National Worker Evangelism in India

Even missionaries, it seems, are not im­mune from the fear and dislike of making new discoveries and adopting new meth­ods in work.

By Eric M. Meleen, Former Superintendent, Burma Union Mission

Even missionaries, it seems, are not im­mune from the fear and dislike of making new discoveries and adopting new meth­ods in work. We seem to fear that something will be upset by a different approach, and that our way of doing things will be disturbed. Per­haps almost unconsciously we harbor a feeling that a different procedure might be a reflection on that which we have done in the past. We dislike rearranging our ideas, and we endeavor to develop a line of reasoning and logic to jus­tify our holding on to the old and rejecting the new. This inertia of human prejudice, this dis­inclination to remodel our ways, no doubt has often been an obstacle to improvement and bet­ter achievement.

With great tenacity many of us formerly held to the idea that evangelism in Southern Asia was to be promoted by almost every method but evangelism. We hung up our Bible Picture Rolls in villages and elsewhere, and told some stories. After some time we moved on to another place and did it again. Occasion­ally someone would hold a series of three or four meetings over a week end and report an evangelistic effort. Tract-distributing excur­sions were arranged when it was felt that the occasions were auspicious, and dispensary work was always a feature of some station activities. Our national evangelists (so called) spent much of their time making "visits," most of which seemed to sustain but little relationship to real evangelism. Schoolwork is an essential de­partment of our activities, which when rightly conducted is certainly an essential evangelistic activity.

All these activities have their place in our program of work, and we could not think of carrying on without them. But the weakness lay in the fact that many of our foreign and national workers assumed that they were the only procedures adapted to conditions in South­ern Asia, and employed them to the exclusion of public evangelism, contending that efforts were not and could not be successfully used in this field.

There were leaders who persisted in oppos­ing new methods in evangelism in spite of the meager progress we were making, and who would not themselves assist in inaugurating them. When it was pointed out that we must train our indigenous workers for evangelism, they contended that they were already doing evangelistic work all the time. When the method of public evangelism was specifically de­fined, they contended that methods successfully employed in other lands were not suitable for Southern Asia. Such attitudes on the part of Some of our European workers delayed adopt­ing more progressive methods and did much to render ineffectual our investments of means and energy. However, it is not the mistakes of yes­terday that are of greatest importance but rather that which we do today and tomorrow, and the relationships and attitudes that we sus­tain to present opportunities.

Reasons for Failure in Past

Only during the last decade, more or less, have any really serious endeavors been made to promote the work in the vernaculars of South­ern Asia,by public evangelism. To be sure, off and on, attempts had been made by some work­ers to hold series of public meetings in English for a few weeks at a time in a few of the larger cities, but usually with meager results. This tended to militate against the effort idea, its op.: ponents makino-allegeduse of the alleged failure in a land in which, according to their contention, it was not suitable. They pointed to the fruit­less and wasteful use of funds where experi­ments had been made. But during the past few years we have seen abundant evidence that the plan does work in Southern Asia, when ade­quate provision is made. The too-frugal budg­ets provided for efforts through shortsighted planning resulted in lack of adequate assistance, inappropriate meeting places, lack of advertis­ing, literature, music, and other features which are so lavishly provided in other lands where conditions are very much more favorable.

Our evangelists were frequently sent out alone and almost emptyhanded, the small amount of funds available for this kind of enterprise being distributed among several men. Thus we learned that if sufficient funds were not avail­able for a number of efforts it was stronger planning, greater wisdom, and more economical to arrange for but one. One strong effort, ade­quately financed and staffed, other matters be­ing equal, is almost certain to produce better results than several weak ones. The very best provision that we can make within reasonable bounds is none too good.

Prejudice among the nationals against ad­vancing the work by this method was exceed­ingly strong, which was perhaps natural in view of the fact that so very few of the national workers were by training and capacity qualified for it. They had never seen an effort in prog­ress, did not understand what we meant by it, and had not the slightest idea of how to go about holding one. Consequently, if they ac­complished anything at all, it was by the old systems, and many felt quite certain that other methods could not succeed.

This drew upon us no little criticism from visitors to our field who were distressed over the situation. But preachers cannot be trained unless there be those with the capacity to re­ceive training, and though it may have seemed to some outside observers that this training was too long delayed in Southern Asia, the fact is that there was but little material for it prior to the period under consideration. In fact, even today in some sections of the field there is scarcely a single national worker qualified to hold an effort and carry it through with effi­ciency and success.

Training National Evangelists

The last decade has seen a progressive change for the better. Such small groups of workers as could be gathered in the various language areas, sometimes not more than six or eight, have been brought together for training and instruction. In some of these groups only two or three were potential preachers, and even they, according to appearances, not very prom­ising. But some of the apparently less promis­ing ones have, with years of experience and help, developed into the most successful public workers, which shows the wisdom of giving all an opportunity to prove themselves.

In these training institutes subject matter and order and methods of presentation were studied, with that which had been acquired in the training school as a foundation. Every lit­tle detail pertaining to techniques, construction of the tabernacle and its location, care and use of simple equipment such as charts, lights, stereopticons, slides, and numerous such items, was given a great deal of time and attention. And even then in some instances it seemed in vain, for when these men were sent out to put into practice that which they had been so pains­takingly taught, they appeared to have forgot­ten it all.

As an illustration, mention might be made of the evangelist who complained that he could get no carbide that would produce light for his projector. Investigation revealed that he stored the carbide wrapped in paper instead of in an air-tight container. Probably he had heard in­struction on this point many times, but the point was not impressed upon his mind until he had field experience. This was typical of much of the instruction given. Therefore, in addition to the institute work, it was necessary that someone with experience personally attend the efforts held by these workers and instruct them again, one by one, in detail. One foreign worker gave a good share of an entire season to this item alone. But patient labor year after year has produced encouraging results, so that in each language area of some sections of the field we now have national evangelists for vil­lages and cities who can launch their efforts without supervision, and carry them through in a very commendable manner. With them we associate prospective evangelists, who, after a few years of experience as assistants, can launch out on their own.

The Indian people are highly intellectual on the whole, and have capacity for great advance­ment in learning. They have contributed much to the world's store of mathematical, scientific, and philosophical knowledge. For the educated and socially better classes, a too simple and crude presentation of the truths of our message is not attractive. Those among us who in for­mer years contended that a few years of ele­mentary general education, plus a reasonably good understanding of the fundamentals of Scriptural truth, was sufficient preparation, have learned from costly experience that it is far from adequate. The best and most com­prehensive instruction and training that we can give our workers is still short of our needs.

To develop a corps of qualified workers is no small task, even when the leaders have candi­dates of ability, capacity, and educational at­tainments to begin with, but at last we have a few national evangelists who can conduct pub­lic efforts that compare favorably with that which could be done in other lands a few years ago. In fact, in the largest union in the South­ern Asia Division, and the one in which the annual membership gains are the highest, all the public evangelism for nationals during the past several years has been carried on by na­tional evangelists.

Little by little these workers learn by experi­ence, but it is urgent that their number be quickly and greatly increased, for the day may not be far distant when foreign workers can no longer carry on. It is certain that the training and development of such evangelists is the greatest mission field service that can be ren­dered by foreign workers. When a larger staff of national evangelists comes into action, we shall see greater fruitage from our investments and more advancement in our work.

However great the importance of general ed­ucation and technical training, no worth-while evangelistic achievement is possible unless the worker is dominated by the spirit of sacrificial service. The development of such a spirit is a gradual process, and even when partially devel­oped may be quickly spoiled by unwise leadership. There is danger of giving the external aspects of qualifications too much prominence, of elevating and favoring those who by nature may be a little more endowed with some talent or capacity than others. Leadership must give close attention to the development of that inner consciousness which alone can make soul win­ners. This is a work that requires time, and which is achieved by attention to little details often treated as unimportant and neglected. But the development of spirit and attitude, which is even more essential than intellectual attainments and technical qualifications, must influence the leader in whatever he does. Little by little, one experience after the other, each ex­erting an influence in the right direction, must be made to do its part in training evangelists and other workers.

Obstacles and Problems to Combat

The peoples of India speak hundreds of languages, many of which are represented by small groups of advent believers, drawn mostly from the poor and depressed classes. It has been no small undertaking to train and educate young people from such groups, and qualify them to meet people socially and economically superior. Now and then, during the years, a worker of real ability arose, but because of the language situation his ability could not be used for teaching and training outside of his own little community, which, moreover, usually pro­vided no capable material. Therefore, only the comparatively few who could be instructed in English could be trained at all. That number, thanks to our training schools, is gradually in­creasing.

Authorities estimate the illiteracy among In­dia's population to be up to 92 per cent. But not all the 8 or 9 per cent reported to be literate are actually so. This situation constitutes a very real obstacle to the evangelization of the Indian people. Our Indian and other national evangelists use as much literature as we cars supply in connection with their efforts, but it will be obvious to all that they have a very real obstacle to meet in this matter.

Probably the most difficult barrier is caste, which artificially separates the people into high and low, honorable and dishonorable social groups, and which leaves millions entirely out­side these groups, millions of untouchables whose very shadow defiles. India's eight or nine million Christians are converts almost en­tirely from this class. The nominal Christian­ity is so often of such a quality that Christianity is looked upon by the castes as a cheap, inferior religion, profitable and advantageous for the lowest and poorest of the outcastes, but not suit­able for the socially superior. It is well known that some among them admire the words of Jesus but feel it humiliating to be seen among His followers.

For this and other reasons it is difficult, though not entirely impossible, to arrange for attendance at public meetings by representa­tives of the castes. Caste rules operate rigor­ously to exclude them, and it is not possible for our outcaste workers (as both foreign and na­tional Christians are thought to be) to make contact in any personal manner, or enter into the homes of caste people for any purpose what­ever. The penalties for forsaking caste are so severe as practically to constitute a death sen­tence. Experience has shown that there are among the castes some who, like Nicodemus, secretly accept Christ in their hearts but have not the courage to profess Him openly. To help such find that courage is one of the tasks that confronts our evangelists in Southern Asia, one that demands skill and ingenuity in presenta­tion, and a power which is found only in conse­cration to the work to which we are com­mitted.


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By Eric M. Meleen, Former Superintendent, Burma Union Mission

January 1947

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