes and have them imagine that they were by themselves, no one encroaching up on them, and have the God of the universe say 'I love you.'

"Love is a word that is so foreign to them," he said. "And being an individual is so foreign, when they are usually so crowded together with no space to call their own."

Norris referred to the Christian message in India as being "counter- cultural," stating that Hinduism is part of the country's culture. "They have thousands of Gods, he said. "And, with 1.3 billion people in their country, no one is ever alone. You are never just one person, no matter where you go."

Helping the people recognize that they are special was key to his trip, Norris said.

"We were given so many unique opportunities to show the love of Christ," he said. "One night while we prepared for the next day, a man hired to work on the ministry farm --a life-long Hindu --walked in and wanted to know about Jesus."

Norris' main role, he said, was to teach pastoral leadership at the two-day pastors' conference. "They have no opportunity for seminars and classes like we do here."

In the meantime, Erich and Ryan were laying the footers for a building to be used to store the new school buses, as well as future conferences.

Although certainly not part of the trip itinerary, one of the team members required hospitalization during his time in India.

"He received some of the best medical care than I have ever witnessed," Norris said, "and at costs drastically lower than he would have paid in the U.S. He was probably the only American in the facility and was able to come home in great shape."

Norris said the rates and supplies were determined prior to hospitalization and paid for at the time of admission.  

Returning to Bangalore, the team's efforts focused on outreach to the slums where housing was 12' x 12' blocks lined up in a row with a single washbasin in each one.

"Most of the children there are orphans and most females are alive -- by the grace of God," he said. "Many young girls are killed at birth. If they live, and if not impacted by the ministry or the gospel, most become prostitutes."

Older women, mostly widows, he said, are outcasts and considered to have no value.

"The ministry has property in the middle of the slum area and is making strides to improve their way of life," Norris said.  "They are teaching the women how to sew and paying them for their work. They feed them while they are there and have Bible studies, too."
The women were gifted with personal hygiene items and new saris, purchased by Perkinsville Church.

"All those sweet kids" Norris described, were tutored, fed a good meal and also given personal items, candy, toys and stuffed animals.

"We had 250 kids come out the night of the children's event -- and crammed into a very small space," he said. "But, they were singing and smiling and having such a great time."

Bars covered the windows of the meeting space, with no more room inside.

"I will never forget seeing those hands reaching through the bars and kids begging to come in," Norris said.

It was most important that we share the good news of God love," Norris said.

Perkinsville Baptist Church is in it for the long-term, Norris said, and will be returning to India in late spring or early summer of 2014.

"We are anxious to see a final piece of the ministry come to fruition," he said. "Suresh and Latha are working to rent a house for 30 girls and some of the slum widows who have become believers will move in to take care of them."

He describes Suresh and Latha as "beautiful people," who have done so much and, along with other Christians in Southern India, are the lights and beacons of hope.

The couple adopted a little girl with clubfeet who was left on their doorstep, with the umbilical cord still attached. They named her Grace and got her the medical attention she needed. "That's the real deal," said Norris.
"The need is endless," he concluded. "Without the gospel, the people in India  -- or anywhere -- would never know what freedom in Christ is all about."