IN THE tense and changing Afro-Asian world the Christian missionary is faced with new conditions that will test his public relations ability to the fullest. Many countries are passing through exciting phases of political change that threaten to spread rather than diminish.
In India and other South Asian countries the beginnings of anti-Christian and antiforeign-missionary feelings are on the upsurge. Faced with the changing tone of the work in the world fields, we cannot too greatly emphasize the importance of good public relations in our missionary program. In certain lands where feeling has been running high, it was the good public relations with men in high office in army and government circles that protected our work from a complete close down.
If we are to protect our mission program in these lands we must go out of our way to be known to people, to meet and make friends with the powers that be, to present our work in its best light to the governments that can either permit or persecute, forbear or forbid, our being in their countries.
The most common misunderstandings are based on the ideas that our medical, welfare, and relief work are linked with the promotion of American or Western world ideologies, that there is an ulterior motive behind our good deeds, and that we give medical help, food, and clothing only to those who will join our church. In a certain country I was grilled by the secret police at headquarters to make me admit that we were distributing clothing and food to the people not of our church in order to promote American and Zionist propaganda. I finally convinced them that our work was to help the poor and needy of all classes, irrespective of caste, creed, or religion.
Thus far in India we have been blessed with a liberal and fair-minded government that is tolerant and kindly disposed toward our work. In a land that is strongly supporting prohibition, our temperance work is greatly appreciated by Prime Minister Nehru, who is a great man; and while he leads we have nothing to fear. There are, however, undercurrents of anti-Christian feeling that must be met by wise public-relations activity on our part. Suspicion springs from ignorance. When we present our medical, educational, and evangelical program as part of a worldwide work of service to mankind, we shall earn the respect and confidence of all men. In the long run it is more important to establish friendly relations in the lands where we labor than to open work that may well be closed because we have neglected to prepare the ground in this way.
In the ancient city of Hyderabad, seat of the present state government of Andhra, former capital of the mighty Mogul Empire, we have gone out of our way to present our message to the men in high office. As a result, our work is so well thought of that at the time of Elder H. B. Weeks's visit to Southern Asia we were able to arrange a reception at which he met government ministers, secretaries of state, the present governor of Gujarat (then a minister of state), and many of the leading citizens, among whom were members of the former ruling class in the old kingdom of Hyderabad. Along with these important men and their wives we had invited UNICEF and WHO representatives, the chief of the state Red Cross, and all the newspaper editors and pressmen we could find.
The contacts were a great success. That night over the All India Radio on the news in three languages—Telegu, Urdu, and English—the reception was well reported. Several newspapers had long reports on the event the next morning, and that month the leading society journal for all India carried photographs of Elder Weeks meeting government leaders, and gave a full account in an excellent write up. Immediate results were seen. Within two weeks the state Red Cross had sent a free consignment of blood plasma and antibiotics to our Giffard Memorial Hospital at Nuzvid in this state.
In recent days our friend and next-door neighbor, the minister of health, received the director of our mission hospital, Dr. Philip Nelson, and promised to use his influence to get a free ambulance unit for the hospital. He had been impressed by the report of a former health minister following an inspection tour. The former minister had marveled at the dedicated work of our doctors and nurses, who labored in primitive conditions through the very hot summer season, when temperatures soared to 115 degrees and all other Europeans had fled to the cool of the hills. Public relations pay dividends. When it can be seen that we are laboring for the physical as well as the spiritual welfare of the country, we gain the respect and gratitude of the nation.
But what of evangelism? Admittedly, we can gain acclaim for our medical, educational, and social welfare work, but what of the direct campaign aimed at winning Hindu, Moslem, Jain, Parsee, and others to Christ? Surely this must cause resentment. It must be admitted that it does. The argument usually raised is that theirs is the older religion, and Hindus were in existence long before Christ. Some think of Him as the white man's God and Christianity as westernization. Recent outbreaks of anti-Christian and antimissionary feelings show this trend. Slogans have appeared splashed on the walls of many major cities: "Quit India Christian missionaries," and "Get out Christians." Where four million Indian Christians are to go is not stated, but this and the newer, tighter restrictions on the movement and entry of American and European missionary workers shows a swing in public opinion that for so long has been tolerant. How can we meet the challenge to our evangelistic program in these lands? Again the answer is better public relations. We must try to gain some advantage from official approval for some part of our evangelistic campaign.
Opening nights might well be presided over by some important civic or government figure. Temperance films can be shown that gain the wholehearted support of a pro-prohibition government. Handbill headlines should be free of pseudopolitical titles, such as we love to use for opening nights. Stress should be laid more on the hope of the world in God and the Prince of Peace. The brotherhood of man under God and the promises of the coming Prince of Peace are positive subjects that comfort uneasy peoples living next door to a land-hungry China. Instead of a translated sermon it has been proved effective to have the indigenous co-evangelist present the subject in aftermeetings in the language of the people. But above all, to have the presence of some important figure as your chairman will, in the eyes of a prestige- and class-conscious Oriental people, ensure success.
Elder Roy Allan Anderson in his recent tour of the Southern Asia Division held such a meeting in the most exclusive hall in the city of Hyderabad. The chairman of the meeting (which was openly billed as an evangelistic meeting) was the present governor of Gujarat, at that time under appointment. The following newspaper report appeared in the top society journal of India, the Onlooker:
The hall of the Lady Hydari Club was packed to capacity with 700 people representing a cross section of the elite of the twin cities who had come to listen to a unique lecture by a visiting professor. Nawab Mehdi Nawaz Jung, till recently Minister for Cooperation and now very active as the President of the Indian Conference of Social Work, presided over the meeting and introduced the distinguished speaker of the evening, Professor Roy Allan Anderson of Potomac University, Washington, D.C. A world traveler, seminary professor, author and editor, Professor Anderson is primarily an evangelist, having addressed large meetings in most countries of the world. Prior to his visit to India he had concluded a stirring series of meetings in Carnegie Hall, New York City.
Professor Anderson, who is a World Secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, spoke on "The Awakening of the East—its Biblical Significance." The talk was preceded by prayers offered by Dr. Luke who is officiating as Bishop in the absence in the States of Bishop John Subhan.
Also on the platform were the Director of the Bible Society, Dr. Prakasham, and the host, Pastor P. E. M. Beach. In presenting his topic Dr. Anderson drew attention to the fact that the Holy Scriptures predicted the awakening of the nations of the orient to a powerful role in world leadership.
The serious and attentive audience was comprised of many statesmen and leading figures who normally would never attend an evangelistic meeting. But the governor-elect was there, so they came also and heard the truth for our time. The servant of the Lord says:
Kings, governors, and great men will hear of you through the reports of those who are at enmity with you, and your faith and character will be misrepresented before them. But those who are falsely accused will have . . . the privilege of bringing the light before those who are called the great men of the earth. . . . The rulers of the nations need to plant their feet upon the platform of eternal truth.—Evangelism, pp. 560, 561.
There has not been the effort made that should have been made to reach the higher classes.—Ibid., p. 555.
Before the whole concourse of people in the great hall the governor was to be seen carefully turning the pages and reading each text from my Bible that I had passed to him. What a fine testimony this wonderful gentleman gave that night. Next day, before Elder Anderson's departure from Hyderabad, we were invited to this courtly gentleman's home, where he earnestly plied us with many scriptural questions and would not let us leave until Elder Anderson had led in prayer.
Public relations pay dividends in souls both at home and in mission lands. What are you doing about it?