“As Nehemiah faced it, we’re facing it, as Nehemiah accomplished it, we will accomplish it.” Dr Satish Kumar, the founder of Calvary Temple, shares his modern day Nehemiah experience with us.
Calvary Temple in Hyderabad, India, was founded in 2005 with a congregation of just 25 people. Within a short span of six years, the church had blossomed into a congregation of 50,000. It had outgrown the rented convention hall that they called home, and that was the start of their biggest miracle.
Dr Satish Kumar, the founder of the evangelical megachurch of more than 200,000 members, visited City Harvest Church on Mar 7, preaching two encouraging messages—one to the church staff, one to the cell group leaders. In this interview with City News, he recounts the story behind Calvary Temple’s 18,000-seater hall that was built in just 52 days.
FOUR MONTHS BEFORE THE BUILDING BEGAN
“We asked God for land and He gave us a land of seven acres,” said Pastor Satish. “We went into the empty plot and we started fasting and praying for 40 days. It was during the rainy season so it rained every evening, but thousands of people still came, with their umbrellas. They just sat on the floor while I preached in the rain.”
At that time, the church was studying the book of Nehemiah. They learned that before Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, he prayed for three to four months.
“When I read that, I challenged my members: if he can do that, why can’t we do it?”
The church went on praying for another two rounds of 40 days—altogether they prayed for 120 days. At the end of the fourth month, the church had completed the whole book of Nehemiah and the book came to life in front of them.
“The people persecuted and ridiculed Nehemiah,” said the pastor. “All these things we read in the Bible, it’s happening in our lives. When we got the land, opposition came from the government, the neighbors—everyone was against us. They said ‘A church is 100 or 200 people in India”. They had never seen a church that has 50,000 people.”
The community living around the plot of land did not want a megachurch in their midst. They filed complaints to the police and the church was not allowed to start construction.
“Thank God we studied the Bible, because whatever we read in the Bible, we saw it happening,” he added. “That gave us faith. As Nehemiah faced it, we were facing it; as Nehemiah accomplished it, we would accomplish it.”
Pastor Satish told his members to pray and seek God’s wisdom in the situation. “As I was praying in October 2012, God spoke. He said, ‘If you believe as Nehemiah believed, I’m going to build one of the world’s largest church in 52 days. Do you believe?’ I said, “Yes Lord, You’re the same yesterday, today and forever, but 52 days?’”
God told Pastor Satish to trust Him and the pastor did just that. “’If you trust Me, conduct the ground-breaking ceremony on November 11′, God said to me. The 52nd day is January 1, 2013 so it matches exactly. God told me to lay the foundation stone and in the New Year, we will enter the new sanctuary,” the pastor said.
“It looked impossible but I told our church, ‘This is what God said.’ Everyone looked at me like, ‘What is he talking? Fifty-two days? But they believed me.”
After all, this was not the first time God had told their pastor something unimaginable. In 1995, God told him that he would build “the largest church”. In 2005, God told him to start Calvary Temple. Everything happened according to what God said.
THE 52 DAYS
However, once the foundation stone was laid, Pastor Satish realized the magnitude of the project. “The challenge is in the air-conditioning. For a church of this size, they (the contractors) said they would need six months.” Then there was the false ceiling and seats–the contractors did not have the manpower to build the church in 52 days.
“It was not easy for me to understand—the structure, the magnitude and the dynamics involved—until I got into it. The builders gave up. The one who said, ‘I’ll help you, I’ll stand with you’, he gave up after one week,” said Pastor Satish with a wave of his hand.
He turned to his members for help. “I announced in the church, ‘Those who are in the construction field, man or woman, come.’ Thousands of our church members came to help.”
But that was not the only problem Calvary Temple faced. “Because of court orders, we’re not supposed to build the church. Every morning, the officials came to sit in the land (so that the church could not do any work).”
At that point, Pastor Satish’s friends started telling him to give up. “They told me, ‘Don’t risk your testimony, it’s very important and powerful. People will laugh at you.’ They discouraged me out of love because they thought it’s not possible. I said, ‘No, it’s God who told me. It will happen.’ So I asked God to give me wisdom.”
One Sunday, Calvary Temple received a strange request from their pastor. He wanted them to bring a dog. “Nobody understood why this man wants dogs, especially when he wants to build a church. But plenty of dogs came.”
The pastor tied all the dogs to the entrance of their plot. “When the government officials came, there were dogs there and they couldn’t come in. If we stop their entry, they can come and arrest us, but who can arrest dogs? That was the talk of the government: This man is building the church, he has dogs outside to protect it.”
The officials came and politely asked to be let in. They sat all day and obstructed the construction. “But at 5pm, they told us, ‘Night time you work.’ They said their job was to make sure we don’t work; they’d take pictures and send back to the government. But night time we worked. So the church was built at night.”
It was a battle but on the 52nd day, the building was done. All the air-conditioning, false ceiling, seats, sound system, and electricity were in working condition.
“When you come and see the temple, you’ll know it was an impossible job. It could only be God.”
BEYOND THE 52 DAYS
All this happened seven years ago in 2012, but Calvary Temple still feels the impact of that miracle today. “The name of the Lord is glorified because of the temple and people started to come and see it. Today, about 4,000 to 5,000 people come to our temple for the first time every Sunday. Twenty to 30 percent of those become our members.”
The church ministers to 225,000 churchgoers in five services every Sunday. Pastor Satish tells us that it was the voice of God that led him to where he is today.
“I think talking to and hearing from God must be a lifestyle. As you read the Word and talk to God, He speaks to you. I think most of the time, we talk to God. We don’t have time to listen to Him. So what I understand in my life is we have to listen to God. That’s the most important thing.”
In 1995, God told Pastor Satish that he will have “the largest church”. “That made a difference in my life,” the pastor said. “In 2005 God spoke to me to start the church and I listened to Him. That’s the stepping stone. When God said I’m going to give you a wonderful land, I listened to that.”
Just recently, Pastor Satish found a new challenge from God while praying. “Last year I was on my knees thanking God for this church. I said, ‘Maybe Lord, let me have four churches in my city.’ Because it took almost 25 years to see (the growth of) this church, another three churches might take a lifetime. So I was praying, ‘Give me four churches, God’—this is what I thought I said, but the word that came out was ’40’.”
The pastor started to realize that God didn’t want him to limit himself. “So last November, we planted four churches in Hyderabad in one month. By February this year, three of the churches crossed 3,500 people.”
Besides planting churches, Pastor Satish also has a TV ministry which produces 550 episodes each month. His programs are translated to 16 Indian dialects and broadcast all around India.
“My preaching is very simple, not thundering but it touches and corrects your heart,” he shared. “And it’s timely, it’s from the Lord, it’s what God is speaking to me (at that time). This is the experience of people in Calvary Temple: when they come, God speaks to them. I don’t preach religion and conversion.”
Pastor Satish says that he learned to preach from the best preacher: Jesus. “Jesus never spoke without illustrations, always with parables. Since I understood that, I try to use illustrations and then, it really made a difference.”
He gave the example of using the story of Martin Luther who was a musician before he was used by God. It illustrates his point that God uses the common man.
“But it takes ages to gather these [stories for illustration], so I read a lot,” he said. “Every good leader is a good reader. Without reading, you can’t be leading.”