The British took over India first through trade initiated by the East India Company in 1757. The British government eventually had three roles in India; economic control; ruling by military presence; and later, as a promoter of Christianity. Consequently, Christianity was equated with British domination
During the 1770’s and 1780’s several Englishmen argued that the East India Company’s power could not be justified unless it operated with morality and was subject to Parliament’s control, but they were ignored. Charles Grant, a junior officer in the Company, drafted a proposal for Christian missions in 1786-87, and campaigned for decades at his own expense. However, the Company opposed the resolution, fearing it would lead to an awakening of their Hindu subjects and adversely affect the company’s business interests.
The only Christian politician to have the stamina to fight for a moral cause was William Wilberforce (who successfully abolished the African slave trade in Britain.) He was distressed by the Hindu practices of the caste system, female infanticide, polygamy and suttee, where the widow of a deceased man was burned alive on his funeral pyre. In 1793, Wilberforce introduced the famous Resolution on missions drafted by Grant. Despite ongoing opposition, in 1813 missionary and education clauses were finally added to the charter of the East India Company.
Meanwhile, despite the prohibition of the East India Company, William Carey, the “father of modern missions” left England in 1793 to go to Calcutta (Kolkata) India as a missionary. He encountered opposition from the British and did most of his famous work by joining the Danish colony in Serampore. He established Serampore University, learned many Indian languages, and translated the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Marathi, Hindi (now the official language of India) and Sanskrit. William Carey is still considered an influential cultural anthropologist. His love of India and its culture laid the foundation for the rise of Indian nationalism, and affected many social reforms.
Perhaps the most famous modern missionary followed in his footsteps. Mother Teresa arrived in India in 1928, and was teaching in Calcutta in 1937. The plight of poverty and disease in the slums compelled her to begin her ministry to the dying outcasts in 1946. Until her own death in 1997, she and her Sisters of Charity worked with the poor in what Kipling cursed as the worst city in the world. Her legacy continues, and her recorded sermons about the Jesus she loved can be heard by visitors to the mission today.
In 1930, the Indian National Congress, led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, began a policy of civil disobedience with the goal of full national independence. After a long struggle, independence from Britain was finally achieved in 1947, stipulating that predominantly Muslim areas in the north would form a separate country of Pakistan. That ethnic and religious gulf continues to be a volatile political factor to this day.
The total population of India is 1.36 billion people, second only to China in one-third of the area. 81% of the nation is Hindu but the Evangelical Annual Growth Rate 3.9%. Christianity is expanding, although at a very slow pace. One of the many problems is that Hindus easily add another “god” to the 330 million they already have; the Gospel must clearly state that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
There are 2,599 people groups and four major language families: Indo-Aryan, in the north; Dravidian in the south; the middle regions have a number of tribal languages of the Munda or Austroasiatic family; and in the northeastern hills, there are numerous Tibeto-Burman languages. Most of the 29 states have their own distinct language with many subdialects. Although many educated Indians also speak English, the work of missionaries is made especially difficult in rural villages where 70% of the population lives.
The government of India has become more nationalistic in recent years, preferring Hinduism. Anti-conversion laws have been passed in many states and “reconversion events” are often forced upon residents. Missionary visas are no longer issued and Christian evangelism is virtually prohibited to visitors. National pastors and missionaries are persecuted with no legal recourse; in fact, if attacked, a Christian pastor is often jailed for ‘disturbing the peace.” Believers endure persecution including loss of jobs and homes, ostracism from family and community, to beatings and death. Christianity has a high price in India. Both the missionaries who proclaim it, and the people who follow it, are willing to pay that price for the One Who paid the ultimate price for their souls.
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