by Theodore Williams
Missionary interest began in the Indian church long before it began anywhere else in Asia.
Missionary interest began in the Indian church long before it began anywhere else in Asia. The spirit of revival, in the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Kerala led to the formation of the Mar Thoma Evangelistic Association in 1888. In 1903 under the leadership of Bishop V. S. Azariah the Indian Missionary Society was formed in the Tirunelveli diocese of the Anglican Church. Two years later Bishop Azariah, along with other national Christians and a few expatriates like Dr. Sherwood Eddy, was responsible for the formation of the National Missionary Society. Both these societies began their work in India, sending missionaries cross-culturally.
After this there was a period of stagnation in the history of Indian missions. Spiritual lethargy, nominalism and the influence of liberal theology killed the evangelistic and missionary zeal of the church. In the early fifties there was a fresh breath of revival and new life in the churches in South India. It was at this time that the Evangelical Fellowship of India was also born. Missionary interest was revived. This led to the formation of the Indian Evangelical Overseas Mission in 1954 as the missionary arm of the EFI. Later in 1965 this mission took a new shape with the name: Indian Evangelical Mission. Following this, other indigenous missionary movements sprang up, mostly in South India.
One of the characteristics of the indigenous missionary movements in India is that they are regional. Their workers, board members, and support are all from one state or one language group. The majority of the missions at present are from Tamilnadu in South India. There is a healthy nationalism and a healthy regionalism that God uses for his own sovereign purposes, just as he used the colonialism of the early days. Except for the National Missionary Society and the Indian Evangelical Mission, the Other missionary movements are regional in origin, government and support. Except the Indian Evangelical Mission, most of the others work in cross-cultural situations within India only. The National Missionary Society has work in Nepal.
Some of these Indian missions are indigenous in origin, finance and government. Others are indigenous in origin and government while they receive funds from abroad. For those which are indigenous in finance the funds come through local churches and individuals and prayer groups within the local churches. Most of the support is personalized support. The Friends Missionary Prayer Bank has many Prayer groups in Tamilnadu. Each prayer group undertakes to support one or two missionaries. The Indian Evangelical Mission gets almost all its support for the work in India from local churches, groups and individuals within the country. For capital expenditure like buildings, vehicles, equipment, etc., gifts are accepted from abroad.
The first All-Asia Mission Consultation held in Seoul, Korea in 1973 was a landmark in the history of Asian missions. Following this consultation, associations of missions were formed in Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. Then came the formation of the Asia Missions Association in 1975. The need for mutual understanding and cooperation between the different Asian missionary societies for receiving and sending missionaries from their countries was stressed at the time of the formation of this association. The possibility of taking one Particular unevangelised area and working together in that area is also being considered. The other area of cooperation is missionary training- The East West Center was started for the specific Purpose of training Asian missionaries.
Following the All India Congress on Missions and Evangelization, several Indian missionary leaders gathered for consultation and the India Missions Association was formed on March 16, 1977. There are five organizations which are full members at present. They are the Full Gospel Young Men’s Association, the Fellowship of Evangelical Friends, the Quiet Corner, the Friends Missionary Prayer Band and the Indian Evangelical Mission. The Church Growth Missionary Movement is an associate member. Several others have applied for membership. One of the tasks of the association is to identify the various indigenous missionary movements that are already functioning and bring them into its fellowship.
There is an unprecedented opportunity today in our country. There are many areas and peoples that are responsive. These are more easily accessible to indigenous missions than to others. God is sending forth many choice young people into the ripened harvest fields. It is a joy to see medical graduates coming forward to serve with the Indian Evangelical Mission. All these young people need training for missionary work. Some come to us with Bible training, while others come without any training along these lines.
At present the Friends Missionary Prayer Band has its own training program which includes both Bible training and missionary training. The IEM requires candidates to have some basic Bible training before they apply. Some exemptions are made now and then. IEM and BMMF in partnership launched the Indian Missionary Training Institute in 1976. Other members of the Indian Missions Association are also encouraged to send their candidates to the institute. We are grateful to the BMMF for coming forward to help the Indian missions in this way.
The following questions need to be considered as we think of an effective training program for Indian. missionaries. Should it be institutional training? Or, should it be a simpler type of training in living together in communes? Should it be more academic? Or, should it be more practical and geared to the needs and the challenges of the mission field?
There is need for two types of training. One should be practical, geared to the needs of the mission field. The aim of this should be to prepare the missionaries for the actual work. The other should be of a higher academic nature recognized by other similar missiological training centers. Not all will be able to take the second course.
The present situation makes it imperative that Indian missions and missionaries take up the responsibility of translating the Scriptures into the various tribal dialects. Training is needed for this specialized work. Also, if the concern for the Islamic world is to be shared by the universal church, the church in Asia must be challenged to see this great need.
Because of political alignments, certain parts of the world are open to certain nationalities while they are closed to others. There are dedicated, gifted young people who are willing to serve the Lord anywhere in the world. One hurdle is the financial support of these missionaries. Money cannot be sent out of India. So it is utterly impossible to support any Indian missionary from this country. Does this mean that the Great Commission does not apply to the church in India? Or, is there something else that God wants us to discover? One solution is to have an international pooling of our resources of personnel and finance so that a missionary of any nationality can be sent to any country where there is need. Money will no longer be considered as American money, or German money, or Indian money, but it will all be the Lord’s money. The objection to this is the fact that our churches and prayer groups are more inclined towards personal support than general support. So the second solution can be to provide opportunities for Indian missionaries to raise their support abroad from churches and prayer groups. How valid is the concept that American money should support only American missionaries?
The dispersion and migration of people is a common phenomenon in today’s world. The Chinese and the Indians are the largest migrant communities in the world. Chinese Christians are organizing themselves for missions. Denis Lane of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship wrote, "One of the Christian facts of our age that we in the West can miss is the existence of the world-wide Chinese church. " This can be said of Indian Christians also. There are fellowship groups and congregations of Indian Christians in North America, Britain, Australia, the Middle East and other countries. If these are challenged and mobilized for missions, there will be a great potential in terms of men and money.
Is there a role here for Western missions? If they recognize their partnership with the emerging missions of Asia, Africa and Latin America, surely they can help in the most effective deployment of available personnel in mission, no matter where they come from. What is needed is a coming together of western mission leaders and the leaders of the emerging missions of Asia, Africa and Latin America to consider areas of mutual cooperation and help, such as those pointed out in this article.
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