Jeewan Dhaara means ‘stream of life’ in Hindi. It’s a fitting name for the Indian radio station streaming from LifeChurch Manurewa, filling South Auckland’s airwaves with testimonies, Bible teaching, prayer and gospel-saturated music.
And like true living water, its presence has something of the supernatural to it. To start with, LifeChurch’s congregation is primarily Samoan but the station’s audience is Indian and Pakistani. Christopher and Dolly Kirubakaran met while working at Far East Broadcasting Associates in India and have been in ministry since the early 2000s.
Dolly is a communications pro whose father was a pastor and church planter who was into broadcasting. Christopher is an electronics engineer, with all the technical skills necessary to set up and operate a radio station.
Dolly is from Delhi and speaks some northern languages like Punjabi and Urdu. Christopher, from Bangalore, speaks some southern Indian languages. Both of them are commissioned pastors and chaplains.
At the observation that they make the perfect team, Dolly laughed: ‘That’s what God does, right?’ She speaks authoritatively and with a warm energy. Christopher has a gentle voice and expresses ideas thoughtfully.
The couple and their daughter Crido, now 10, arrived in New Zealand in 2016. They came so that Dolly could study at Eastwest College of Intercultural Studies in Waikato during a year’s sabbatical from their ministry.
By the time they came to New Zealand, they were nearing burnout. Dolly said that their plan was to study and then return, refreshed, to their life’s calling.
One year turned into two when the college offered Dolly a scholarship to continue the course and invited the couple to teach there.
‘After one year, I was ready to go home,’ Dolly said. ‘You know what is so amazing, as we look back on it—God was actually teaching us to be missionaries.’ She took the scholarship, postponing their return to India for a year.
At the end of 2017, as they were seeking clear direction, they were pointed to Bible passages that spoke of completing what God sets out for us, for the glory of Christ. They knew that meant putting a return to India on hold.
During their time in New Zealand, mutual friends had introduced them to Lui and Ane Ponifasio, who were excited to find that they were radio people. LifeChurch had been praying for four years to find a way to reach out to the large Indian population in its community.
‘When God gives a vision, he brings along people,’ Dolly said. ‘And he confirms it through his Word as well.’ Lui was so keen to partner with them that he vacated his office so the station could move in.
‘He said, “I think I can sit at a table anywhere and work,”’ Dolly recalled. ‘This was his book rack,’ Christopher said, motioning to a wall that’s now plastered with a colourful Jeewan Dhaara poster.
From their first-floor window they can see the gold dome of one Sikh temple, and another is practically next door. Many local Sikhs tune in to their station because of the cultural connections. Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi are the main languages on the broadcasts, and some of the music and messages are provided by South Asian church partners.
Music makes up the bulk of their programming, and each Friday they run an hour of prayer. ‘Some amazing testimonies have come out of that,’ Dolly said. ‘God has healed people, people have heard the gospel for the first time, people have had conversations.’
They also interview members of their community, hear testimonies and open it up for talkback. Radio may be old technology, but it still plays an important part in many people’s daily routines. ‘The Indians are very fond of radio; you can switch it on and do whatever you need to,’ Christopher said.
They have set up other stations broadcasting from Katikati and New Plymouth, with more stations planned. Dolly said that there are unique opportunities when Indians—who ‘have a plethora of gods’—come to a country that is open to discussing faith and also find the opportunity to discuss it in their own language.
The couple’s main mission here, as in India, is to see churches planted and growing. Through contacts developed in South Auckland, a handful of groups are now meeting with new believers.
One family in particular has become a hub in the community, inviting friends along to their life group. On Sunday evenings, the groups gather together for a regular meeting.
'Obviously it’s hard for people to just step into a church,’ Dolly said. ‘It’s a different culture. It’s a different language.’ Dolly and Christopher have seen doors open in unlikely places. One woman from Fiji, who received prayer for significant health problems and regained the ability to walk and see, would regularly give her testimony on air and was praying for her own family to become believers.
She died just after Christmas and wanted to be buried as a Christian. Her funeral was packed, Dolly said, so more than 300 people heard the gospel there and saw the way that believers had cared for her.
‘God uses that one seed,’ Dolly said. ‘When a seed falls and dies, then it flourishes.’
In 2020 they again planned to return to India. But in that year—which did not go the way any of us anticipated—they heard a clear call to stay on.
The first lockdown was the busiest period ever. People in their community were hit hard, some with family from India stranded here when the borders closed, and others stranded in India. Christopher and Dolly set up a website where people could register for help, and in the first four days they had more than 1000 applicants.
‘We thought, we are just friends, we are not rich, and we are not very organised!’ Dolly said. They contacted the Indian High Commission, where they found support in taking on the referrals for assistance. And where they could help and offer friendship, they did.
Christopher and Dolly can’t guess how many people were listening to the broadcasts by radio, but they do know that online listeners, which usually number about 100 a day, more than tripled in the early days of Covid.
The experience was a clear sign to them that, as much as they missed home, they still have work to do in South Auckland.
Dolly and Christopher are often in people’s homes—physically, not just over the airwaves—providing counselling and practical help, sharing the gospel in both their words and actions. The small groups are growing, and people are coming to know Christ.
One young man found himself standing outside of LifeChurch, despite fully intending to take his own life. He had stress and failures in all areas of life, and his plan was to step in front of a train to end them all. But as he stood by the tracks waiting he heard a voice say, ‘Walk away from here.’
Someone from LifeChurch found him there zombie-like, gave him a glass of water, and guessed correctly that Christopher would be able to speak his language.
The couple have been counselling him ever since. He not only has work and a visa now, he has accepted Christ. While his low point was particularly dramatic, Christopher said that his state of hopelessness is not unusual—’There are a lot of people like that.’
Christopher and Dolly didn’t come to New Zealand looking for those people, but they know that is who they are here to serve. ‘At the end of the day,’ Christopher said, ‘it’s not our thing.’
Story and photos by Maryanne Spurdle.