Every Tribe, Every Tongue
Phebe Kodur Muppidi knew she wanted to be a missionary for God right from a young age. It would be several years before the Lord made that vision a reality though. Hers is a story of constantly waiting on Him as He opened the right doors at the right time — all in the perfect accomplishment of His will.
Today, she and her husband Paul serve the Lord in the town of Khammam in the state of Telangana in south India, where they invest their resources into building up the local body of believers. She tells us why the duo decided to sell their home in California for a life of ministry on the mission field, and why shepherding a church often calls for much sacrifice.
Tell us about yourself. How did God call you to south India?
I was born in a Christian home in south India, the only girl among seven boys. Both my parents were active in the local church. Even though I was ‘churched’ from birth, it was only at the age of 10 that I acknowledged myself to be a sinner and seek God’s forgiveness.
When I was 12, my family and I moved to the United States. I returned to India for Grades 11 and 12, so that I could apply to medical school there. My desire was to serve God and others, so I thought this would be a great way to do so. But after studying in India for a year, I became homesick; around this time, I also discovered that my grandmother was trying to get me married off at that age, so I returned to the States and pursued a nursing degree with the grand plan of serving the Lord as a missionary nurse in Africa!
I returned to the States and pursued a nursing degree with the grand plan of serving the Lord as a missionary nurse in Africa
Although initially opposed to the idea of arranged marriages, God eventually prepared my heart to consider it and when my parents showed me the photo of a man named Paul, I told them I’d pray about it. Paul and I started writing letters (does anyone remember what those are anymore?) to each other for over a year, before getting married in 1991. We had two children, and were both active in our home assembly in Hayward, California, but with my desire to serve Him growing, I continued to ask God: “When? Where?”
My husband, meanwhile, had no such plans! He grew up in a family that served God full-time, so Paul wanted to “get away” from all the pressures of ministry. He’d seen all the ups and downs of a pastor’s life and didn’t want anything to do with it. An engineer by profession, he quickly got settled into a nice job in California. We bought a house, helped at church, and hosted a Bible study in our home.
All was going well, save for my longing to go into full-time ministry. It finally came about that we were studying Genesis as part of our home Bible study and, when we got to chapter 12 (the call of Abraham), the Lord spoke to each of us separately using this portion. When both Paul and I had prayed about it and were sure, we shared our burden with our assembly elders, who gave us their blessings and sent us to Paul’s hometown of Khammam in India.
After an initial ‘short-term’ trip of four months, we were sure that the Lord was calling us to serve Him there. So, we came back to California, sold our house and car, and moved with our children (aged seven and five then) to Khammam.
What counsel would you give those waiting on the Lord for direction about the next step?
While I was waiting on the Lord, I kept busy with my family responsibilities, serving at church, and attended all the meetings of the assembly to learn as much as I possibly could about God. On the personal level, I made it a priority to have daily quiet times so that God could speak to me. It has been mostly through my quiet time meditations that God directed me in many situations. So, my advice would be: don’t be idle as you wait. Actively wait on Him!
It has been mostly through my quiet time that God directed me in many situations. So, my advice would be: don’t be idle as you wait. Actively wait on Him
Tell us about the people you minister to.
When we first arrived, there was a local town church (about 20 families) and about 25 village churches in nearby villages, plus a Boys’ Home with about 30 boys. Currently, there are about 50 families and close to 40 village churches; the Boys home wound down due to stringent government regulations. All the boys in the past 18 years have finished high school and settled into work; some have gotten married, and most have accepted the Lord as their Saviour.
Our ministry consists primarily of building up the believers, and discipling. I minister among children and women, and teach in the native language. Because I went back to India in between, I was able to remember my native language. Also, as a child, I tagged along with my mom to meetings and visitations. Now, I do those things. God was training me even as a child — only I didn’t know it then.
What challenging situation has the Lord been teaching you through recently?
One of the most difficult things in the past year has been when those whom we have led to the Lord, and discipled, backslide and then blame us. Cultural norms and beliefs (or rather, misbeliefs) even within the church make it very difficult to persevere. Even believers expect the ‘shepherd’ to take responsibility for them, instead of taking ownership or responsibility for their own decisions.
In all this, the Lord has been teaching me to keep my conscience clear before Him — to keep loving, and keep living out the truth, even in these circumstances. Our standard is the Scripture and not cultural expectations or beliefs. He who called us is faithful, and He will finish what He has started.
The Lord has been teaching me to keep my conscience clear before Him — to keep loving, and keep living out the truth, despite circumstances
What practical steps do you both take to handle the criticism and blame that often come with shepherding and leadership?
My husband, like most men, does not respond to things as emotionally as I often do. I have learned to just stay quiet as a first response to criticism. Second, pray and ask God if there is truth in the criticism and seek God’s and the offender’s forgiveness. Many times, we have sought forgiveness even when we weren’t to blame for things that went wrong. Third, we try to counsel them from God’s Word and keep living the truth. We are accountable to God for ourselves and for those we are leading, so we try to keep our conscience free.
With the coronavirus pandemic, how has your ministry evolved? How do you continue to disciple and minister to others despite the limitations of social isolation?
It definitely has been a challenge. In Indian churches, regular house visits are a must. Many of our church members are first-generation Christians, so they face many doubts and problems for which they need guidance. Since all of those queries cannot be handled from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, they look forward to these personal house calls.
With Covid-19, we’ve resorted to using WhatsApp and regular phone calls to check in on the believers and pray with them over the phone. Weekly studies and Sunday worship services have been an exercise in trial and error. Last week, we recorded a video message and sent it. This week, we will be trying an audio conference call (as some don’t have access to smartphones and Internet) and live audio worship.
How can we pray for you?
Pray that I would grow in the love and knowledge of God and His Word; that I would persevere and be faithful to the end; and that I would be a godly help meet for my husband. Pray also for our children: Grace, is working as an occupational therapist at an NGO for specially-abled children in North India, and Paul Daniel is employed as a civil engineer in California.
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