Please welcome my friend, Chris Miller, from www.1040tribal.org for a guest “Q and A” style blog interview. Chris and I met over 15 years ago and his love for God is genuine and authentic. He is the treasurer and co-founder of the 10-40 Tribal Commission, ministering to the Banjara– unreached gypsies in India. Enter Chris!
How did God lead you into missions?
Let me start this by saying I am not a full-time missionary in the sense of living on the field. God first led me to India when I was in college. A friend of mine bought a plane ticket without knowing anyone there and wanted me to go with him. I prayed and fasted and God gave me a sign. I met an Indian who was here in America as a missionary to Americans and he taught me a few helpful things as a westerner going to his culture. I bought a ticket and my friend and I went cold turkey to India. While there we ended up working in an orphanage (volunteering) and we met an Indian named Sunil. We were only there for a couple of months. Since then Ryan and I have been back several times for months at a time. We forged a relationship with Sunil and Jeremiah of the Banjara people. They were both Christian and had great vision for the Banjara. They were going village to village preaching the gospel and planting churches. They wanted to build an orphanage, pastoral training center, and school and that is what I am currently partnered with them doing. I do not live in India but I am daily working beside Jeremiah and Sunil (digitally speaking) to help them live out their vision for the Banjara. The orphanage/pastoral center/school is just about completed and they started their first school year in July 2017.
What advice would you give somebody who felt that God may be leading him or her to become a foreign missionary?
My advice is that Scripture is clear. Matthew 28 teaches us that we are called to make disciples of the nations by teaching them to obey Jesus and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If they feel that they are called they should go to their pastors and express this and take the next step according to the council of their pastors. I would also say that even if a person does not feel called they are commanded in Matthew 28. This does not mean we all have to pack our bags and move but we should be actively participating in international missions through giving, prayer, or going ourselves.
India was a pretty charismatic experience for this Reformed Baptist of a person (myself). I mentioned meeting an Indian missionary to America. God laid it on my heart to go to this mission’s class at a church that I was not even a member at. I felt like he told me there would be an Indian guest-speaker and he would teach on what a westerner needs to know about Indian culture. I told my friends at school this and went with them and lo and behold it was exactly as I felt God had told me. This doesn’t happen to me often, in fact this is one of the only times God has done this for me but the message was clear, I was to go to India with Ryan. While there we connected with the Banjara and God did many miraculous things to accompany His gospel. Many Hindus threw away (literally) their idols and expressed a faith in Christ. Ryan and I met Sunil (who could speak fluent English) and our hearts aligned. We have been working with him ever since. Besides the personal reasons, India is one of the toughest and most unreached areas in the world right now. There is such diversity and such stumbling blocks to the gospel there. They need the gospel and they need Indians to take it to themselves; thus our partnership with Indians to help them carry out their own visions to their own people. I am not saying that other nations cannot get involved but we chose to do missions in India by helping raise indigenous missionaries (Indian missionaries) to go out in India.
How would you describe the neighbors and the people that live in the area?
The Banjara are a gypsy people that in ancient times migrated to India. They are outsiders of even the caste system which makes them the lowest of the lows. They live mostly in villages on the outskirts of major cities. They are usually farmers or at least the people we work with. A lot of them are rice farmers. They are friendly towards Americans from my experience but they are overwhelmingly Hindu. They worship thousands of gods. There are Christian churches among them now thanks to a movement of God that as far as I can tell can be traced back to around 2004 or so. They are still classified as unreached however because they are less than 5% Christian on Joshua Project. They love to sing and dance. The women have lovely homemade dress and jewelry.
What were some of the biggest adjustments and challenges you had to make when you were living in your field of service?
Since the longest period of time that I have spent in India about forty-days it was nowhere near as uncomfortable as it might have been for a full time missionary who lives in India year round. But there were some big adjustments. Every time I have gone to India it was during the summer where it gets up to 120 degrees. The food is drastically different from American food and spicy but I love Indian food so that was a benefit. I think perhaps the biggest challenge that Ryan and I consistently faced was sickness. We usually would get fevers and be out of commission for a day or so. When you couple sickness with the temperature outside and the non-western bathroom, it can get pretty dire.
What do you miss most from America while you are on the field? What do you miss most from your country while you are in America?
Since I am not a full-time missionary and only go there for little chunks of time at a time, it is not so bad. I begin to crave a cheeseburger because the cow is not eaten in India. For me the hardest thing is not having people that are like me around. There are only a few English speakers where Ryan and I go and since we have not learned Lambadi (Banjara language) or Telegu (regional language) we do not really get to talk to a lot of people save through translation. I miss my family (wife and kids) the most when I am gone.
How do people in your country view America? What are some cultural differences or barriers that you have had to overcome?
There are tremendous differences in culture between India and America; particularly between a tribal people like the Banjara and America. I do not believe that the Banjara look down upon America in any way. Language is the biggest barrier to overcome (both verbal and body). The caste system overall is perhaps the biggest stumbling block to the church in India. Higher castes do not interact with lower castes and so Christianity is seen as a poor man’s religion do to all the low castes who tend to turn to Jesus. The rich have a hard time turning to Jesus if it means they have to interact with lower castes. The Banjara are seen as outside of the caste system, which means lower in some ways but in other ways, it’s a benefit.
What is the best part about being a missionary? What are some of your favorite things you get to do in your work?
The best part of working overseas is seeing that though there are vast differences between countries and cultures, Jesus is needed all the same and Jesus heals and saves all the same. Being able to partner with the Banjara to help them carry out their vision has been a humbling experience. Hearing stories of baptisms, churches being planted, God doing miraculous things, orphans being housed and schooled, are all great things. One of the favorite things that I get to do when I am in India is to observe their worship and church service. It is so different but yet so the same.
What does your typical week look like when you are there?
So we travel via plane for 30ish hours to get to Hydrabad, India. We then take a car for another 5 hours or so to get to some of the Banjara villages. We are jet-lagged but there is no time to spare for the Banjara put us right to work. We usually travel to several villages a day and preach in various worship services. We then go back to the guest room at the orphanage to sleep. The week is a lot of travel and teaching from God’s word. We also usually get to meet up with the 25 pastors who have churches across 50 villages to discuss with them various things (God’s word, their visions, etc.). We also get to pray over a lot of people for various things (healing from sickness, siblings or lost family members, ministry calling). It is busy when we are there because we stuff as much as we can because as of the last three years we usually only get to visit for two weeks at a time.
What are some of your biggest victories from the past year?
In the past year we have finally seen the construction of the orphanage/pastoral training center/school be completed enough to begin using. There is still some things to be done regarding the second floor but the building is useable. We have been working on this project for 6 or 7 years and so it is so great to see fruit. It was also great to see that they opened their school in July 2017. Though we are struggling through the first year due to not having enough finances to finish the building and pay the teachers, school is happening nonetheless. Light is being seen at the end of the tunnel for when the school is self-sufficient (hopefully by next school year), we are hoping to send out two Banjara families to villages in Nepal to preach the gospel. The Banjara in Nepal are supposedly 100% unreached and so to be able to send out indigenous missionaries to there would be a huge victory for us.
What were some of your biggest challenges during the past year?
The biggest challenge unfortunately is money. Ryan and I are not very good at marketing but God has been gracious. There has been tremendous pressure to pay the construction workers to finish the building and at times throughout the year we had to stop construction due to a lack of funds.
What are some of your big goals and desires for your future ministry?
I mentioned above that as soon as we are sure the school/orphanage is self-sufficient we are going to turn our eyes toward equipping and sending two Banjara families to Nepal to reach the Banjara there. This is honestly the goal I hold closest to my heart. I love the idea of Indians going to other nations making disciples. And who knows, maybe we begin to build an orphanage/school in those villages whenever the gospel takes root. Another goal that we have is to construct a widows home near the orphanage/school. This would allow for women to have a place to stay and to be provided for. Women do not have near the opportunities to provide for their families as women do hear in America. Therefore to be a widow is a very hard place to be besides the heartache of a lost spouse. The widows home would provide, food and shelter for those who cannot.
How can people and churches here in America better help your work?
People and churches can simply pray for us. You can find information out about the work the Banjara are doing at www.1040tribal.org. God’s got us in His hands and He wants the Banjara to be saved more than Ryan, Sunil, Jeremiah, or I do. Seek the Father’s face on behalf of the lost and in this case on behalf of the Banjara. Besides prayer we are always looking for people to partner with us financially so that we can finish the orphanage, pay for the first year of education, build the widows home, and send out Banjara missionaries.
Tell me a funny story about something that has happened to you as a missionary.
During our first visit to India, Ryan and I slept in this concrete guest room that was a part of the orphanage. The orphans would hang out with us well into the night and then go to sleep. When we tried to sleep there were thousands of bugs that were all around the room and in our beds. Ryan and I spent hours killing bugs trying to scope out some peace for sleep. It was quite hilarious though it sounds disgusting. We finally got to sleep and the next day we woke up there were thousands of this one particular kind of bug (almost locust-like) laying dead on our floor. The orphans came in and started gathering them and eating them. Apparently this particular bug was good to eat and not necessarily a delicacy but good to eat. So Ryan and I may or may not of eaten a few of those bugs and they may or may not have been actually good.
Have you read any books that have been particularly helpful to you? Do you listen to any podcasts or preachers that are an encouragement to you?
In regards to our non-profit organization and partnership with the Banjara, the book “When Helping Hurts” was ironically helpful. As far as preachers that were particularly helpful, I would say John Piper, David Platt, and Paul Washer. The most helpful thing to me was going to Columbia International University and majoring in Intercultural Studies. They really prepared me to be around other cultures and to understand them.
What is one of the most encouraging things somebody has done for you while you were on the field?
One of my trips to India I was by myself with the Banjara, which can get pretty lonely. It was also at the end of short-term trip that I took with IMB to North India. At the end of the North India I broke off from the group on my own and traveled to South India where Sunil was. I would get emails from another guy named Ozgur who was also on a mission trip in Turkey (he actually is Turkish and converted to Christ from Islam). We emailed each other back and forth during the whole time I was there. It was super encouraging because we could really identify with each other. It was also encouraging because he was the only person who stayed in consistent communication with me while I was in India. I think one of the most important things to do with someone who is overseas doing mission work is to just weekly contact them. It can get really lonely otherwise.
How is your family doing?
My family has actually never been to India though my wife grew up in Indonesia since her parents are full time missionaries. She longs to go to India but we have not been able to make it work as of yet due to having three young kids and tickets being so expensive for such a little bit of time. It is hard to justify buying tickets when we could just use that money to help build the orphanage. Hopefully one day my wife and I will be able to go to India perhaps even long term. Other than that they are doing well here in America. I am teaching high school and working with students at a school in York, South Carolina called Lake Pointe Academy. My wife is a stay-at-home mom about to begin kindergarten with our oldest daughter Eliana (turning 5 in May). Makrina (2) and Roland (1) seem to be having a pretty good two-year-old and one-year-old life!
What are some activities that you like to do as a hobby or to relax?
My wife and I love to watch movies. We love story, particularly fantasy or sci-fi and super-heroes (modern mythology). We love to read books to each other or listen to audio books together (currently C.S. Lewis’ Perlandra). I actually like to write. Currently I am working on a fun little book that mixes mythology, philosophy, Christianity, and fantasy together. I am hoping that I will finish it when my oldest daughter is able to sit still and listen to bigger books. I like to fish when I can but do not often get a chance to. But the main activity/hobby that I do is play with my children and that usually takes the rest of my energy!
How can I pray for you?
There are really four things that I would love prayer for. First, pray that I would love my wife as Christ loves the church and to raise my children in the ways of Christ. Second, I am currently leading a small group for my church (Remedy Church in Rock Hill, SC) and so I could use prayer for wisdom and humility to serve God’s people. Third, pray for the Banjara and all the things we are trying to accomplish with them (orphanage/school/pastoral training, sending out missionaries, widow’s home, etc.). Pray for Jeremiah and Sunil to be granted wisdom and humility for serving God’s people in India. Fourth, I am the student life director at Lake Pointe Academy so please pray for my student leaders who plan and execute student life events for the school. Pray that students would grow as disciples in Christ.
I want to thank Chris for being open to sharing his heart and experiences with us. I truly enjoyed catching up and hearing how God has used you to impact a people group in a nation so far away. I am excited to see all God has in store for you and your beautiful family.