For years my friend and my church’s ministry partner, H. C. Stephen, has asked me to visit him in Manipur, India. He has been at my church, Grace Baptist in Batavia, N.Y., and been a guest in my home many times, but India had never touched the bottom of my shoes. In response to his persistent requests to visit, I always had viable “spiritual” reasons for declining that I could hide behind. Yet H. C. continued to press, and I am very glad he did.
Feb. 18—March 1 were 10 days that changed my life and the lives of the three men who traveled with me. Our trip to India was filled with drama: we missed our flight due to a weather and mechanical delay in Buffalo, and when we finally did get to India, our luggage did not; our luggage arrived five days later. Yet none of these obstacles ultimately changed a thing. (Besides, we all packed at least one extra pair of underwear in our carry-on bags.)
My mission was to preach Friday evening through Sunday evening at the annual Bible conference of the New Testament Baptist Churches Association in Churachandpur, Manipur, India. Stephen is representative of that association, a partnering fellowship of the International Partnership of Fundamental Baptist Ministries, and was elected this past fall as chairman of the IPFBM Council of Eight. (Read “H. C. Stephen Elected as IPFBM Chair.”) Over 1,000 people attended the conference. Then Monday through Thursday, I taught Biblical counseling at Asian Baptist Bible College, a ministry of the India association, to approximately 40 students who unmistakably love God and were eager to learn.
The three men who traveled with me are all on Grace Baptist’s missions committee: Mike Charvella, Hans Foeller, and Pete Hollands. They are builders and an electrician by trade and went on the trip to work on H. C.’s half-completed home and ministry center. Grace Baptist Church committed over $11,000 to see these needed projects completed. H. C. was greatly encouraged by what the men were able to accomplish during our brief stay. They loved the challenge and camaraderie working with local carpenters.
As a fellowship of churches, we really do have a partnership! I have seen pictures of what men like missionary James Garlow and Mark Jackson, former IPFBM director, accomplished in Manipur. That region always seemed so far away and detached. However, to be there and see the New Testament Baptist Churches Association functioning as a well-oiled machine was a true blessing.
On one occasion H. C. said to me, “More than a mission field, this is a mission movement.” I saw this firsthand while preaching at a neighboring church and visiting two church plants. Culturally, the people are reserved yet warm, caring, and serious about living for Jesus Christ. They live out the spiritual art of self-forgetfulness.
H. C. Stephen is the real deal. While H. C. and I enjoy a friendship of over 15 years, I had never before seen him on his home turf. While in Manipur, I saw him interact with his wife and children, ministry leaders, college students, and common people. He is a man surrendered to Jesus Christ and is faithfully laboring for Him on a wide and effective ministry platform. He is a man of vision and capacity evidenced in his most recent acquisition of beautiful property about a 30-minute drive from Churachandpur that is destined to become a camp center for the association.
There is tangible evidence of how the Lord is using him. Perhaps my greatest blessing throughout my time in Manipur was preaching with him as my translator. Few times in my ministry have I ever experienced such Holy Spirit empowerment as we worked in tandem proclaiming God’s Word.
H. C. and his wife, Chingboi, have done an exceptional job raising their three children. John (19), Sarah (18), and Kezia (8) love the Lord and live for Him. They were gracious servants and a joy to get to know. Lord willing, this fall Sarah will attend Cedarville University in Ohio and John will be at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, Pa.
Chingboi not only oversees a busy home but is also principal for the over 800 students who attend Hope Baptist Academy, another ministry of the India association. The growing success of that school is a testimony to God’s blessing on her leadership. The Stephens’ love for children also extends to their needed and effective ministry to over 60 orphans at the association’s Hope Baptist Children’s Home.
India finally touched the bottom of my shoes. I am thankful that I finally said yes and made the trip happen.
Mike, Hans, Pete, and I wanted to be a blessing. But even more so, we were blessed by our Indian co-laborers. Ten thousand miles from home, their model of Christlikeness enlarged my capacity of gratitude for our international partnerships. Together we are privileged to be a part of the greatest work in the world: Jesus Christ building His church!
Donald A. Shirk is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Batavia, N.Y.