Evangelism in Southern Asia

The Southern Asia Divi­sion, made up of India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, is today enjoying its most favorable period for public evangelism.

BRIAN DE ALWIS, Theology Senior, Spicer Memorial College, Poona, India

The Southern Asia Divi­sion, made up of India, Pakistan, Burma, and Ceylon, is today enjoying its most favorable period for public evangelism. Though accord­ing to tradition, Christianity came to India as early as A.D. 52 with the arrival of the apostle Thomas, it never gained a large number of adherents in Asian countries. For centuries it lan­guished, remaining the faith of small mi­nority groups, until the colonial powers from the West established themselves. Un­der the Portuguese, Dutc.h, and British re­gimes, Christianity advanced with the im­petus received from governmental backing. However, it was identified with Western imperialism and was looked upon as the re­ligion of the colonial masters, failing to ap­peal to the national genius. Today, South­ern Asian countries that became independ­ent nation states in the past fifteen years are going through a period of transition. There has been a renaissance of national cultures and a resurgence of Asian reli­gions, and modern education is being made available to the masses. Thoughtful Hindus, Buddhists, and Moslems are busy sifting what is best in their own faiths. With the spread of education, prejudices have been broken down and people are more ready to listen. Today is truly the day of opportunity for the proclamation of the three angels' messages in Southern Asia.

The recent school of evangelism in Bom­bay, conducted by E. E. Cleveland, associate secretary of the General Conference Minis­terial Association, has awakened in the Advent ministry an interest in the tremen­dous possibilities of public evangelism to­day. The views of the forty picked evange­lists provide one with a reliable picture of evangelistic procedures and problems in Southern Asia. The evangelist whose work was among the primitive tribesmen of the hills of Assam was there along with the evangelist accustomed to the sophisticated city audience of Colombo, Ceylon. It is in­teresting to note that while problems varied, a general pattern could be traced in the evangelistic procedures being followed in all parts of the division field. The city campaign, whether in Delhi, Bombay, Co­lombo, Rangoon, or Karachi, is more or less uniform in its procedure. The most up-to-date equipment and methods are being used for presenting the gospel. The use of slides, movies, black light, and other such devices is common.

The most common mode of transport of the city evangelist is the bicycle, with the exception of the evangelists in Ceylon, who nearly all possess cars. In the opinion of al­most all the evangelists present at the Bom­bay institute, the premium-card system was not only considered to be an effective means of encouraging attendance but was also dubbed "Southern Asia's best name getter." The budgets for city and village evangelis­tic campaigns here are more or less uni­form, the average city budget being around Rs. 4,000.00 ($800) and the village budget Rs. 300.00 ($60).

The pattern of the village evangelistic campaign all over the division whether in the Naga tribal regions at the foothills of the Himalayas or among the peasant cultivators of Kerala in the far south is very nearly the same. The experience of C. Pheriem, a junior at Spicer Memorial Col­lege—Southern Asia's only Adventist col­lege—is typical. During the annual three-month summer vacation he has conducted an evangelistic campaign among the Nagas for the past three years. He goes into the hill villages armed with a projector, some slides, a gramophone with a set of King's Heralds records, Picture Rolls, and a stock of gift pictures of Christ. There is no need of a tent or hall; the meetings are held un­der the open sky in the compound in the center of the village. The sole means of ad­vertisement is the announcement made by the village crier, who goes around calling the people's attention by beating tom-toms (drums) Usually the whole village turns out for the meetings, the projector and the gramophone music proving to be never-failing attractions. After conducting nearly eight weeks of nightly meetings, Pheriem usually gets about forty baptisms and or­ganizes a church in the village. Village evangelism does have its setbacks now and then. Upon entering a village Pastor P. N. Bazroy of Northeast India was forcibly ejected by the village panchayat (village council), and had to take up legal proceed­ings in the district council to get the re­quired permission to conduct the meetings. But in spite of difficulties village evange­lism is still the most effective means of reaching the millions of Southern Asia, 90 per cent of whom live in the villages.

In addition to opposition, often violent in nature, from various religionists, evan­gelists in this division face many problems. The chief problem has always been limited budgets combined with a shortage of work­ers. The evangelist who lacks assistants is compelled to employ lay members to assist him in his campaigns. The economic con­dition of the average lay member does not permit him to render his services without pay. This means a large cut out of a small budget. The evangelist in certain primitive, backward areas finds out that many who take their stand are not ready for baptism. Many have still to be weaned from the use of toddy—an alcoholic beverage considered to be a substitute food—or from the use of pig's fat, in which all foods are prepared in some areas. One of the hardest jobs the evangelist has with many people is getting them to part with their jewelry. Necklaces and bangles are worn by women to indicate their marital state; bound by this social tradition they are loath to part with their jewelry. In spite of the general lack of mod­ern facilities, acute housing problems, and a host of other difficulties, Advent evange­lism is definitely on the march in Southern Asia.

Perhaps the greatest over-all current prob­lem faced by the Adventist ministry is the question of evolving a new approach in evangelism to meet the challenge of the day. Evangelism is keeping up with the times and trends and is taking a new shape. It is endeavoring to feel the pulse of a re­surgent Asia. The trend in most churches, including the Adventist Church, is toward having an indigenous leadership with a twofold object—first, to develop a mature church with its roots in Southern Asia, and, second, to avoid any suspicion of subserviency to foreigners.

All over Southern Asia the emphasis is on preaching in the tongues of the people, and missionaries coming to Southern Asia usually go through a special course of lan­guage study before taking up work. In vil­lage and city, lyrical evangelism is becom­ing popular; Christ is being presented in Asian song and music. It is now recognized that Asians can best preach the gospel to Asians.

There has never been a more favorable time for public evangelism in Southern Asia. The SDA Church, which has 26,000 members in this field, has felt at times that it was an almost impossible task to warn the 600 million people in this vast land of the soon coming of Christ. Limited funds, limited equipment, and a limited number of workers have at times added to our feel­ing of inadequacy. Yet today, believing that God is its sufficiency and that He can use the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, the church accepts the chal­lenge and goes forth with the evangelists, the front-line fighters, to carry the gospel into the citadels of heathenism. Traveling by rail, car, ricksha, bicycle, oxcart and on foot, to proclaim the three angels' messages, these workers say, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"


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BRIAN DE ALWIS, Theology Senior, Spicer Memorial College, Poona, India

June 1963

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