The Hindu Mosaic: 3,000 Indias
Hinduism is one of the Great Religions" of the world, with about 574,000,000 adherents. They comprise one of earth's most significant Hidden People Blocs.
Over 90 percent of the world's Hindu's live in India. Many countries of the world have substantial Hindu populations: India 84% (There are also about 60,000,000 Muslims in India.); Nepal 90%; Mauritius, Africa 50%; Guyana 33%; Fiji 35%; and Bhutan 25%.The type of Hinduism practiced by its people varies according to location and social position.
Although the Holy Men practice an orthodox form of Hinduism that includes the reading of the Vedas, and repeating of mantras, that is not the case with the majority of Hindus. Villages contain about 80 percent of India's mammoth population. In the villages, Hinduism has a strongly animistic flavor. Worshippers live in fear of the gods, and their worship is intended to placate the spirits.
Tradition tells of Thomas the Apostle planting the first church on India's soil. What has the last 2000 years of evangelism brought to this complex mosaic of cultures that comprises 13 percent of the world's population?
Because Hinduism is a social system, a philosophy of life, and a religion that easily absorbs other cultures and aspects of other religions, it has often been resistant to Christian missions. Yet, in certain parts of India, there have been dramatic movements of whole tribes of people into the Kingdom of God.
Christians must make very special efforts to cross the cultural thresholds that divide people.
Many areas of India are predominately tribal and not Hindu. Since tribal peoples do not fit into the Hindu system of castes, Christian tribesmen may be instrumental in the evangelization of North India according to Ralph Winter, Directorly of the USCWM. Tribal Mizoram in Northeast India has increased from a . 5 percent Christian population in 1901 to over 86 percent Christian today. Practically all the Mizo tribespeople are believers. In near by Nagaland, most of the 14 tribes are substantially Christian. Meghalaya claims over one half of their two major tribes have come to Christ. Manipur and Chhota Nagpur (200 miles northwest of Calcutta) are solidly Christian.
Sadly, that is not the case among most of the predominantly Hindu areas.
Mission has been most fruitful among the tribal areas of India where missionaries have exercised cultural sensitivity to local customs and traditions. From district to district, in the more Christian areas, there are different denominations and Christian heritages represented such as Presbyterian, Baptist, Mennonite, Salvation Army, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran, in addition to some significant indigeneous groups Today there is an important spiritual community among believers in India.
The church growth rate in India is increasing faster than the population. Percentages of those who identify themselves as Christian has been on the rise in recent years 1951 2.3%; 1961 2.4%; 1971 2.6%.
Dr. Donald McGavran of Fuller Seminary predicts that there will be about 18,000,000 Christians in India by 1981.
However, most of India's believers are still very much caste conscious, although less so in the Norti than in the South. Bishop Stephen Neill points out that it is still extremely rare for a higher caste Christian to invite a lower caste Christian to his home for dinner.
At the Lausanne Congress of World Evangelism, Dr. George Samuel of Keràla illuminated the major problem in present mission efforts among Hindus when he said "More than 98 percent of evangelism of the church in India is directed at existing Christians and never reaches even a tiny fraction of India's 800,000,000 souls who have not accepted Christ as Lord and Savior."
The greatest challenge of reaching India lies in the fact that evangelism to the Hindus is not evangelism to a single easily defined group of people. The myriad cultures, or "people groups" are separated by barriers of caste, customs, food, geography, religious tradition, and language.
Since the Hindus are not "one people" any effective evangelism must manifest special sensitivity to these very real barriers that divide people.
The church in India cannot be built up by E 1 (near neighbor) evangelism alone. Christians must make very special efforts to cross the cultural thresholds that divide people to bring the Good News to over 504,000,000 Hidden People in the Hindu world.
Some of the work can well be done by Indian Christians (and other National Christians of predominantly Hindu background), but due due to ethnic pride of various types the work must also be carried out by Asians, Africans, North and South Americans, and Europeans as crosscultural missionaries.
There are currently about 950 North American missionaries working with Indian Christians in near neighbor evangelism. There are only about 50 North American missionaries and about 600 Indians working in crosscultural situations, according to Operation World."
Cross-cultural Evangelism must still penetrate nearly 3,000 Socio-ethnic groups
Among the 100 or so indigenous groups involved in evangelism in India is the Friends Missionary Prayer Band. They currently have 120 missionaries working in 22 states.
Their goals include sending 440 missionaries to the 11 northern states of India 'before 1982 with the sacrificial help of Indian Christians."
Another mass evangelism project is the showing of the film "Jesus" in various languages by Campus Crusade for Christ. In the current year, Crusade people have sectioned off the entire country into ninekilometer square grids, and plan to show the film to an estimated audience of 100,000,000 people in India. Five hundred gospel teams will be involved in showing the film at least one time in each of the sections for a total of over 30,000 times.
In spite of these encouraging projects, the unfinished task is stillformidable. Cross cultural evangelism must still penetrate nearly 3,000 socio ethnic groups. Less than 100 of these groups have any kind of church within their culture. Most districts have less than one half of one percent Christian population. In Northern India, there is an average of one church for every 2000 villages, in many areas it is estimated that there is one Christian for every 10,000 to 20,000 people.
Approaching the bewildering task of developing mission strategies to the Hindu world is as complex as the Hindu world itself.
John Ottesen, Director of the Institute of Hindu Studies at the United States Center for World Mission is beginning work to prepare materials on the Hindu people and collate information on the state of missions to the Hindus
98% of Evangelism of the church in India is directed at existing Christians
Eventually, the Institute plans to sponsor classes for academic credit on the Hindu world through the Institute of International Studies at the William Carey International University.
Future plans for the Institute include preparation of audio visual materials, a regular newsletter, a Hindu Awareness Seminar, and a conference of Indian Christians in the USA to meet at the USCWM.
Ottesen is looking for people with hearts for reaching the Hindu peoples to work with him in the Institute.
Ottesen may be contacted at the U. S. Center for World Mission, Institute of Hindu Studies, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104.
For more information about the world of India and Hindus, see booklist on back page.