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Bethlehem Christians in India

Updated: Feb 24

The mission of Bethlehem Christians is not only to provide support to Christians living in the Holy Land but also to Christians in other parts of the world.

Amos Savarapu 1980's in his local town in India
Jesus commanded His disciples to take the gospel to all nations stating, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

Since 2016, Bethlehem Christians has been the sole support for a community of Christians in a tribal region of India, called Grace Alpha Ministries (GAM). GAM was founded in the 1950’s by Amos Savarapu for the purpose of sharing the gospel in the Hindu villages of his local region in East Godavari, located in the middle eastern coast of India. This part of India is predominately Hindu (97%) with Christians and Muslims accounting for less than 1.5% each. This is the testimony of Ravi Saravapu, his grandson, who continues his family’s legacy and work:


In 1951, my grandfather, Amos, suddenly suffered paralysis from a stroke at a young age. Both his legs and hands stopped working. Then some local Christians from our region came and prayed to God, Jesus Christ. Amos learned the prayer, “Lord Jesus, please heal me and come into my heart. I would like to leave everything for You.” Then, one day, God healed my grandfather. Amos began seeking this God who changed His life, and miraculously he had a divine visitation of Jesus Christ that completely transformed him. He found new life, a new beginning, and his purpose on earth. He knew the Lord was asking him to do His work. He said, “Yes, Lord. I will do your work.” This was my grandfather’s answer. Soon after, God showed him a tribal area named Rowthulapudi. It had around 30 villages. My grandfather left all his possessions, friends, and family to share the Gospel. At the beginning of his ministry, he did not even have food. For nearly ten years he ate green leaves and drank river water to survive. For 20 years he walked to surrounding villages and later was able to purchase a bike. He shared the gospel to tribal people who were idol worshippers. He constructed two churches and 1,500 people came to believe in Jesus Christ. These believers were very poor and illiterate, from the lowest caste in India, but now they have hope!


The whole Savarapu Family works for God (Samuel, the son of Amos is in white behind the table, and Ravi, his son is in blue, with his mother Jhansi Rani between them both)

Today, we have spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to around 100 villages in my area. My father and I run these ministries. Through the message of Jesus Christ, many alcohol addicted people’s lives are being changed. Our ministry is very poor, but we see God’s grace making a way. Every Sunday we share some food with the poor and we give monthly support to widows and orphans. Our current ministry is to the Irula tribes in the foothills of India. These people are in the darkness of idol worship. We have reached nearly 40 hamlets. We gave education training to some people, and finally they know who the real God is. Currently, around 200 people in this region have come to worship and know Our God and Savior Jesus Christ.


Amos Savarapu was very well taught in the Christian faith from an “Independent” Indian senior pastor, not a foreign missionary.[1]  Every evening, he would teach Amos. Only the Bible was available. They had no electricity and used mud lamps when studying at night, usually seated on the ground. This native Christian teacher was likely from the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, which sees itself as continuation of the Saint Thomas Christians. This Oriental Protestant church describes itself as "Apostolic in origin, Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function, and Episcopal in character.” (Mar Thoma Syrian Church)



In keeping with apostolic tradition, GAM serves communion regularly. They fast all day Fridays and on Saturday night starting at 6pm before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ on Sunday. They fast and pray as a community for days on end often holding night vigil. Women are separated from men during worship and all are seated on the floor. The scriptures are read from the Bible in their Telugu language. Songs and hymns are according to Indian style music. After Sunday communion, they share a meal together as a community, traditionally known as a love feast. GAM holds baptisms for new believers twice per year during October and January, baptizing by full immersion in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They prepare for baptism with 3 days of fasting.




There are between 24-62 million Christians in India today, accounting for 2-6% of the population. Of these, 33% identify as Catholic, 59% are of various Protestant denominations, and 8% are Oriental Orthodox. Though Christians and Catholics make up only 2.3% of the population in India, the nation has a long history of faith tracing back to Saint Thomas, an apostle of Jesus Christ. St. Thomas traveled to the Kerala region, located on the southwestern coast of India, and established churches there which still stand and operate today. He was also reported to have reached the northwestern region of India. St Mary's Orthodox Syrian Church is believed to be one of the oldest churches in India founded in 54 AD. St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church was established between 52 and 54 AD, where the Apostle performed the first baptism in India. This church is therefore considered an Apostolic See credited to the apostolate of St. Thomas. St Thomas was martyred in Chennai in 72 AD, and the Cathedral Basilica of San Thome was built upon the site of his burial. (Christianity in India)


Icon of Saint Thomas the Apostle

The community of early Christians in India was organized as the Province of India of the Church of the East, also called East Syriac Church or the Nestorian Church. The Church of the East shared communion with the “one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church” until the Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorius in 431 AD for his views on the two natures of Christ.[2] Before this split occurred, David of Basra, who was the metropolitan Bishop of Basra in Persia from 291 – 325 AD and a renowned physician, undertook missionary work in the Kerala region of India around 300 AD.  Historians have suggested that his mission may have targeted existing churches in India that were having difficulties. (David of Basra)


Jordanus Catalani was the first Catholic European missionary to arrive in India around 1320 AD. Efforts to incorporate Saint Thomas Christians back into the broader Church was partially successful. However, attempts to Latinize the Christian Indian culture resulted in a revolt called the “Coonan Cross Oath” in 1653 AD, which demanded administrative autonomy for the local church. This event led to a lasting schism between Saint Thomas Christians and the formation of Puthenkūr (New Allegiance) and Pazhayakūr (Old Allegiance) factions. The New Allegiance churches broke from the Church of the East and made a new alliance with the Oriental Orthodox Church (which had split from the Great Church in Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD). The Old Allegiance churches came under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and comprise the present day Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and Chaldean Syrian Church which continue to employ the East Syriac Rite.  (Christianity in India)


Amos Saravapu holding a copy of Bible in Telugu language

The Old Allegiance factions of Saint Thomas Christians are either still part of the Oriental Orthodox Church, came into alliance with the Catholic Church in 1930, or later split off from the Oriental Orthodox Church as “Independent” in the 19th century. Independent Christians are also called Oriental Protestants or Eastern Protestants and account for 4% of Christians in India. Oriental Protestants still retain certain elements of Eastern Christianity but have reformed some beliefs and practices based on inspiration from Western Protestant missionaries.[3] In the 1700’s Protestant missionaries began working throughout India. One prominent Protestant missionary, William Carey, translated the Bible into Bengali, Punjabi, Oriya, Assamese, Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit. Many of these languages had never been printed before. Prior to his work during 1793-1834, the Bible was not available to Indians in their native language. (Christianity in India)


Sharing the message of Jesus Christ is difficult in India. Though it is legal for a person to convert, Christianity is viewed as a religion for the low-castes. Those in the higher castes think the low castes only believe because they don’t have food or basic needs. Though Christian persecution from Hindus can be quite severe in certain parts of India, this is not the case in northeastern states where the population is significantly (35-50%) or majority Christian (70-90%). The village of Rowthulapudi in East Godavari, where GAM is located, also reports a currently good situation. The main trouble GAM faces is rudeness from neighboring Hindus. To disrupt the work of Christians, Hindus may perform pagan rituals in front of their church gatherings or act psychotic to cause confusion.




Bethlehem Christians has provided support to help expand GAM’s charitable activities including feeding the poor, providing clothing to widows, care to orphans, and medical care. GAM’s mission is based on the principle of Saint James, the brother of Jesus:


Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)


Additionally, Bethlehem Christians has sponsored the construction of a third church building which will be completed in 2024. Though Bethlehem Christians is connected with the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church, rooted in the Holy Land, it does not provide any type of religious guidance or place any demands upon GAM. Bethlehem Christians supports the grassroots work of local Indian Christians who share the gospel and God’s love through their own unique culture and ancient, apostolic understanding of the Christian faith in a region of the world where Christianity is almost non-existent. 


Please join Bethlehem Christians in their support of Grace Alpha Ministries in Rowthulapudi, East Godavari, India.  

 




[1] Since Grace Alpha Ministries is not affiliated or supported by any Western Protestant denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, or the Oriental Orthodox Church, and was founded through an “Independent” Christian from India, GAM would fall under the category of an Oriental Protestant church.

[2] “Whereas orthodox Christology holds that Christ has two natures, divine and human, ineffably united in one person, or hypostasis, Nestorianism so stresses their independence as to suggest that they are in effect two persons, or hypostases, loosely joined by a moral union.” This complete separation of natures is the basis of Nestorianism rejecting Mary as the “Theotokos” (i.e., Mother of God), preferring instead "Christotokos" (i.e., Christ-bearer). (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2019)

[3] Oriental Protestantism arose from different circumstances than Protestants in the West. As such, the beliefs and practices of Eastern Protestants are more similar to Eastern Christianity than Western Christianity.

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