A large-scale church building project in India has revealed a “real hunger for Christianity” in the country, says Kyle Fiess, marketing director for Maranatha Volunteers International, a lay Seventh-day Adventist organization. The ongoing project has already provided worship facilities for more than 60,000 people over the past three years in a number of Indian states, including Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, and Rayasthan.
“We’ve been surprised at how quickly people have responded to the presence of an Adventist Church in their area,” says Fiess. “The buildings Maranatha has put up are rapidly filling-at a rate that means we may need to reassess the size of the churches that we’re building.”
The Maranatha project, undertaken in cooperation with Adventist Church leaders in India and Global Mission, the Church’s international outreach initiative, calls for at least 500 new churches to be built in the country.
The Adventist Church has operated in India since the early 1900s, but until three years ago, had only around 250,000 members within the entire sub-continent. However, the growth rate is accelerating, says Fiess, who notes that in 1997 about 14,000 people were baptized into the Adventist Church in India, while in 1999 this number increased to 65,000.
Fiess cites a number of factors that may have contributed to this dramatic response to Adventist Christianity in India, including the “vision for growth” of Church leaders in India and the work of 200-plus Global Mission pioneers-Adventist national lay workers, many under 25 years of age.
Fiess also points out the similarity between the Adventist lifestyle-with its emphasis on vegetarianism and health issues-and some aspects of Hindu, the predominant religion in India. On the other hand, Fiess notes, the Christian teaching of eternal life offers a hope that is in contrast with the Hindu belief in a repeated cycle of reincarnation.
Maranatha Volunteers International, a non-profit organization based in Sacramento, California, has two main, complementary, goals, says Fiess. “We work to provide urgently needed buildings for the Seventh-day Adventist Church around the world, and at the same time, we provide opportunities for volunteerism.”
Maranatha says that volunteerism actually helps strengthen the Adventist Church in North America. Fiess explains that volunteers who give up vacation time and sponsor their own travel come back from projects in other countries enthusiastic about helping other people and are also more likely to get involved in their local church and community.