Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
|Lambretta seen on Richmond Road, Bangalore | August 13, 2011|
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
This is probably the oldest church in Dharwad, established in 1845 by the Basel Missionaries. The church is known as Hebich Memorial Church or Basel Mission Memorial Church.
175 years have passed since the feet of the first Basel Missionaries touched Indian soil. Much has happened in that time. Tiny Basel Mission stations with only a handful of Christians have grown into large Christian fellowships. In towns like Dharwad-hubli, Mangalore or Calicut thay are running institutions important for the community as a whole. In the years since the missionaries landed, the British Raj reached its peak, and then passed away. India became independent as the world's largest democracy. After independce, many protestant Christians in South India (including the three districts of the United Basel Mission Church) joined together to form the new ecumenical Church of South India (CSI) with leaders who were able to carry on and develop the work of the missionary pioneers when difficulties meant the Indian churches had to carry on the work on their own.
Inspite of these great changes fundamentals remain the same in the context of Gospel work. For instance the Basel Mission had a slogan: "What you say in mission explains what you do, and what you do shows that you men what you say." In other words, witnessing to the Gospel requires both speech and actions, whether you are talking about Europe or South India.
The early missionaries understood this very well. They mostly came from small villages in South Germany where people grew much of their own food - and knew times of hunger when there was a draught or a period of unseasonable very cold weather. Words alone are little use to the starving, ot those who fear starvation. And so the active Christians in those villages, who supported the Basel mission, preached the Gospel, but also worked to help families develop a more reliable economic basis for their lives. Their sons and daughters who were recruited by the Basel Mission to go overseas, were also well aware of this as a Christian goal. In areas further south in Karnataka and Kerala they started workshops which grew into large factories producing tiles and textiles (though these were confiscated by the colonial authorities in the First World War). but in North Karnataka, where they did not develop large factories, they were still sensitive to the need for families of weavers and farmers to have reliable economic basis for their lives. When large catastrophes struck, as in the great famines of 1870s, the missionaries and their Indian colleagues worked, sometimes till they dropped, to provide whatever help they could to the starving. And they tried to provide a permanent lifeline when catastrophes like illness and death hit individual families, by founding and maintaining orphanages for children in need, and later developing medical work.
Although most of the 19th century missionaries came from small villages, they had all lived in Basel for a long period of training in the Missionary College. So they also got to know the life of a city in the process of modernization. At that time Basel was developing rapidly as center of science and technology with its new chemical and pharmaceutical industries. As the decades passed, the Basel Mission began to expand its contribution to education here. The original work with primary schools grew to include middle schools and colleges which covered the whole spread of subjects from Kannada language and literature to modern science. This educational work was backed up by the Mission Press in Mangalore, which was not only a focus of language studies like Ferdinand Kittel's famous dictionary, but also producing good reading books for schools in Karnataka and Kerala. By the early 20th century its book depot was also selling a variety of "visual aids" for schools - maps and charts, and even 3-dimensional models for teaching of human biology.
When we visit South India from Europe nowadays we are impressed by the way this broad tradition of words and actions has remained alive. Churches are full, Pastoral and lay leaders are lively and committed (and in North Karnataka as I write are hard at work in flood relief), CSI educational institutions are flourishing - often named after Basel Mission - and have such a a reputation for conscientiousness and educational high standards that parents from non-Christian communities are eager to profit from them.
But there are more to the Basel Mission than maintaining a tradition. the mid 19th century Basel missionaries were incredibly gifted innovators. Not only their schools and congregations but their tile works, their printing press and their weaving shops with new types of looms set things up in the South Indian landscape which had not been there before.
We on the European side of this relationship wonder what innovations God is leading us towards as we all face the challenges of the 21st century - increasing strife between religions, global warming, and the way progress and modernization seems inevitably to drive many people into poverty. As the world becomes more and more a global village, Christian fellowships with different backgrounds and different experiences could have a lot to say to each other about the changes we should be promoting.
The old Basel Mission is symbolised for many people, by the outstanding and stubborn personalities whose work in the mid-19th century is still remembered today - Samuel Hebich Hermann Moegling are typical examples of this. Such personalities certainly played their part in creating institutions and churches where none had been before. But careful study of the Basel Mission shows that the power of its fellowship was vital too - the good organization, the large body of supporters, the prayerful interest of many, many people in what was being done. The old mission structure has been replaced by the multi-lateral network of commitment and communication between churches in many countries and continents which EMS organises and in which the Church of Kur-Hessen-Waldeck plays an important part. This is a new type of fellowship, but potentially a powerful one. In celebrating this Jubilee my prayer is that God may use this structure to bring us closer together, to strengthen us to carry on the tasks which He has already put in out hands., but also lead us in His wisdom to vital new insights and vital new activities in the service of His Kingdom.