The Gospel for Asia founder describes his life in a tiny, remote village in India, his time in Texas, and his call back to Asia where his movement has more than 16,000 workers in the heart of the 10/40 Window
DALLAS, TX (ANS) -- It’s been an extraordinary long and winding road for K.P. Yohannan. He has gone from a life in a poor Indian village, to being invited to study God’s Word in Texas, to running one of the largest mission groups in Asia and is now involved in a huge project to help the Dalits, or “untouchables,” of India find the new life that can only come through Jesus Christ.
K.P. Yohannan is the founder and president of Gospel for Asia, a mission organization involved in evangelism and church planting in the unreached regions of South Asia. Currently GFA supports over 16,000 church planters in the heart of the 10/40 Window.
GFA has grown rapidly and has quickly become one of the most effective mission forces in Asia today. The ministry now supports native missions in 10 Asian nations. At the 54 Gospel for Asia missionary Bible colleges, over 8,000 church planters are being trained to reach the unreached.
In an interview in Dallas, Texas, where he took time out from speaking at the Gospel for Asia “Renewing Your Passion” missions conference, K.P. first of all talked about his early life in India.
“I was born and grew up in a very small rural community in the extreme southern part of India,” he began. “When I came to America in 1974 I happened to read in a large textbook on Church history and there I came across the name of my tiny village.
“This village happened to be one of the places that the Apostle Thomas, Christ’s disciple, came to preach the Gospel in A.D. 52. He planted seven churches and one of them is still in that community.
“So I was born about three kilometers from where that church was established. The privilege I had more than anything else is that my mother was a very godly devout follower of Christ, and my father was also a believer. So in a land where you have millions and millions of people and hardly two and a half percent are Christians, what a privilege it was for me that the Lord allowed me to be born in a home where my parents knew the Lord.
“It was at the age of eight my mother explained to me about Jesus dying for me, and that is how I gave my heart to the Lord. That was my beginning of understanding about Jesus and then growing of course you know later it is again my mother’s prayer that the Lord answered in calling me to serve Him.”
K.P. Yohannan said that he joined Operation Mobilization, founded by George Verwer, and traveled 2,000 miles north from his home and spent eight years serving God. He said that at the end of 1973, he was planning to go to a Bible college in England, when Dr. W.A. Criswell, pastor of the huge First Baptist Church in Dallas, heard about him and invited him to come to America to study at Criswell Bible College in Dallas.
I asked him if this was a huge culture shock for him, and he laughed and replied, “Oh my goodness, yeah. You know I must tell you for the first two weeks when I was here it was like I was kind of spaced out—not on drugs. I mean the loud roads and the people.”
He recalled his early experiences with American food.
“I remember my first day in America, I was at the airport in New York and I was so hungry that I went to the cafeteria and sat there forever waiting for someone to come and serve me. Finally, a lady saw me sitting there and said, ‘Are you here to get some food?’ I said I was and she told me to go and stand in line to get the food.
“For me, in India, you go and stand in line for food in front of a temple or some other festival and only beggars would do that. I never knew there was this thing called a buffet system.
“Do American people eat dog meat?”
“I finally got to the front of the line and had a tray in my hand and the lady standing behind the counter asked me what I wanted. I didn’t know any of the names of the food and I said I didn’t know. She then raised her voice and asked again, ‘What do you want?’ So I pointed to something behind the counter and I asked her what it was. ‘It’s a hot dog,’ she said.
“I was so shocked that I took three steps back and I said, ‘Madam, you mean to tell me that in America, people eat dog meat? She shook her head thinking that I was joking and I was not. Of course, I didn’t buy the thing but picked out something else, but now I know what it is.”
K.P. Yohannan stayed the Dallas college from 1974 to 1979 and I asked him if was tempted to stay in America.
“Well, you know, within six months of my coming to America, besides my studies, I was called to pastor a local church and ordained by Dr. Criswell at the First Baptist Church,” he said. “I was quite busy teaching my people, visiting homes and counseling. A couple of years went by. America is a wonderful nation, but unless one is very careful, the affluence and materialism can ruin one’s life. And I didn’t know this was happening to me.
“Within two and a half years, I found myself so lost in a world of education, philosophy and Greek and Hebrew and also so busy with the church and all this stuff, that I found my heart was no longer soft and tender. I no longer had tears in my eyes for the lost world. Of course, as a Baptist minister, I talked about Heaven and Hell and missions and all those things, but they became just a matter of fact to me.”
“Then too, because the resources now available, I was able to buy whatever I wanted to buy. So money was there.”
I then asked him to explain the German connection.
“My wife Gisela is German. She was with me in India before I came to America,” said K.P. “So you know, Jesus said, ‘You cannot serve God and money.’ I think the enemy has these things called materialism, affluence, a new house, a new car, new clothes. It’s the American dream and I had all these things, but I was dying on the inside, spiritually.
“In my head I knew all the answers, and Bible became the tool of the trade for me that I would use to teach and preach and I was doing very well. People liked my sermons, but finally I said to myself, ‘I’m not the same person I was when the Lord called me to serve Him. I’m not the same person that I was that walked on the streets of North India weeping over the lost and perishing millions and stayed up all night praying and weeping over a world map. I’m not the same person; and I realize my heart is cold.’
“And I was frightened, and this is when I began to cry out to God to change me. I still had in my head all the knowledge I have now about missions. I had read and studied all of this, but it didn’t create passion or tears or my ability not to say no to what I wanted and walk away from materialism for the sake of the lost world.
“It was my sin, and the Lord was gracious to make me understand that finally, and when I did, that was a turning point in my life.”
K.P. then described what happened next.
“I spent days of seeking God’s face,” he said. “You know, in America, we sit in comfortable, nice, soft leather chairs, but I was so desperate to hear from God that I was sitting on the carpet and, just like a little child, I said, ‘Lord, I’m lost. I know all this stuff in my head but my heart is cold. I pray, but I don’t know if You can ever hear me. I don’t know what to do. Did I lose it all? If you know me Lord, would you please talk to me once again?’
“A week and a half or went by, and then a most beautiful thing happened. The Lord walked into my room. I can’t even explain in detail what happened; but He began to speak to me. He was so real. I’m not a spooky person looking for weird stuff to happen, but when Jesus walked into the room and talked to me, I was so overcome by His love, that immediately I know that all I could think at that time was to take my wife and my son at that time and just go back to India and live somewhere in the village there.
“It was to be a fresh start to my life. No one needed to know me, but I just wanted to serve Him. I was so overcome by His love.” He said that he and family went back to India for several months.
“I made a decision to wait and watch and pray until the Lord told us what to do,” said K.P. “The Lord was gracious enough to talk to us very lovingly, and I realized that he wanted me to go back to America and speak to the ‘Body of Christ’ about the possibility of seeing countries like India, Burma and Bhutan, turn to Christ if only they would become unselfish in praying and helping these brothers by becoming senders.
“So in obedience to the Lord we came back, and meanwhile we continue to send our resources to help native missionaries in North India who were in the ministry. And then of course you know, to make a long story short, with the advice of several godly men, Gospel for Asia was born.”
I then asked K.P. to fast-forward to say how many missionaries Gospel for Asia now has on the field.
‘When we say the word missionary, often people think Americans, Europeans, Australians and Germans going to these nations and, of course, God still calls people from the West to go,” he replied. “But when I talk about missionaries, I am talking about forbidden countries, closed countries for Westerners where God has raised up tens of thousands of nationals from the Body of Christ who are poor and helpless and we train them.
“We have 54 Bible colleges that provide three years of training and we have 9,000 students representing dozens of languages. We train them solidly in the Word, in knowing Christ, and then we send them out to the unreached areas.
“Today we have 16,000-plus full time missionaries scattered throughout 10 Asian nations, and about 16 churches and mission stations are born every single day among people who don’t have the Gospel. We have 1.6 million people now baptized worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ.
“This is harvest time, without any doubt, and also of course now we are doing this on the radio. We have 92 languages radio broadcasts 11 ½ a half hours a day. We receive more than a million letters a year from our audience asking for more information about Jesus.
“I remember we received a letter from Nepal, a country at the end of the world. Nepal, if you’ve been there is not like Texas or England. It is a country of high ranges and mountains, and this young man wrote a letter to our office in Nepal saying, ‘Sir, we heard you say on the radio if we believe in Jesus our sins can be forgiven and we can go to Heaven. In that case can we all join you sir?’
“Twelve people signed their name under his name at the end of the letter. These are people who had never heard the Good News and now they're hearing it. We sent a couple of our missionaries to their area and they shared the Gospel with them and a church was planted.
“And the same thing is happening in Bhutan [which is located in Southern Asia, between China and India] and we have 18 churches among people where they had been no church before. One of the listeners said, ‘We have never heard about this book [the Bible] that you are talking about. Can you give us one of those books?’ We immediately got some Bibles there.
“It is a roller coaster yet wonderful experience to see every single day, thousands of people turning to Christ and churches being planted. Of course persecution, abuse these things happen all the time, but that’s a part of the story.”
I asked K.P. if it was getting more dangerous to preach the Gospel in some of these countries.
“Yes very much so,” he said. “I would say I think that we have nine or ten sisters living on the mission field now whose husbands were murdered for preaching the Gospel and some of these sisters are raising their children saying that there children will take the place of their dad who was killed for the faith.
“In North India, persecution has increased so much in the last three four weeks I must tell you maybe 40 Christian believers pastors were beaten and abused. One of our churches was confiscated with force when a group of Hindus came and took the building and established their temple right there.
“I believe that Matthew, chapter 10, is very important when Jesus said, ‘I will send you as sheep among wolves. Do not love your life, but give it away.”
A change of heart
K.P. then spoke about a change of heart he had experienced after believing in the early days of the mission, that his people should only preach the Gospel. But then, he heard about the plight of the Dalits or untouchables of India and the surrounding countries.
“From the beginning of Gospel for Asia, I had such a difficult time dealing with the ‘Social Gospel’ — that is doing all kind of good things in the name of Jesus, but not telling them about Jesus or repentance and coming to know Him and believing in Him and being baptized,” he said. “But it all changed about seven years ago, we began to learn about the Dalits; this group of people of nearly 300 million people who live in India and the neighboring countries. These are the untouchables. By the way, the word ‘Dalit’ comes from Sanskrit, which means ‘broken people.’
“In the Hindu caste system, you have upper caste, then the lowest of the lowest caste and for these people, their life value is less than animals and they are terribly abused. In one year in India, there are documented over 1,800 atrocities committed against the untouchables, including killing and raping by the upper cast. There is also 90 percent illiteracy amongst these people. The poverty that they experience is unthinkable. They are slaves. The Hindu upper caste believes that these people were made by their god to be their slaves.
“We began to learn that the leaders of the Dalits began to say that the only way to escape these 3,000 of slavery was to quit the Hinduism. They said that their first choice is Christianity, but they could also become Buddhists or Muslims. When I learned about this, I prayed, ‘Oh God, what have we done? How come that we have forgotten these poor, suffering people?’ This is when we began to pursue taking the Gospel, the love of Christ, to these people.
“But then we ran into a huge crisis; that is that if we give a Bible to them, they can’t read it. So I realized that we had to teach the Dalit children read and write so they can not only read the Bible for themselves, but they can also read it to their parents. As a consequence, we began to set up schools for them. We have today 280 such centers with 35,000 children finding hope in them. We give them uniforms, meals, a yearly medical check up and, of course, tuition.
“The miracle is this we started 50 centers and in the first year, we were able to establish 35 churches in areas where there was no church before. It is incredible to see these children learning about Jesus, reciting Bible verses and singing choruses. These children have become a bridge to show them the love of Christ to a whole community and we are seeing thousands of these precious people already turning to the Lord.”
K.P. has written a book about his vision for Asia called Revolution in World Missions, of which some 1.5 million copies are in print in many languages.
“We would be very happy to send one free, postage-paid, without any obligation to anyone who requests it,” he said. “The book explains in much more detail what God is doing and what’s happening with the children and contains many of their stories. We have thousands of people write to us to say their lives have been totally revolutionized and changed by reading that book.”
He said that all people have to do is to go to the Gospel for Asia website – www.gfa.org – and request it.
And to think, this “revolution in world missions,” particularly in Asia, all began with the prayers of a believing mother!
© 2006 ASSIST News Service, used with permission