South Asia—Donald and Helen McKinneys’* outreach to South Asians started in North America. They first got to know a South Asian people group in their church’s backyard before becoming Christian workers on the other side of the world.
Helen and her Sunday School teacher from Trinity Baptist Church in Niskayuna, N.Y., began visiting the homes of the church’s neighbors, several of whom were from South Asia. Each Thursday over tea, they formed friendships with the families, who showed them photos of family members in South Asia.
“The ladies would so welcome us, they were so lonely for their family,” Helen recalled. The Thursday home visits turned into a weekly Bible study when they also swapped recipes and played with the children. A former school teacher, Helen gravitated to interacting with the children. Over the next 10 years, the Thursday class drew about 50 women each week.
“That really started in my heart a love for these people,” Helen said of the South Asian people group she has served among. “They’re so precious, so open to hearing the truth of God’s word.”
Donald was invited on a missions trip to South Asia while he was a professor and dean at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary’s Northeast Campus in Albany, N.Y. Year after year, the McKinneys spent their summers in South Asia, where Donald taught theology, outreach and leadership development to pastors who had started house churches in South Asia but had little access to pastoral training.
Most of the pastors were raised Hindu, which purports that “gods are in everything: nature, trees—not trees representing gods but that the trees are gods,” Donald said. “They have a god for this and a god for that—one for prosperity, another for health, etc.”
After deciding to devote his time to church leader development there, Donald said, “I was initially overwhelmed by this ocean of idolatry.”
He visited Hindu temples to see how people worshipped, observing people offering food, flowers and incense to statues and praying to them. One evening, he saw a celebratory procession of a new statue being added to a temple. Devotees carried the flower-draped statue on their shoulders as they circled the temple, crying out, “God is coming! God is coming!”
Another night, Donald struck up a conversation with an electrical salesman praying at the temple. “He told me he worships 40 gods a night, and Jesus is one of them,” Donald recounted. “I told him that wasn’t good enough. Jesus needs to be the only one.”
Overwhelming to Donald, in addition to the number of gods that Hindus believe in, was the sheer number of people in the area.
There are 1.6 billion people living in this part of the world, and it has “the greatest concentration of lostness,” Donald said. There are more unengaged, unreached people groups in South Asia than in the rest of the world combined.
One of the most rewarding yet humbling aspects of sharing the gospel in an unreached area is being the first one to tell someone about it, he said. When looking at someone absorbing the words of the gospel for the first time, Donald can see the person “listening to the power” of God’s Word, curious to know more.
By the look on a man’s face, “I know this guy’s never heard this in his life. … He has no idea how the story ends.”
Donald, in contrast, started preaching when he was 14 at the church where his father was pastor, Calvary Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla. After serving as a pastor in Mississippi for nearly 17 years, Donald returned to Calvary Baptist to serve as pastor for four years before joining Mid-America Seminary’s New York faculty.
He has used his pastoral experience and theological education to train South Asian church leaders how to share their testimonies and simple gospel messages, as well as how to form house churches and how to lead worship services and Bible studies in that setting.
The leaders are hungry “to grow and to know and to learn,” said Donald, despite what it has cost them.
A former Hindu turned minister was told by his family, “You can either get rid of Jesus, or we’re going to get rid of you,” Donald noted. “I have to serve Christ,” Donald said the man told his family, who kicked him out of the house.
“They closed his room and said don’t come back, you’re not welcome in this house anymore,” Donald said. “If you’re hungry, we don’t intend to feed you. Don’t call us if you’re sick, we won’t take care of you. As far as we’re concerned, you don’t exist anymore.”
The pastor now goes village to village, preaching to a wide circle of 16 house churches. “What you give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering helped me to help him,” Donald said. “He told me, ‘What you teach me every month, I go home and I preach to all my churches, and I come back and I learn some more.’ Thanks for helping him. It really matters.
“I see my brothers (in Christ) who are faithfully, steadily witnessing, seeing people saved, baptizing them and starting new churches,” Donald said.
“I’m encouraged by the work of the Lord in the churches, by the work of the Holy Spirit to raise up young leaders, and I see many of them coming forward to do the work of the ministry.” (IMB)