Gospel for Asia: Let the Koya Praise Him
- Send! Magazine
- 2004 22 Apr
Delirious with fever, young Tamu lay dying of malaria in the thatched mud house that was his home. His father and mother, a poor Koya tribal couple, were numbed by the familiar scene. They had buried four children already, all taken by malaria. Surely the gods would have mercy and allow their last surviving child to live?
Following their ancestral ways, they sought help from the village shaman. He could ward off any evil spirits at work, they hoped. But there was no change. At that point Tamu's father borrowed money from relatives so he could take his son to the nearest hospital 65 kilometers away. That, too, failed. Doctors said there was nothing they could do.
Then word came about the missionary living nearby who prayed for the sick. Grasping his last hope, the father begged Pastor Singham to pray for Tamu. Unlike the shaman or the doctors, however, Singham did not ask for money. He simply laid hands on the boy and prayed to Almighty God in the name of Jesus. Three days later Tamu was healed.
This miracle 11 years ago sparked a wonderful move of the Holy Spirit among this Koya tribal community in central India. Tamu and his parents became the first believers in the area. Today more than 200 people have received Jesus as Lord. Another 60 show genuine interest in the Gospel.
Behind this dynamic work stands a native missionary couple pouring out their lives among the Koya people. Meet Pastor Singham Vedur and his wife, Anika, who live in a tribal village with their two sons, ages 11 and 10.
Like their neighbors, 33-year-old Singham and his family live without a phone and often with no electricity (the power supply is sporadic). The Koya are primarily hunters and farmers, growing grains and vegetables with rain as their only source of irrigation. Last year there was drought. Fields that should have stood tall with wheat were empty, the soil baked dry by the sun. "Many people," says Singham, "migrated to other places for survival."
He and his family pulled together with the others who stayed behind. Unless God said go, they would not abandon the people He had called them to serve.
With an easygoing manner, Singham teaches believers the Scriptures, holds prayer meetings in homes, and prays for the sick. He is always ready to give someone a Gospel tract or New Testament, and he's not afraid to use a megaphone in open-air preaching so his voice will carry. His ministry extends to 12 other villages, bringing 4,000 people into his sphere of influence.
Singham's deep longing is to see Koya souls made alive in Jesus. What makes him unique among GFA's missionaries is that he also provides basic medical care for the sick.
"I Am Available"
A man has come seeking treatment for a skin rash. Singham sterilizes a syringe before giving an injection. The money for the medicine, along with the aspirin and other supplies he has on hand, comes out of his own pocket. Recently a girl came to him with a staph infection. Every day he treats around 10 people.
"No doctor is available here," he says. In the early days of his ministry, as he went sharing Jesus door-to-door, the need for health care and better hygiene kept coming before his eyes. "I saw people suffering from so many sicknesses," he recalls.
"People are attentive when I share the Gospel after giving medical treatment," he explains. "They come to my house even at midnight ... sometimes 3 o'clock in the morning. Whatever time they come, I am available."
A Man Prepared by God
Looking back he sees how the Lord carefully prepared him for this work. When Singham was a boy, his father took a teaching job among a Koya community. With his two brothers and two sisters, Singham grew up - not far from where he now lives - speaking Koya as easily as his native Telugu. Over the years he learned to see inside the Koya heart.
By the time the Lord called him to ministry in 1992, he already had much of the sacrificial love and compassion that fuel his ministry today.
Singham knew his calling was Gospel work, but like the Good Samaritan, his neighbors' needs moved him to action. He went away to enroll in a six-month training program at a hospital, learning how to treat basic health problems and teach preventive care - a skill that opened doors to talk about the Lord.
With these two assets - his ability to speak the tribal dialect and his medical training - he won the people's acceptance. To the local shaman, however, he posed a threat. As more and more people turned to Singham for prayer and medicine, the witch doctor's own livelihood and influence were on the line.
"This pastor wants to change our faith from our Hindu gods and goddesses to his god!" he warned villagers. "Our gods and goddesses may get angry with us, and we may be put to death."
The tactic worked. Village elders decreed that Singham could no longer speak of Jesus or administer any medical treatment. His ministry came to a dead stop. But had God not called him?
Though the rejection stung, an even greater heartache followed when his eldest son became severely ill with a fever. The little money he and Anika had went for his treatment, plunging them into financial hardship. In their anguish they called to the Lord, and He graciously spared the child's life.
What God spoke to Singham's heart through this crisis became a settled conviction he clings to even to this day: The Lord could protect and preserve their lives in any difficulty. They were His. With this assurance they committed themselves afresh to serving God free from the fear of man.
Though opposition came as Singham resumed his ministry, God blessed his obedience and people began responding to the Gospel - first young Tamu and his parents, then another family. Soon 10 families had expressed interest in Christ and the ministry blossomed. By 1994 Singham and Anika had opened their home for weekly worship services.
With this season of growth came more lessons in trusting God. Once Singham didn't have enough money to buy a sari for Anika or clothing for their boys. Turning down an offer of help from his parents because it would mean leaving the Koya, he chose instead to praise God for what they did have.
Singham's bicycle is perhaps his most useful ministry tool - without it he would be hard pressed to evangelize 12 villages. Twice a week, believers from the church go with him for outreach. "There are several young people in our fellowship," he explains, "who came to the Lord through our sharing. I train them for ministry as they are active and zealous for the Lord." In a recent six-month period they gave out 1,100 tracts, 88 New Testaments, and 367 Gospel booklets.
In these surrounding villages he established six mission stations, or small groups of new believers. Four villages have resisted all Christian influence, and once a man threatened to kill him if he came around again.
Over the years Singham and the believers have faced steady opposition from anti-Christian groups. Sometimes they verbally intimidate believers to keep them from church; other times they try to stop home prayer meetings. "God protects us under His mighty wings from all satanic attacks," he says.
In 2002, at the request of GFA Radio, Singham began producing a Gospel broadcast in Koya. The program airs Sundays and can be heard throughout Andhra Pradesh and other states-Orissa and Maharashtra-with Koya communities. The potential listening audience is more than half a million people.
A Life of Prayer
What is the secret behind this missionary's work and steadfast spirit? He is a man who knows how to prevail in prayer before God. With Anika he is often on his knees interceding for souls. Every Saturday they fast and pray with the whole church, and the first Saturday of the month is given to all-night prayer.
Once Singham spent a week praying for a man sick with tuberculosis. His recovery caused him and his entire family to turn to Christ. It also struck awe into the hearts of his animist neighbors who had seen him so close to death.
In door-to-door evangelism one day Singham met Rundi, a 65-year-old widow harassed by demons for 25 years. "Jesus is the mighty and powerful God," he told her, "who can heal all your diseases, release you from affliction and give you eternal life." Her eyes grew wide with amazement, and she asked for prayer.
The next day, he and a group from the church went to Rundi's thatched hut for a prayer meeting. As the believers began to worship, Rundi rolled and writhed on the floor until she fell unconscious. Singham and the others circled around her and spent the next four hours interceding, taking authority over the darkness.
The moment Jesus set her free, the woman bowed her knees, repented of her sin and entered the kingdom of God. Though illiterate, she asked Singham to get her a Bible. Now she carries it with her everywhere.
"If this missionary would not have prayed for me," says Rundi, "I might already be dead. The Lord Jesus Christ saved my life from bondage to sin and the devil."
Freed from the Empty Way
A short distance from Singham's house is the newly built church where believers gather Sundays for worship. They arrive at 10:30 and stay for three hours, singing praises to the Lord who redeemed them out of the empty way of life handed down from their ancestors. Adults listen hungrily as Singham teaches God's Word while the children, 54 in all, attend Sunday school.
Much has happened in one generation. When Singham and Anika first came here, "nobody knew about Jesus Christ," as he puts it. Today more than 200 names are written in the Book of Life. Praise God for using this faithful couple and the rest of the believers to make His name great among the Koya.
Reprinted with permission of Gospel for Asia. SEND! (r) magazine is GFA's bimonthly magazine. It is designed to keep friends and sponsors updated about what is going on the harvest fields of Asia, as well as provide them with situations and prayer requests from the mission field. Order your copy here.