CMS - Inspire November 08 - India's counter culture outreach
A rooftop café set up by a couple in India’s Silicon Valley is providing a bridge for young people to connect with Jesus
The doorbell rang. The timing wasn’t good. In the past few days, youth workers Jacob and Sheela Isaac had experienced the joy of welcoming their new baby, John, only to see him die from a heart disorder 48 hours later.
“I’d wanted to call him John because like John the Baptist, I thought he would pave the way for a spiritual awakening [in India],” Sheela recalled.
Even after the doctors said nothing could be done, Sheela says: “I was so certain he’d be healed.” It was not to be. That night Sheela knelt and prayed: “Father I don’t know why this happened but I know that I can trust you.”
Sheela remembers a curious thing happening in the funeral hearse. “I felt as if the Holy Spirit spoke directly to my heart, saying: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit. You will bear a hundred fold.’ It did not make much sense to me.”
These words and the events of the past few days were still weighing on Sheela and Jacob when the doorbell rang, only a few hours after the funeral. Jacob opened the door to find a young man with long hair and an earring. When Jacob asked his name, the boy replied: “John.”
In that moment, Jacob says he felt God saying to him: “Your John is gone – live for Johns like these.”
That was in 1995. Out of the ashes of personal tragedy, a vibrant, multifaceted ministry to urban youth emerged called Kerygma.
Jacob and Sheela wanted to find a creative way to connect with youth in Bangalore. In a city known as the Silicon Valley of India, where pubs and coffee houses abound, it seemed logical to set up a space where young people could meet, talk and hear about Jesus through relationships.
So the Isaacs converted the rooftop veranda of their home into a café.
“We used music they were familiar with as a bridge to connect with themes like love and loneliness. It was exciting; young people whom we wouldn’t even dream of, were coming to us saying: ‘We didn’t expect you to talk about God in a place like this’,’’ said Jacob.
Ten years later, Kerygma is a familiar name among the youth. The coffee house buzzes with activity: people ordering coffee and snacks, guys and girls sitting on bean bags chatting, live music events.
The buzz spreads
But the coffee house is only part of Kerygma’s vision to “permeate the urban society with the Gospel of Jesus Christ …” Designed to reach Bangalore’s huge student population, Coffee Talks are held weekly in hostels throughout the city during the academic year. Students from a variety of cultures and faiths come together to study the Bible and discuss topics such as “SLAM: Sex, Love and Marriage”.
Kerygma also publishes and distributes thousands of copies of Coffee Beanz, an eight-page ‘zine with interviews, poetry, and articles on everything from tattoo removal to AIDS. It also has an advice column that gives guidance on life issues from a Christian perspective.
One day a few years ago a Kerygma staff member opened his door to find an 11-year-old boy. Due to problems with drugs, he’d been kicked out of his home. What started as a one-night stay turned into two years as Kerygma staff helped the boy overcome his addiction.
“This and many similar stories inspired us to take a bold step and start a home for youth at risk,” says Jacob.
“Since coming to the centre, I can see my life changing gradually,” said one resident. “I used to think that life is all about getting a good job and living glamorously, but I found out that life is about giving, not just taking … the most precious thing about life is to live for God because God has a plan for us.”
Learning to live for God isn’t just a lesson for addicts, it’s also one of the themes for Kerygma’s camping ministry. A couple of times a year, Kerygma takes groups of young people out of the city with the aim of helping them discover themselves, each other and God.
Jacob and Sheela are also committed to equipping young Christians for mission among other young Christians, so Kerygma provides ministry training and hands-on experience.
“Working with Kerygma changed my life,” says Jerry, a volunteer. “I honestly felt the Lord using me in many different ways that I would have never dreamed of.”
“Kerygma has been a torch light to many who are wandering in the dark,” agrees Dhinakaran. “My journey with Kerygma started three years ago in the coffee house. I was drawn to these people who had a purpose.
“The group drew me into its activities, moved me out of my shell and started exploring areas where my talents could be used. They’ve helped me and many other young people grow closer in their walk with God … and to treat situations the way Jesus would.”
The realness of Jacob and Sheela’s relationship with Jesus – especially through tough situations – has personally inspired so many young people.
“Young people have come up to me and said: ‘You lost your baby but you’re still talking about God; your God must be for real’,” Sheela said, adding that she has seen her promise of a “hundred fold” come true “in a group of young people who will contribute their mite to bring about revival in this nation.”
Jacob and Sheela have been recognised nationally and internationally for their innovative work.
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