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Harnessing Hospitality: One Man’s Journey to Become a Church Planter in South Asia

Arjun Agarwal* was born into a traditional Christian family in South Asia—a religious minority in a country where followers of Jesus face increasing persecution and violence.

As a teenager, Arjun attended church regularly, but what he heard taught was not the true gospel. Church leaders talked about how to stay away from sin but said little about grace or a personal relationship with Jesus. Offered little more than legalism, Arjun had no interest in Christianity.

“During those times I was longing for selfless love,” said Arjun. “I was longing for true meaning in my life, but instead I had emptiness in my heart. I tried to fill that gap with things of this world, but they all failed.”

By the time Arjun left for college, he had completely lost hope.

By God’s grace, a fellow student invited Arjun to a gospel meeting put on by the university student ministry. Though he was not initially interested, Arjun decided to give it a try. “I think it was God’s plan,” he said. “The preacher was speaking on the love of Christ from John 3:16. He explained the purpose of Christ coming to this earth, how He came in search of me, how He showed the unconditional, selfless love that I had been longing for. During that meeting I was convicted of my sins, and through the help of the Holy Spirit I repented, asked for forgiveness, and started knowing the Lord and growing in grace.”

Bit by gradual bit, Arjun’s life began to change. He began to attend regular Christian fellowships and grow spiritually. He attended meetings where he heard reports from local missionaries about the opportunities and challenges for church planting in his country and across the globe. He read missionary biographies and studied the Bible, astonished and inspired by the many examples of courageous men and women following the Great Commission call. By the time he finished his undergraduate degree, Arjun had been shaped into a man of God.

Following the Call

“One of the words that has kept speaking to me throughout my life is Matthew 9:37 where Jesus says: ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,’” Arjun said. “This word became very powerful in my heart, and by the grace of God I wanted to answer this call.”

Over the next 20 years, Arjun served in different ministry capacities. He ministered to college students, to young married couples alongside his wife, then with an outreach to local youth. By 2014 Arjun had sensed a call to pastoral ministry in a local church.

“I wanted to know more about being a pastor,” he said. “That’s when I got introduced to [the Presbyterian church in my city,] and when I came to know [MTW missionary] Tobias Janssens* and the MTW team.”

Arjun spent the next five years intentionally preparing for pastoral ministry. He served as a pastoral intern for the Presbyterian church, gaining practical ministry and leadership skills while simultaneously pursuing his M.Div. from a local seminary run and taught by MTW missionaries. In 2019, Arjun finally graduated from seminary—ready to use his years of training to build the Church in South Asia.

Loving As We Have Been Loved

“This city desperately needs more gospel-centered churches,” Arjun said. “I have a passion to plant and pastor such a church.” And so, Arjun is doing just that—actively working to plant a church in a city desperately in need of the gospel. His method of choice? Hospitality.

“I have experienced very good hospitality from believing friends, and so in return I want to show hospitality. ... When we host people in our house it gives me and my wife the joy of serving them, it gives me an opportunity to get to know them really well and to express the tremendous joy of Christ’s love that I have experienced.”  

Though the pandemic has made things difficult for church planters, Arjun has forged ahead as best he can. He has started an online small group, studying God’s Word every week with people from his community. During months when his country’s strict lockdowns lifted, he and his wife hosted youth meetings in their home—game nights, movie nights, and even a Christmas party. 

Throughout, Tobias and the rest of the MTW team at the local Presbyterian church that launched Arjun as a church planter stay in close contact, offering prayer support and guidance regularly. If all continues to go well, Arjun plans to officially open the church plant in October 2021. From there, he hopes to see the church grow—sprouting discipleship groups, ministries, and ultimately daughter churches in the years to come.

In the past few months, despite all the challenges, people who are interested to know about Christ and grow in the gospel are showing up. “I think it’s really God’s work, and that gives me encouragement and confidence,” Arjun said. “It’s not about me and what I do. It’s all about Christ. It’s about what He is going to do in and through my life in this city. And I just want to cooperate with God’s plan which is already being instituted on this earth.” 

MTW is prayerfully looking to plant 36 churches in South Asia by 2030. Join the story! mtw.org/join  

 

*Names have been changed throughout.

Andrew Shaughnessy May 11, 2021
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