Facing India's Problem

Facing India's Problem—No. 2

Probably every indigenous worker and every missionary in India, including those in our own ranks, could point to examples of individuals and groups who have improved their economic and social status by becoming Christians.

By E. M. MELEEN, Missionary on Furlough From India

Probably every indigenous worker and every missionary in India, including those in our own ranks, could point to examples of individuals and groups who have improved their economic and social status by becoming Christians, even though in some cases they have had to pass through severe trial. The poor, the outcaste, the socially degraded, and the economically depressed, respond more readily to the preaching of the gospel than do other classes. The missionary rejoices in winning souls from among these, for he must be no respecter persons. But advancement in this class alone is not progress toward the solution of the problem of self-support. A way must be found to win the economically able also.

The indigenous worker, working among his own class, naturally has some advantages over the European worker. But because of the caste situation, his efforts, except in a few of the larger cities, must be confined to the caste which he represents. The outcaste evangelist may be intellectually, culturally, and econom­ically superior to the caste people for whom he attempts to labor, but the fact that he repre­sents the depressed classes makes null and void all the advantages of his superior qualifi­cations. From the human point of view, it is therefore well-nigh hopeless to look for the development of a self-propagating church in India, except as workers can be raised up within the various castes. Very little success can be achieved by sending outcastes or low castes to work for the higher castes.

An Unfortunate Attitude and Its Basis

On the whole, Christianity is looked upon by Hindus as an inferior religion accepted by inferior men and women because of the ma­terial advantages to be derived from connec­tion with a mission organization. Unfortu­nately, this attitude has definite basis, for the quality of many so-called Christians is no honor to the cause of Christ. This, of course, adds to the difficulty of reaching the higher castes, who are reluctant to be associated with a community that is not considered respectable. There are evidences, however, that more and more Hindus are changing their attitude toward Christianity because of the changes and improvements that have been witnessed in the lives of converted individuals and groups.

The foreign missionary has some advantages over the indigenous evangelist. He is an outcaste, to be sure, and unclean. But his status is identical in all castes, and to the de­gree that he can mingle with caste people at all he can mingle equally with all. He can preach at one time to a congregation composed of sweepers and scavengers and at another time to Brahmins or other high castes. But he cannot preach at one and the same time to a congregation composed of high castes and outcastes, for they do not mingle.

India is slowly but surely changing in many respects. The caste system is gradually break­ing down, or at any rate is undergoing radical changes. These caste barriers, which are now well-nigh impossible to hurdle in connection with the expansion of the church in India, may in time be removed. But at the rate the change is taking place at present, it will be a long while before there will be sufficient change to alter the prospects for evangelism. To wait for such a transformation is unthinkable. We must expect speedier developments. It would seem, therefore, that help toward the solution of the problem would lie in the increase of the number of overseas workers who give all their energies to work among particular castes until workers could be raised up within these. How otherwise can these souls be reached ? Or are they to be reached at all? In all ages and in all lands the gospel has first gone to and first been received by the poor and oppressed. But is it to be received in India by this class only

P Is the price of becoming a Christian, and especially a member of the advent people, too great for the higher castes to pay?

The church in India cannot advance without a laity possessed of the missionary spirit. Our leaders are earnestly and diligently seeking to develop this. The duty of lay members in assisting in preaching, in keeping the houses of worship in order and in repair, in partici­pating in various departmental campaigns and the like, is constantly being urged. Some notable successes have been achieved in this matter, and the activities of our advent be­lievers have occasionally been the subject of comment by leaders of other denominations. But much instructional work is required to develop even a little spirit of this sort, for Indian Christians have learned to think of themselves as a community apart from the general population, and as entitled to the benefits of mission expenditure. Only in rare cases do they feel any urge to evangelize those of their own kind. This attitude of the Chris­tian community in general also has its effect on our Adventist members, and has to be combatted.

The dreadful poverty and pitiful economic misery of the people has led many of our own tenderhearted missionaries to make unwise ex­penditure of love and sacrifice. The question arises, Is it right to refuse all material as­sistance to those in distress? The underprivi­leged see the missionaries enjoying what seems to them to be fabulous wealth, and native workers appear to be provided for in much the same way as the rich. They think the mission must be rich. Why should they give to enrich it further? Why should they work for the mission without being well paid for their work? Many of our native evangelists have a clear understanding of this phase of the problem, and are striving earnestly to develop the missionary spirit among the members of their churches.

The church in India will grow without for­eign leadership when all the members, what­ever their economic, social, or educational status may be, participate in evangelism as a normal and necessary part of their Christian life. Voluntary proclamation of the message by large numbers of unpaid members would do infinitely more to create a favorable attitude toward Christianity and toward our work in particular, than could be created by paid workers. The psychological effect of such activity is great in any land, but in India it is of even greater importance and benefit than elsewhere. But only those who have struggled for years with this matter in India realize how difficult a part of our problem it is.

Great discretion needs to be exercised in ministering to the temporal needs of pros­pective members as well as to those who are already members of the church. When such help depends on the personal arrangement of the worker in charge of a church or a mis­sion, it is likely to be suddenly withdrawn when he is transferred. The beneficiaries who have not had a clear understanding of the arrangements then feel greatly aggrieved with the new workers when they receive no further aid. Discontent and murmuring arise, and sometimes a search begins for a worker or an organization that will provide that which has been withdrawn. Our work has suffered in this respect, and the mission history of other denominations records instances of entire churches and groups of converts having been lost for just such reasons.

About 9Y2

per cent of India's population is literate. This percentage, even if it were that high among the less-favored classes, would still be an obstacle which would make evan­gelistic work slow and costly. But among the depressed classes the percentage of literacy is much lower, in some cases being only 3 or 4 per cent. 'Comparatively little use can be made of literature in promoting the work. The Bible, the Sabbath school lessons, the hymn­book, and the writings of the Spirit of proph­ecy are locked-up treasures, except when opened with the help of one who can read. Clearly such a state of affairs is an obstacle which adds to the difficulty of the evangelist's task and impedes progress.

The great main religions of India do not encourage mixed congregations at public gatherings. For men and women to meet to­gether in the same room for worship, is a procedure absolutely foreign to Hindus and Mohammedans. In fact, women are not sup­posed to be seen in such places. Other pro­vision is made for Hindu women to worship their idols in the temples. Custom has such a grip on the Indian people as to be almost revered. When the Christian worker then at­tempts to gather a congregation of both sexes of non-Christians who have not undergone a long process of training, he undertakes that which is absolutely contrary to custom, and is repulsive to both men and women. His public work must first be for men only. His wife, if she be able and qualified to assist him, is a very important factor in his. success.

The women must be regularly and faithfully visited and labored for in their homes for months or even years. When they have made some progress in Christian experience, special meetings for women can be held to take the place of public worship. After some time, a few of the bolder ones may be induced to sit in a mixed congregation in a corner especially reserved for them. By such tardy and painful steps is the situation gradually changed until public services may be held with normal free­dom. In some churches which have been or­ganized as long as three or four years, the women, though baptized, are still very diffi­dent about attendance at Sabbath school and other meetings.

These factors are only a few that add to the difficulty of solving India's problem. Some of them apply, no doubt, to other countries also, though perhaps not in equal degree, while others apply particularly to India. But our progress toward the solution of our problem, meager though that progress be, is still suffi­cient to convince us in sure and certain terms that this gospel of the kingdom in caste-ridden India is not for one class or caste alone. We are firmly convinced that we shall soon see many representatives of all classes walking in the light of the message. If we all continue to pray and labor with the zeal, earnestness, and faith of the past, we shall soon see greater triumphs than ever before.


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By E. M. MELEEN, Missionary on Furlough From India

December 1939

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