As a Nazarene missionary from Germany, Hermann Gschwandtner has focused his intense drive on developing churches in Eastern Europe and Asia. He and his wife, Brigitte, have three grown children.
HT: How has your role as the South Asia Field strategy coordinator changed your work?
HG: The biggest differences are more administrative work and more concentration on developing the local leaders. While I've always seen this as important, my position demands that I give it more focus.
HT: Give us a quick overview of the South Asia Field.
HG: Bangladesh has three districts, with a fourth soon to come. In addition, I serve Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. All of these districts show incredible growth. For example, Bangladesh added 10,000 new Christians every year for several years.
HT: With this fast pace of growth, how do you equip new leaders?
HG: Most of the leadership development is done by the district superintendents, and, of course, we have South Asia Nazarene Bible College, which is run through extension campuses in each country with local teachers. We also do task-specific training through JESUS Film and Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM). Every now and then we meet with the whole leadership team on a district for long range planning and leadership accountability.
HT: How do Nazarenes define ministry in South Asia?
HG: We put a heavy emphasis on holistic ministry. This means we serve everybody, and we serve whole persons, meeting both spiritual and physical needs. When someone submits a compassionate ministry proposal, we always ask, 'Who will be served through this project?' If it benefits Nazarenes alone, then we turn the proposal down.
All our ministries serve everybody in the community. We do this because it's what the Bible teaches. Due to our inclusiveness, we are protected by the community because we help their kids and all people without regard for caste, gender, or religion.
HT: Of all the ministries in South Asia, which ones keep you up at night with excitement?
HG: When I go home at night, I'm so tired that I just go to bed! Seriously, however, Paul wrote in Romans 15:20, 'It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.' This has been my driving passion, and is what I push our leaders toward, to keep moving into areas where the gospel has not yet reached.
HT: What is one of the most exciting stories of transformation from the past few years?
HG: In 2010, 193 people were ordained in one afternoon in Bangladesh. What is important isn't the number; rather, it's that nearly all of them were not Christians 10 years ago. Of the 80,000 plus Nazarenes in Bangladesh, 99 percent are people that we have won to Christ.
HT: What has been one of the most difficult experiences for you as a missionary?
HG: One of the most difficult things was when I was pastoring a church in Germany and doing mission work part-time. It's not that I couldn't pastor, but my heart was in missions. The longer I worked like that, the more I felt that I couldn't put my heart into two things at the same time.
During a week of prayer in our church, I realized that if I really wanted to serve the Lord the way he wanted me to, I had to make a decision. Taking into consideration my calling and passions, it was clear that I should resign from the church and focus my full energies on missions. Though arriving there wasn't easy, I'm grateful for this decision.
HT: Why is the Church of the Nazarene so successful in South Asia? Is it the focus on compassionate ministries?
HG: You can look at compassionate ministries in various ways: a program, a gimmick to catch people, or even a fundraiser. These are not compassionate ministries.
When I talk about compassionate ministries, I am talking about complete care for the whole person.
We do this because Jesus modeled it for us. He didn't spend his time only preaching. No, he spent his time caring for the whole person.
We've seen many new Christians here because when one becomes a Nazarene in South Asia, life changes completely. This decision affects every single part of life including attitudes and behaviors.
HT: How does this apply to the church in Western countries?
HG: If we change how we think and what we do in the West, we will see the same kind of growth. People are looking for something genuine. Jesus is looking for something genuine, too.
Let's be honest. It's not easier in poor countries. What it comes down to is discipleship. In South Asia, the first six months after someone becomes a Christian are vital in shaping that person's life. We teach them the tough things from the very beginning. These are typically things that pastors tend to want to hide early on. During the first five to six months, they are on fire for Jesus. People say, 'Sure. Why shouldn't I change my life after all he has done for me?'
That is what transformation means: not legalism, but something that is part of one's life. It effects the whole environment, the whole society. True transformation changes everything.
Michael R. Palmer is lead pastor at Living Vine Church of the Nazarene in Napa, California, and Josh Broward is transitioning from lead pastor at KNU International English Church in South Korea to assistant pastor at Duneland Community Church of the Nazarene in Chesterton, Indiana.