Each Sunday morning, Kumar sits in a folding chair, waiting for the rock band to start up, and the preacher to give a seeker-sensitve sermon. The chairs are partly filled, in a school gymnasium, just outside Washington, D.C.
He's a small man, from Chennai, India, and here, in the rows for the audience, he's part of someone's Big Vision. Like many others, the church start-up has a visionary, who hopes it becomes the next Willow Creek, even hoping to buy 40 acres in suburban D.C. (Anyone got a half-bil for that?)
And Kumar, who's 36, drives each day to his office job at Sun Microsystems, where he spends a lot of time checking urgent email from very far away.
Friday night, I walked with Kumar, and our mutual friend, Woody, to a crowded Whole Foods Market in Alexandria. I made a salad about four times bigger than his, but when we got back to the hotel room, it took him a couple hours to finish. I kept asking questions. He kept answering.
Kumar was on a crowded bus in Chennai, India. He heard God's voice. "Unmistakably," he says. I heard God say, twice, 'Seek Me.' That was it. Twice."
Just "Seek Me"?
"Just 'Seek Me'. And I knew it was God, but which God? I was Hindu. Was it Vishnu? Calli...? No idea. I just knew it was God. Somehow, I knew it. Unmistakable."
And Kumar isn't the gullible type. He has multiple advanced degrees in Aero Engineering and Physics, for starters, from the M.I.T.-equivalent in India.
He studied and researched, but just wasn't satisfied that it was one of his familiar gods, and eventually found a friend with a Bible -- a "good luck charm" -- and traded a textbook for it. He started reading, got confused, but eventually was pointed to Jesus.
He became a Jesus-follower. Costly decision.
His parents weren't happy. They scheduled an arranged marriage. Kumar met his wife-to-be on Friday, told her and his parents on Saturday about his Jesus decision, and got married on Sunday. "They thought it would blow over," he says. It didn't.
Six months later, there was an intervention. Her family, his family, neighbors, friends -- 150 people strong -- all telling him to repudiate his faith. He refused. His parents, fearing for their reputation, said he should leave the area immediately. They would tell everyone that he was dead.
Kumar took a job in the states. He drove to a big church building. "I didn't know what else to do," he says. "Nice cars everywhere. I liked that."
He walked in, and was taken aback. "It was a fancy church, and everyone was a black person, and they were quite animated. They were walking on their chairs around the room. I was confused, but they were happy.
"They had a testimony time, and I like microphones, so I got up and told them, 'I am so happy about Jesus! I do not want a Mercedes or a BMW! I want to go back to India to tell people about Jesus!' Everyone applauded me! I was the center of attention! But I had just lied! I did not want to go back. Actually, I did want to be rich. I did want a Mercedes."
But some brothers took him to a room and prayed with him, that his return to India would happen. "I did not want to go back to India..."
A few years later, he went back to India. Kumar took his vacation from Sun, and headed over with no plan. He just went door-to-door, and told people about Jesus.
The first day, 45 people decided to become Jesus-followers. How'd THAT happen?
"I don't know. I just went door to door, and neighbors would introduce me to others, and I was amazed."
Kumar still takes his vacations, two weeks a year, and heads to India. But things have grown. From those first 45, and from his trips over the past seven years...
More than 100,000 conversions. 139 communities. More than 100 pastors. Model orphanages for children suffering from AIDS Schools for Dalit children, the lowest-of-the-low in India. Shelters for little girls, now rescued from prostitution. Food. Medicine. Jesus.
They want to name projects after Kumar. He does not allow them. He spends hours every day, after work, praying and communicating and wondering what the next move is. He doesn't raise financial support. Not his style.
"God always provides. Children are dying in a project, because all we have is rice for them, and not much. Woody gave us some money for a down-payment on four acres with hundreds of coconut trees, and then several families who know us each called me, unaware of what we were doing. 'God woke us up last night, and we can't get you off our mind. Here's five thousand dollars...here's a thousand dollars...we got the forty-thousand we needed to buy the land. I am always amazed."
"Kumar...I don't get it. We made a quantum leap in your story. 45 people decide to follow Jesus, and now more than 100 thousand. Wha...? How...?"
We sit at our table in our hotel room, and Kumar starts laughing. I laugh, too! -- and then, I realize, he's not laughing. He's crying, and he can't speak.
"So many have died..."
Who has died?
"So many of our pastors, so many of our people..."
I look at Woody, who knows the stories, and he bites his lip and nods.
"They are beaten to death, they are killed, because they are talking about Jesus. It happens all the time in India, but the country is very concerned about image, very concerned about foreign investment, they pretend it doesn't happen.
"They are the reason this growth has happened. Their blood. I ask God, 'Why do you let this happen to these people who love you?' They have nothing. Our pastors are not paid. There is no money. But I realized, God is releasing them, at last. They have nothing, they are beaten, they are hungry, they live on the ground, in the streets, and God finally releases them to go home."
Pause. And I can't talk, either.
Woody, who met Kumar at that seeker-sensitive church in suburban D.C., says I should let Kumar eat his salad. He's right. It's getting late.
If you're reading this on a weekday, Kumar is sitting in a little room at Sun and doing his job, and answering far-flung emails while he prays. And on Sundays, he sits on a folding chair in a high school gym, and hears about the church's big plans. It will be costly, but just think what could happen, with a new building!
He admits he wonders sometimes...
"They have now added us to their missions budget. They give $1,000 per year. I guess I am happy for that, but..." and his voice trails.
But...the church has other priorities, and a Big Vision for an another affluent suburb that, need we remind, needs Jesus, too.