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London’s New Hope Community Church and the Native Missionary Movement
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By Noah Christiana

How does a church get involved in international missions? While some churches do their homework before partnering, and others follow a denominational lead, many churches start with relationship and build through a friend or a friend of a friend. This latter path is what got New Hope Community Church in Lambeth involved in one of the most vibrant Christian ministries in India.

Dr. Joy Punnoose, president of Native Missionary Movement (NMM), fled India due to political persecution, and was able to obtain landed immigrant status with the help of the Canadian consulate. Joy was introduced to Pastor Greg Wyton by a family attending New Hope at the time. Though the relationship between the two men took a while to develop, in time Greg accompanied Joy to northern India to minister. At the time New Hope was not involved in any international missions.

“When we went to one of the first villages I couldn’t believe the poverty,” says Greg. “Joy laughed at me and said, ‘This isn’t poverty, it’s just rural life in northern India.’” The pace that they kept in their three-week trip was breathtaking. They would minister in a town, and then drive all night to get to the next church they were going to visit. During that time Greg got a picture of how the church could help out with the vast amount of spiritual and economic poverty in India through a partnership with NMM.

Native Missionary Movement was started by Joy’s father in law in 1965 by establishing a bible college with five students sitting and learning on the floor of a mud hut. The growth of the ministry since then is staggering. When Joy became director of the ministry there were already 800 churches; now, ten years later there are 1,600. There are 24,000 people who are baptised annually, 18 church buildings were built last year alone, and the humble bible college is now a North American accredited seminary offering Masters and PhD programs. The ministry has established ten children’s homes, seven schools, and a hospital. While this is a triumphant story, the reality is that every inch of this territory taken for Christ has come at a cost.

When the missionaries are commissioned by the ministry they are normally sent out with a one-way ticket. They are going into areas that have never seen a bible, much less a Christian missionary. Upon reaching the village they will often ask to see and pray for the sick. The fact that the population is overwhelmingly Hindu is actually an advantage (versus a secular society), as they are a very spiritual people and will allow prayer when they have tried everything else. It is often through miraculous healing of those sick that the missionaries are established in their areas, though the missionaries often pay a heavy price. In order to support these men the ministry has established a retreat centre in the south of the country exclusively for persecuted pastors where they can come be ministered to. The building is absolutely beautiful, and built at a tenth of the price it would cost in Canada.

Currently there are 350,000 first generation Christians in church with the ministry. This is in a nation of over a billion people and, especially in the north, some of the greatest poverty in the world. The ministry continues to multiply and grow with dedicated financial supporters and an all-native team of ministers putting their faith on the line every day. While news of what believers go through for their faith may appear to be sparse, we need to be aware of what our brothers and sisters are going through.

“Jesus died for all humanity,” Joy stresses. “We need to be a part of it, we need to care for them. We followers of Christ need to get involved one way or another.”

As I prepared to leave Greg’s office at the end of interviewing the two men he called my attention to a picture he has hanging on the inside of the door to his office. It is of a large group of perhaps 150 smiling faces in a graduation photo of new missionaries who Greg helped to train. “I keep this here as a reminder,” Greg says.

“Within a few months, perhaps four, they were virtually all homeless. Many of their homes were burned or destroyed. Many of them were beaten, some had a hand cut off, their children were put out of school, and so on.” These were a part of the organized anti-Christian attacks in the Indian state of Orissa on August 31, 2008.

We can stand in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ in northern India as Greg and New Hope Church are. You can support Native Missionary Movement through the website at Joy has written a book about the ministry and his testimony. “Live for a Cause” is a powerful call to the church to follow Christ in a radical and transformational way. In fact, this will be our family’s next dinner table book.