Sat Tal Christian Ashram Celebrates
by Dr. J. S. Murthy
Sat Tal Christian Ashram, Nainital, India: November 18, 2000. Preeti love, Shanti peace, and Kripa grace, can only come from Jesus Christ. Dr. E. Stanley Jones experienced love, peace, and grace in the Indian context and was inspired to found the Sat Tal Christian Ashram in 1930. This year Sat Tal celebrated its 70th anniversary, with United Methodist Bishop James K. Mathews and his family present to inaugurate the celebrations.
The word ashram is Sanskrit means "toil, penance, or austerity." In Hinduism, it denotes the secluded residence of a religious community and its spiritual leader. "Brother Stanley," as he was known, searched for a method to introduce Christ to the people of India, particularly educated Hindus, in a way that they could understand and embrace. Since 1930, the Christian Ashram movement has grown to include 100 ashrams across India as well as in 38 other countries around the world.
The four-day celebration officially began when "Brother Jim Mathews," Brother Bill Pickard, General Secretary of United Christian Ashrams, and Sister Eunice Mathews (daughter of the late Dr. E. Stanley Jones) lit the traditional Indian lamp symbolizing the presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ. The event also marked the tenth meeting of the International Christian Ashram. Nearly 50 representatives from America, Japan, Mexico, Canada, and India participated in the celebration.
At the outset, Bishop Mathews introduced the ashram traditions to the visitors. He explained the Open Heart period normally observed by all who come to the ashram. "Open Heart is a state where one gives up all ego and prejudices and empties oneself so that the spirit of Jesus Christ may enter. It is not a mere state of nothingness but a positive state filled with the bliss of the ever present Spirit of Jesus." Mathews continued: "An individual does not live Christian life merely for oneself but as part of the larger society."
Others who shared their reminiscences were Eunice Mathews and their daughter, Ann Mathews Younes. Sister Eunice related the history of the purchase of the estate by her father from an English couple in 1930. "My father was so enamored of the beautiful and quiet hills of the estate that he quickly arranged to buy the property in the Kumanon Valley of the Himalayas," reminisced Sister Eunice.
Anne Younes recalled her visit to Sat Tal Ashram in 1971: "It was my last opportunity to spend sometime with this great man, for, a year later he took so ill that he had to be hospitalized and never recovered," she said.
Earlier in the afternoon, the visitors, headed by the Mathews and accompanied by the Sat Tal Ashram's treasurer, Mr. John Hanchinmani, had driven from Delhi , the capital of India, where they were received by The President of India, His Excellency Mr. K.R.Narayanan and the first lady, Mrs. Usha Narayanan.
"We shall always cherish their gracious hospitality," remarked Eunice Mathew's, a close friend of Usha Narayanan. The members of the team were then welcomed at the estate in the traditional Indian custom of garlanding. The glittering "golden" garlands had the inscription : "70th Anniversary of Sat Tal Christian Ashram, India, in the New Millennium on Nov. 18 to 21, 2000." The pleasantries over, the team proceeded to the ashram chapel for the inaugural ceremony.
Soon after lighting the traditional lamp, Bishop Mathews explained the significance of the ashram salutation "Jesus is Lord," a term coined by Brother Stanley. Dr. Jones believed that the lordship of Jesus Christ should be acknowledge by every believer and that Christ should have preeminence in the life of a Christian. Mathews is a winner of the Gandhi Peace Award for his book The Matchless Weapon of Satyagraha. The Korean government has also awarded him a Peace Award.
Interspersing his talk with Hindi and Sanskrit phrases, Bishop Mathews interpreted them in English for those who heard these expressions for the first time. At the end of the inaugural service, Bishop Mathews pronounced the benediction in fluent Marathi. This was followed by a brief vespers led by Louise Snow, who spoke about the sweet "aroma of the knowledge of God."
The highlight of the four-day 70th anniversary celebration was the Bible study, conducted by different scholars each day. Brother Daya Prakash Titus, who was a close associate of Jones for more than 25 years, chose John's Gospel for the study. Brother Daya Prakash emphasized the five contributions of Brother Stanley as he lived a life of Sadhu at Sat Tal Christian Ashram. These include: the knowledge that ultimate reality is spirit; that there is unity in the universe; that there is justice in the world; that God has a deep passion for the liberation of the soul; and that spirituality comes at tremendous cost. These five contributions are applicable not only to India but to the Asian context in general. Bible studies were also offered by Dr. Tim Nesbitt of Texas and Julia Wilke of Kansas.
Other speakers over the 4-day event included Dorothy Davis, who presented a session on "Jesus Walks With Us." Citing many examples from her ministries in Orissa and many seemingly insurmountable problems, she stressed the need for believers to put complete trust in Jesus and walk with Him. Roberto Escamilla of the Mexico Christian Ashram reminisced how Jones loved every country but loved India first. Stanley's favorite verse was 2 Corinthians: 1, "He is the Yes." Jesus is the Yes of God, said Escamilla. John Oishi of Japan Christian Ashram traced the history of both International Ashram and the Japan Christian Ashram. "The people in Japan gratefully recall Brother Stanley with much esteem and affection," he said.
The Round Table, an experiment pioneered by Stanley for open discussion among the leaders of pluralistic religious faiths in India, took place with Bishop Stanley Downes as the moderator. The panelists included Bishops Victor Raja and S.K. Parmar of India, Acharya Verma, Acharya Daya Prakash, John Hanchinmani, and Ms. Lillian Wallace. They discussed "The Indian Church Today," centering on the need to make the local church assume the role of evangelizing the country and the need for relevant dialogue and communication with those of other faiths.
In the evening worship Bishop S.K.Parmar gave a challenging message about how conversions are still taking place in local churches and how the churches are becoming a great witness in India despite some anti-Christian propaganda.
Bill Pickard, general secretary of United Christian Ashrams, and R.S.Verma of India reported on the ashram movements in the United States and India. Pickard noted that there are now Christian ashrams in more than 30 nations. In the new millennium, the thrust of these ashrams will be a concern for the growth and health of youth and children. He observed that the ashram is not an institution but a movement of Christian faith.
The last session of the 70th Anniversary ended as it began, with an inspiring message by Bishop Mathews. He considered 10 words that started with the letter 'R,' namely: renew, reverse, return, renounce, restore, receive, revive, replenish, release, and rejoice. Mathews remembered the Christian saints of India, such as Pandita Rama Bai, Narayan Vaman Tilak (the celebrated Christian Poet), and Sadhu Sunder Singh, who influenced Jones' spiritual life. "We are children of God," he said. "There is a future for us. We are going to be like God."
As they bid adieu to the memory of the late E. Stanley Jones, the founder, the evangelist, and saint, and drove away on the rough terrain road, one could hear them saying the ashram greeting, "Jesus is Lord."
Date posted: Jan 03, 2001