Known as “the capital of the south” and said to be “the keeper of South Indian artistic and religious traditions”, the city of Chennai is one of MDGC’s vibrant Global City Partners. With a population of 10 million, Chennai is thought to be the place to which the Apostle Thomas brought the gospel to over 2000 years ago and in which he was martyred. States Jeyakaran Emmanuel, Partnership and Faith Development Leader for World Vision in Chennai, the city “stands on the foundation of blood, sweat & tears – the blood of the martyr (Thomas), sweat of the missionaries and tears of Intercessors.” Indeed, Emmanuel reports that the city of Chennai remains central to the advancement of gospel movement in India – a nation of 1.2 billion in which only 2.8% of the population officially claim Christianity as their religion. He notes, “Chennai has been the birthplace for several national missions movements and is regarded as the “Antioch of India” having sent out thousands of missionaries to unreached Northern India over the past few decades.”
The vibrancy of a city like Chennai cannot be understated in relation to the broader gospel movement within the nation of India where the majority of citizens ascribe to Hinduism (75%), under the rule of a fundamentalist Hindu government, and large parts of Northern India remaining unevangelized with an increasing number of Christians facing persecution steadily increasing. Despite these realities, Chennai is reported to have “vibrant city wide prayer & unity movements” – among them Blessed Chennai, Light up Chennai, the National Day of Prayer, and a growing city transformation movement called Chennai Transformation Network (CTN). CTN in particular has given a structure to allow Christians to begin influencing the city, primarily through the following 11 tracks or “spheres” in areas such as Prayer, Arts, Media, Business, Church Planting, Social Action, Children, Youth, Family, Sports, Education, Students, Women, etc.
Movements like the Chennai Corporate Fellowship who assist in the networking of workplace fellowships, and the existence of 140 pastoral fellowships also give formation to the continued growth and collaboration of Christians within the city. In addition, reports Emmanuel, local churches continue to engage in an ever increasing amount of “social action and justice work through Christian NGOs such as Compassion, Intermission, World Vision, and International Justice Mission that have their Indian headquarters in Chennai.” Emmanuel classifies the aforementioned spheres in which gospel movement has gained “traction” under the following headings:
- CHURCH ENGAGEMENT: Prayer & unity movements in the body of Christ.
- MARKETPLACE ENGAGEMENT: Workplace movements in the corporate sector.
- NGO ENGAGEMENT: Social Justice initiatives led by several Christian NGOs, which has mobilized local churches into social action.
Like any other city, Chennai faces its share of urban challenges. Emmanuel has distilled these urban challenges as falling under three main categories: education, employment, and the environment. While the young urban poor struggle to gain access to quality education, unemployment remains on the rise while the overall state of pollution and contamination abounds. Emmanuel also reports that corruption, discrimination according to “gender, caste, religion, color etc.”, and intolerance leading to “the persecution of minorities” as a result of what he describes as the “rise of the “Hindutva” – the nationalist Hindu fundamentalist movement that is intolerant of other religions” – also serve as significant challenges facing the city of Chennai today.
It is against this backdrop of urban struggle that Jeyakaran Emmanuel and his wife Kavitha Israel actively work to simultaneously advance gospel movement and social change. Jeyakaran, is engaged through his work with World Vision and the Chennai Transformation Network. Kavitha’s organization Women of Worth (WOW), “leads a movement that seeks to empower women to stand up for justice, equality and change in all facets of life and society in both local and global contexts” through “advocacy, training, and rehabilitation.” In connection with WOW, Kavitha also campaigns for women’s safety while challenging traditional standards of beauty, launching the Girl Arise and Dark Is Beautiful Campaigns, each of which serves to address different areas of need within the sphere of gender equality, safety, and empowerment. In addition, the couple continues to support and provide leadership to Powerhouse Church, a congregation they planted over 20 years ago, with the desire to build “a contemporary church that would reach out with the gospel particularly to young English-speaking students and working professionals” and advance the notion of “the priesthood of all believers, gender equality & justice for all.”
States Emmanuel, “With its vibrant prayer, evangelism and city transformation movements, Chennai we believe has an ‘apostolic’ calling as a city to be a resource and catalyst for newer gospel movements in other Indian cities.” He notes, “As every city has its own unique character and story, Chennai’s unfolding story of gospel movements impacting the city can be an inspiration to the larger Movement Day community. We (Chennai Transformation Network) plan to host the first Chennai Movement Day in August 2017.”
Will you join us in lifting up in prayer the city of Chennai and all those working to advance their gospel movement?