India’s Mission Leaders Speak to the Western Church
We gathered together seven influential Indian church and mission leaders and asked them five questions relating to Western involvement in reaching India. We present their edited responses to the first three questions here in this issue. We will print their responses to the second two questions in the next issue of MF. The leaders we contacted were: Mr. Atul Aghamkar, a ministry leader from India studying at Fuller Seminary for his Ph.D; Dr. Sam Kamalesen, founder of the Friends Missionary Prayer Band and Vice President at large for World Vision; Dr. John Richard, former General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India and currently the Assistant International Director for the AD 2000 Movement's Global Consultation on World Evangelization, GCOWE 95; Dr. Joseph DeSouza is the Director for Operation Mobilization in India; Dr. T. V. Thomas is President of the North American Council for South Asian Christians; Vishal Mangalwadi is a well known Indian author on the subject of missions; Mr D. Kingsley Arunothaya Kumar is Coordinator for Communications with the Friends Missionary Prayer Band in India.
What roles can Westerners play regarding missions in India?
While being grateful to God for the contribution Westerners have made, we have to accept the fact that India has changed drastically and the traditional role played by the Western missionary is no longer acceptable in India. What the church in India needs now is partners in missions.
Some of the areas where Westerners can help are in teaching, equipping and training ministry personnel. With the enormous challenge of equipping over twenty million "Christians" in India, we need qualified, committed men and women, who will be willing to work with our leaders and teachers. Frequent training programs for specific areas could be assigned. Careful thinking, planning and goal setting is needed to make such training programs effective and productive. The model of Westerners with big budgets and "prepared material" coming to India to organize a "crusade" or evangelistic campaign, and returning home with glorious reports must be stopped. The Western "crusade" is not relevant in India, with its emphasis upon immediate response and decision, and its total lack of follow up training. The Indian people are not conditioned to make "individual" decisions. Decisions, particularly religious decisions, are made by the elderly and within the context of the group, caste and family.
I believe that Westerners may most effectively assist the Church in India with advanced technology. Trained experts in computer science, social science, and telecommunication could be greatly used in India. Christians need to come as teachers, consultants and advisors. The impartation of both basic and advanced modern technological knowledge to the Christian leaders in India would aid the efficient and rapid expansion of the Good News.
Westerners can help by sending ministry teams with a variety of skills to India intent on "interning-in-context." This can be one form of celebrating mutuality in mission. "Mutuality" means yielding autonomy to each other and express confidence in the Kingdom of God. Become directly involved in mission in India in specific areas like the "girl child" problem through innovative investment of skills by teams in rotation. By this I mean a team of 6 or 7 spending probably two or three months at a stretch in India, rotating that stretch between themselves to cover a 12 month period. This will keep them fresh, avoid burnout and will bring new interest and attention to bear upon the problem.
Dr. John Richard:
The Western Christians can encourage their churches to adopt the unreached and adoptable peoples of India and to develop a holistic burden for those peoples.
They can assist in the development of radio programs, which have more than mission speakers, for the score of languages for which radio is not presently available.
They can make available doctors and surgeons on a short-term basis to hospitals affiliated with the Emmanuel Hospital Association and the Christian Medical Association of India.
Due to foreign exchange regulations, money cannot be remitted out of India. But there are Indian missionaries willing to work among Indians in countries such as Trinidad, Surinam, South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Fiji, etc. Such missionaries can be supported by Western money provided it is made payable to a recognized, registered body in the receiving country.
The Muslim population of India exceeds the population of Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh. Indian Muslims are more easily accessible than Muslims in Muslim lands. Christian workers from Muslim backgrounds serving in the West Asian Muslim countries and the Arab world could be funded to conduct training seminars in ministry to Muslims. Western churches can help in this area. Watching films is extremely popular among the common people of India. The JESUS film should be dubbed in all languages which have more than a million speakers. Western churches can help in this area.
Joseph De Souza:
The task of reaching the nation with the gospel is too big for the Indian church to do on its own. There has been robust growth in the Indian Church, but there is still a great need for Westerners to be involved in a nation that is full of opportunity. India is changing rapidly--socially, economically, politically, religiously and in other ways as well. There are a number of ways Westerners can contribute and participate in Indian missions:
- They can reach sections of Indian society which are so far largely untouched by indigenous Indian missionaries. Examples are the upper class society and the higher castes and the urban population. These are generally English educated, cosmopolitan, have knowledge of what's going on in the world, and have more contact with foreigners.
- Westerners can bring specific skills such as translation, research and computer expertise and can work alongside Indian leadership in a number of supporting roles.
- Because of the population explosion in the slums of all the major cities of India, Westerners can make an enormous contribution to Christian mission work in India through community development.
- There is always a need for theological educators who are willing to come and train an increasing number of younger Indian leaders. The challenge of the task in India is immense and will require the cooperation of the worldwide church on all fronts.
T. V. Thomas:
The Westerner can help by:
- Heightening the awareness of both the advances and the needs of the missionary enterprise in India. With the decline of the missionary force in India due to visa restrictions, the Western Church has been less informed about the country's challenges. The missions spotlight needs to shine on the over 900 million people in India of which less than 4% are Christian.
- Mobilizing specific, focused, prayer for the unreached people groups, villages, and fast growing urban slums of India needs to be a priority of the Westerner. Financial resources remain desperately limited to do effective wholisitic mission in many parts of unevangelized India. Christians in the West must continue to participate in the evangelizing of Indians through their prayer and giving.
- Encouraging Partnership. I believe Westerners can still have a meaningful role in India. The role welcomed by the Indian Christian and the Church would be that of "equality in partnership." The Westerner should surprise the Indians by striving beyond the call of duty to build such a relationship. A few successful partnerships are paving the way for a greater expression of this reality.
- Investing strategically. Westerners can go as tentmakers, but can be even more helpful when coupled with investments. Venture capital of foreign entrepreneurs could begin much-needed industries and facilitate the tentmaking approach to missions. Moreover, the profits could help subsidize missionary activity within the country.
There are two small groups of Americans in North India who are, in my assessment, playing the most effective roles. They are all in late twenties or early thirties. Some of them live on as low a budget as $50 per month. Both the groups work in urban centers and have started four new house churches plus some study groups within the last two- three years.
One of these groups does the following:
- Makes friends with educated, lower-caste Hindus, preferably with those already married and well employed in government jobs.
- Starts regular Bible studies in their friends' homes and encourage them to invite their relatives and friends.
- Works with an Indian evangelist whose wife is employed by the government, so the family is not totally dependent on the expatriates, thus ensuring the family's self-respect, which is in turn respected by the non-Christians. Make sure that he is regularly studying and growing. Normally make him teach the seekers and baptize, and shepherd them.
- Teaches the new believers that they have to work, earn their living and support their pastor with their tithes and offerings. From the third year of their operation the group has started cutting 20% support of the Indian worker.
- The expatriates prepare evangelistic, discipleship and leadership studies which deal with the local moral, cultural, intellectual issues. These are translated and each elder is asked to teach these to new believers and seekers. Thus a great deal of excellent Hindi literature is coming into existence. An American girl types the studies into her computer. All of this literature is edited and revised by reflective Indian leaders. So far it is only being photocopied and used. This means that there are no large publishing costs involved. The emphasis is on teaching the Biblical worldview.
- Most of these Americans came out with a basic mistake of the modern evangelical movement which focuses its attention exclusively on the sower. It does not bother to choose the soil carefully and it assumes that the seed is a pre-formulated capsule or a drink such as Coca-Cola, and therefore mission is a multi-national company marketing its product. Their experience however, has made them wise in studying the soil and reformulating the Gospel message in a way relevant to the mind-set of their hearers.
Westerners can mobilize an intelligent vigil for Indian missions by forming an interest group among Western Christians who have a special love for India. They must also be encouraged to be in touch with mission agencies in India and to subscribe to their magazines so they can support them through meaningful intercessory prayer.
Mission scholars must equip the nationals in the areas of church planting, leadership enhancement, management and media services and etc.
For example, the partial privatization of television has opened the way for telecasting Christian programs in India. But surprisingly, this great opportunity is yet to been taken advantage of by Indian missions for want of technical expertise, training, and finance.
Missiological insights from native Indian missionaries must be incorporated in the teaching curriculum of mission schools. Missiologists must have first hand knowledge of both the land and the different mission activities that are going on within India.
Whatever they do must compliment and not compete with the native work.
It's a tendency to omit the mainline churches by branding them in mass to be liberal churches, but there are so many born-again, mission-minded bishops and church leaders in India. And 95% of the mission support comes from these churches. Therefore, the West must invest its resources to help these churches in order to save them from the grip of nominalism and to revitalize them to become a potential force in reaching India.
What roles should Westerners be cautious not to play ?
They should not come as traditional missionaries, crusade evangelists, mission administrators and pastors.
Westerners should not play the role of God. They should not pretend that they can be parents to people or act paternalistically. They should not be inconsistent in their body language. By this I mean, they give the impression they are keenly interested but in their mind and heart they are thinking of other things. They should not think about controlling or managing people because of some commitment in funding. This has been tiresome in times past. They should be friends, as Jesus calls them friends in John 15:15, celebrating mutuality with other friends of Jesus. In direct evangelism they should be careful not to create problems for those who remain permanently in India, or take the initiative away from them.
- Money should not be sent to individual Christian workers in India. The workers should be staff members of a body of believers registered by the government of India and funds sent to the body towards their support.
- Western Christians, even though they may be highly skilled in their areas of expertise, should be willing to work under the direction of nationals who may know nothing about their fields of specialization.
- Often young Western Christians in their zeal for the Lord claim they are going to India to train church leaders who may be twice their age. This is totally unacceptable to national leaders. Western disciplers and teachers should go with an attitude of teachability.
- Having gone to India for a short period of time, Western Christians should not conceive of themselves as experts on India and pontificate on various matters related to India.
Joseph D Souza:
One greatly appreciates and admires the stellar performance and work of Western missionaries in the pre-independence era during which a certain amount of church growth did take place. One cannot be grateful enough for what was done during that time, but one has to admit that many mistakes were made. According to David Howard in Student Power in World Missions (IVCF of the USA, 1979, IV Press), "We learn from the past so that we can live effectively in the present and plan wisely for the future." History teaches us that certain pitfalls must be avoided.
- Respect for Indian culture and the Indian way of life is critical. One accepts that certain aspects of the culture need to be redeemed, but that can be said for Western culture as well. Yet there is so much good in the Indian culture that has been ignored in the past and, sad to say, is even ignored today by indigenous Indian missionaries. Indians are proud to be Indians. In their focus on the problems of poverty and the complexities of Indian lives, Westerners must not lose sight of the fact that there is something unique and wonderful about being Indian.
- A confrontationalist, apologetic approach to sharing the love of Christ with both Hindus and Muslims is largely unacceptable. Bridge building and contextualization are essential if the majority of the Indian communities are to come to know the love of Christ. The propagandist approach to evangelism and publication of the religious needs of Indian society is causing more harm than good to the cause of the Gospel and for those who live and serve as missionaries in India.
- Westerners must understand that in coming to India they must come as genuine partners. Paternalism in any of its forms creates problems and distrust. According to Dale W. Kietzman and William A. Smalley, the missionary's role is that of a catalyst and of a source of new ideas and new information. Indian leadership must be allowed to make major decisions on strategy, personnel, etc.
T. V. Thomas:
The Westerner should not go with the attitude he/she has all the answers or solutions in the missionary task but willing to discover solutions in consultation with Indian Christians. The missionary colonialism India has been plagued with for numerous decades could be totally dismantled. I praise God for the encouraging strides that have been made in this direction.
The Westerner must resist the temptation to start projects and employ new converts. So that all those who come to Christ and stay with Him do so exclusively because they are attracted by Christ himself and not by money. The policy should be that if a local believer comes up with a specific business proposal and raises whatever money is available from the banks, relatives, etc. then he could be helped with gifts, loans and technical expertise to become an entrepreneur.
The Western missionaries must not get involved in frontline and pioneer evangelism in India.
They must not freely move around in remote and sensitive areas, especially where mission stations are experiencing much receptivity and response. This is because Western imperialism and evangelism are largely confused and interchangeably used by the general public in India.
Western agencies should not support individuals who do not have an accountable relationship with any association or umbrella organization in India. Therefore, a great amount of money is being given which is not being invested in missions. They merely use it in building up themselves and those around them. This is one of the sad states of affairs in India.
Itinerant evangelists and so-called miracle healers are creating havoc rather than doing anything good in India. Tell the Western donors not to support such extravagancies anymore.
Denominational missions have created another big hinderance to India's evangelization. In the last twenty years more than 100 new denominations have come into existence in India. This is caused by splits in existing denomintions that create rivalry, enimity, and dissension.
By giving shelter to believers of another denomination, some denominations claim to be the fastest growing church or mission (or both) in India, and as a result they raise a substantial amount of foreign money. Therefore, no mission, church, or development activity should be blindly supported.
Should the West send money and if so, what are some of the problems?
The answer is Yes and No. Yes, there are times when money is needed and should be sent. Often money is sent with strings attached, the recipient body is expected to abide by the policies and rules of the donor agencies, which often restricts the ministries of the receiving body.
Sending just money is often risky, since you do not know how the money is being used. In some cases, money is not needed. In those instances the monetary gift serves only to place the recipient body in a chronically dependent state. Money for maintenance purposes should be eliminated. Periodic visits and evaluations of projects, ministries and programs should be made to ensure accountability.
Money continues to make the national church dependent on the West. It creates a sense of rivalry, greed and competition. It often robs the national church of its natural potential. When the easy money from the West is available, very few want to explore indigenous ways of fund raising.
Money is not the criteria. It is a giving forth of one's self to a situation and then the deployment of available discretionary funds. Western money can rob the initiative of sacrificial giving from within India itself. It creates, in the already suspicious mindset of the non-Christian, the idea that Western Christian engagement in mission within India is purely mercenary.
Joseph D Souza:
The idea that the West should only send money is neither Biblically sound nor a very practical idea for India of the 90s. While it is true that the dollar can go a long way here, limiting partnership to the contribution of money is an inadequate proposal. Partnership should go beyond the dollar contribution to the active involvement of the Western personnel in the mission work. The present over-emphasis on only sending money to support the national worker downgrades the national worker both as a cheap commodity and presents an unrealistic estimate of what it really costs to maintain a national worker in India. It also robs the Westerner of the privilege of giving of their life and moving out in cross-cultural mission. Western participation in Indian mission must be total, including prayer, personnel, finances, expertise, etc.
T. V. Thomas:
Though this is increasingly becoming a popular theme for some, I personally find it too simplistic a solution. "Nationals can do it best" and "Nationals can do it cheap" sound inviting in light of the pressures of raising the global missionary dollars. I believe Christ's mission of the church is global. That needs to be expressed not only in terms of geography but also in the kinds of personnel involved. Increased representation of different ethnic orientations in a missionary team becomes a powerful witness of the reconciliation that Christ has accomplished on the cross. (Ephesians 2:10-22) Christ's mandate for the church was not primarily to "give" but to "go." (Matthew 28:18-20). I think there are at least four major problems.
- The Control Factor "Money talks" is an often-heard statement. The truthfulness of that statement is often experienced even in missions. Those who supply the funds often call the shots. That is how the corporate business world thinks. I believe that in the Kingdom of God, funds should be provided for the missionary enterprise to serve rather than control. By this I am not suggesting non-accountability of the funds given.
The Dependency Factor Constant supply of funds from the West could create a weak Christian and a weak Church in India. This has been the pattern in many areas in the past. I believe that indigenous funding needs to increase as the church matures.
Western funds should be used as "seed money" for projects or to underwrite capital investments. The ongoing full financial support of national workers for evangelists, church planters and pastors would create an unhealthy dependency on the West.
- The Suspicion Factor Some non-Christian Indians have frequently suspected the source of missionary funds that came into India from the West. They have often concluded that there is a political source and strings are attached. Some of the Indian leaders feel that the West has a hidden, subversive political agenda. They see this as the latest strategy in Western colonialism--remote-control colonialism. The Christian West trying to control the non-Christian East.
- The Accountability Factor It is common knowledge that some of the missions funds from the West have been abused by some Indian church leaders. Some funds have gone into personal bank accounts. Other designated funds have not been used properly for the purposes they were sent. Greed and corruption blended with nepotism have created some Christian Kingdoms with Indian princes at the helm! What needs to be well developed are clear policies and guidelines which are governed by a responsible Board of Directors or Trustees to ensure proper disbursement of Western funds.
It is the Western money which has transformed the Indian Christian community more or less into a community of beggars. Beggars do not create attractive cultures or shape history. They win no wars. The Western "missions" generosity gave us the fruit of the Biblical worldview without giving the roots--the mind-set which created that wealth. Therefore it has bred a hideous entity called the evangelical mafia of India which has perfected the art of using religion as a means of personal power and aggrandizement. That in turn has destroyed everything the missionary movement has tried to do. For example, almost the entire evangelical publishing in India has been destroyed by the mafia, now the turn has come for the destruction of Christian broadcasting and relief and development.
The crisis of moral authority is perhaps the single largest problem of the church in India. By and large an average Christian no longer trusts the moral integrity of the evangelical leadership. This, in practice, (for example) means that a student who goes to seminary for four years does so to learn (of course at a subconscious level) only the art of deception--deception first of the Western donors and then of the Indian congregation. This fits in perfectly with the larger Indian culture because the priesthood in India is primarily (though not exclusively) an art of deception. The ingenious Biblical idea of tithers, with all its social implications of creating a class of shepherds whose financial needs are taken care of by the society, thus freeing them to serve rather than to deceive, is becoming a dinosaur--a great but extinct species.
I believe, whether it's Indian money or foreign money, it's primarily God's money.
There is a potential danger in Western money becoming a substitute for God. It is possible for money to quench the spirit of prayer and the total dependence on God to faithfully provide anything and everything. Although money is not everything and is not a top priority in missions, it has its due place.
The Western partner should verify the credibility of any agency before supporting it. It's sad to note that many Indian mission agencies are successful in soliciting funds from outside but have poor testimonies and track records within. While many sincere ministries are suffering financially, others waste God's money on luxurious and vane living.
Western agencies should not be involved in twisting the arms of the partner agencies to fulfill their own dreams and goals. In the past, this has resulted in meddling, horse trading, etc. This should not continue.
It's sad to say that foreign money has caused more harm than good in Indian missions. The result is culturally-irrelavant, pseudo- Christian leaders and organizations that have long forgotten their roots. Materialism has had such an influence on them that they have become unsuited for missions.
Steps must be taken to assure the integrity of both the giving and receiving agencies.
Look for Part II in the next issue of MF