Participants at the 2008 South Asia Field Conference enjoy worship during the evening service. More than 500 believers from throughout India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka attended the event.
India designated as seventh Eurasia field
Friday, February 8, 2008
Central India
Sunil Dandge is standing before more than 400 South-Asian believers in a meeting hall in central India, but his words are for the global church as much as for those within earshot.

“Today is a big day for us,” he says.

It’s Thursday, January 31, and India has just become its own field—the first in the global Church of the Nazarene to be entirely indigenous.

From the 15 district superintendents to ministry coordinators to field leadership—Dandge (pictured in slideshow) has been appointed field strategy coordinator—everyone is Indian, a shift that, according to several regional and global leaders, should have happened a long time ago.

“This is a huge step forward for the church,” said Jurisdictional General Superintendent James H. Diehl. “This is our philosophy of missions… We have very capable leaders in India that have been here for a long time. I’m just rejoicing that the day has finally come.”

The shift of the platform from international to national leadership is a literal one this week. Announcing India as its own field was just the beginning of South Asia’s 2008 Field Conference, an event that had slotted several international guests to speak, but had to adjust at the last minute for security reasons. So in the end, it was India’s own pastors who spoke, a shift that mirrors the new designation of the field.

“There was no hesitation from any of them,” said South Asia Field Strategy Coordinator Ron Gilbert of the pastors who stepped up to preach. “I was working behind the scenes with them and they were ready. Which says they’ve been ready.”

The South Asia Field, which formerly encompassed India, will continue to include all neighboring countries in the area where there is work. So the field distinction isn’t a matter of geography so much as one of growth and maturity among one of the oldest mission areas within the Church of the Nazarene.

“I think it’s time, and I think it’s the right time,” said Dandge, who has been serving as the president of South Asia Nazarene Bible College (SANBC) for the last seven years. “You see more districts wanting to take responsibility for themselves, for growing, and sustaining. It’s a sign of health. And being a field will strengthen and enlarge that feeling among the districts.”

India became a mission area in 1897, 10 years before the Church of the Nazarene was officially organized. Today, it comprises 15 districts and more than 1,311 congregations. It is home to several child development centers, 65 JESUS Film teams, and an educational institution, SANBC, which has extension education in 80 centers across India and neighboring countries.

The field seems poised, as ever, for growth.

The conference confirms this with so many local pastors leading daily seminars on topics like compassionate ministries, reaching unreached groups, church growth, and JESUS Film ministry.

Add to that the closing ceremony that recognized 44 new SANBC graduates and ordained 21 new elders from Bangladesh, Nepal, and two districts in India (the other India areas ordained 10 others in district assemblies earlier this month, as did Sri Lanka, which ordained four new elders five minutes after they graduated from SANBC on January 17). Most of these are already pastors in their local areas, but they’re among the group that passed the college’s “quality control” inspection, according to SANBC Academic Dean Simon Jothi.

From here, India’s journey moves into uncharted territory.

“All the prayers of the church, the region, and the general church—we need them,” said Dandge. “There’s growing opposition from some groups [in India], so we need to be guarded by God and guided by him, and wisely plan our strategy and outreach.”
--Simon Finney for Eurasia Communications (Slideshow available)