From that time the ministry of the Word opened up for me into all parts of the subcontinent of India, because the work grew so fast. Mostly, Bakht Singh directed me where to go, because I was a stranger in India. The work was truly indigenous (born in the land, their work) and it grew and spread like a prairie fire. The number of younger brothers multiplied and some of them grew and matured more quickly, others took more time. But they gradually did share in the ministry.
Many churches came into being. The secret of it was that those who were blessed began to meet in their own homes and invite friends and that’s how the churches grew. We didn’t set out to plant churches, they just grew like mushrooms, because it was the people witnessing and inviting people into their own homes. When after some time there was not enough room for everybody, they had to find some alternative meeting place. So where the local company grew out beyond the premises, they had a pandal attached. That was the pattern of things.
I have noticed how often sisters are the beginning of a local work and from the beginning sisters had freedom for prayer. Their prayers often took so long and they prayed so much, you couldn’t get your turn. It was wonderful, the flow of prayer and the worship. A whole hour, in a comparatively small company, would be devoted to worship—that is bringing some personal delight or testimonies of the Lord and sharing it.
As a result of these churches springing up in many places we had to go from place to place. After having gone around for some years, during one year I took account of how many miles we travelled and how much it cost. We travelled 26,000 miles in India in one year and it cost 800 rupees. In those days that equalled about £65. It was wonderful. I was so blessed in it all. It didn’t cost much and we got everywhere by bus or by train. We didn’t use aircraft at all. Long distances by train were always by night and sometimes the trains were so crowded. When I got to India first, we would get first class tickets from Bombay, where we landed, to Madras, a journey of 900 miles, and we had no problems. But when I saw the crowded third class, I said, “Oh dear, I shall never be able to do that!” Some were even hanging on the outside. However, I got used to traveling third class, though I did never hang on the outside. Once my wife was traveling from Poona to Madras, a 900 miles journey, traveling third. For lack of space she got up on the luggage rack and she couldn’t get down; it was so crowded. Anyway, the Lord helps you to adapt, to adjust. I was very much aware of that, because the things that I sort of dreaded or thought impossible, became possible. That was how things went.
As the work grew and as the churches multiplied, so also my travelling increased. I used to visit each church for about five days for ministry; one meeting in the morning and one each evening. Next I would move on to the next church. Everywhere believers were awakened. They were so eager and hungry for the Word of God. It was not a matter of trying to interest them in the message. Their hunger and thirst ministered to me and drew the Word out of me. (How different it would have been if I had gone, as I had thought, to the nomadic Tuaregs of the Sahara.) How blessed we are if in all our ways we acknowledge Him “Who will direct our paths” (Prov. 3:5,6).
Sometimes the churches I visited were young and small churches, others were large and growing companies.
At the Convocation gatherings which developed in four or five more central areas, the numbers rose to thousands. In Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, which proved to be the main centre, 6,000 people came for a nine days’ period the last time I was with them, in 1975. Whoever wanted to come had to come at their own expense, but all were welcomed without charge. I believe these Convocations contributed tremendously to the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the testimony of the church. People realised the fact of the church. For those coming from the villages or from small groups of believers these Convocations were a help to see the church more easily in its character and function.
Of course feeding the thousands three times daily was quite an exercise. First of all there was the cooking of so much rice and keeping it hot until the appointed time of serving. Then there was the serving of all the food to so many. Everything was well organized and the meals were completed quite quickly. I became responsible for that. Some fine young men were available, who were organized in teams of five after the people were seated in their rows on the ground. First the leaves were served, then the rice, next the curry, after that the tumblers and finally the water for drinking. The arrangement worked wonderfully. The whole meal from start to the end was completed within one and a half hours. The leaves were thrown away, so there was no washing up; only the hands had to be washed and it was done. The big meeting pandal was filled to overflowing for all the ministry meetings. The men sat on one side and the women on the other.
From those convocations the people went back to their villages or towns renewed. Many of the messages were put into song, so the believers went home singing the messages. In that way they took the Word of God to their neighbours and friends. The result was that over the years little churches, like mushrooms, sprang up all over the land. I was told—I did not count, I could not count, I did not want to count—there were three hundred and fifty local churches scattered in nine provinces, over the continent of India. We continued now moving out to those little churches, ministering to them locally or in larger centres where more people would come together. All these churches were just a spontaneous result of local witnessing. The people witnessed in their own homes and gathered people spontaneously. There was no arrangement. It was just spontaneous testimony and the churches were born that way. I don’t think you can say you plant a church, when it’s just a meeting. That is what’s done very often: somebody ‘plants a church’ and people attend a meeting. But that is not a church, it is a meeting place. A certain amount of structure, elders, deacons, leadership is what follows, but it is never the beginning.
We were privileged to be involved thus for thirty seven years.