Taking the Gospel to the World’s Hard Places

by Allyson Howell (Todd) January 11, 2022

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Issue 42 of Midwestern Magazine. The full issue can be viewed online.

Sunsets in the West are a technicolored marvel.

Clouds hug the sun, offering a canvas where the light traces every curve. Each night, the sun seems to set differently than it did the day before. In India, the sun rises and sets the same way it does in the West, yet only a perfect circle and a peach-gray sky smudged with haze signal the end of the day. No clouds, no traces of light. One color, one circle, nothing beautiful.

We were told in the months before we left for India that our home state was a wasteland. “Oh you are going to Jivan?* Why? It is dead there. No wealth, no beauty, no life! Do not go!”

I gave the store manager a grimace I hoped would pass for a smile. “We are going to study, and we are going to tell them about Jesus.” I remembered Indian sunsets from my last visit, but the store manager made me believe they would be more gray than peach this time.

Can anything good come from Jivan?

Our missionary leaders told us that when we got off the train, we should not expect to be able to breathe. People from India told us Jivan made our city’s soup kitchens look like the Ritz-Carlton. Textbooks and missiology articles used the term, “missionary graveyard” as if it was Jivan’s surname.

No, nothing good comes from Jivan.

Was it wise to take four girls out of mother’s nest to this place where sunsets go to die? “The Gospel to Hard Places” was our mantra, but what if the place was too hard? What if we went to the field with seed in linen bags hung on our shoulders, only to discover an endless slab of concrete without so much as a weed in sight?

I doubted our calling. I thought all my deepest fears of failure would flourish in Jivan.

David Platt went to India and told of his experience on a simulcast in November of 2012, two months before our scheduled flights. We sat on the floor in our Sunday School room and scribbled down notes while we listened to this him share of the need for missionaries in India.

“Jivan, known as a missionary graveyard,” he began. All five of us stopped writing. He continued, “…is experiencing a movement of the gospel. A local pastor told me one in every ten people choose to follow Jesus when they hear the gospel. Baptisms are taking place in the Ganges River, lives are being transformed.”

I wonder what Nathanael felt when Philip told him to “Come and see” for himself this man from Nazareth. As Nathanael walked with Philip toward Jesus, what was on his mind? Did he question Philip’s discernment? Was he nervous his original question would be met with a resounding “no” and all his doubts would come true?

Is it even possible that something good, something holy could come from a place no one wants to go?

We went to Jivan to see for ourselves. When the train stopped and the doors opened, we were shocked that we were able to breathe. When we sat through our first training with Indian believers, we were blown away by their hunger for truth. When we shared the story of Jesus with a young girl in our city, the shattered bits of her heart began to beam with light.

Good can come from Jivan. The sunsets were grayer, and the air was thicker than in other parts of India, but the gospel of Jesus broke through six feet of concrete to give life to those trapped underneath.

Every obedient believer knows what it is to ask, “Can anything good come from this?” The path to the throne room of Jesus is stained with blood, smells like sweat, and tastes like tears. Suffering and discouragement are close friends of the missionary. Sometimes a word from Pastor Platt or a story of a martyr fuels the heart enough to stand back up and sow a little more seed.

My knees are raw from stumbling on the way to Jesus, but God created and called the church to offer me a hand and a Band-Aid. The words of a brother or sister have the strength to help us back up. We must be honest about the dusty sunsets, thick air, and hard hearts of the world, yet we must also be honest about the Spirit’s ability and the gospel’s power.

Jesus told Nathanael that he would see greater things. The promise of an eternal kingdom with a resurrected King became Nathanael’s hope.

So, fix your eyes on the coming Lord. Tell everyone who will listen of Jesus Christ, the good that came from Nazareth.