RAJASTHAN, India -- A large portion of India still lives in tribes, and one of the largest of these communities is witnessing a Christian revival.
Hundreds of men, women and children who used to follow Hinduism are now embracing Christianity.
Ask Dinesh Shur why so many tribal people are accepting Jesus Christ and he gets teary-eyed.
"When you do God's work for years and begin to see the fruits of your labor, it is overwhelming," Shur told CBN News.
"You see the changed lives, you see the eternal happiness on the faces of people, and how can it not move me," he said.
Here, in a corner of Rajasthan where the majority follow Hinduism, a Christian chorus is rising.
"The transformation is almost immediate," Shur said. "Families stop praying to their ancestors, they stop drinking, they stop their witchcraft practices. Their entire life is turned upside down when they accept Jesus."
India's Biblical Jonah
Shur is part of the reason why so many are turning to Christ.
For 10 years, Shur, known as Pastor Dinesh, served in a big city. But then God tugged on his heart and told him he had to go back to his village, go back to his roots, to his own people and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
"I was like Jonah in the Bible," Shur said. "I didn't want to live in my village. I wanted to serve God in the city where things are easier. I wanted to reach others with the gospel, not my own people."
Shur pointed to Sohan Lal's life as fruit of his decision to return.
"One day Pastor Dinesh told me about Jesus Christ," Lal, who recently converted to Christianity, said. "He told me that if I put my trust in Him, I would be healed, that my life would be different. I did."
A New Life
Lal joined 178 of his tribe's people recently at the edge of this river not too far from their village. Here they were baptized by Pastor Dinesh.
"I know all these men and women personally. I know what their lives were like before they met Christ. And now to be part of this spiritual milestone in their lives is an enormous privilege," Shur said.
Theru Bhai has been waiting for this day a long time. Like Lal, Bhai too is a recent Christian convert.
"After I accepted Christ I stopped drinking, I stopped smoking, and I stopped getting into fights," Bhai said. "Getting baptized was my way to show the community that I am a changed man. Today Jesus Christ is my savior."
Mannu was among the dozens of Hindu women who also got baptized in the river that day.
"I feel very happy after my baptism and thankful that I received Christ in my heart," she said. "I will now follow Him the rest of my life."
Mannu's husband, Shantu, and children also decided to follow Christ after Pastor Dinesh spent several occasions with them.
"My family is blessed today because of Christ and because someone was willing to come and share the gospel with us," Shantu said.
Pastor Dinesh is a member of the Bhil community, one of the largest tribes in the central states of India.
"The Bhil are mainly farmers. They are very poor and still follow centuries old-practices. In many ways they live a life far different from those in the cities," he explained.
Shur said foreign missionaries have ministered to this area for more than 135 years and have never seen the results he's witnessing today.
Christians are still a minority within a minority in these parts. However, there are reports that as many as 300,000 people have become believers in just the last 10 years, many of them from among the Bhil tribe.
"We have 42 house prayer groups meeting in about 22 villages. We also have 32 workers from our church going from village to village as evangelists sharing the gospel," Shur said.
"In the coming year my goal is to send out missionaries to neighboring states to reach other Bhil villages," he added.
Jeevani Karadi, a church leader in a remote part of Rajastan, is one of those who travels from village to village.
When she's not on the road, you'll find this spry 65-year-old helping lead a house group with Pastor Dinesh. On the day CBN News met her, she and dozens of believers were having church under a tree.
"Our group is getting so large I don't have enough space in my house to fit all these people so we come here," she said.
Karadi's testimony is the reason this meeting is even happening.
Learning to Trust God
About six years ago, she used to roam the streets of this remote village, in essence, as a mad woman, even walking around naked.
Then she had an encounter with Jesus. Today she leads a thriving church in Rajasthan.
"The village used to make fun of me. They would shout nasty things as I walked on the streets," Karadi recalled. "People said I was cursed."
"Then I met Pastor Dinesh, and he prayed for me, and I was healed," she continued. "I was delivered. Jesus set me free."
Her healing led many to receive Christ and helped start the first house prayer group in the village.
Shur said these testimonies are just another reminder for him of how important it is to obey and trust God.
"Today I'm living the fruits of my decision to come back to my village. Is it easy? No. Do we face challenges? Yes," he said. "But we have Christ to lean on. He is all we need to see change among my people."
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