LOS ANGELES, Calif. Growing up in the caste-driven culture of India, Alexander John was acutely aware of the deep-seated oppressiveness of Hinduism.
"A person responding to the gospel often faces enormous pressure from family and peers," John said. "These pressures sometimes take the form of persecution and ostracism."
Fortunately for him, his Christian parents raised John in the faith and by 1990 he made his own profession to follow Christ. After graduating from seminary, John decided to become a foreign missionary, reaching his lost peers in affluence-driven Southern California.
"That is God's calling on my life, and I have been obedient to that call," he said.
That obedience calls for some jam-packed weekends and plenty of freeway miles as he helps to pastor India Christian Assembly in Los Angeles and leads India Christian Fellowship of San Diego.
Throughout the week he also leads Bible studies throughout Los Angeles.
"Yes, it can become physically tiring," John said. "But I always compare myself to other ministers in India who work harder and in less privileged circumstances. I don't consider what I do to be much, and it is the Lord who strengthens me. We go where the people are and minister to them."
John, who has assisted the Rev. Dr. T. Valson Abraham, founding pastor of the Los Angeles congregation, since 2000, began the San Diego church as an outgrowth of India Christian Assembly.
"Ten years ago, God opened a door in San Diego for us to minister to the Indian community," he said. "Initially, a few families met once a month to pray and seek God's will. As the Lord began to send more people, our gatherings became semimonthly. God added many to the church over the years, and there are now 30 families in our fellowship. They include many who came to know Jesus Christ from various backgrounds such as Hinduism and Catholicism."
After floating from home to home for worship, prayer and fellowship, the fellowship has, for the past three years, been holding regular services from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays at a local church.
"As the Lord blessed us in number, we approached many area churches in San Diego to rent a place," he said.
After several years of prayer and searching, John said that the Lord opened a door for a church in San Diego county.
Services are conducted in English and several Indian languages.
"Our vision is to reach every Indian person in Southern California with the gospel," John said. "We aim to reach them through personal evangelism and building relationships. We have special outreaches during Christmas and Easter that draw many non-Christian families to hear the gospel message. Many of our Hindu friends send their children to attend our summer VBS programs."
Snare of materialism
Unlike India, where millions are cast aside because of a lack of wealth and persistent fears of persecution, John said one of their biggest hindrances to ministry in Southern California is materialism.
"In sharing the gospel, we are finding that with increased affluence comes increasing apathy towards spiritual matters," he said. "Having our members scattered throughout the city is sometimes a hindrance. We desire to have a permanent place of our own so that we would not have to keep moving around. Having access to our own facility throughout the week will enable us to be more effective with our outreach goals."
John said he's been pleasantly surprised by how his ministry here has continued to bless others in his native India.
"We have a member who is a physician," the pastor said. "He comes from a high-caste Hindu family and was introduced to Christ while in medical school. His mother was a recipient of a high civilian honor in India. God has used him to share the gospel with his family members in India. These individuals would usually not be easily reachable with the gospel."
Draw of Hinduism
While the persecution threat is greatly reduced over what is experienced in India, the pastor said Hindu influences are still a concern.
"The Hindu community, too, is very active in establishing their temples and yoga studios here," he said. "They bring over many 'gurus' and priests from India to keep their people in faith. What is unfortunate is that many Americans are swayed by these New Age teachings."
Even so, John said the transforming power of Jesus Christ is evident among his flock as they develop an increased passion to reach others for Christ.
"We are seeing a hunger for God and a greater dependence on Him," he said. "When a family encounters a crisis situation, the church responds in prayer and support. It is encouraging to see individuals drawing closer to God in prayer."