As the youngest high school football coach in South Carolina Division 4-A history, 24-year-old Carter Bolin* relished the challenge of motivating his team before games against bigger, better opponents.
As the youngest high school football coach in South
Carolina Division 4-A history, 24-year-old Carter Bolin* relished the
challenge of motivating his team before games against bigger, better
“I’d point across the field and tell my players,
‘Look at those guys. Every one of them has 20 pounds on every one of
you. It’s gonna be fun to smack ’em,’” Bolin says. “Eventually my guys
would start yelling, ‘Yeah! Yeah! Lemme at ’em!’ They might bounce off
the bigger guys a few times, but they’d eventually wear ’em down.”
Bolin took his undersized, overachieving team to the
state semifinals for the first time since 1950 — thrilling the whole
town. “I could’ve run for mayor after that.”
Instead, he joined the ministry staff of his church,
East Cooper Baptist, next door to the Charleston-area high school where
he coached. He spent the next 18 years helping mobilize the growing
congregation — especially its young people — to follow Christ into the
Local outreach spurred international involvement.
About 30 East Cooper members have become missionaries after
participating in short-term church mission trips.
On the flight home from a two-week mission trip to
India, it was Bolin’s turn to be mobilized — by his wife, Vienna*.
“It was miserable, it was hot, it was all the things
India can be,” he recalls. “But the people just broke our hearts. There
was a spiritual void, and they were filling it with idols.
“When we got on the plane, Vienna looked at me and said, ‘I could never serve in India.’
“By the time we touched down in the States, she was
in tears. She said, ‘I realized that I trust God with my kids in a safe
place like our home, but I don’t trust Him enough to take them to
India. We’re just paying lip service.’
“So we ended up mobilizing ourselves and our kids to
India. We just felt, ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ It was time
for me to put up or shut up, because this is what I’d been preaching.”
That was five years ago. Today, as a Southern Baptist missionary
strategy coordinator, Bolin faces a bigger challenge than he ever
encountered as a coach.
Much, much bigger.
The challenge lies in the Indian state of West
Bengal, where William Carey launched the modern missionary movement
more than two centuries ago.
Today it is home to at least 80 million people. The
majority are Hindus — the primary focus of Christian missions among
Bengalis since Carey’s day.
But one in four Bengalis proclaims Islam. Muslims
comprise a quarter of the 16 million people of Calcutta (Kolkata), West
Bengal’s sprawling capital.
As in much of the rest of India, however, the real
numbers can be found in the villages. In West Bengal and neighboring
areas of India, Bengali-speaking Muslims predominate in about 30,000
Bolin’s vision and goal as a strategy coordinator is
to see Jesus Christ glorified through a church-planting movement among
the 27 million Muslims of West Bengal and nearby areas. How? By
planting a jaamat — or house church — in every one of those villages.
It is a vision that Bolin feels fits both parts of
William Carey’s famous motto: “Expect great things from God; attempt
great things for God.”
And it is doable.
In fact, it’s already beginning to happen. More than
100 jaamats — with about 1,000 former Muslims who have become baptized
followers of Isa Masih (Jesus Christ) — have sprouted across West
Bengal during the past two years.
That represents only a typical month’s spiritual
harvest across the border in Bangladesh (once part of Bengal), where
several powerful church-planting movements among Muslims now count more
than half a million believers. But momentum is gathering.
“We feel like we’re on the end of the runway getting
ready for takeoff,” Bolin reports. “Things are starting to happen.”
What’s it going to take to reach the other 29,900
Muslim communities? Bolin’s team intends to see at least 50 reproducing
churches begun in each of West Bengal’s 15 majority Muslim districts,
along with three to five churches in each of Calcutta’s Muslim areas.
These churches, in turn, will multiply to finish the task.
Bolin personally knows about 30 of the 100 current
jaamat leaders. The rest are “second-generation” disciples — led to
faith, nurtured and trained by other jaamat leaders or the Bengali
church planters Bolin and his missionary team have
“We want to build this into the DNA, into the very
fabric and backbone of every jaamat: Now that you’ve heard the good
news and received it, you must share it with neighboring villages,” he
explains. “It’s the principle of reproduction, of multiplication,
rather than addition.”
The positive response they’re getting transcends
mathematics. Bengali Muslims — many of whom follow a form of “folk
Islam” that incorporates Hindu and animistic beliefs — hunger for
the truth. Most have never heard about God.
When Bolin or other missionaries and volunteers on
his team accompany a Bengali church planter into a new area, they ask
about village life, make friends and inquire about religious
They intentionally seek out the local imam (mosque
leader) or village head to discuss the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and
what it says about Jesus. That serves as a bridge to the “before books”
— the Old and New Testaments — which the Quran commands good Muslims to
“It’s a bridge,” Bolin stresses. “You don’t camp on
it; you cross over it. It gives Muslims ‘permission’ to look into the
As each visit progresses, they pray that a “man of
peace” will emerge — whether it’s the village leader or someone in the
crowd that eagerly gathers around — who will become the key to reaching
the community with the gospel.
Usually they get invited to stay for a meal or to
spend the night. The dialogue goes on; often the whole village listens.
Not every encounter ends on a positive note. They’re
asked to leave some villages. Once, an imam grew hostile during a group
“The crowd actually rallied around me, siding with
me and countering his points,” Bolin recalls. “He was very angry, so as
we left I said, ‘Peace, brother,’ embraced him and thanked him publicly
for allowing us to talk.
“A couple of guys followed us back to the vehicle.
They asked for the Book (Bible), and they wanted to know how Jesus
could make our lives so loving and caring. So in the midst of what I
thought was a bust, since we didn’t get anywhere with the imam, these
guys saw our message of love.”
Another time, a man, soaked to the skin, appeared in
the middle of a village discussion. “Come in, brother,” said the
Bengali church planter. “Where are you from?”
“I’m from across the river,” the man replied. “We
heard there were some people here talking about Isa (Jesus), so I swam
over to hear it.”
He listened intently, then accompanied the team to
the next village to hear more. By the end of the day he had become a
believer. Today, he leads a jaamat in his village.
As strategy coordinator for 27 million Bengali
Muslims, Bolin mobilizes every partner he can find for the task: prayer
support, new missionaries for his team, evangelical churches in India,
Muslim-background gospel workers “on loan” from Bangladesh, volunteers
from South Carolina. A recently completed
“Muslim-friendly” edition of the Bengali Bible, he believes, is a
landmark on the road to sowing the Word of God throughout the
But the key to the villages is the Bengali church
planters. With them, Bolin’s old coaching skills come in handy as he
applies a tried-and-true training method: Model, assist, watch and
“We’re cheerleaders, we’re encouragers,” he says.
“We’re going to model it for you, assist you to do it, watch you do it
— and then we’re out of here. We’ll go do it somewhere else.
As they strive to accomplish their mission, they may
face discouragement, opposition and persecution, which will only
increase as the gospel spreads among Muslims.
But they are committed to the task.
On a recent trek through several Muslim villages,
Timothy*, a church planter, stopped to mop his brow in the shade. He
has started — or trained others to start — more than 20 jaamats. But
that’s only the beginning.
“There are 1,600 villages in my district,” he said,
with a determined gleam in his eye. “My vision is a church in
every village. You pray!”
* Names changed for security reasons.