Remote Tribe in a Muslim-Majority Country Thrives as a Gospel Partnership Bears Fruit

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Dec 8, 2020

Deep in the remote mountains of a Muslim-majority country in Asia, MTW missionaries have partnered with the local Presbyterian denomination for more than a decade: planting churches and training local Christian leaders with solid, Reformed theology. It’s an unlikely place for the gospel to take hold. And yet, in a country where the vast majority of people are Muslim, and where less than half of 1% of the population is Christian, one little group of tribes has become almost completely Christian—a constellation of hope shining in the darkness.

And the light is growing stronger. One of our local partners reported that 143 people were baptized just this last September—the hard-won fruit of nearly a decade of faithful ministry in a notoriously tough community.

“God is really at work in their hearts,” said local pastor Rahmat Khan.

Equipping Local Leadership with Theological Support

Partnership with local churches and denominations across the globe is a key element of MTW’s strategy for gospel impact, and for good reason. Local Christian leaders are often the best-equipped to share the gospel and grow the church in their context. After all, they’re working with their own people, culture, and language.

Simultaneously, MTW is able to provide key support that might otherwise be unavailable, such as theological training, technical expertise, or helping fund seminary education or church-planting efforts.

And here’s the thing: It works.

When MTW and the Presbyterian Church of South Asia (PCSA)* began their partnership in 2003, the little denomination had just 23 small congregations scattered across the country, and very few resources to enable them to grow, plant new churches, or support evangelists. In the years since, they have grown to more than 80 churches—many of which are entirely self-supporting—and around 4,000 people have accepted Christ.

How did this happen? How is it that a traditionally animist people group, smack dab in the middle of a Muslim-majority country, becomes a growing, thriving, missional community of faith?

A Century of Gospel Faithfulness

The story begins a century ago, in 1918, when a Welsh missionary came over the mountains and shared the gospel with an unreached tribal group in this remote part of Asia. The Welshman moved on after just three months, off to carry his message of hope to still others, but three Asian evangelists who had accompanied him on the journey decided to stay. They founded a Reformed denomination straight away and got to work. At first, no one responded. But then, after 10 years of faithful labor, one family finally accepted Christ. And then another. And then another. The dominos began to fall as the gospel took hold. Over the next 60 years, the tribe became almost completely Christian.

Eighty years later, the PCSA was still vibrant and active. The denomination was small and poorly-resourced, with just 23 small congregations scattered across the country, but its leadership—spearheaded by a wrinkled, betel nut-chewing man of 75 named Reverend Akash Banerjee*—had big dreams and a bold vision to evangelize the other, still-unreached tribal groups in the region. By the late 1990s, Akash had begun his search for budding local leaders in the PCSA—the men and women who would carry the gospel forward into South Asia.

Around the same time, a local believer named Adnan Sikdar* was studying at the university in the capital city when God showed him a vision.

“I was working on my master’s in economics, and God told me to stop studying at a secular college and go to Bible school,” Adnan explained. “When I heard that, I was filled with joy.

Developing Leaders

Before long, Akash had heard about Adnan’s ministry call, and recruited him to help lead the PCSA’s missionary efforts. Because there were no seminaries in their country, Adnan applied to a seminary in the Philippines. Though he didn’t know how he would be able to pay for school, Adnan was confident that God would provide. Two months later he received good news: he had not only been accepted, he had received a full scholarship. A local Catholic priest paid for his airfare, and soon Adnan was on his way.

But when he arrived at the seminary, Adnan was greeted with bad news. Though he had thought his scholarship covered all he needed to live, it actually only covered his tuition and books. So close to finally getting the training that would equip him to grow the church in his home country, Adnan found himself alone and broke in a foreign country. Providentially, Adnan met now-retired missionary Paul Taylor, who was then serving as MTW’s international director for the Asia-Pacific region. At the time, MTW didn’t have any connections in Adnan’s home country, and when Paul heard Adnan’s story, he was intrigued.

“[Adnan] told me his whole story, and I thought: ‘That’s pretty cool,’” said Paul. “I love ‘everywhere to everywhere.’ I love local missions in various countries having their own missions outreach, and I wanted to help with that.”

Paul agreed to help pay for Adnan’s living expenses for one year. Over that next year, the pair met every week. They went to church together, discussed theology and missions, and got to know one another quite well.

“He spent a lot of time in our home and I came to love the guy,” said Paul. “He’s a man of deep integrity—and that’s the kind of guy we love to work with.”

By the end of that first year, Paul was convinced that Adnan was the real deal—a man of vision and character who, given the chance, could help grow and lead the Presbyterian church in his home country. Paul agreed that MTW would help support Adnan for the remaining two years of seminary, and even helped pay to send a second budding leader from the PCSA to seminary, a man named Rahmat Khan—a kingdom investment if there ever was one. When Rahmat and Adnan graduated and returned home, the partnership between MTW and PCSA began in earnest.

A Fruitful Partnership

Paul took his first trip to visit the churches in the hill tribes in 2003 and continued to work with the PCSA for the next seven years.

“I went there for week-long trips maybe two or three times every year,” Paul said. “We brought people from the States to do training and mentoring and things like that …. Our role was predominantly strategy. We did some teaching of the local missionaries that they recruited and helped with finances. It was a fairly intensive involvement.”

For their part, Adnan, Rahmat, and the other leaders of the PCSA pushed forward with their church planting and evangelism strategy: They would recruit missionaries from the local tribal groups, train them, and send them out to preach the gospel in remote villages. Early on, the denomination didn’t have the money to support even a single missionary. MTW footed the bill, confident that, over time, the churches would be able to support themselves. Once again, God came through. By the time Paul retired in 2010 the PCSA had grown to 50 churches and was able to financially support 26 of their own staff. Today, the denomination boasts 80 churches, and it shows no signs of stopping.

This remarkable growth has not been without its challenges. Over the years, some of these Christians have had church members beaten up by angry villagers, churches burned to the ground by mobs, and at least one person killed for their faith. Though persecution has eased up over the last 10 years, life for Christians is still difficult. Yet God has seen the PCSA through poverty and persecution. He has richly blessed them and proven faithful through both hard times and good.

In 2018, the PCSA celebrated the 100th anniversary of the gospel reaching their people. Over the course of a century, this remote hill tribe has become an unlikely bastion of the faith—more than 10,000 believers in the midst of a Muslim-majority country historically hostile to Christianity. And those numbers are only growing. Every year the PCSA plants more churches and sees more people come to faith.

These days, MTW has two missionary families serving in the same country as the PCSA, advancing the partnership that Paul Taylor began nearly 20 years ago. They write Reformed curriculum, train leaders from the PCSA, and are actively working to plant a church in a city not far from the region where the country’s Presbyterian movement began. It’s all part of a larger movement of the Spirit, actively at work among the tribal people groups. Through gospel partnership, God is doing remarkable things in Muslim Asia.

We can’t wait to see what He does next.

If you're interested in receiving email updates and links to videos of God’s work among these peoples, you can sign up for quarterly email updates here.

*Names of places, denominations, and people have been changed for security reasons.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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