Clemson students reach out to their own generation in South Asia
By Caroline Anderson
Small groups of young men and women gathered around the shopping mall’s decorative palm trees, deep in conversation. Curious onlookers leaned over the railing to listen in on the stories of gods and God that wafted back and forth between the American and Indian students.
Ten college students and two short-term volunteers from Crosspoint Church, Clemson, S.C., came to India as part of a six-week missions and discipleship program. They came to partner with a local house church and IMB representatives through the six-week summer program called, Laborers Impacting Nations for the Kingdom (LINK).
This is Crosspoint’s second year to serve in India. The students, who attend or attended Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., spent many of their days in shopping malls — sharing the Good News with anyone who’d listen.
On one of the team’s trips to the mall, Cali Mendel,* a junior nursing student at Clemson, asked an Indian high school student to share a story about one of her Hindu gods. The high school student said she didn’t know anything about the gods, Hinduism is her parent’s religion. The two students easily converse back-and-forth as Mendel tells a story about her own God.
Interacting with their Indian peers is nothing new for these Clemson students. Back at their university, Indian students make up Clemson’s largest international student population.
Crosspoint makes an effort to reach out to these students in the States. With Summer LINK, the church connects their local student ministry directly to India. This gives their church and volunteers a vested interest and experience in the culture.
Volunteers expected to find more traditional Indian culture than they experience with their friends at school. Instead, they found iPhones, Justin Bieber and a widespread addiction to social media — not a far cry from their own U.S. culture.
IMB representative Rodney Cregg* explained that many young people in India identify more with Western culture. He pointed out that some Indian students now dress in Western clothes, laying aside their kurtas, Indian shirts that look like tunics.
“Spiritually, while they still practice Hinduism, in their heart, they’re tending to be more materialistic, spiritualistic [and have a] modern worldview,” Cregg said.
Through volunteer teams like Crosspoint coming to work with Indian youth, Cregg saw a need for planting a church, The Fold, to reach this generation of “westernized” South Asians.
The Fold utilizes modern contemporary worship songs in English and most of the people read their Bibles on iPhones and Blackberrys. They study the Bible in a group discussion format and emphasize small group discipleship.
Achari got connected to The Fold through Clark Barner,* a volunteer from Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Durham, N.C. Barner and his wife, Mandy,* came as team leaders with the Crosspoint team and will help The Fold for one year as short-term volunteers.
Barner met Achari in a mall. Dressed in designer jeans and a crisp button-down shirt, Achari listened intently when Barner shared about a God who doesn’t require good works to save a soul.
Later that week, in Barner’s hotel room, Achari brought his cousin to hear more about the Gospel from Barner and the other summer volunteers.
“I was so fascinated,” he said. Achari said he knew Barner and the college students spoke truth.
Both Achari and his cousin decided to become followers of Jesus that evening.
Achari is already connected to The Fold. He’ll begin a six-week discipleship course that will ground him in his faith and encourage him to go out and make disciples — much like the Clemson students did all summer.
The Clemson students’ Summer LINK program is a discipleship program with a mission’s emphasis. It is one of two components for Crosspoint’s Generation LINK program. The second aspect is a one-year internship. Crosspoint sent volunteers to India, Boston and several cities in South Carolina this summer.
Crosspoint’s India partnership is with The Fold and IMB representatives Dave and Caroline Tucker.* Prior to coming to India, Tucker was involved in the Generation LINK program as the assistant director.
Tucker said the same key components, discipleship, evangelism, community and leadership, are found in The Fold and in Summer LINK.
He said the aim is to teach and equip this generation to make disciples whether on the mission field or in the business world.
Cregg added that discipleship is the key to reaching this generation, whether in India or the States.
“The best way I can describe it to people, especially Americans, is what is happening in India and really around the globe right now, is the same thing that happened in America 15 or 20 years ago — the younger generation shifting, and as the church, we’re missing it,” Cregg said. “I think where we missed it is engaging their worldview with the Truth of Scripture which happens through relational discipleship.”
A lack of discipleship is how Laboni Radha* fell away from the church.
Radha grew up in the church but never challenged to own her faith. She spent her high school years in a hostel where she started going to nightclubs, drinking and taking drugs. She recently connected to The Fold and found discipleship and community there. It got her life back on track.
She spent a portion of her summer sharing the Gospel alongside the Clemson students. They understand Radha in a way that only peers can. They’ve also found discipleship and community in Crosspoint Church and had their own lives changed by the experience of being mentored and discipled.
Together, the Indian and American students emulated what church members modeled for them, reaching their peers on two continents with a message that’s generationally applicable.