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Bellevue Baptist goes on global 'mission' PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 27 November 2007

(This is a classic case  of illegal missionary activity.  Missionary activity on visitor or business visa is illegal)

Source: Commercial Appeal Nov 25, 2007

HYDERABAD, India -- They come at night.

More than 600 Indian women -- old and young, unmarried, married and widowed, all poor -- travel from villages across the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh: Pathikomba, Konala, Koyyada, Suddapalli, Magaluru. Their destination is the same, a walled compound in southern Hyderabad known as the National Training Institute for Village Evangelism.

 

 

They come for a one-week conference -- underwritten by the largest congregation in Memphis -- on how to evangelize to and convert Hindus in some of the most remote areas of India, where less than 3 percent of the population is Christian.

Most travel by bus across miles of bumpy, dirt roads. They hold their saris over mouth and nose to block the plumes of dust that pass through open windows.

For some, such as Yadamma Alloju, the journey is more difficult emotionally than physically. A slender 45-year-old with a gold nose ring and a warm smile, Alloju lives with her husband and two sons in a small concrete-block house around the corner from the compound. She is the first Christian in her family, and when she told her husband and sons of her plans to attend the seminar, they forbade her. During the day, she pleaded. At night, she begged. Finally, her husband relented on one condition: She not be baptized.

Memphis & the World


Commercial Appeal reporter Trevor Aaronson and photographer Alan Spearman traveled the world and found out how one how one Southern city sends ripples around the globe. Click here for videos, photos and more.
Converts: More than 600 women, led in prayer by Pastor Edgar Sathuluri, join Bellevue Baptist Church missionaries at a conference for women in Hyderabad, India. The women, mostly from India's poorest social class, had their  transportation, expenses and meals paid for by the Memphis megachurch fostering Christian conversion in the largely Hindu nation.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Converts: More than 600 women, led in prayer by Pastor Edgar Sathuluri, join Bellevue Baptist Church missionaries at a conference for women in Hyderabad, India. The women, mostly from India's poorest social class, had their transportation, expenses and meals paid for by the Memphis megachurch fostering Christian conversion in the largely Hindu nation.

"I cannot tell my husband what happens here," Alloju says as she stands in front of the compound gates wearing a purple sari and black sandals.

What happens here is funded entirely by Bellevue Baptist, a 30,000-member church in Memphis, the nation's second-largest Southern Baptist congregation. Every year, Bellevue shells out $5.5 million -- one-fourth of its $22 million annual budget -- for missionary work around the world. At any given time, Bellevue is supporting missionaries in more than two dozen countries, and annually sends its Memphis congregants on international mission trips to Central America, South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

India is particularly important for the congregation. The country is at the center of what Bellevue and other evangelical churches refer to as the "10/40 window" -- the area 10degrees to 40degrees north of the equator, from North Africa to Japan, where 95percent of the people are "unevangelized" and where only 8percent of evangelical missionary dollars are spent.

"It's really called 'The Last Frontier,'" says Steve Marcum, Bellevue's minister of missions.

In July, with the help of Indian Pastor Edgar Sathuluri, who named the women's conference after his mother, Grace, Bellevue covered the transportation costs for the hundreds of women and paid for their meals during the five-day religious gathering in Hyderabad.

Bellevue officials declined to specify how much money they've paid to Sathuluri, saying only that his organization represents one of the church's most significant international investments in 2007. Additionally, Bellevue supports Sathuluri's organization by making monthly contributions.

Ritual mark: Satyavati, a Hindu temple keeper,  places a tilakam, or red mark, on the foreheads of two men riding a motorcycle. She then blesses their motorcycle and asks Kali to protect them from harm in their daily commute.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Ritual mark: Satyavati, a Hindu temple keeper, places a tilakam, or red mark, on the foreheads of two men riding a motorcycle. She then blesses their motorcycle and asks Kali to protect them from harm in their daily commute.

Hard life: Thorona, a 20-year-old Christian convert, loads granite into containers at a quarry for 12 hours a day for just over $1.50. Iswar, 30, (left) holds the couple's 3-year-old child. In a culture where women perform much of the backbreaking labor, Thorona earns the family's wages before taking a break to breast-feed the child and make lunch for her waiting husband.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Hard life: Thorona, a 20-year-old Christian convert, loads granite into containers at a quarry for 12 hours a day for just over $1.50. Iswar, 30, (left) holds the couple's 3-year-old child. In a culture where women perform much of the backbreaking labor, Thorona earns the family's wages before taking a break to breast-feed the child and make lunch for her waiting husband.

Donna Gaines, the wife of Bellevue Pastor Steve Gaines, led the summer mission to Sathuluri's compound. A tall former beauty queen with a mini-bouffant, Gaines speaks in a thick southern accent about Bellevue's work in the "10/40 window."

In India, Bellevue and Sathuluri have for years targeted a specific group for their evangelism: the poorest women in a crowded, complex country of more than 1billion people.

"Edgar doesn't invest in fields where there is little return, and there is such a hunger and such a desire for Jesus in these villages," she says.

Bellevue puts faith -- and millions of of dollars -- in international partners. But by investing money and people in central India, the megachurch has entered a world vastly dissimilar to its Cordova surroundings. Bellevue has put its members at the center of increasing religious tensions amid allegations of persecution and fraud.

* * *

On a July afternoon, a day before the compound is set to host the 600 women, Edgar Sathuluri escorts around the site a dozen women and several men from Bellevue. A soft-spoken 49-year-old with a mustache and pronounced limp, Sathuluri invited the Bellevue missionaries to India as part of the Grace Sathuluri Conference for Women.

In years past, this conference has been supported by money from several churches, including Bellevue and Grace Evangelical Church in Germantown. This year, as part of its expanding missionary work in India, Bellevue became the sole sponsor of the conference and dispatched to the region a group of seasoned and first-time missionaries.

Sathuluri takes the group into a small building near the edge of the compound. The women, dressed in loose-fitting clothing, crowd shoulder to shoulder in a small room.

As Sathuluri introduces his nephew, Aaron, and tells the women about how treacherous conditions are for Christians in India, three Hindu men walk up to the compound, as if on cue. Dressed in kurta pajamas, a traditional Indian outfit consisting of a baggy cotton shirt and bottoms, the men peer into the building and eye the Memphis missionaries.

"Excuse me, please," Sathuluri says as he walks outside.

The men amble over to an area where three dust-covered sport utility vehicles are parked. Aaron continues the discussion as the Bellevue women sneak glances outside, trying to figure out what's happening. Sathuluri and the men talk in Telugu, the language of Andhra Pradesh, for several minutes before Sathuluri raises his voice and points to the gates. The men walk away, into the surrounding neighborhood.

"They know Americans are here," Sathuluri tells the women as he returns to the building. It's as if Sathuluri was given the introduction he needed.

For the next 10 minutes, he talks about the religious persecution Christians face in India. He tells a story of how people he refers to as "radical Hindus" from the neighborhood once stormed his compound, turned over tables of food and vandalized cars.

Hair offering: At the Narasimha Swamy Temple, a Hindu man has his head shaved as an offering. Many people come to offer their hair for good health, business success or family welfare.

Hair offering: At the Narasimha Swamy Temple, a Hindu man has his head shaved as an offering. Many people come to offer their hair for good health, business success or family welfare.

Converted: Local  women offer prayers to Jesus with the Bellevue Baptist missionaries at Grace Church in Atmakur. Built by Edgar Sathuluri, the church provides vocational training for women in the village.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Converted: Local women offer prayers to Jesus with the Bellevue Baptist missionaries at Grace Church in Atmakur. Built by Edgar Sathuluri, the church provides vocational training for women in the village.

Possessed: This woman, claiming to be possessed by Kali, marches with followers to Jai Kali Temple in Hyderabad, where they sacrificed a goat to release Kali's spirit from her body. One form of the goddess is believed to protect the villagers from mosquito-born diseases common in the monsoon season, while another form protects the fields and farms from  epidemics.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Possessed: This woman, claiming to be possessed by Kali, marches with followers to Jai Kali Temple in Hyderabad, where they sacrificed a goat to release Kali's spirit from her body. One form of the goddess is believed to protect the villagers from mosquito-born diseases common in the monsoon season, while another form protects the fields and farms from epidemics.

On another occasion, Sathuluri explained, he and his older brother, Mohan, also a minister, were preaching in a small village in Andhra Pradesh when a group of locals charged toward them. A Christian family took them in, barricading the brothers in the house until police arrived to break up the demonstration.

"The men had sticks, clubs," Sathuluri says. "They wanted to kill us."

Craig Stockdale, owner of a Memphis landscaping company who came to India to escort his wife and the other women, shakes his head. "The persecution he faces here is unbelievable," Stockdale says.

Sathuluri has been unafraid to market that alleged persecution. On Jan. 11, six months before the Bellevue group arrived in India, he sent an e-mail to the church, which was posted on its Web site. In the message, Sathuluri described how his compound was attacked by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a political party that advocates the strengthening of traditional Hindu culture.

"There was total mayhem as they were beating up the little children, kicked their rice plates from their hands and threw all the food on the ground," Sathuluri wrote.

Although questions exist about the legitimacy of Sathuluri's claims, Hyderabad and other parts of India can be religiously volatile. Tensions among the Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities are common and at times have turned violent. In May, for example, a cell phone-triggered pipe bomb exploded at Mecca Masjid, a large mosque in central Hyderabad, as more than 10,000 people worshipped inside. Sixteen people were killed.

Conflicts between the dominant Hindu community and the growing Christian community aren't infrequent in India. Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization that publicizes persecutions of Christians, regularly reports the arrest and detainment of Christian missionaries in India. Some are detained unnecessarily and illegally -- India's laws provide for freedom of religion -- while others are harassed by authorities for resorting to unjustifiably brash tactics, such as distributing Christian materials inside and around Hindu temples.

Most Christian missionaries in India, including Bellevue's, refer to Australian Graham Stewart Staines to illustrate the dangers they face. In January 1999, Staines and his two sons were burned alive while sleeping in their car in Orissa, 620 miles southeast of New Delhi. Police believe Staines and his sons were murdered by members of Bajrang Dal, a radical group affiliated with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

But that political party has long claimed it is not responsible for such attacks.

* * *

The offices of the Bharatiya Janata Party are in a cavernous, marble-floored building guarded by men with AK-47s. Open windows create cross-breezes and wind tunnels throughout. The noises of Hyderabad's congested traffic seep through the walls, creating background choruses in all the rooms.

On the second floor, surrounded by staff and messengers, is Vidyasagar Rao. A former Parliamentarian and cabinet member of India's previous ruling government, Rao is now the chairman of BJP in Andhra Pradesh.

Sacred wine: At a Sunday service in Atmakur, a local woman drinks communion wine, the Christian rite in remembrance of the Last Supper,  in which Jesus likened his body to bread and his blood to wine.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Sacred wine: At a Sunday service in Atmakur, a local woman drinks communion wine, the Christian rite in remembrance of the Last Supper, in which Jesus likened his body to bread and his blood to wine.

Children of God: Leelarani Chitti Prolu and Pradeep Banothu, both 9,  portray Adam and Eve in a skit while their pastor fathers attend the Grace Sathuluri Conference for Women in Hyderabad. According to the book of Genesis, Adam was created by God from the dust of the earth and brought to life with God's breath. Eve was made from Adam's rib. Both are cursed and cast out of the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their children then populate the Earth.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Children of God: Leelarani Chitti Prolu and Pradeep Banothu, both 9, portray Adam and Eve in a skit while their pastor fathers attend the Grace Sathuluri Conference for Women in Hyderabad. According to the book of Genesis, Adam was created by God from the dust of the earth and brought to life with God's breath. Eve was made from Adam's rib. Both are cursed and cast out of the Garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their children then populate the Earth.

Rao, a Hindu, is accustomed to mixing religion and politics in conversation. Here, in a state of 76million people, politicos joke about the religion of the chief minister -- he's Christian -- the way Americans laugh about a U.S. senator being nabbed by police in an airport bathroom.

Those who snicker the loudest in Andhra Pradesh tend to come from BJP, which is partially responsible for laws that prohibit Christians from using gifts and money to induce conversions. Owing to the party's political assaults on organizations they believe are encumbering traditional Hindu culture and values, BJP is often blamed for physical attacks on Christian groups in India.

"As a state and national party, we are not responsible for any attacks on Christians," Rao says. "These are lies."

While the party chairman supports Christian groups' freedom to operate in India, he questions how many are obeying the country's inducement laws since Christian conversions in India happen disproportionately more among poor people than middle-class and wealthy Indians.

"BJP is in the forefront to highlight these issues -- that there are certain missionaries who are trying to convert people to Christianity by doing things that are illegal, such as giving money or gifts," Rao says.

He believes most claims of persecution are fabricated by Christian organizations hoping to pull at the purse strings of wealthy American churches. "These people will do anything for American money," Rao says.

Asked about Sathuluri's and Bellevue's claims of BJP attacks, Rao denies having any knowledge of Sathuluri's organization. "But I can't assure you these attacks didn't happen," Rao says. "For that, you would have to talk to the local party activists."

Those local activists worship in a temple around the corner from Sathuluri's walled compound. On a July evening, Ramreddy Kolanu is standing barefoot on the steps of the temple. He wears a tilakam, a red mark, on his forehead. Inside the temple, a priest is standing near a statue of Ganesha, the Hindu deity with the head of an elephant.

"I've lived here for years," Kolanu says. "I know what happens here, and I can you tell you that attacks have never happened over there. I would know if they did."

Kolanu says he and his neighbors don't care what goes on inside the walls. "Everybody's faith is their own," he says.

Sathuluri isn't as easygoing as his neighbor. When he discovers that an interpreter, who is Hindu, is in the compound the day he is to perform baptisms, Sathuluri threatens to call police to remove her and a Commercial Appeal reporter and photographer from the property. He says the interpreter hired by the newspaper could be a "spy" for the government.

"I could be killed," Sathuluri says in front of several Bellevue missionaries.

"India is a strange place in that any day the radical Hindus can get upset and attack a church or a known group of Christians when technically by government standards people have freedom, the right to worship," says Ellie Marcum, wife of Bellevue minister of missions Steve Marcum and one of Bellevue's most seasoned missionaries to India, as if to explain Sathuluri's hostility.

How much of the Indian pastor's reaction is out of fear for his safety or trepidation about an independent interpreter is unknown. Some evidence suggests the latter: Sathuluri consistently exaggerated facts he would give the Bellevue women, claiming, for example, that the 600 women who attended the conference were so poor they only had one sari when, in fact, many said they were better off than Sathuluri suggested.

Others, who would talk openly of being beaten by husbands and sons for converting to Christianity, said they had never heard of attacks on Sathuluri or his compound.

Spiritual climax:  Late one evening, as part of a large ceremony, Darlene Stroud washes the feet of Indian women.  This was the spiritual climax for the Bellevue evangelists attending the conference.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Spiritual climax: Late one evening, as part of a large ceremony, Darlene Stroud washes the feet of Indian women. This was the spiritual climax for the Bellevue evangelists attending the conference.

Weeping: This Indian woman cries after her feet were washed by the hands of women from Bellevue Baptist Church, an act of humility in emulation of Jesus.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Weeping: This Indian woman cries after her feet were washed by the hands of women from Bellevue Baptist Church, an act of humility in emulation of Jesus.

Baptists in saris: Shari Ray (from left), Jerri Nelson, Donna Gaines and Susie Wright pray with a number of other Bellevue missionaries at Grace Church in Atmakur, south of Hyderabad.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Baptists in saris: Shari Ray (from left), Jerri Nelson, Donna Gaines and Susie Wright pray with a number of other Bellevue missionaries at Grace Church in Atmakur, south of Hyderabad.

* * *

Yadamma Alloju isn't thinking about her orange sari as she steps into the water. Mohan Sathuluri, wearing black pants and a white button-down shirt, is chest-deep in the small pool in the middle of the religious compound. He takes Alloju by the hand; she steps forward, deeper into the pool as the sari's light fabric wafts in the water.

Positioned to the side of Alloju, Sathuluri prays. He gently places one hand on her back, the other on her forehead, and pushes her beneath the water's surface. A second later, he pulls her up; she emerges, wet and crying.

The Bellevue missionaries watch from a viewing area next to the pool. Some offer tears, others camera flashes. None get close to the baptismal pool and wet women.

"This is why I am here," Alloju says as dozens of other Indian women wait in line to be baptized. Against her husband's instruction, Alloju was reborn in Christ. But in her excitement, she hadn't thought to bring a second sari, and if she were to return home wet, her husband would know what she'd done. He'd beat her, she says.

Alloju runs off to borrow an extra sari from another attendee and let hers dry in the sun.

For five days just like this one, 600 women crowd into the compound. Each morning and night, they gather under a large pavilion built weeks earlier by Bellevue volunteers and with Bellevue money. They listen to hours of sermons in Telugu and English. In the afternoons, they break into smaller groups, each with a Bellevue missionary, to discuss the Bible and its teachings and how they can more effectively talk to other women in their village about the Bible.

The conference is particularly moving for Susie Wright, a 52-year-old Memphian who was born in Kerala, a state in south India whose Christian community dates back to the arrival of St. Thomas on the Asian subcontinent in the year 52.

As with other Bellevue members who believe their religion is the only way to a peaceful afterlife -- Donna Gaines, for example, describes Hinduism's holiest city, Varanasi, as "the darkest place I saw in India" -- Wright sees her native country as a much bleaker place than the one she adopted.

"It is dark with sin," she says of India. "Satan has blinded the eyes of every person, Hindus, here. The only way the darkness can go and the lightness can come is through Jesus Christ. ... But God is going to raise a lot of Christians here. The Christians here in India, they are the most devoted, humble, godly, fire-for-the-Lord Christians. With their prayer, with their eagerness to bring this country to the Lord, one of these days God is going to raise these people."

But these people, the 600 sleeping in open-air pavilions at Sathuluri's compound, have little in common with Wright.

While she has a master's degree in microbiology from an American university, many of the women at the conference are either illiterate or read at rudimentary levels. The Telugu-language Bibles they carry are for many more symbolic than useful, and determining whether their Christianity is comprehended or recited is at times difficult.

Most speak in a rough, uneducated Telugu, but when asked why they believe in Christianity, some answer, "When God has given His life for me, I must do at least that much," in perfect Telugu. Others admit they know little of Christianity and came to the conference for the free meals and the new sari they receive for attending -- inducements potentially illegal under Indian law.

Donna Gaines sees only the hope, the mission, in Sathuluri's and Bellevue's work in India. "Edgar's doing for women what Christ did for women in his time," she says. "And, really, India, in the primitive, remote areas, reminds me so much of what Biblical times must have been like, looked like, smelled like."

Meeting villagers: Missionary Donna McFarland jokes with women in Atmakur as she learns how hard it is to carry a heavy  bowl on her head. The women transport goods to and from nearby cotton fields.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Meeting villagers: Missionary Donna McFarland jokes with women in Atmakur as she learns how hard it is to carry a heavy bowl on her head. The women transport goods to and from nearby cotton fields.

 At home: Guno Sadan, 7, was abandoned after her mother died and her father left. She lives with Jayanti Kanto, 20, a Christian who is sweeping the floor of her concrete home.

Photo by Alan Spearman

At home: Guno Sadan, 7, was abandoned after her mother died and her father left. She lives with Jayanti Kanto, 20, a Christian who is sweeping the floor of her concrete home.

Gaines and other Bellevue missionaries see great purpose in their presence in India. Not only are they sharing their religion with others, they believe, but they are saving others from what they term a "pagan religion."

In Hinduism, the world's third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam, followers worship a variety of deities and incarnations. Although Hinduism has its fringe sects -- some, for example, worship Kali, a violent deity with a blood-soaked tongue -- many of its believers consider Hinduism more of a way of life than a religion.

However, Gaines sees Hinduism as nothing more than idol-worship. "It's sad, actually, because we were and are created in the image of God," she says.

"God placed, Ecclesiastes said, eternity in our hearts. So we have that longing. I call it the God-shaped vacuum, the hole in our heart. We're searching and we try to fill it. Every other religion is simply man's attempt to work his way up to God, and it's only in Christianity that God came down to man, through his son Jesus Christ."

That's the message Gaines is trying to deliver in India. "Because America is so saturated (with Christians), you realize there are places in the world with a much greater need," she says.

But conversion to Christianity is a complicated matter in India, particularly for the poor women Sathuluri and Bellevue target. These women are at the bottom of India's ancient caste system, which organizes society according to birth.

Brahmans, at the top of the caste system, are society's priests and thinkers, while Dalits, at the bottom of the caste system, are subjected to society's hardest and dirtiest jobs. The women attending the conference make a living performing backbreaking work, doing everything from climbing coconut trees to collect fermented liquor (known as "toddy tapping") to breaking and lifting rocks at a quarry.

Their conversion to Christianity is so discouraged by the Indian government that Bellevue's missionaries are forced to enter the country using tourist visas.

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Since lower-caste Indians are marginalized by Hindu society, they are the most susceptible to Bellevue and other Christians, whose missionaries peddle equality and sin-cleansing.

Yet in modern India, accepting Christ and giving up Hindu caste identity, while legal, can have severe consequences for lower-caste Indians. Legislation similar to affirmative-action laws in the United States affords Dalits and other lower-caste Indians places at companies and universities. By becoming a Christian, they lose those benefits, though Indian courts are currently debating the issue of extending benefits to lower-caste Christians.

However, many of the women Sathuluri and Bellevue convert are not sophisticated enough to understand the implications of becoming a Christian in India. Poolamma Gyana, a 16-year-old from Suddapalli who was baptized a few days before the Bellevue-funded women's conference, shakes her head upon learning that she has lost the special benefits provided to her caste.

"Is this true?" she asks.

The answer to that question isn't something Sathuluri and Bellevue offer to their converts.

"In my charitable interpretation of this, either the people at Bellevue didn't know about the caste benefits, that they themselves are ignorant of this, or theologically they are predisposed to thinking that converting to Christ is the highest good and any kind of material benefits one receives in this world tails behind the benefits one would receive in salvation," says Mark Muesse, a religious studies professor at Rhodes College.

"If people are given full understanding of what this conversion might mean, it might give them pause to make that commitment. They still might make it. You really would hope that people who commit to Christianity would do so with the understanding of what that means for them and the benefits they might lose from the government."

* * *

Late one evening, as part of a large ceremony, the Bellevue ladies and the Indian women gather in about a dozen circles. The Indian women sit at the circles' edges as the missionaries, in the centers, wash the feet of each woman.

"It's a spiritual picture, obviously, of what Christ did for His disciples but also of us being willing to humble ourselves," Gaines says. "It's one of those paradoxes of Christian life: When you humble yourself, you'll be exalted."

Mission accomplished: Edgar Sathuluri (from left), Donna Gaines, Ellie Marcum and Jean Stockdale laugh along with the other Bellevue missionaries on the last evening of the Grace Sathuluri Conference for Women in Hyderabad.Uncertain future: Yadamma Alloju disobeyed her family's wishes by being baptized at the Grace Sathuluri Conference for Women. She says if her husband finds out, he will beat her.

Photo by Alan Spearman

Mission accomplished: Edgar Sathuluri (from left), Donna Gaines, Ellie Marcum and Jean Stockdale laugh along with the other Bellevue missionaries on the last evening of the Grace Sathuluri Conference for Women in Hyderabad.Uncertain future: Yadamma Alloju disobeyed her family's wishes by being baptized at the Grace Sathuluri Conference for Women. She says if her husband finds out, he will beat her.

Many of the Indian women break down, tears falling from their eyes, as their feet are being washed. And when they do, their counterparts from Memphis begin to cry as well.

"They become very emotional. It's understandable," says Aaron, Sathuluri's nephew. "Who would bend down to wash another's feet? This means a lot in India, where unlike in America, we do not wear shoes; we wear sandals. But for many of these women, they usually do not even wear sandals. Their feet are hard and cracked."

For Bellevue's representatives, the foot-washing ceremony is a departure from their weeklong, arms-length missionary work.

During the conference, the Memphis women drink from separate communal cups. During lunch and dinner, they eat different food in a separate area, away from the stink and flies that complement the meals of the women they are in India to reach. And at night, they sleep in a three-star hotel in neighboring Secunderabad, an hour's drive from the heat and mosquitoes that accompany the Indian women's rest.

* * *

Just before 5 p.m. on the final day of the conference, Alloju opens the gates of the religious compound and walks out along the dusty road. Wearing her purple sari with gold trim, she needs to get home for her chores.

In the background, she can hear Edgar Sathuluri's sermon from the pavilion. He's talking about his Christian mother and how she became the inspiration for the conference. The Bellevue women are there, listening intently to Sathuluri, the star of the rural religious revival they've funded more than 8,000 miles from Memphis.

For the past five days, Alloju has come to the Christian conference against her family's wishes and volunteered to do anything she could do to help: wash dishes, mop floors, pick up trash. Her husband and sons know she's here, but they don't know her secret -- about how a pastor dipped her body into a pool of water and how she re-emerged.

"Someday I will tell my husband what happened here," she says and returns to her life as one of India's hidden Christians.

 
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