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God’s Big Picture

God’s Big Picture

By Ginny,* serving among South Asians in the United States

Kiran first came to a ministry center in the American Midwest looking for help with studying for an advanced English placement exam. But God had brought her from South Asia for a greater purpose—one for which He’d begun preparing me decades before.

When God led my husband and me to serve Him in South Asia, we both assumed we might "bury our bones" there after many years of service. We felt that going into cross-cultural ministry overseas required that kind of commitment, and we were willing! God had planted a desire to serve overseas in our hearts even before we met, and part of His leading was to bring us together to serve Him overseas. But that was just one part of His big-picture plan for us.

Our guiding Scripture passage as we started our journey into ministry was Romans 15:20-21:

“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:

‘Those who were not told about him will see,

and those who have not heard will understand.’” (NIV)

God used these verses to help us realize the great need of the least-reached, who do not have access to a church or the gospel message in a language they understand, shared through a cultural lens that is relevant to them. Even though we recognized it might be difficult, we knew we had to go to those who did not know and who had little chance to hear.

God led us to a rural area of South Asia, where we spent years learning the language well enough to be considered fluent. We learned to get around in the strict Islamic culture and became adept at knowing what was appropriate in relationships with men and women so that our message would not be blocked by cultural mistakes that took away from what we had to say. We learned about the importance of hospitality, both accepting it and extending it ourselves. We learned to love and appreciate the people of our host country, the stories they had to share with us and the needs they wanted help with.

We lived and worked happily in South Asia for 18 years and saw some fruit borne from our relationships and our ministries among the people there. It wasn't always easy or peaceful, but we were trusting God that He had us in the place He wanted us to be; and He was always faithful to guide our steps forward.

Then, through a chain of events that started with 9/11, we left South Asia and did not return—something that was never part of our original plan. But it became clear that it was part of God's plan. He saw a bigger picture of need and was about to give us a glimpse. We had learned early on in our pursuit of cross-cultural ministry that God would always lead us in the direction He wanted us to go if we were willing to step out and start walking. After it became clear that returning to South Asia was not possible, we started taking baby steps toward the next possibility: away from South Asia, but not away from South Asians!

Part of God's big picture was that we already had some knowledge and experience with the work among South Asians that had been taking place in a Little India community in the United States since 1997. We thought it might be a good place to spend some time as we waited for God to reveal His plans for our continued cross-cultural ministry.

We soon realized how well we were prepared for ministry in Little India, in spite of it being an urban area rather than the rural community we were used to. Finding ourselves amid the large South Asian population in Little India was just like we had landed in a city in our old host country. That was all we needed to make us feel at home again.

In many ways, the outreaches we became involved in through a local ministry center that reaches out to South Asians were just continuations of what we had been doing overseas. We still needed all the lessons we learned about the culture and how to interact with men and women appropriately because the people of Little India still adhere strongly to South Asian cultural norms. We were able to communicate easily with the first-generation Urdu-speaking immigrants who needed help with English or paperwork or who wanted to read some literature or the Bible in their language, and that seemed to cut through some barriers and help us establish relationships more quickly. We even came to realize that knowing Urdu enabled us to communicate with South Asians not only from our former host country but from numerous other nations as well. God had first taken us where we could learn a language that was a key to reaching so many people in this new place.

We thought working in Little India would be a temporary measure until we could figure out where God wanted us to go next. But it became clear early on that He meant for us to stay put. Our 18 years overseas were part of God’s big-picture plan: They taught us how to live and work among South Asians so that we could be properly trained for service in Little India!

A new passage of Scripture came to have great meaning for us:

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27 NIV)

God not only determined the boundaries and habitations of the people He wanted to reach with the gospel, He also determined the same for those He prepares as His messengers. The least-reached are living right here in our midst, very close to home, and God equipped us in a special way to reach them.

Kiran was one of those people. Her English was good enough for fluent conversation, but she often had trouble understanding what she was reading. So, when she came to the ministry center, she was delighted to get to know someone who could translate into Urdu when she didn't understand a concept. My background in South Asian culture and language was an extra draw for Kiran, and we became very close friends over the years. I assisted her with numerous pursuits like working on computer skills and helping with questions related to her work, and eventually we began meeting in her home to study English together on a regular basis. Kiran’s kids all went through our center’s homework tutoring program and her husband also studied English with us for a time.

Having developed a relationship of friendship and trust, Kiran was comfortable sharing with me and asking questions about the Bible. One day during the weeks leading up to Christmas, she asked me who Jesus' father was, which led to a great opportunity to share truth about Jesus being the Son of God and the purpose of Him coming to earth as a baby. Since then, Kiran has been very open to learning about the Jesus of the Bible, and God is drawing her to Himself because of the relationships she was able to establish with me and other women at the center.

He is also using answered prayer on her family's behalf to show Himself as a God who can carry our burdens and who provides for our needs. She is learning to rely on Jesus in the midst of many struggles and loves being prayed for, and she trusts God more easily because she knows He will help her.

Things do not happen by chance; just as we believed that God guided us every step of the way to take us overseas to South Asia, He also chose the duration of our stay there, the direction our ministry would take and where it would be located. He used the time we spent there to prepare us for being back in the United States but still living in the midst of South Asians, who are just as unreached and gospel-needy as people in our rural community overseas.

Even though we could not see the big picture in the same way God was seeing it, by trusting Him with our future we were able to follow His lead and find ourselves well-equipped to continue in ministry when we could not go back overseas. God led us to Little India where South Asian Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs had already gathered years before, and He gave us the tools to reach out to them in a way that they could understand. God saw the big picture and prepared us to see it, too!

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