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|Indian Mennonites from the Bharatiyah General Conference celebrated 50 years of Bible festivals|
Thousands celebrate milestone, Christ
April 23, 2008
PARRAPAT, India — Indian Mennonites from the Bharatiyah General Conference Mennonite Church celebrated 50 years of Bible festivals Feb. 6 - 10 by proclaiming Christ’s victory to their neighbors and worshipping thousands-strong.
On Feb. 8, for the first time ever, participants at the Golden Jubilee
mela (festival) in India’s Chhattisgarh region celebrated their
faith by marching about two miles from nearby Basna to Parrapat, which
has hosted the gathering since 1959. Two days later, nearly
3,000 people attended the culminating worship service.
Mahendre Kulbeep, an agent of BGCMC, said, “The public should
know there are Christians here. … This is a peace rally. By this
rally, we are leaving a message for the name and hand of Jesus.”
Barkat Chandu, who claimed his grandmother was the first Mennonite
convert in India, said the mela, the march and other forms of witness
are important in an age when outright public evangelism is difficult. “You
can do it, but many government regulations have to be gone through,” Chandu
said. “We can teach from the Old Testament, the New Testament … but
we’re not able to talk about conversion.”
Speakers used at least five languages to offer messages of challenge
and praise, culminating in a celebration of the Lord’s Table.
Pastors in robes and parishioners in street clothes passed out juice
and wafers, supplementing them with chapattis for those at the rear
of the crowd.
This fellowship resonated with Ben Wiebe, who noted that gathering
together has given Indian Mennonites collective momentum. “They
are together and they can now go on to further work in India.”
Bharatiyah General Conference Mennonite Church formed in 1922, twenty-three years after General Conference Mennonites from Canada, the United States and Russia arrived in central India as mission workers. Since mission workers left more than two decades ago, the church has grown to 27 congregations with more than 7,000 members.
According to Nand, the spiritual committee of BGCMC worked with mission
workers Jacob Giesbrecht, now from Abbotsford, B.C., and Edward Burkhalter,
both from Commission on Overseas Missions, a predecessor to Mennonite
Church Canada Witness, and Mennonite Mission Network to start a mela
in nearby Naranpal in 1958. Nand, whose small book chronicling the 50
years of celebrations was distributed during Sunday’s services,
said the festival moved to Parrapat the following year.