It was only 10AM, but the temperature was already nearing 100 degrees. Pastor Ritesh* led the way up the hill, first on a rough gravel road and then a narrow footpath.
As we ascended, I couldn’t resist turning around frequently to catch glimpses of the beautiful sun-dried landscape in this remote district of western India.
Ritesh, an indigenous missionary supported by Harvest Bridge, was the first person to bring the Gospel to this region.
For 27 years, he and his wife Sunila* have shared Christ’s message and demonstrated His love among two tribal groups reputed for being drunkards and thieves.
Distrustful of neighbors and outsiders alike, members of these tribes live in homes separated by large distances, in contrast to the densely-packed villages found in most parts of India and other South Asian countries.
As the footpath wound its way up, it approached one such tribal house; similar homes were visible on the nearby slopes.
A local woman met us, identifying herself as a follower of Jesus with the customary Christian greeting in her tribal language. She directed us along another path to a house on the adjacent hillside.
I was pleased to learn that both of those homes, and several others nearby, were occupied by Christians!
These brothers and sisters came to faith following years of labor by Pastor Ritesh; they now meet every Sunday for church, pastored by one of Ritesh’s coworkers, and hold weekly prayer meetings.
This church, which gathers in homes and under palm trees outside, is one of 30 planted through Pastor Ritesh’s ministry.
Called to shine God’s light in remote, difficult places where others refuse to go, he and Sunila have remained faithful to the Lord’s call despite numerous opportunities to take more comfortable roles in larger cities.
Their ministry spans a 220-mile radius across three Indian states; in addition to church planting, it includes pastor training, Bible distribution, economic development programs and caring for orphans.
We waited in the shade for about a dozen people to arrive from their dwellings on the nearby slopes. When everyone had gathered, we held a prayer meeting.
Linguistic and cultural differences were no barrier to our fellowship as brothers and sisters in God’s family, bound together by the Holy Spirit.
My time with Pastor Ritesh was one among many visits on a recent trip to observe our partners’ ministries, monitor existing programs and evaluate new partnership opportunities.
Ritesh is one of over 260 national missionaries we are privileged to partner with.
Though his ministry is remarkable, it is the norm rather than the exception among our missionaries.
Earlier this month, we celebrated Easter. I am humbled by the way our partners celebrate Easter with their lives.
Following Christ’s example of death and resurrection, Ritesh, Sunila, and the other missionaries in our network have died to self and sacrificed “better” opportunities for the Gospel’s sake.
They have found joyful, resurrection life as they follow Jesus and obey His commands.
We are deeply grateful for your part in their work, through your prayers and support!
Director of International Partnerships
*Names changed for security