The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Friday, August 12, 2005

New church opens for Christian Telugu community

By Jonathan Jones, STAFF WRITER

FREMONT — In the late 1800s, American Baptist missionaries descended on Southern India to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the local Indian population.

Now, 160 years later, Sam Babu Byrapogu sees his mission in the Bay Area the same way.

As pastor of the new Christian Telugu Church in Fremont, Byrapogu said he intends to share the gospel with the local Indian population living here.

"We want to each reach out to non-Christians, meet with them, and share the gospel," Byrapogu said. "The goal is to get Hindus to convert to Christianity. I want to share what Jesus Christ did for my life experiences."

Last weekend, the Christian Telugu Church was to celebrate its grand opening at the Thornton Avenue Baptist Church at 4500 Thornton Ave.

The events were to include inspirational messages and a concert, and then a special service at 5 p.m. Sunday to mark the culmination of six months of groundwork to establish an ethnic Telugu Christian church.

The grand opening was to be one of two Christian events in Fremont this weekend aimed at reaching out to the Bay Area's 125,000 Indian-Americans.

Also Sunday, the Catholic Diocese of Oakland was to host an India Day celebration at 3:30 p.m. at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in central Fremont, where portions of the Mass will be celebrated in Hindi and Tamil.

Commenting on the Christian Telugu Church, Burlingame resident Uli Chettipally — whose grandfather became a pastor in India as a result of American Baptist missionaries there — said there was a need to reach out to local Indian Christian community. He said he hopes the new 50-member church serves as a gathering place for Telugu Christians.

"I felt no one was catering to that segment of the population," Chettipally said. "There is a difference between an American church and a typical Indian church. People want to go to a church with a pastor that speaks their language."

The New Community Church of Burlingame and Thornton Avenue Baptist Church put up $25,000 for the project. When the American Baptist Churches of the West, an association of 215 congregations in Nevada and Northern California, matched that amount, organizers began looking for a pastor.

Church organizers had met the 49-year-old Byrapogu at a Baptist pastors' conference last July and believed he would be a good fit.

After working as a pastor of a 2,000-member church in the south-central Indian city of Hyderabad, Chettipally said he is confident that Byrapogu has the vision and experience to help the new church grow.

"We wanted someone with experience and someone who could communicate clearly in the (Telugu) language," Chettipally said. "Of course, we also needed someone who was willing to come here."

Bruce Stryd, pastor of Thornton Avenue Baptist Church, said he expects the Telugu Church to grow to about 250 members within three years.

"We're expecting they'll be financially self-sufficient in three years," Stryd said. "It's fairly ambitious, but we're so pleased to have the church meet here and we think Pastor Sam will do a lot to get the ball rolling."

For more information, call pastor Sam Babu at (510) 894-4060 or go to http://www.TeluguChurch.org.

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