I met a minister and his wife, who were visiting from India, through my parents. On several occasions, this couple stayed with them in New York City and became good friends. Even though I had lived in several different countries in my life, I focused on New York City—one of the most important places in the world for me at that time.
Through this couple, my eyes were opened to a different part of the world though—Asia, and more specifically, the Indian subcontinent. I was intrigued by the stories they told, and concluded that Asia had its own distinctiveness, challenges, and opportunities. But, at that point, I never thought I would have the opportunity of traveling there. Since that encounter, I have traveled to India a number of times, along with other countries in that region.
As we have done for several years, the October issue features a specific part of the world, and this issue focuses on a part of Asia also referred to as the south Asia subcontinent. What have I seen in these countries? Am I still intrigued by that part of the world, as I was when I met the couple from India? Here are some of my observations.
One of the significant differences is that Christianity has a very small presence there. I cannot think of any part of the world where Christianity is as underrepresented. Not only are the various non-Christian religions dominant, but they seem to be evident in all aspects of life—in the people, how they dress, public events, life in the cities, and life in the rural areas. One can even go to a restaurant in some of these countries and see the presence of their faith evident in the menus, decorations, and surroundings.
It is not unusual to hear that some of these countries—India especially mentioned—are becoming economic powerhouses. Indeed, over the years, one can see the progress that some of the countries have made, but that does not remove many great challenges they have. Consider Bangladesh—a large population in a small area and a landmass that often experiences floods. I recall passing an area where I saw some smokestacks in what appeared to be a large lake. I assumed it was a sunken ship, but instead of a lake, it was a brick factory that was covered with water (except for the smokestacks) during the rainy season.
The capital, Dhaka, has numerous destitute people who do not know when or from where they will receive their next meal. Even as I write this editorial, another country in this region, Pakistan, is experiencing devastating flooding. Millions have been displaced and a great fear exists that various diseases will spread. India, with more than a billion people, is the world’s second most populous nation. It has countless villages but also very populous cities where people are crowded and air pollution makes breathing difficult.
Indeed, this region has many challenges, but the church has never shied away from going to challenging places. Christian missionaries, including Seventh-day Adventist missionaries, have been sent to this part of the world even when results seemed remote. Because of the commitment of these missionaries, we see an active church in these countries. Today, in spite of many challenges, the church actively proclaims the gospel by personal contact, print, health work, radio, and television. Another area in which the church makes a positive presence is education. During one of my visits there, I recall meeting several individuals who did not belong to any Christian group but were then attending a Seventh-day Adventist college. Their experience on the campus will remain with them. In many of these countries, our church shows evidence of gaining a reputation of providing a quality education; thus a number of people have a very positive view of the church.
As you read this issue, you will notice that most of the articles are written by individuals from southern Asia and the topics focus on the same region. We can always benefit from listening to individuals whose experiences differ from our own. But there is another reason why we should all be interested in this part of the world. We see a great movement of people; as a result, their ideas, faiths, and philosophies also travel to various parts of the world. Even if you live far away from southern Asia, your part of the world is still influenced by southern Asia—and that means our ministry and commitment to proclaim the gospel are influenced by that part of the world. Understanding the practices and beliefs of others is important for effective ministry. In addition to understanding, we need to pray for each other and pray for the work of the church in all parts of the world. After all, we are one church and we serve the same Lord.