By Bill MacLeod, Executive Director
Dr. Samuel Stephens is the 3rd generation leader of the India Gospel League (IGL), founded in 1948 by his grandfather. Dr. Stephens has been used of the Lord throughout India but he was a “barefoot pastor “, himself until 1988 when his father died and he assumed leadership of the ministry.
He authored The Kairos Moment, that describes what he believes is a nationwide “opportune time” for all of India today – where doors are open and where people are receptive. Indeed, he shares how there are nearly 8000 baptisms every day in India! This is significant since recent legislation in India has curbed missionary efforts which has meant IGL has had to adjust its efforts to fit the “new normal”.
Following receiving his doctorate recently from George Fox University, we had an opportunity to get better acquainted. His response to our questions show he is living proof of our “There is Hope.” theme…
What were the circumstances that ushered in the hope of Jesus into your own life? You came from a long line of Christian leaders, but when did Jesus become personal?
Having been led to the Lord at a very early age, I can say my encounter with Jesus, the experience and joy of salvation, has been an ongoing source of hope and encouragement all my life. Of, course I have had my own ups and downs, my own failures and moments of despair; but the grace of God has always kept me aware of the light at the end no matter how dark the tunnel I was passing through at whatever point and stage of time.
A significant part of that can be attributed to my family’s Christian heritage. As a child my parents constantly reminded me and my siblings of how God rescued our family out of spiritual darkness and hopelessness. We were kept aware of the stark difference that Christ made in our lives, compared to people around us.
How has that hope transformed your life and led you to express it in cross-cultural settings both throughout India, and even here in North America?
I hold very vivid and fond memories of accompanying my parents as they went into remote villages bringing the gospel. I remember crossing rivers and traveling in ox carts, being carried on my father’s shoulders for miles as he and my mother would walk to some villages. These memories are precious to me and I cherish them.
But the deeper and indelible impressions left on my heart are the remarkable transformation of individuals, families and entire communities because of the Gospel being brought to them. I consistently witnessed this amazing phenomenon growing up. It may be difficult to picture the hopelessness of the people living in these primitive villages six decades ago. The Gospel message – the Good News- was the best news to these people and it still is. The Gospel is their only hope to bring them out of darkness, oppression and even social and economic backwardness. I have seen people by the thousands liberated from these bondages. This experience has spurred me on over the decades to boldly move into unreached areas all over India and Sri Lanka and in more recent years NEPAL as well, witnessing amazing results.
What challenges / opportunities are you seeing in India to that Hope, and what parallels do you see for us in North America we can learn from you on?
On one hand vast geographic areas and people groups of South Asia remain yet untouched by this transforming power of the Gospel. Although India has had Christian witness from the very first century and has been under the influence of foreign missions for more than three centuries, the Gospel has not crossed urban boundaries and gone into the primitive rural villages where most of the population reside.
On the other hand, our experience over the past three decades is that where the Good News is heard for the first time, enormous numbers of people are responding. We must move with greater vision and urgency, being sensitive to different people groups rather than blinded by the lens of historical patterns, traditions, and restrictive human agendas.
I am often confronted with the question, “Why isn’t God working in the West the way He is in other parts of the world?” He doesn’t have to and He won’t. People are different, cultures are different, world views and daily experiences and needs vary from one to another. The only common strategy that God has for everyone is the strategy for salvation and redemption through the cross of Christ. The tactical plan to implement that is left to the local church in every context. We come alongside new church plants and equip the church and its believers to reach out, evangelize, and impact their neighborhoods and communities – and they are multiplying. That’s the New Testament plan and it can be done.
What would you like to see people attending Mission ConneXion Northwest 2018 to come away with, and how would you like them to respond to the unique emphasis you will bring with regards to our “There is Hope.” theme?
I would like them to leave with a clear understanding of the current move of God and be convinced that amidst all the current winds and storms the Church is going through, there is Hope. God is continuing to do with the same vigor and momentum what He started – “Making everything new.” The victory has been won, the destiny is fixed. The Church is not walking toward victory but walking in victory if it is walking and staying in step with God.