This reflection on Christianity’s contribution to India is from Clive Buultjens, Children and Families Mission Leader at Merrylands Anglican Church. He is part of a group of Indian pastors from Sydney calling on Christians to pray on Sunday, July 3, in commemoration of Indian Christian Day, an event inaugurated last year to celebrate the contributions of the Christian faith to Indian culture, society, and nation-building.
July 3 has historically been celebrated as St Thomas Day, commemorating the Apostle Thomas’s martyrdom in 72 AD near Chennai, India. Indian Christian leaders in Australia expect a large influx of young educated professionals from India after a new economic and trade deal between India and Australia. They hope to raise awareness of the day and use it to pray for churches to welcome Indians and pray for them to become Christians.
A few years ago, I met an Indian friend named Jaswinder*. I was able to help him with some physical needs, and as our friendship grew, I started sharing stories about Jesus with him. I soon realized that he had heard many of the stories before.
He told me he attended a Christian school in Jalandhar, Punjab State. It was astonishing that Christians established a respected school in a small majority Sikh city. This reminded me of the positive impact of Jesus’s followers in India.
Jesus’ followers have blessed the subcontinent with education, health care, and countless other social services,
Recent political propaganda has attempted to view all non-Hindu religions in India as foreign invaders. However, history shows that Christianity has been a positive force for transformation. Since the gospel first went to India, Jesus’ followers have blessed the subcontinent with education, health care, and countless other social amenities.
The early influence of Christianity in India is not well documented. Not insignificant, however, is that the state most accomplished by the gospel, Kerala, was also the state with the highest literacy rate (96.2 percent, compared to the national average of 77 percent). Christian missionaries established modern education in India.
The state most accomplished by the gospel, Kerala, was also the state with the highest literacy in the country.
The Jesuit missionaries established the first Christian schools in India in the 16th century. The German Tranquebar missionaries followed them into Tamil Nadu. In the late 18th century, the prolific William Carey pioneered education in Northern India. He established India’s first university in Serampore and a printing press. Carey firmly believed that education was the best way to improve the Indian spirit and transform Indian society. By 1818 there were 111 schools as far as Shimla and Delhi in the north and Rajputana in the south.
Christians were also pioneers in women’s education. Originally started by missionary women, Christian women challenged the status quo, where only 1 percent of Indian women were literate (reported in 1834). While some missionaries westernized Indian culture, they did much to preserve it. It is true that some educators, such as Alexander Duff, saw English-language education as the best means of evangelizing India. However, most missionaries helped standardize many Indian languages. The modern Hindi language developed from Hindustani and several other local dialects. In 1887, Rev. Samuel Kellogg produced the impressive A Grammar of the Hindi Language, which is still circulating today.
Most of the missionaries even helped to standardize many Indian languages.
Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, wrote: “Christian missionary work in India has not always been admirable and commendable…but in this respect, as well as in collecting folklore, it has undoubtedly been of great service to India.” (Nehru, Jawaharlal. Discovery of India, pp. 317-318.) The work of missionaries also broke through the dominance of Persian and Sanskrit and allowed regional languages to develop and flourish.
In medicine, Christians have also been a huge blessing to India. The Jesuit missionaries of the 16th century built infirmaries next to their living quarters. Later, John Thomas, an associate of William Carey, began his medical work in Serampore.
Finally, in the 1800s, virtually every missionary society established various medical institutions throughout India. In obedience to Jesus, Christians have always cared about people’s minds, bodies, and spirits.
The Zenana mission has contributed to the spread of Indian women in nursing even today.
American medical missionary Dr. Samuel Green, who worked in India in the mid-1800s, said he hoped to pread the gospel and science simultaneously simultaneously. In 1880, Fanny Butler, the first female medical student at the London School of Medicine, left for the Zenana mission in India. She joined the new Indian women’s health and wellbeing initiative. The Zenana mission has contributed to the increase of Indian women in nursing even today (Simon, Elizabeth B. ‘Christianity and Nursing in India: a remarkable impact’, in Journal of Christian Nursing. 26(2):88- 94). It also led to the creation of the Interserve Mission agency.
Christians have always valued life and see all people as made in the image of God. In addition to health and education, they have promoted numerous social reforms. They have consistently opposed the burning of widows and infanticide and enabled care for the deaf, blind, and disabled.
Dear God, We thank you for your Word and for giving people the courage to share it worldwide. Be thankful that the gospel reached India over 1950 years ago and that so many lives have been saved through your faithfulness. We pray that you will continue to give Christians in India the courage to share your Word, even though there are more and more restrictions. We remember the countless Christians who are persecuted because of their faith. Please protect them, Father, and give them the courage to hold on to their dedication.