Operation Nehemiah II

Operation Nehemiah II – A Report

A historic gathering of forty-eight Church and Para-church leaders, representing a range of traditions and denominations from across India, took place at the Taj Vivanta, Bangalore on 4th and 5th October 2012. This was the second edition of Operation Nehemiah, the first having been held on 2nd September, 2011. The Operation Nehemiah movement (www.operation-nehemiah.in) is facilitated by a group of lay businessmen and professionals called Transition Network (www.transitionnetwork.in) in collaboration with the Lausanne Movement (www.lausanne.org/en/about.html).

There were 18 seniormost church leaders from some of the major church denominations such as – the Catholic Church, the Church of North India, the Church of South India, the Methodist Church, the Apostolic Church Alliance, the Indian Pentecostal Church of God, the Assam Baptist Convention, Good Shepherd Community Church, The Church at Powai & Associated Ministries, the Church of God, the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Church of India, Yeshu Bhakt Pavitra Sabha and the Anglican Church.

Apart from the Church representatives there were also 27 top leaders of important para-church organizations, Haggai Institute – India, Campus Crusade for Christ, Union of Evangelical Students of India (UESI), Indian Evangelical Mission(IEM), Urban India Ministries (UIM), The Bible Society of India, Missionary Upholders Trust (MUT), Interserve India, Christian AIDS/HIV National Alliance (CANA), India Missions Association (IMA), National Integration Council – Government of India, Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), All India Association for Christian Higher Education (AIACHE), Indian School of Ecumenical Theology – ECC, Starfish Alliance, Character Solutions International and Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF). Some institutions represented were South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS), Centre for Global Leadership Development (SABC), The Association for Theological Education by Extension (TAFTEE), Bangalore Baptist Hospital and Union of Catholic Asian News Asia Pacific Ecumenical News.

The focus of the gathering was the issue of lack of Financial Integrity and corruption within the Church (and its auxiliary bodies) in the nation of India. The main facilitator of the event was Mr Francis Fernandes, Senior Consultant Change & OD, Shell, Singapore. The speakers were Dr Manfred Kohl, former Special Ambassador for Overseas Council, LT Jeyachandran, recently retired Director Asia Pacific, RZIM, and Sqn. Ldr. (Retd.) Mohan Phillip.

Santosh Shetty, Chairman of the Expat Group and member of Transition Network shared the vision of Transition Network and the Operation Nehemiah movement. Doug Birdsall, Executive Chairman of the Lausanne Movement (TLM) shared the reasons behind TLM’s partnership in the Operation Nehemiah movement and reaffirmed the criticality of the issue being addressed. He recognised the increasing influence of India in global Christianity and pointed out to the potential of the Operation Nehemiah movement becoming a model for the rest of the world to follow.

One of the key objectives of Operation Nehemiah was exposing the “Operation Nehemiah Declaration against Corruption (ONDAC),” to the participants. The declaration committee that had put together the ONDAC were introduced and took questions from the participants on the declaration. Some of the committee members – Dr John Dayal, Dr Nalini Abraham, Mr Bijoy Sangma, Mr John Amalraj, and Bishop Mar Demetrios (via Skype), each stated their experiences and convictions behind the declaration. Each table then deliberated over the declaration and considered actions individuals would do to use the declaration as a prophetic voice within their spheres of influence. Some key outputs were the impetus to translate the declaration into several languages, and a commitment from senior church functionaries to declare publicly their personal assets. This was followed by all participants signing on a large copy of the declaration.

Dr Manfred Kohl in his session pointed out to the futility of attempting to sort out the corruption issue in the systems without first addressing the lacunae in church leaders as individuals. He shared a video recorded address by Dr Chris Wright – delivered at the Lausanne Congress at Cape Town in December 2010 and urged the people of God to truly be HIS people by following the principles of “humility,” “integrity,” and “simplicity.” LT Jeyachandran stated that security in identity was a result of relationships and not position. Failure in leadership occurs at four levels: loss of identity, loss of accountability, lack of mutuality and authoritarianism instead of authoritativeness. He urged the participants to find their security in their identity, have mutuality and accountability modelled around the Trinity, and exert true servant-authority in the washing of feet. Sqn. Ldr. Mohan Philip pointed to the failure of the church to be a beacon in a world confused by philosophies that failed to provide answers. Given the increasing economic influence of India, China and Russia, there is a danger of the lack of a Biblical philosophy anchoring this influence. This causes a great urgency for the Church to rise up and be counted. Sqn. Ldr. Philip exhorted the Church to be of the highest quality in their practices, so as to retain the right to be the spiritual voice of the nation.

The participants were then invited to join any of the four work-streams – Spiritual Renewal, Testimony, Standards and Governance, and Education and Training – based on their vision and burden. This exercise drew enthusiastic response from the participants who joined the work-streams that they felt strongly about. Each work-stream came up with projects related to those work-streams and defined project owners and timelines.

The testimony work-stream had several creative initiatives mainly centred around the ONDAC. The Governance group focussed on 1) a set of documented standards and 2) a social security project. The Spiritual renewal work-stream focussed on 1) organising Operation Nehemiah events within their spheres of influence and 2) regular intercession. The Education and Training group focussed on 1) Development of curricula and 2) Conducting seminars.

The effectiveness of ON can be guaged from the statement of one of the participants. Dr. Ivan Satyavrata, Senior Pastor of the AG Church in Kolkata – also representing the Lausanne Movement as International Deputy Director for South Asia – described this event as one of the most impactful experiences he has had in 35 years of attending Christian conferences and gatherings of this nature. There were other leaders also who shared their experience of how they were moved to bring about change in their personal lives and also in their churches and organizations.

The second edition of Operation Nehemiah and the participation therein is evidence that the Church in India is serious about her calling to be salt and light in this great country. There is a lot of work to be done and perhaps some discouragement is in store. Yet there is a sense that God is on the move and slowly and surely the Church of Jesus Christ will begin to reflect His beauty in the area of Financial Integrity – espousing models that can be replicated in other institutions in our country AND the church in other nations around the world.

Arpit Waghmare
Co-ordinator – Transition Network.