Being creative to be effective in
the changing times
India, as we all know, is a land of
diversity—different cultures, faiths, lifestyle, traditions, and rituals. All
of these are interwoven, creating a vibrant and complex nation. The diversity
takes place over small geographic regions as well. As the popular Hindi adage
goes (translated into English): ¡°Every two miles the water changes, and
every four the dialect.¡±
Over the last few years I have had the chance to
drive across India from the northern tip to the southern tip, and from east to
west. I realized how true the above statement is. As I drive, I stop for chai
breaks often. Now I can tell which state I am in by the chai I am drinking.
This is something unique to India. The diversity adds color to life. Each
region has their own unique recipes as well as their own god. Not just region
level but often each community has a special god of its own, along with
festivals to honor their respective gods. The outfits add color to cultures.
India is also a proud country to say, ¡°we are different by languages, religion
and cultures, but we are one country.¡±
While this paints a beautiful picture about India
it is also a challenge to communicate across the cultures, especially when
someone comes from outside of India. This is really a challenge when we share
the Good News with people.
Indian states are
generally divided by languages. We have 29 states in India, each with at least
three official languages: the state language, Hindi and English.
The Indian languages
now in use have evolved from different language families corresponding more or
less to the different ethnic elements that have come into India from the dawn
of history. They may be put into 6 groups:
According to http://www.gloriousindia.com/culture/language.html, ¡°These languages have interacted with one another
through the centuries and have produced the major linguistic divisions of
modern India. Among the major groups, the Aryan and the Dravidian are the
dominating families. They have influenced each other in turn, been influenced
by the Austric and Sino-Tibetan tongues.¡±
So, we have 22
official languages in our country. Linguists estimate that we have 1635
languages in India and add regional dialects for each language.
There are four
castes, in the following order of importance:
• Brahman (Clergymen)
• Kshatriya (The ruling class)
• Vaishya (The business class)
• Shudhra (The servant class or ¡°untouchables¡±)
According to Purush
Sukta, all these people were once a part of the Hindu God Bramha (the creator
of the universe) and they originated from various body parts of Lord Brahma.
• Brahmans from his head.
• Kshatriyas from his shoulders.
• Vaishyas from his thighs.
• Shudhras from his feet.
There were various
duties assigned to each one of these Varnas, as discussed in the starting, and
they were supposed to follow them strictly.
This caste system
works in Indian Christian community and also in Islam. On top of this we also
have people groups.
Invasion of Islam In North India:
Islam came through the Moghuls in 1526, through the
invasion of the Moghul Emperor Baber. Islam spread through power and sword. It
is the root cause for violent Hindu-Muslim riots.
In South India, Islam
came through business and Hindu-Muslim relationships have been mostly peaceful.
Different religions co-existed.
Hinduism accepts God
in any form. So, when Islam came into India, Indians should not have problem
accepting one more God, ¡°Allah of Islam¡±. But they had a problem—beef. Mostly in
India, the cow is considered a holy animal or even God. Muslims eat beef. The
problem started there. Later it developed into other issues and eventually
became religious issue. Now we have riots for any given reason.
Then the west
intruded through business, followed by invasion. Christianity is associated with the western
community. When the British came into India, the issue was both pork and beef.
For Muslims, pork is Haraam and for Hindus, eating beef is a sin. So Hindus and
Muslims came together against a common enemy -British. The first Army Mutiny in
Meerut, India was because Indian soldiers didn¡¯t want to touch pork or beef.
The official reason given was the fat of the pork and beef was used to clean
the guns. Later it became a political movement against British. Christian
workers were also associated with British oppressors.
The day British left
India, Muslims and Hindus started their enmity which was there nearly 300 years
Most Indian missions
and strategies are from western missionaries. Though some of the mission are
indigenous by structure and funding, their strategies are still western. So, a
common man identifies Christianity with western culture.
On the other side,
missions were also active, and several Indians started becoming believers.
Mission compounds started to come up where new converts felt safe, educated and
equipped. There was problem: Most of the converts were from tribal back ground
or lower caste or lower status of the Indian community. They were financially
helped, free education and often job opportunities in places like schools,
hospitals started by missions and many of them ended up as full-time workers.
They looked very different in how they looked and functioned. Very often
perceived as people rebelling against their own culture. Mostly all the
Converts were from Hindu Communities. They created another different culture.
The above are some
commonly known reason for the existing prejudices against each other. These
prejudices play a major role in whatever we do.
India got its freedom
on August 15th, 1947. Until then
the British was ruling India for 300 years. Prior to British India was ruled by
Moghuls for 800 years (Muslims). This plays a major role in Indian missions
too. Keeping that in context let us see how it developed. Until 70¡¯s most of
the mission work was done by westerners. But after the independence in 60¡¯s and
70¡¯s the western missionaries also had to leave because of various situations.
One of them is there was a movement happening in India saying we Indians will
reach India. And that became a big movement over the years and gave birth to several
mission agencies in India. One of their main themes was we Indians should be
reaching India. So, the slogan was reach India by Indians and Indian money.
That gave birth to several large mission agencies like FMPB, NMS, DMPB, IEM
This created a huge
movement in the south Indian community to support and send workers cross
culturally, particularly to North India. Awareness of missions and need for
cross cultural missions became the focus. Several people left their secured
jobs and left for the remote places of India. People started focusing on places
where the gospel has not gone before. So tribals got most of the attention in
missions because they lived in conditions where there were no modern facilities
like transportation and electricity was available. But while this was
happening, we were learning the other side of the mission too.
I believe when we
said that by Indians and by Indian money, we were trying to get rid of
colonialism. We thought we are all one people since India is one country. It
took a while for Indians to realize when we moved from south to North we are as
foreigners as westerners in India except skin color and passport. Cross
cultural missions are taking a new turn.
During this period of
mission awakening, we also motivated people to leave their jobs living in
comfortable places and go to places where living is difficult so that gospel
can reach in places like those. That also created another mindset that when you
want to become a missionary you have to leave everything and go to a place
where nothing is available. But during 80¡¯s & 90¡¯s India started seeing a
major change. Until 80¡¯s India was basically a rural country. Not much
technology, mostly farming, mostly villages. People lived based on their caste
and religious systems. The caste and religious thinking were very strong. They
looked poor. In that context India was 80% rural and 20% urban. But in mid 90¡¯s
India started changing. Within 10 years¡¯ time India became one of the largest
users of mobile phones in the world. Computers changed how we work in India.
Globalization made a very big impact in Indian mind-set. The way people live,
function and relate had changed. Twenty years ago, if you go into a village
during the evening times men gathered and sitting in groups and talking. Today
we don¡¯t get to see that often. Wireless technology caught up way faster in
India. So at present if you have a mobile phone, satellite TV and a minimum a
motor cycle you can live anywhere and be connected to the world. In the past
people used to move to the cities to get jobs. Now with the expansion of the
cities people prefer to live in the outskirts of the city and like to come to
the city only for the job. When I travelled across India in the last few years,
one thing I noticed is what used to be remote tribal villages they have
satellite TV, everyone in the house have mobile phones, almost all the small
huts in the village have a motor cycle parked in their villages.
This changes how
people relate and communicate. The above-mentioned context also creates a lot
of prejudices about Christian workers. Because of the already existing
socio-religious and caste differences the westernized Christians approached
these communities with, a whole different prejudice against Christianity
formed. The Christian approach hasn¡¯t changed in this past 50 years. While
India is moving from rural to urban mindset, Christian approaches are still for
the rural context. I do not deny the presence of rural community in India. But
the scenario is changing. The middle class and upper middle class in India that
is mostly urbanized influences the rest of the community. These people are
professionals, business man, whose filled with busy schedule. How do we
approach them? They like to hang out with their friends in their free time.
They also need help in some of their struggles they face in life and business.
They also like to be religious.
Very often our
definition of unreached people is based on how poor the people are. Often our
mission activities are towards doing charity work for poor and conducting some
formal meetings in some houses or some places. For this reason, in India
Christianity is looked upon as a religion for poor. So, in the excising
religious and caste system, we are not able to make an in road into the
upper-class communities who are actually the influencers of the other
communities. We proselyte only the poor people and the rest of the community is
not happy about us.
There is one more
problem in proselytizing. In general, in India people are not against Christ.
Because he is God. People don¡¯t speak against God. Often the middle class and
upper-class communities turn against Christianity not because of Christ, but
because of cultural issues. No Indian mother likes to see her daughter in a
white dress on her wedding day. Because according to most Indian cultures,
women wearing white is a sign of a widow. And also eating habits like
vegetarian vs non-vegetarian, issues of eating beef and pork are some of the
most common reasons for people turning against Christianity. We can actually
see problem of food is addressed by apostles in the Book of Acts.
With the above given
context, how do we make a successful entry in a country like India? What kind
of impact will the full-time workers, ¡°missionaries,¡± have in this
fast-changing country? How do people perceive Christians?
Let me share my own story.
My wife and I are
from Southern part of India. We moved to North India as full-time workers. So
as sincere workers we were trying to visit as many people as we can, learning
the language, looking for opportunity to share our faith with people. Here are
some of the common questions we were facing:
Who are you?
What are you doing
for your living?
Why are you here?
We had mixed
reactions from the community around us. We had hard time getting a house in the
community where we wanted to work. We thought we are making progress as we get
to ¡°know¡± more people on the streets.
There was a full-time
worker who was already in that city placed by an organization which is works
among handicrafts people. This organization buys products from the handicrafts
people. They placed a full-time worker there to evangelize the craftsmen as
well. He would sincerely go sit with some of the craftsmen and talk about God.
So, there are some groups he would visit regularly. Since we were new to this
city I tagged along with this evangelist.
As I observed the
whole activity, I felt that something is not right. Because while the
evangelist is there talking about God it seemed like they all were agreeing
with whatever he said. So, I wanted to know what is really going on. One day
after visiting a group of young men who work on wood handicrafts, I decided to
stay back after the evangelist was gone. I started asking these young men what
they thought about the evangelist. They said he was a good man. I said, ¡°what
makes you say he is a good man¡±. They said, ¡°he always talks about God and
prays for us¡±. I asked if they understood everything he said. They said no.
They went on to say that he always talks about God. But he speaks in Kanpuri
Brahman Hindi (the evangelist is from Brahman background) and they never
understood what he said. Except the word God. So, they knew he is talking about
God and respected him. As I kept asking more questions finally one man opened
up and said this: ¡°he is paid by his organization to come and talk to us. If we
are paid like he is paid, we will talk better than him. But we have to work
morning 8 to evening 7 to have food on our tables.¡±
They were basically
accepting him because his organization was buying products from them. While I
was reflecting on this event, I was reminded about my parents¡¯ life. They both
worked for the government. My mom even had long working hours. They both were
committed Christians. Supported missions. They both would never miss a chance
to pray with people and always ready to share their faith with the people who
ever they were associating with like friends, neighbors and colleagues. I have
seen my parents leading more people to Christ than some of the full-time
workers I know. They were able to because they were there in regular life of
This made me to
really think how we get involved in Missions. If people don¡¯t see us as normal
people like them, they will not listen to us. So, my wife and I decided to do
something about it. So, we tried various things to be with people in the market
every day. We started a computer center, a handicrafts business, chicken farm,
metal fabrication factory. Some worked well some didn¡¯t. My wife also worked as
a principal of a school run by one of the prominent families in that region.
As we started getting
involved in business things started to change for us in that city. We started
to make friends among different people from different background. Specially
some community leaders like politicians, religious leaders and business men and
professionals. Because of the nature of business, we had to deal with day to
day money transaction like taking help from friends and also helping friends
when we had money. That earned us a lot of trust and we won the trust of
several people. As a result, in few years¡¯ time we were praying and sharing in
several houses. People listened to us with respect on what we had to say
whether they agree or not. While it took 5years for us to find a house in that
community now we can help Christians find a house with a phone call. My family
was first family to move into the heart of the community in that city. Now we
have a great opening in that city
Let me share another
story. I have a longtime friend who came to India nearly about 23 years ago who
started an IT company. The first several years he spent a lot of time
establishing his company and business. While doing that one of the questions
often raised was how much time you spend in business and how much time you
spend with people. Because for us spending time with people traditionally has a
whole different approach to it. While my friend was establishing his business,
he was spending a lot of time with different kinds of people like the
neighbors, agents, bureaucrats and all kinds of people. Over the period of time
he learnt the culture, and how to maneuver himself among these different kinds
of people. After 20 years we look back and here are some of the things we see:
He established an
office in one of the most important cities in India where traditional missionaries
have hard time moving into because of the religious importance of the city.
They nearly have 100 professionals working for them.
He had a real estate
agent with whom he started associating to find houses who became a good friend
of him. He also ended up as his neighbor. They became good friends and one of
the activities they did was to go for morning exercises. They started talking about
business at first, then became friendly talk, then became family friends and
now the whole family is being influenced by my friend.
Is this mission?
Daniel who went into Babylon as a slave later became a professional and ended
up being one of the top politicians of the country. Bible doesn¡¯t record of him
preaching the God of Israel in the streets of Babylon. But the whole nation was
at least two times declared by two kings to worship the God of Daniel. Daniel
is not alone is this. Beginning from Abraham who was called to bless nations,
they either became successful business men, professionals or politicians. Joseph
is another example. When we look at Apostle¡¯s contacts in each city, they have
an interesting background. Most of them were well known business people or
bureaucrats. Cornelius, the jailer, Aquila, Priscilla, Lydia to name a few. The
churches were growing under these people.
While India still has
a huge rural population, which will accommodate full time workers the changing
Indian community needs nontraditional approaches. Business men and professional
are well placed among the educated middle-class and upper middle-class where it
will be hard to place a full-time worker. Remember India is the largest
English-speaking nation in the world. So making Initial contacts is not
India is closing its
doors for Traditional workers and business people who used business as a smoke
cover. But the real businessmen and professionals are well received. Not all
can be business people but coming in as professional in an established business
will work well for many. If they are equipped in cross cultural communication,
they can do a great job. We are human beings created in the image of God. One
of the characters of being in God¡¯s image is to be creative in our approaches.
History shows that usiness
creates a platform to live peacefully and interact in peace. So, if you are a usinessman
or a professional in an already existing business and you are sent to another
country through this business God has already lined up all the logistics for
you. Do not turn away from your responsibilities. Often it is the work pressure
in our professional life makes us to think to become a full-time worker. If you
are a businessman, you create in roads not just for yourself but for other too.
Often, we think grass
root means working with the poor people. But I would say if you are working
with a non-believer, might be rich, successful in business man, you are still
working in grass root level because you are working with a person who doesn¡¯t
know Christ. Imagine the kind of influence he can bring in if he accepts
Christ. He¡¯s already a successful business man and he would know how to
successfully influence others to this faith.
We need Nehemiah¡¯s, Daniel's team, Aquila and
Pricillas, Lydias, Cornelius and jailers very much in these days for country