An interview with church leaders in southern Asia

The leaders of the Adventist Church in south Asia share their vision for the region and discuss the challenges and opportunities throughout the area.

Nikolaus Satelmajer, DMin, is editor of Ministry.
Willie E. Hucks II, DMin, is associate editor of Ministry.

Editor’s note: For the past several years in the October issue, we have featured the work of the church in particular geographic areas. In this issue we are featuring southern Asia—not only what the church refers to as the Southern Asia Division but several countries in that part of the world. For this issue, we interviewed John Rathinaraj, president of the Southern Asia Division; Harald Wollan, at that time the secretary of the Trans-European Division on behalf of the president of the church in Pakistan, who could not be present; Saw Muller Kyaw, leader of the church in Myanmar; and Eric Monnier, president of the church in Bangladesh, which is a part of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division.

Nikolaus Satelmajer (NS): Give us an idea of the vision you have for the area you represent. What would you like to see happen in the coming five to ten years?

Harald Wollan (HW): In Pakistan, we hope to have a better trained workforce. We have focused on the pastors’ education in order to make sure they are better equipped. And part of that is to make sure they can train and equip our members to be effective in their Christian lives. In Pakistan, many of our members come from a poorer background. Therefore, it is not always easy to reach the more affluent society; but we are striving to reach them as well.

NS: How many pastors do you have in Pakistan?

HW: We face a problem when it comes to the number of pastors because their financial situation in Pakistan is limited. Some of the workforce are actually supported through Gospel Outreach. And their income has dropped, so around fifty percent of their usual income had to be reduced.

NS: It’s not available now?

HW: No, this makes it necessary for the church in Pakistan to reduce the number of Global Outreach workers. Now, we need to make sure that the pastors in Pakistan can take care of more than one church. And that will be a mental shift. One step towards that was making sure all ordained pastors received a motorbike from us, so they are mobile.

John Rathinaraj (JR): India has over seven hundred thousand villages, but only one hundred thousand of them have been entered by Christians. Furthermore, we have twenty-eight governmental states and seven governmental unions, and the Christians have formed more in the southern part of India, not in the northern part. The northern part of India is mostly unentered territory. There are more than one-and-a-half-million Adventists in India currently, and our plan is to add another million over the next five years.

Saw Muller Kyaw (SMK): Myanmar is a beautiful country. We have a population of fifty-three million, with one hundred and thirty-five different ethnic groups. But we have reached only about fifty of these groups thus far. Also, our situation is such that we have to work under some restrictions. We cannot conduct evangelistic meetings publicly, but we are allowed to conduct them inside a church building. And we are also not allowed to build a church building, so at this time we built a house church and let the worker stay on the ground floor.

NS: So the pastor shares the house, and the worship is in the same building?

SMK: Yes, the same building. It is not easy to build in the city. But it is in the rural area. If we have an understanding with the [local] authority, we can build the house church. We also have, in many places, one pastor for one church because of the difficulties with transportation.

Eric Monnier (EM): It’s very interesting listening to the other leaders. Basically, we have some very strong similarities in all the countries that are involved, such as many ethnic groups. Bangladesh has something, I believe, that is very interesting—a very small area, but extremely populated, with around one hundred and fifty million residents. It’s a very populated Muslim country that has experienced many natural disasters: flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on. The city of Dhaka has seven million residents. One of our main goals is to reach Dhaka, which is extremely difficult because it’s very expensive to buy a piece of land to make a place of worship for the people.

One of our goals over the next five years is to install a satellite dish for each congregation that has access to electricity. This is another huge issue in Bangladesh. There are places where we do not have any electricity, and where we have electricity, it’s kept off during the day. It’s not very easy, but using the satellite, we may be able to prepare evangelistic broadcasts in the native language.

Willie E. Hucks II (WH): Over the last five years, what are some of the positive events that have taken place? What are some of the significant developments that occurred in your territories?

JR: In addition to India’s twentyeight states, it has five hundred dialects. The government has recognized sixteen major languages. Where our headquarters is situated, very recently the Christian population has increased from two percent to seven percent. Then in one more state, Andhra Pradesh, many people are receptive to the gospel. We have more member s in Andhr a Pradesh than in any other state; over fifty percent of our membership is in one state.

We have also been given permission to operate Hope Channel in India by download. The license has been granted.

HW: We have focused, as I mentioned, on training our pastors through specific workers’ meetings, such as Evangelism on the Go where we train pastors to do evangelism. In Pakistan each of the two missions—we call them sections because we cannot use the word mission in a Muslim country—decided to go ahead with eleven evangelistic series this year, the year of evangelism. And that is a culmination of specific targeting, training pastors, making them more efficient in reaching out, so the membership growth in Pakistan has been very positive. And that’s a good thing over the years; more people now have the minimum education of what we see is needed in a country like Pakistan. A minimum of what is close to a bachelor’s degree in theology.

SMK: Our vision is to tell the world. We conduct many evangelistic meetings, especially in the cities. We encourage everyone to conduct evangelistic meetings, not only the pastor, but administrators, teachers, and lay members. So, I organized groups and conducted two evangelistic meetings. Hundreds were baptized as a result. To convert pure Burmese people is very difficult. In the past, we converted only tribal people because they were more receptive to the gospel. But nowadays, we have converted pure Burmese people into our church. We try to reach other parts of Myanmar close to Thailand and China. Those places are very hard to reach, and we have transportation difficulties also.

EM: What I’ve seen is something very interesting in the education area. There are more than eight thousand students in our schools, and more than half of them are sponsored students. And this has been a real blessing for Bangladesh because one of our ways to reach people and baptize them is through the young people who are studying in our schools, after they get baptized and become professionals. And this part, I believe, really has been a tremendous work. But all the departments also have done tremendous work: women’s ministry with different projects and health ministries, as well, because this is very well accepted and respected by the community, including the Muslims.

NS: How do you personally keep yourself spiritually alive, refreshed? How do you feed your soul spiritually?

HW: We realize that being in Pakistan is difficult. It is lonely. When you are a leader, to whom do you turn? Therefore, we speak to each other on the phone, the leaders often call us and we call them to talk through some of the issues. The leader is often on the phone, asking advice and seeking, at the same time, encouragement, and we at the division office feel that we need to give as much support as possible. We send, as often as we can, someone from the office to visit Pakistan. Twice a year, someone from the office visits the field and in this way, there is a small outlet and recharging of the batteries for the wounded.

EM: The unity of the family. My wife has always stood by my side and has been very supportive of my ministry. And I also have a supportive church family around the world. They help us with their words and prayers; and we find this encouraging.


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Nikolaus Satelmajer, DMin, is editor of Ministry.
Willie E. Hucks II, DMin, is associate editor of Ministry.

October 2010

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