May 11th, 2021 by Lee Grady
In early 2020, two months before I ever heard the word "coronavirus," I stopped at a convenience store near my house in LaGrange, Georgia, to fill up my gas tank. When I went inside to grab a few items, I noticed the clerk had a thick Indian accent. "What part of India are you from?" I asked.
The man seemed surprised that I knew his ethnicity. He asked: "You know India?"
I told him I had visited there four times, and that I had good friends in several cities in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Kerala.
"I am from Hyderabad," he told me as he handed me my change.
"Oh, so you speak Telegu," I said. Now I had the man's full attention. He couldn't believe that a guy from Georgia knew anything about his country or his regional language. He seemed surprised that I cared. He smiled and bobbed his head from side to side in typical Indian fashion.
In that moment all the other customers left the store, and I was able to have a focused conversation with my new friend. I learned that his name is Mahipal, that he has a wife and family back home and that he grew up in a nominal Christian family. When I explained that I am a minister, and that I have some close disciples in Hyderabad, he asked me point-blank: "Would you disciple me?"
That began a fascinating friendship that got more interesting when the coronavirus pandemic shut down all my travels and forced most businesses to close. Fortunately for Mahipal, his store was considered an essential business, so it stayed open. And since he worked seven days a week, I started visiting him on most mornings to help him grow in his faith.
A few weeks later he realized that he really had never been born again. He only went to church once or twice a year and did not take his faith seriously. So we prayed together at a table in the rear of his store, near the video poker machines.
Mahipal wore a mask and gloves on the job, and we stayed six feet away from each other to comply with pandemic rules. We greeted each other with elbow bumps instead of hugs. But Mahipal’s smile got brighter each day as I shared Christ’s love with him as a mentor and friend.
Every morning I would stop at the store to have a coffee and an informal discipleship lesson with Mahipal. We talked about prayer, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (When we first started our Bible studies, he assumed that John the Baptist wrote John’s gospel.) Mahipal often had to run to the counter to sell cigarettes, snacks or lottery tickets to customers, but then he came back to read another Bible verse or to ask another question. This went on for months.
One day we began talking about the importance of water baptism, and Mahipal asked if he could be baptized. Most churches weren’t having in-person services, but a pastor I knew offered to host a baptism in his church building on a Sunday afternoon. I invited about ten friends, and they distanced themselves all over the sanctuary. I got a bit teary when Mahipal stood in the water and testified that Jesus Christ is the only true God.
I call this my "pandemic miracle," because I never would have expected to take on such an important ministry assignment when the world was in total lockdown. But Mahipal helped me understand that even in a world crisis, when people are sheltering in place, God is still drawing people to Himself. The Holy Spirit is never in quarantine.
After Mahipal’s baptism, I shared with him about the importance of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Being unfamiliar with the biblical term, he thought we needed to fill up the baptismal again with water for a second dunk! I explained to him that we only needed to pray, and that God would fill Him with the Holy Spirit and anoint him for ministry. We prayed together the next week, in his backyard on a hot Georgia afternoon, and Mahipal was gloriously filled with the Spirit’s power and boldness.
The next day I got a text from Mahipal. He said: “Can you follow up with this person? I just prayed with him to receive Jesus.” He had led a man to Christ in the gas station!
Over the course of the next few months, Mahipal prayed with eleven people to become Christians. In each case they were paying for items, and he started a conversation with them about faith while they were standing at the cash register! One lady who was buying cigarettes even began crying as she prayed with my friend.
A few more months went by and Mahipal realized that he needed to go home to India to tend to his family there. Before we said our goodbyes, he told me his plan. “Pastor Lee, when I get back to Hyderabad I am going to invite all my nominal Christian friends, and my Hindu friends, to my house for a meal. I am going to share my testimony with them, and tell how I was born again in America. I want to lead many people to Jesus when I return,” he said. I encouraged Mahipal to watch some old Billy Graham sermons on YouTube so he could learn how to present the gospel message clearly. Today he and I talk often through text and phone, and he is sharing his faith boldly in his homeland.
It is impossible for me to fully express the joy I feel when I see how this dear Indian brother is following Christ today. I didn’t know I would meet him when I went into a gas station to purchase a bottle of water. I had no idea that this chance encounter at Exit 14, off of Interstate 85 in Georgia, would lead to hours and hours of discipleship meetings in his store. And I had no clue that this seemingly soft-spoken man with a thick foreign accent would end up going back to India to lead others to Christ.
This is the power of relational discipleship. When you influence one person for Jesus, it triggers a domino effect. It starts small, but the impact builds over time. It’s possible that hundreds of people in India will find Christ because I spent time studying the book of Mark with one Indian convert in the back of a convenience store in Georgia. Once God uses you in a situation like this, you will want to spend the rest of your life making disciples. This is why discipleship has become my passion.
This article is an excerpt from Lee Grady's book, Follow Me: How to Make Disciples Like Jesus Did (available Winter 2021).
Lee has been all over the world through his ministry The Mordecai Project, and yet last year his mission field was the local gas station. Where is yours? Why not start where you live, the places you frequent, and the people around you?
You can read more about Lee and the Mordecai Project here, and also see other people and ministries New Covenant supports.
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