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A game plan to reach Bangal

Week of Prayer profile: Carter Bolin in India

 

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Carter Bolin, left, discusses Islam and the Christian Gospel with Muslims near a mosque in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, West Bengal’s capital. One in four Bengalis is a Muslim. As a missionary strategy coordinator, Bolin aims to train Bengali church planters to reach all 27 million of them with the good news of Christ.

As the youngest high school football coach in South Carolina Division 4-A history, 24-year-old Carter Bolin* relished the challenge of motivating his team before games against bigger, better opponents.

Carter took his undersized, overachieving team to the state semifinals for the first time since 1950 – thrilling the whole town.

“I could’ve run for mayor after that,” he claims with a grin.

Instead, he joined the ministry staff of his church, East Cooper Baptist, next door to the Charleston-area high school where he coached. He spent the next 18 years helping mobilize the growing congregation – especially its young people – to follow Christ into the world. Local outreach spurred international involvement. About 30 East Cooper members have become missionaries after participating in short-term church mission trips.

On the flight home from a two-week mission trip to India, it was Carter’s turn to be mobilized – by his wife, Vienna*.

Warren F. Johnson/IMB

A Bengali village boy, his gaze full of keen curiosity, symbolizes the yearning of the human heart for God. Bengali Muslims – many of whom follow a form of “folk Islam” that incorporates Hindu and animist beliefs – hunger for the truth most have never heard about through Jesus Christ. Missionary Carter Bolin is working to fill that hunger.

“When we got on the plane, Vienna looked at me and said, ‘I could never serve in India.’ By the time we touched down in the States, she was in tears. She said, ‘I realized that I trust God with my kids in a safe place like our home, but I don’t trust Him enough to take them to India. We’re just paying lip service.’”

That was five years ago. Today, as a Southern Baptist missionary strategy coordinator, Carter faces a bigger challenge than he ever encountered as a coach.

The challenge lies in the Indian state of West Bengal, where William Carey launched the modern missionary movement more than two centuries ago. Today it is home to at least 80 million people. The majority are Hindus – the primary focus of Christian missions among Bengalis since Carey’s day. But one in four Bengalis proclaims Islam. Muslims comprise a quarter of the 16 million people of Calcutta (Kolkata), West Bengal’s sprawling capital.

As in much of the rest of India, however, the real numbers can be found in the villages. In West Bengal and neighboring areas of India, Bengali-speaking Muslims predominate in about 30,000 villages.

Carter’s vision and goal as a strategy coordinator is to see Jesus Christ glorified through a church-planting movement among the 27 million Muslims of West Bengal and nearby areas. How? By planting a jaamat – or house church – in every one of those villages.

It’s a vision that fits both parts of William Carey’s famous motto: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

Warren F. Johnson/IMB

Julian and Kim Scarbrough, a newlywed couple from South Carolina, delayed their honeymoon to save for a trip to India. They didn’t go to see the Taj Mahal and other tourist spots; they took the train to help missionary Carter Bolin share the love of Christ in rural villages of West Bengal.

And it’s doable. In fact, it’s already beginning to happen. More than 100 jaamats – with about 1,000 former Muslims who have become baptized followers of Isa Masih (Jesus Christ) – have sprouted across West Bengal during the past two years.

How to reach the other 29,900 Muslim communities? Carter’s team intends to see at least 50 reproducing churches begun in each of West Bengal’s 15 majority Muslim districts, along with three to five churches in each of Calcutta’s Muslim areas. These churches, in turn, will multiply to finish the task.

Carter personally knows about 30 of the 100 current jaamat leaders. The rest are “second-generation” disciples – led to faith, nurtured and trained by other jaamat leaders or the Bengali church planters Carter and his missionary team have trained.

“We want to build this into the DNA, into the very fabric and backbone of every jaamat: Now that you’ve heard the good news and received it, you must share it with neighboring villages,” he explains. “It’s the principle of reproduction, of multiplication, rather than addition.”

 

* Names changed for security reasons.