By CFFM Staff
When God is involved, language and culture are hurdles to overcome, not barriers to build. Christian Family Fellowship’s senior pastor Rev. Tonia Shroyer discovered this truth when she recently traveled to northern India and Nepal.
Pastor Tonia and a team of women ministers from all over the United States delivered Bibles and helped train spiritually hungry Christian leaders. “One of the things I’ve learned about leadership is it’s about loving people who are not like you, and the way you find similarities is in Jesus and who He is,” Pastor Tonia said after her trip.
A Call to God’s Generals
The trip started with a vision by Executive Pastor Julie Schaecher from the Movement Church in San Marcos, California. Pastor Tonia’s daughter, Kristen, had worked and studied there for two years in the Movement School of Ministry. Over the course of Kristen’s time there, Pastor Julie and Pastor Tonia had become closely aligned in heart and passion. Pastor Julie and her husband Mike have been out to visit and speak several times at CFF, even issuing a call to a “Caleb Generation.”
While Pastor Julie was at a pastor’s training conference, she met Leanna Cinquanta, author of “Treasures in Dark Places: One Woman, a Supernatural God and a Mission to the Toughest Part of India.”
Leanna was a self-declared atheist as a teenager, until she had a “dramatic spiritual epiphany” in which Jesus appeared to her. She dove headfirst into Christianity, and felt God commissioning her to go to northern India to “rescue the people trapped in darkness.” Leanna founded TellAsia Ministries in 1997, and has been ministering to northern India ever since.
According to Pastor Tonia, Pastor Julie was pulled by the Holy Spirit when she encountered Leanna. Pastor Julie told Leanna, “I believe the Lord wants me to help you.” Leanna replied, “Then teach the women of India about leadership in the church and how to disciple people. They have everything for men, and nothing for women.”
But God didn’t ask Pastor Julie to do it alone.
“The Lord told me to take nine generals with me to India, and you’re one of them,” Pastor Julie told Pastor Tonia.
Pastor Tonia admits that she wasn’t immediately excited. But when she went to the Lord, His response was ‘if you don’t go, you will regret it.’ After more encouragement from fellow ministers, Pastor Tonia agreed to make the trek across the globe. In the end, there were six power-packed women ministers of all ages that went.
“I went to support Julie – she had this mission, we agreed with it, and we were going to go,” Pastor Tonia said. “We were on the same wavelength in the spirit.”
But Pastor Tonia couldn’t go without the help of her local and extended church family. Christian Family Fellowship Ministry as a whole raised $22,000 to cover travel and conference expenses for her and many attendees.
The money also allowed the team to give away 500 solar-powered Talking Bibles, which speaks the Bible in the receiver’s main language, and 1,000 glow-in-the-dark wristbands. The wristbands read “Shine” on the outside and had a verse written on the inside. Seven of the main TellAsia ministers were also given laptop computers and iPads to use.
But it wasn’t all about what the Americans could bring. Pastor Tonia stressed that she was overwhelmed by the love, generosity, and unrelenting faith of those she met in both countries.
If Jesus can work in anyone, why was this team focused on working with women leaders?
Because even though an average of 80 percent of the people in the churches Leanna was working with are female, a majority of the leadership are still men.
“The women are allowed to cook and work and do all those things, but they’re not acknowledged or allowed to lead,” Pastor Tonia explained. “What they needed empowered as women was that they could do it, and that they had a right to do it.”
The women that attended the trainings numbered almost 500. They traveled to Delhi, Varansi, and Lucknow, India, and Surkhet and Kathmandu in Nepal.
Although Pastor Julie’s team covered the expenses of the women once at the conference, the attendees still had to get to the location. Pastor Tonia noted that many of them walked for two days and slept on the side of the road to get there. Some were even willing to sacrifice their physical and mental well-being.
“Two women requested prayer to not be beaten to death,” Pastor Tonia said without a hint of exaggeration. “They had agreed to be beaten when they returned, since they were going to miss their chores while at the conference.”
The trainings opened with Pastor Julie, who taught on Moses’s sister Miriam, and the power of one woman. Her word was RISE. Each speaker thereafter had a word to focus on, speaking about SHINE, LISTEN, PRAY, and LOVE.
Pastor Julie put Pastor Tonia as the closer. Pastor Tonia said she kept it simple and interactive.
“There was a lot of ‘hug your neighbor’ – that’s how healing happened,” Pastor Tonia shared. She noted that the women were “all in” when it was time to do something. Whether it was a victory tunnel or a baby blessing, the women understood the power of the spirit and the power of a healing touch.
“We preached heavy Jesus, and they got it like ‘bang, bang, bang!” Shroyer recalled.
She noted that much of the healing and blessing were completed not through the leadership team, but through the women ministering to each other.
A Time to Dance
But in true CFF fashion, it wasn’t all serious times and hard breakthroughs. God created balance, and He loves laughter and fun, too.
Many of the women that were at training couldn’t even give an answer to the question ‘what do you do for fun?’ They just knew their responsibility to work and take care of their household. So, the conference also included a nod to one of CFF’s annual events, YES! Camp.
“What do we at camp? We play games!” Pastor Tonia laughed. She said the women’s favorite was a game called ‘Four Corners,’ like a room-sized version of musical chairs. There was a lot of music and dancing in that game.
Pastor Tonia and the team also made sure that the women had treats! Pastor Tonia had asked what specifically would bless that crowd… and it was Coke and ice cream. There were lots of smiles when the spoons and creamy dessert was brought out.
A Time to Stand
The theme verse or ‘core mission’ for all of the interactions was Matthew 10:1:
“And when He (Jesus) had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.”
Jesus continues to give his disciples a ‘pep talk’…sort of. His encouragement includes:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” – Matthew 10:16-20 NKJV
Pastor Tonia noted that those final warnings in Matthew 10 are more than just trepidation. That’s real life for some of those ministers.
“This is how they live,” she emphasized. “This is boots on the ground kind of stuff.”
Several of the areas that the team visited in India and Nepal have anti-evangelism laws, and Pastor Tonia noted that even though these laws aren’t always enforced, it can create a hostile environment for religious communities.
All of Pastor Julie’s team were given headscarves to wear, partly out of honor, and partly to hide their clearly non-Indian heads. They were not allowed to speak in public about their reason to be in India, and continually kept their heads down in public.
Pastor Tonia noted that they were warned to not post on social media, and to be wary of mob gatherings (there was one incident where they had to be rushed out of a lobby). In Nepal, they had to make four stops just to cross the border – one time TellAsia’s Nepal liaison Amar almost got into a fight with an armed guard who kept accusing them of being ‘corrupt.’
“Four times the guard went to the back of the van door, where the Talking Bibles were, put his hand on the door, and then took it back off,” Pastor Tonia said, remembering the tension of the moment. “I prayed, ‘God, I can’t take it anymore! We just got to get into Nepal – I really don’t want to see what prisons look like here.”
That time, they made it out of both countries without prison or beating. But these possibilities are real to those to work there on a regular basis.
Leanna is currently banned from that part of the country after being arrested for Christian activities. Amar has been beaten and lived through several near-death circumstances. TellAsia’s Indian liaison, David, has had persecutors come to his house and beat on his doors for the Christian work that he does.
Pastor Tonia met another leader whose family disowned him when he became a Christian and was nearly beaten to death with a cane by his father when he refused to disavow his new faith. Ironically, that father called and apologized to the son when the dad was lying on his deathbed.
Sometimes, the spiritual darkness wasn’t that obvious; it lurked behind the scenes.
“You could feel the religious spirits, and the violence under it, the way spirits stir things up,” Pastor Tonia said. “Everyone is smiling and laughing, but those spirits don’t play.”
It reminded her of John 10:10, and how those are not just words on the page; it’s the real deal.
“The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…” – John 10:10A KJV
BUT, Jesus didn’t end there. The thief may be trying (and sometimes succeeding) to steal, kill, and destroy, but he is not the only force in the spiritual kingdom.
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10B KJV
The Indian and Nepalese leaders refused to let the adversary and his people-pawns steal their joy.
“They were willing to show love and give anything they can,” Pastor Tonia declared. She said that the believers they met overflowed with the fruit of the spirit. They may not have a lot materially, but what they did own physically, emotionally, and spiritually, they were ready to share.
To learn more of what the Asian believers shared and to see photos from the trip, watch Pastor Tonia’s Sunday sharing on India and Nepal.