Our History

In 1996, at Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Elm Springs, AR, Sean Orme, Jennifer Williams, Molly Bloy, Tommy, and Sonya Bitner gathered to pray. Each had extensive experience in outreach missions, particularly focused on India. Previously, Tommy, Sonya, and their children, Rikki and Brandon, had spent four months in India, ministering in a remote village and establishing a church. In this humble setting, their prayers centered on a ministry in India, inspired by a verse they felt God had placed on their hearts:
To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13, ESV)image2

We felt that God planted a seed during that time. Our calling wasn’t to be a church-planting team in a foreign land but to equip the Christians already present to have a greater influence in regions without a church or areas where the gospel had not yet reached.

We came to understand that Ephesians 4:12-13 teaches that “equipping others is the most effective way to reach the nations.” Thus, we identified ourselves as the “Equip team for the Tamil-speaking people of India.”

At the time of our prayers, we had already been in discussions with the leaders at Youth With A Mission in Chennai, South India. They were in the process of assembling a national team of southern Indians trained at YWAM Chennai campuses. Tommy had traveled to India multiple times to meet with the leadership team and develop a six-class modular school. Together, we selected a key area in the Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu. The only requirement to attend the six-course modular school was for each area pastor to bring two lay leaders with them. Each participant would complete six different courses with eight weeks of homework between each class, laying the groundwork for church planting. We also committed to sending a team during their homework phase to provide follow-up support and assistance with any challenges they might encounter during the process.

image3The participation of the pastors and lay leaders was remarkable; they filled the classrooms eagerly. They learned valuable lessons that they could apply in their surrounding villages. Their homework phase involved evangelizing and gathering for prayer in homes, which eventually led to the formation of small groups and, ultimately, churches.

During the first group’s Homework Phase 1, we launched the module school in another nearby area. While some of us were teaching, others on the team would travel back to the previous area to provide follow-up support to the pastors and lay leaders we had recently trained. (Yes, we were busy!) We continued this process until we had completed teaching all six modular courses in these six villages. Then, we relocated to a different region and began the process anew. We believe God touched the hearts of many people, leading to the planting of over 300 cell group churches by these hardworking pastors and lay leaders, who sometimes faced persecution.

image5God provided our team with the finances to supply each of our national workers, pastors, and lay leaders with study Bibles in their own language. Additionally, we equipped everyone with a set of Bible encyclopedias, Bibles for their disciples, and copies of all our teaching and evangelism materials, all in their respective languages. With this thorough equipping of the saints, these dedicated men and women planted churches in southern Tamil Nadu at a pace beyond anyone’s expectations. It was clearly a move of God, not of man.

Finally, we want to share with you that we—Tommy, Sonya, Rikki, and Brandon Bitner—truly immersed ourselves in Indian life, experiencing a wide range of realities during our ministry there. Brandon was baptized in the Indian Ocean, and Tommy ministered in the rugged mountains of Orissa. The Bitner children even adopted a monkey as a pet, alongside a “jungle” dog that kept Brandon company. We encountered frequent traffic jams, witnessed instances of self-immolation, felt the impact of anti-conversion laws, and endured subsequent persecution. Our time there was marked by a myriad of highs and lows that encompassed daily life in India. We are intimately familiar with this region of India, so if you have any questions about outreach, we can usually provide the answers you seek.

image6Stan and June Hinman and the Bitners hailed from the same home church in Concordia, Kansas. They were trusted friends both in church and in ministry, and they joined us right from the inception of the India project. Both of our families underwent training at the Discipleship Training School and the School of Evangelism at YWAM in Elm Springs, Arkansas. The Hinmans collaborated with the Bitners in India and also pursued their own ministry initiatives there. Stan and June’s passion for children and teaching the Word of God led them to partner with India Bible Literature (IBL), focusing on teaching, children’s ministry, and Bible distribution in India. We sourced all the materials for local pastors through IBL, witnessing God’s orchestration in all these endeavors.

image7The Hinmans became involved with India Bible Literature (IBL) and subsequently initiated work on behalf of their literacy program in the USA. Stan Hinman, leveraging his CPA and organizational skills, played a pivotal role in establishing our mission organization for India. They remained integral to the India team through prayer, financial support, and fundraising efforts, significantly contributing to equipping us for ministry in the field.

Stan managed the Bitners’ finances and maintained regular communication with them throughout their three-year tenure. They even visited the Bitners during this period. It was during these interactions that Stan recognized the necessity of formalizing the India Equip Team into a tax-exempt organization, which eventually became Equip the Nations, Inc. in Arkansas. Upon returning to the USA, he applied for and successfully obtained our 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.

The incorporation of Equip the Nations and obtaining 501(c)3 status set the stage for continuing the ministry in India after our return home. It enabled us to persist in equipping nationals for ministry work, despite now residing in the USA.

We also give much credit to the numerous YWAM teams that came to India and conducted evangelistic outreaches in our regions. These efforts blessed us (it’s always beneficial to be among people of a similar culture) and also greatly benefited the national Indian pastors. Many individuals decided to follow Christ due to the willingness of these foreign teams to visit and their ongoing support of the ministry even after their departure!

image8Since leaving India, our Indian team members have developed some remarkable ministries. Some of these include module schools, ministry to those affected by the tsunami, outreach efforts to rescue baby girls from infanticide, ministries for those suffering from leprosy and HIV/AIDS, and church planting initiatives. The list of these impactful ministries continues to grow. We feel incredibly blessed to support these endeavors.

Additionally, Stan and June Hinman persist in collecting used Bibles and sending them to India for a literacy project. See http://www.usedbiblesforindia.org/.

image9During Tommy and Sonya’s time as missionaries in India, we raised all our personal and ministry support. Upon returning to Arkansas, we continued our efforts to maintain financial support and engage with our supporters to sustain the projects they had helped initiate. With this income as our foundation and with the addition of others who joined the Equip the Nations team, our ministry was firmly established as a 501(c)3 organization.

Stan oversees our accounting records with the assistance of a CPA firm. Sonya manages daily bookkeeping, check writing, correspondence, fund distribution, and communication with our team in the field. She collects newsletters to share with those interested in our ministry, and she prepares and sends receipts to our donors.

image10In addition to this brief history, Equip the Nations’ prayer is to connect with “friends of the ministry” who will partner with the projects in India featured on this website. These initiatives were all launched by individuals we know and trust. We refer to you as a “friend” because we encourage you to engage with and support these projects by sharing your insights and knowledge.

Our aim is not just fundraising; we aspire to foster relationships. We see ourselves as an “equipper-raising website,” leveraging our experiences to build meaningful connections beyond financial support.

Blessed to be a blessing,

The Equip the Nations Team