India--The Land of Dying millions

A large corner of the Lord's Vineyard,

where the harvest is truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few 

Paul Vergis

Lecturer, The Imperial College, Ambo, Ethiopia (1949)

"India on your Heart--The Lord wills it," reads a Mission Ad in some Christian Magazines. But how many of you have this great country on your hearts? How many of you pray for the spiritual needs of these 435 millions of souls? How many of you are willing to give of your substance and lives to bring the Gospel to this stiff-necked nation of semi-pagans? The average American's conception of India is right off the mark. He has heard a lot perhaps about rope-tricks, Maharajas, and sanyasins who sleep on spikes, as well as about how the natives behaved towards the British, how they rebelled against them and all that. Though the ordinary American does not confuse the native of India with the American Indian, he does not realise how these two races differ from each other. 

He does not care as much for an Indian as he perhaps would for a Chinese.  He has an idea that the Indian is positively hostile to the White people. But only those who have never been to India can think on these lines. The people of India are the most hospitable and friendly people in the world. No Missionary who has worked long enough in India or Pakistan has failed to get into a very friendly relationship with the native community. Moreover, the Indian has more respect for the foreign Missionary than an Ethiopian or an Egyptian has. He is more accessible for the Gospel, if only the missionary will take troubles to go to him with it. 

India, like most nations in these troublous times, is searching for new spiritual values. Now is the time for the only True Spiritual Value to be preached to them. If the Lord wills it, India is going to be the bulwark against Communism in Asia. All the same, communism itself is spreading like an epidemic inside India, in the wake of the rising tide of economic misery among the working-classes. 

The Government is corrupt at the top, and except for a few key men like Nehru, the Prime Minister, all those in high power are today living on the sacrifices they made in the days of the Anti-British national Movement. It must be mentioned that there are two highly-principled Christians in the Ministry-- Dr. John Matthai and Rajakumari Amritkaur in charge of Finance and Health respectively. Yet there is considerable unrest among the educated middle-classes and the labour-groups about the way the government is being run, and these are the best breeding-grounds for communism. 

The standard of living of the average Indian has been so low that Americans would find it hard to believe. The daily per capita income of the Indian in the pre-1939 days was 3cents, believe it or not. Today the cost or living has risen 300% of what it used to be, but the income increase has not been proportional in the middle and labour classes. The land has never been self-sufficient in the matter of food for the last 100 years, in spite of the fact that today there are apparently more than 300,000,000 people engaged in Agriculture. The present government is doing everything in its power to bring things to a subsistence level, and even the lawns of the Governor-General's house are being ploughed and farmed now. 

Yet it is a huge task. India-Pakistan is only one-third the size or Canada, yet the population is 30 times as much! And it is a fast-growing population. We do not believe in artificial timing of children and in spite of the very high mortality rate, the population has grown from 110 millions in 1600 to the 435 millions of today. At least 50 millions are being added to the population every ten years! There is too little land and the best is not being got out of whatever there is due to fragmentation and primitive methods. When the British left India,  India had to be partitioned into Pakistan and United India, owing to the Hindu-Muslim Riots. Pakistan consists of two isolated patches-- one comprising part of Punjab and Sind, and the other part of Bengal, at a distance of about 2000 miles from each other. 

But we must take into account the fact that Indians did not have much to do with the way they had their government run for the last 150 years. No thinking Indian will ever say that India has gained nothing from the British rule. Even the divided unity that India has today is due to the British, whether they wanted it that way or not. Nevertheless it is a fact that the British had tolerated 521 native kings to continue at the heads of invariably corrupt administrations with the special purpose of having somebody to support the former in time of trouble. One of the greatest achievements of the new national government has been the liquidation of more than 500 of these white elephants. 

India has made some real progress since August 15, 1947, and it is quite likely that she will continue doing so by giant strides, though I have met many Americans who find it hard to agree with me. Anyway India thinks it can look after itself, and when it begins to think that way, it is better to leave it alone, and let it learn the hard way. 

The Christian is primarily concerned with the position of the Christian Missionary in the new set-up. What possibilities are there for foreign missionaries to enter the field with the gospel? At present there are no restrictions on foreign missionaries entering India. But the future is uncertain, and in order to find an answer to our question, we have to look into the hearts of the men who dominate the two nations. 

The government of the Dominion of Pakistan is completely Mohamedan, officially as well as non-officially, and the Government of India, though claiming to be secular is essentially Hindu in outlook. The Mohammedan, fanatic in nature as he is, has yet a warm corner in his heart for the followers of Essa Nabi (Jesus the Prophet). He thinks they are mistaken only in one point -- silly to them but vital to us -- that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. Even in the days of the communal Riots which ravaged India, and put an indelible blemish on her fair name, a Christian could pass an angry mob, whether it be Hindu or Mohammedan, unscathed if only he could show them that he was a Christian. 

But the Individual Mohamedan is unapproachable with the Gospel. He will not listen to anything but what the blessed prophet Mohammed has spoken. Yet the word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword, and it has been making considerable headway in Pakistan. The government will not appreciate Christian work being done among the people of Pakistan, but it is likely that it may be some time before they actually forbid it.

As for the Hindus, they are not so fanatic. Hinduism is neither a religion nor a school of thought. It is a Philosophy-cum-Theology, embracing different religions and different schools of thought. Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are mere off-shoots of Hinduism. It would therefore be foolish to appraise the attitudes of the 285,000, 000 Hindus in one lump. There, in the monistic School of thought, which considers everything in this Universe as part of Brahma, the supreme one, whereas the common Hindu believes a three-individual trinity (unlike ours) of Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara, with the separate duties of creation, protection and annihilation assigned to them respectively. Popular mythology has an additional 330,000,000 subservient gods. There are temples built to these different gods with idols made of silver or gold installed in them. The worship of the goddess Kali (rhymes with Jol1y) is prevalent in several parts of India, and is often associated with the most shamefully sensuous, vulgar, and obscene religious rites. 

Even though many Hindus go to these temples with their offerings and worship these idols, the educated Hindu considers all this as so much bunkum and is slowly becoming very irreligious. He is more moral than the adherents of other gentile religions, but that is about all the hold it has on him. The educated Hindu, or the uneducated one for that matter does not understand the Christian Gospel directly. The Bhagavat Gita (literally, song of God), the cream of Hindu philosophy, prescribes two Yogas (methods), for the realization of God, namely Karma yoga ( by works) and Jnana Yoga (by knowledge or meditation), and the latter method is specifically recommended. But the average Hindu has difficulty in understanding the Gospel of Grace. 

Yet, the common Hindu is tolerant of the Christians. I have been told the story of a Christian girl from my part of the country -- which by the way is in peaceable palm-strewn Kerala, the southwest coast. She was going to her university in the North during the riot days. She was traveling in the ladies’ compartment of a train which was held up by the rioters at an out-the-way place. A band or Hindu rough-hands came into the room where the Christian girl was with her other student friends and a Mohammedan lady in Purdah (the orthodox Mohamedan lady covers her body including her face and head with the purdah) with her 4 two little children lying under the seat. The first person they got hold of was the richly-dressed Christian girl. "Let us see your box," demanded one of the hooligans. As she handed over the key of her box, they opened the box and the first thing that met his eyes was a Bible. "Christians!" was the fellow's only comment as he let go of the girl and closed the box and proceeded to cut in three pieces the Mohammedan woman in Purdah. 

Socially, especially in the south-west where the Christians have a very high (in fact the highest in India) percentage of literacy and a good culture, the Christian comes in the middle of the scale close to the lower of the high caste Hindus. But in Tamilnadu and Punjab, where most of the converts come from the Untouchables and other low castes, they are held in less esteem. 

As time goes by, it is quite likely that the tide of nationalism may rise high, and there might be difficulties for new missionaries to enter the field later. But if they enter now, it might be possible for them to hold on and stay in.

A look into the attitude of the prime minister, Nehru, who is a man with a very wide outlook towards religion as a whole, might help us to see this.  He says, in his glimpses of World   History, "One  religious man says this, and another that, and often enough, each one of them considers the other a fool. I am afraid the next world does not interest me. My mind is full of what I should do in this world. If my duty here is clear to me, I do not trouble myself about any other world". That is typical of the man. A student of Harrow and Eaton, he is a product of the curious admixture of western, materialistic and oriental cultures. Under him the Christians can be sure that they will not be persecuted. But it remains to be seen whether his government would continue to welcome foreign missionaries into the country to do gospel work. 

The 8.5 million professing Christians (4 million Protestants, 3.5 million Catholics, and 1 million Orthodox) are themselves not a great force for Christ due to lack of evangelistic zeal. The Catholics are perhaps the only group that carries on a vigorous proselytizing plan. One of the best ways to promote the gospel in India would be to revive the Protestant and Orthodox Churches (these latter are the descendants of the converts that the Apostle Thomas made in India) and put the wonder-working power of the Spirit into the lives and hearts of the Church members. 

This could be done by consecrated, spirit-filled, native Christians better than by foreign missionaries, who are still viewed with some suspicion by the not-too-unsophisticated non-Christian Indian mind that saw the entry by gradual stages of British Missionaries, Merchants and Militia into the country. The task that lies before the foreign missionary today is to bring the whole gospel in freshness to the native Christians who often get corrupted by contact with pagan Hindu customs and rites.

It is a corner of the lord's Vineyard where still a lot remains to be done. "Pray ye therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into has harvest."