Missionary spirit

Daily Reading for February 12 • Charles Freer Andrews, Priest and “Friend of the Poor” in India, 1940

Times are changing with great rapidity in North India, and our present missionary methods are coming under a fire of criticism which cannot but be purifying and enlightening, if we are humble enough to learn what is wrong.

Missionary work developed in the North when the power and prestige of the English was strongest, when Indians themselves, conscious of their own weakness, were startled by the strength of the West. To learn English, to read English literature, to follow English manners, was for a time the prevailing fashion, and the education that was given encouraged the fashion to the uttermost. At such a time it was very difficult for English missionaries to see the danger of a reaction ahead. Everything seemed working with them towards the spread of the Faith as they themselves understood it and had learnt it. Almost universally they went with the tide, and made everything round them English in their turn. They built Gothic churches of a debased English pattern, they introduced all the Western accretions into the services of worship; they gave the English Prayer Book, rubrics and all; they established Mission work on English lines, and followed English models. . . . The groove, therefore, was cut, the system was made, and new efforts have nearly all gone to cut the groove deeper and perpetuate the system. Yet, both theoretically and practically, the system stands condemned.

Theoretically, the whole trend of modern educational thought is towards growth from within, rather than imposition of ideas from without. It would not be too much to say that the theory of education has been revolutionized in the last thirty years. The first study of the teacher now is the pupil. This, translated into missionary language, would mean that the missionary (who is necessarily a teacher) must study the Indian point of view from the first, and get into the Indian atmosphere before he can teach. There is a vernacular of thought and habit and temper to be learnt, as well as a vernacular language.

Practically, the old Anglicizing system stands condemned by its results. Some of our converts have become so “English” that they refuse to go to Hindustani services: some, owing to temptations of worldly advancement, are willing to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage, and pass off as Eurasians: many, on the other hand, of our best Indian Christians have been so repelled by the rapid denationalization which has taken place that they hold aloof from mission circles altogether, and lead an independent life of their own. Those who formerly went furthest in copying the missionary’s English ways have gone in some cases to the extremest lengths of reaction. One of the ablest of our Indian Christians gave me once his own experience. “Eight years ago I despised my own countrymen; my education and upbringing in the Mission made me do so. I was seriously thinking at one time of adding another name, such as ‘Brown,’ to my Indian name, and passing off as a Eurasian. Now I can hardly bear to look back upon that period without a deep sense of shame.”

Looking from the Indian point of view, another factor needs to be taken into account. The missionary is not only a Western, but a Sahib. Let me dwell on this point, for it is not adequately realized in England what the position of an Englishman in India is, and what impression he makes upon the people. . . . The Englishman is of the ruling race, and every Englishman is called “Sahib.” He is given the front seat and the first place as a matter of course. A thousand little privileges are his for the asking. . . . . It will be seen at a glance that this is a position of extraordinary danger for one who is to represent the poverty and humility of Christ, to live the life of the Crucified, to imitate Him Who came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Yet the position of a “Sahib” in the past has been almost forced upon the missionary. . . . The missionaries who won the Indian heart, and were looked upon as saintly men, were those who broke free from Anglo-Indian influences and lived the Indian life, or those who lived in country districts among the country people where an Englishman was very rarely seen, and the Sahib spirit was little known.

From North India by Charles Freer Andrews (London: Mowbray and Co., 1908).

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