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ۼ 2019-5: India Case Study- Being creative to be effective in the changing times Ʈ   
  Email [2019-04-23 14:33:28]  HIT : 7086  

Being creative to be effective in the changing times

 Ralph Benjamin


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:

1.      Negroid

2.      Austric

3.      Sino-Tibetan

4.      Dravidian

5.      Indo-Aryan 

6.      Other Speeches.


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.


Caste System


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 didnt 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 ago.





The Missions


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.


Indigenous Missions


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 70s most of the mission work was done by westerners. But after the independence in 60s and 70s 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 etc.


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 80s & 90s India started seeing a major change. Until 80s 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 90s 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 dont 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.


The Challenge


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 hasnt 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 dont 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.







Case Study


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:

1.      Who are you?

2.      What are you doing for your living?

3.      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 these people.


This made me to really think how we get involved in Missions. If people dont 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 didnt. 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.  They have daily opportunities to live out their faith both in word and deed.  They are very open with their employees about being Christ followers.  They see that they are actually discliping people even before them come to faith.

         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.



Way Forward


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 doesnt 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 Apostles 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 difficult.


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 Gods image is to be creative in our approaches.


History shows that business creates a platform to live peacefully and interact in peace. So, if you are a businessman 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 doesnt know Christ. Imagine the kind of influence he can bring in if he accepts Christ. Hes already a successful business man and he would know how to successfully influence others to this faith. 


We need Nehemiahs, Daniel's team, Aquila and Pricillas, Lydias, Cornelius and jailers very much in these days for country like India. 

     195. ۼ 2019-6: Lessons from The Grass-root Missions in Acts and Implementations in 21th century Context
     193. ۼ 2019-4: Diaspora Mission Integration within Sending Organizations