Bishop M.A. Thomas, a native of India, is the founder of Hopegivers International – a faith-based, non-profit organization that rescues orphaned and abandoned children, assists the needy and oppressed, and empowers the work of the Gospel through strategic ministry initiatives throughout India, Africa, and the world.
Last month, after The Christian Post ran a story about Hopegivers International and the recent graduation ceremony it held for over 1,000 graduates – all of whom were raised in Hopegivers-sponsored "Hope Homes" – of its Bible College program in India, The Christian Post got a chance to talk with Bishop M.A. Thomas about life, Christianity, and what it is like to run a global ministry.
The following are excerpts taken from the interview:
CP: Hopegivers International has been around for nearly 30 years now since it was first founded in India. Since then, it has expanded across the world into many other countries where it has successfully partnered with other ministries to help the poor and give homes to thousands of orphans. Could you share your reflections on what's it like to be a founder and leader of a global ministry? Also, what are some of the future plans you have for your ministry?
Thomas: In 1960 when I was a missionary in Rajasthan on the border with Pakistan, persecution against Christians was very high and it was against the law to even be a Christian until 1950, the date of India's independence. From that time, however, the Lord had commissioned me to spread his gospel. And even without any money to my name, my wife and I agreed to go where the Lord commanded us.
Eventually, we started our first church with only a $25 donation from our friend Dr. Bill Bright, the head of Campus Crusade for Christ, who had come to India start the Lord's work.
God blessed us everywhere and we started to give the gospel. India speaks 1,600 dialects and 20 major languages. Despite these challenges, we persevered until militant Hindus attacked us and burned all our Bibles. They demanded that we leave or be killed but we decided to stay even in the midst of the persecution. We continued to baptize and started our church. In 1966, my co-worker was killed and beaten to death. In total 15 of my co-workers have became martyrs since the start of our ministry up to until as late as 2007 in Orissa when two of my students were killed.
Now, however, I go to that same city where I started my mission, and I get a red carpet welcome.
Our ministry is constantly growing every year, and today our ministry has over a hundred schools and "Hope Homes" that raise and train orphans all across India.
You could say that the Lord called me take up his burden when I was very young.
I was born and raised in a very, very poor family – one of the poorest. Since I was young, however, I always had affection for orphans, which ultimately spurred me to start my own ministry dedicated to housing orphans. You know, in the Bible, there are so many orphans like Joseph and Moses who the Lord used for great things.
India has the largest population of orphans in the world. Altogether, there are about 86 million orphans throughout India. My dream is to raise and bring them all up with a future in Christ.
Today we have about 10,000 orphans with us, and every year thousands of them graduate from our Bible college programs to go on to do full-time mission work. We don't pressure them, but over 90 percent graduate from our programs and go on to willingly serve the Lord through full-time mission work. Out of my own 3 children, all serve the Lord, and of my 17 grand children, many of them too have been called to do work for the Lord.
It is true that Christians in India face intense persecution. It is very common in India. We face persecution every year.
In 2006, we had the worst kind of persecution. In February 2006, persecution forced many of our members into hiding. I myself was in hiding for 6 months.
My son also spent 49 days in prison and four of my preacher boys were in prison for 2 years until they were finally released without charges; this happens all the time, because all of the charges are always proved to be false.
Christianity in India is growing very rapidly. The Lord is really blessing the work. India is the best open field for the work of the Lord. It's true that there is opposition, but there was opposition even in the time of Jesus. Compared to the persecution of Jesus, it is nothing.
Right now, though we are raising about 10,000 orphans and street children through our ministry, and my goal for the future is to take up 1 million children from the streets. We look forward to this. If we get 1 million preacher boys and send them out to preach gospel, the Lord will be able to evangelize all of India.
In 2005, we graduated over 5,000 children. In 2006, persecution intensified because of our graduation ceremonies. But we believe the Lord will continue to allow for more to graduate. Like I said earlier, at least 90 percent of our graduates do full-time mission work, and India is a very open field with thousands of people of all different ethnicities coming to know the Lord.
CP: Although Christianity in India is growing rapidly, many official estimates put the number of Christians in India at about 2-3 percent. How do you see the future of Christianity in India?
Thomas: I believe 100 percent that India will be majority Christian by the end of the century. It is at least about 15 percent Christian now. But it is not completely published because of the persecution. Many people don't want to publish the true results because of the threat of raids and civil war.
We have 12,000 children, over 9,000 pastors, and more than a million people in our fellowship.
Growth of Christianity in India is extremely high. Fifty thousand people are baptized every year. They say China has only 25,000 baptisms a year.
I believe that by the turn of the century, 50 percent of India will be born again Christian, with an altogether 60-70 percent self declaring as professing Christians. We will have a great harvest.
CP: You've talked a lot about the persecution of Christians in India. As a country with a diversity of religions and culture, what do you think causes Christianity in particular to be a target for persecution?
Thomas: Many Indians tend to view Christianity as a foreign religion. Of course, the irony in this is that Hinduism arrived as a foreign religion too at around 500 B.C. When they (the Vedic Civilization) came, they saw Indians who were animists and who worshipped spirits. That was what our religion was. But then they came and they brought [Hinduism]. They then put Indians into 600 different castes, with the untouchables as the worst.
The Lord is really opening up the hearts of people. [Indians] are thrown to Christ because when they can see the love of God – that they can be a child of God, that they can be in heaven when they die – they realize the love of Christ and the need to believe in God. Once they come to Christ, they are free from the caste system. For the people of the lowest caste, it is necessary to be reincarnated 8.6 million times to become a member of a high class. But in Christ, the worst person can be a child of God. Hindu nationalists are often threatened by untouchables and the freedom that Christ gives them.
CP: Other than persecution what's the biggest obstacle to running a ministry as large as yours?
Thomas: The greatest hindrance really is the lack of money. I can say even today, even those who claim to be born-again Christians in America, if they give one dollar a day, we can evangelize the world without any financial difficulty in our lifetime. With one dollar a day, we can do amazing things. We praise God for anyone who supports this ministry.
CP: A majority of our readers live in the United States. Is there anything in particular you would like Christians in the U.S. to know about your ministry or about Christians in India?
Thomas: I want Christians in the U.S. to know that the church in India will continue to grow despite persecution. Right now, the fastest growth is in Orissa, which is a province that has taken on extreme persecution. Radical extremists have burned hundreds of churches, but the more they do it, the more the church grows. The main reason is the 15 martyrs who died there for Jesus Christ. Even for those who are hospitalized after being beaten severely by extremists, the secret to healing is that God's people always pray together.
This happens all over the world. The more the church is persecuted, the more it grows. God's people go on despite persecution.
CP: Thank you very much for your time. Is there one last thing you would like to tell our readers?
Thomas: Yes. I ask all of God's people to pray that we can take and train one million children from the street and make them one million preacher boys.