SOUDERTON, Pa. (Mennonite Mission Network/Eastern District Conference) — Victor L. Rampogu’s mission field is not in a distant country—his ministry starts at the local 7-Eleven in Souderton, Pa.
“The Great Commission, ‘Go ye into the world and make disciples of all nations,’ has changed,” said Rampogu. “You don’t have to go all over the world—the world is around you now.”
Rampogu, a third-generation Mennonite Brethren pastor, established United Christian Church International, in partnership with Zion Mennonite Church of Souderton and Eastern District Conference. Together, they work to share the light of Christ with an evolving local community.
“As Mennonites we believe in mission,” said Hunter Hess, lead pastor at Zion. “We are sent to go forth and call people into relationship with Christ and participation with the body, the church.”
Hess said some evangelists advised Rampogu to distance himself from the Mennonite faith; Rampogu refused.
“Victor holds strong to his Mennonite background and wants to stay deeply connected to the Mennonite church,” said Hess.
Every Saturday night, Rampogu—with his wife, Esther, or other members of his congregation—visits grocery stores, gas stations and mini-marts to meet and establish relationships with business owners. Many of them are Hindus and Muslims from India.
After UCCI members build trust, they share the gospel. Rampogu’s goal is to get one new non-Christian immigrant family to attend church each month.
Rampogu stresses the importance of building cross-cultural relationships when sharing the salvation story, citing Christ as the example.
“When [Christ] went to the Samaritan woman and talked to her, he crossed boundaries. When he talked to the woman who was involved in adultery, he crossed boundaries. When he went to the Pharisees he would try a different approach.”
Rampogu recognizes and chooses to cross the boundaries present within North American society; perhaps it is this attentiveness in Rampogu’s approach that is so effective.
“You should know who you are talking to,” said Rampogu. “You should know their culture, their faith and their background so that you can know not only what they want, but also what they need.”
Dean Heisey, Mennonite Mission Network’s networking and partnership coach, is helping Rampogu connect with other North American Asian Indian leaders associated with Mennonite Church USA.
Heisey said that he appreciates Rampogu’s ministry because of its relational focus.
“Everybody runs into people,” Heisey continued. “[Rampogu and his congregation] have just stopped and given thought to how to be intentional about it. … It’s so simple, but has potentially profound impact.”
Over the past two years, Rampogu and fellow congregants have visited 156 immigrant-owned businesses, distributed 921 Bibles in five different languages and shared Christ with more than 1,108 individuals.
One individual has converted to Christianity from Hinduism and eight individuals have made commitments to Christ. According to Rampogu, the eight individuals are completely willing to accept Christ, but status in the country or family and religious ties prevent them from coming out openly.
While conversion is the desired result, Rampogu emphasized that personal transformation has to be genuine. He is not interested in developing “rice Christians,” a term used in India to designate individuals who accept Christ in response to gifts of money or food. Rampogu tells visitors they must learn God’s word before baptism.
“You never do baptisms like that, you never rush them,” he said.
Rampogu has witnessed and catalyzed many true transformations.
Before Zion Mennonite Church commissioned Rampogu, and before he established UCCI in October 2006, Rampogu worked at a 7-Eleven. He recalled one particular evening when he found himself at gunpoint.
“I was so scared and I didn’t know what to do, but I had to give [the burglar] the money … so I said, ‘I’ll give you the money, and I won’t even call the cops,’” Rampogu said. “I opened the cash register and prayed for a second, ‘Lord, help me now.’”
Rampogu handed over the contents of the cash register while sharing his faith story with the burglar. Later, he informed his manager of the theft, but kept his promise and refused to call police.
The next week the robber—touched by Rampogu’s story and impressed by his faithful promise—returned with all but $25, which he had used on drugs.
Rampogu still keeps in contact with this man who now has a steady job, has stopped taking drugs, and has become a dedicated follower of Christ.
Rampogu said that mission work is not limited to other countries—believers have plenty of opportunity to witness in this country.
“People are hungry for the truth,” said Rampogu. “There are trained Mennonite pastors and ministers in this country from India and other countries--use them! Use their services to reach out to non-Christians.”