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The Methodist Church in India: Ministry Today

by Dr. J. S. Murthy

Nurses talk with patients on the grounds of Theodori Christian Hospital in Chandrapura.
Nurses talk with patients on the grounds of Theodori Christian Hospital in Chandrapura.
Image by: J. S. Murthy
Source: New World Outlook
A Hindu monk in Varanasi is part of the largest religious group in India. Eighty-two percent of  India’s population are Hindu; 11 percent are Muslim; 2.5 percent are Sikh; and 3 percent are Christian.
A Hindu monk in Varanasi is part of the largest religious group in India. Eighty-two percent of India’s population are Hindu; 11 percent are Muslim; 2.5 percent are Sikh; and 3 percent are Christian.
Image by: Paul Jeffrey
Source: New World Outlook

The Methodist Church in India: Ministry Today

The Methodist Church in India (MCI) has focused on its threefold ministry of serving the body, mind, and spirit of believers. In this crusade, the MCI has partnered with the GBGM and Women's Division of The United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), and other agencies. In all these endeavors, the MCI has not lagged behind in the use of the latest technologies, from e-mail and cellphones to computer application, to keep in close touch with these agencies. Indeed, India is an active partner in the global communications revolution, with a “silicon valley” in Bangalore and Hyderabad. It is thus part of the “global village.”


The ministry in Bengal Regional Conference, particularly at Asansol and Pakur Schools, has a well-planned roadmap that is people-oriented and designed for the good of the church.


On Sunday, January 16, Bishop Dr. S. R. Thomas, the Area Bishop of Bengal and Lucknow Regional Conferences, a couple of district superintendents, women evangelists, and I rode in a jeep through the interior region of West Bengal. As our jeep sped along the bumpy road, a variety of ring tones frequently interrupted our discussion of early missionaries such as Ms. Rachael Carr, Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Byres in Asansol, Isabella Meik, Alma Jacobson Keventer, Ruth Eveland, Mrs. Beacon, and Mrs. Ferguson at Pakur. Those missionaries might have spent days on the difficult terrain more than a century ago to reach out to the Santhals of the region. The statues of two Santhal brothers, Sidhoo and Kanhoo, who were freedom fighters, still stand as a tribute to that time.


Today, cellphones and the internet make travel and communication easier. The bishop answers questions about the next day's program from a caller in Kolkata. Ms. Asha Paul tells her husband about her plans. The Rev. Samir Roy, District Superintendent of Asansol, the Rev. S. Rosario, District Superintendent of Pakur (a district now in the newly formed State of Jharkhand) answered their phones. Ms. Poornima Ghosh, the hostess of the school at Ushagram (Village of Dawn) called the pastor at Gondai Church and asked him to organize the dedication service and “the feast” without delay, so all the guests could return to Asansol by 12:00 midnight and get some sleep before catching the 5:00 a.m. train for Kolkata. No more long waits to make phone calls as in the recent past, a blessing indeed.


Young Persons Become Members

In the morning church service at the Methodist Town Church at Asansol, 60 young persons were received into full membership in the MCI. A large number of church members were proud to witness their adult children dressed in white being blessed by the bishop and administered their first Holy Communion. Bishop Thomas preached a thought-provoking sermon based on Matthew 22:6. He exhorted the youth to reflect the light of Jesus, who said, “I am the light of the World,” and sacrificed His life in order to reflect the Light given to him by God the Father. “If Jesus is present in your life, it has order, design, and the discipline necessary for a creative and fruitful life that brings joy to yourself as well as to others,” concluded the bishop. After the service, we were on the move again.


Dumdumi Methodist Church

As we arrived at Dumdumi village, the Methodist church members were eagerly waiting for the renovated church building to be dedicated. People of Dumdumi church, predominantly an indigenous community, gratefully remembered Ms. Frances Major of the UMC and her Volunteers-in-Mission team's contribution as partners in the renovation of the church. The bishop told of a young woman named Anjali who expressed her concern for the poor condition of the church building. He said he would intervene only if she could motivate the people to come half-way and donate the physical labor for the construction.


They did, and the church was now ready. It even has electricity, so the youth anthem was accompanied by an electric keyboard. Anjali missed the appreciation that the bishop expressed for her initiative because she was busy praying.


The bishop said the church is a place in which a congregation can ask for forgiveness for its sins as well as pray for others. He stressed the need for prayer, not only on Sundays and special occasions, but every day. “Prayer has power to heal the sick, empower the marginalized, help youth from going astray, and [help those addicted to] alcohol.” The bishop challenged the congregation to make a new year's resolution to come to church daily to pray for an hour. The congregation would then become a model to others in Dumdumi village, he concluded.


Parsonage Dedicated

The last item on Sunday's itinerary was the dedication ceremony of a newly built parsonage at Adra Trinity Methodist Church in Raghunathpura, a place of Hindu pilgrimage. The parsonage was built with the help of local donations. The land was donated by an 80-year-old church member, Mrs. Madhuri Das, and her son. The members of the church pitched in to complete the parsonage. They sang and feasted in fellowship, expressing the joy of sharing God's blessings.


Thus the Lord's Day was well spent, with a full program that involved children, youth, adults, and elders of the church.


Well-Planned Road Map

Let us now look at some of the programs and projects planned and implemented by the MCI.


• The MCI's Asansol Methodist Town Church, erected in 1883, is still in service, but since the government plans to widen the road, the church has received notice concerning the proposed demolition of what may be a heritage structure (historical site) under the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The church authorities must make a quick decision either to register the church building as a historical site or ask for compensation on religious grounds to build or move to a new location. This is a sensitive issue and needs to be handled with care.

• Asansol's Ushagram (Village of Dawn) Girls' School has had a facelift by way of an attractive grotto constructed near the main entrance as part of the centenary celebrations in November 2004. Schoolchildren and visitors stop by for a few moments to honor Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, and find respite from the cares of life.

• An auditorium built in memory of Kumidini Mazumdar (a woman evangelist) and three classrooms have been added to the existing annex with funds raised by the Rev. Mann Singh Das of the UMC (Northern Illinois Conference). These classrooms accommodate senior girls of the Ushagram school. More classrooms need to be built to meet the demands for admission to the higher grades.

• The MCI has a very strong people-based project called the Theodori Rural Development Project (TRDP) at Chandrapura in the state of Jharkhand. Headed by a dedicated director, Mr. S. N. Daniel, TRDP presently has 16 ambitious projects.

TRDP projects include working at grass-roots levels with villagers in 40 villages of Pakur District, Jharkhand State. The villagers in Pakur district alone number nearly 34,000 men and women.

Such large projects can be accomplished only with the close cooperation of other agencies, like NGOs, and the state government's self-governance system through People's Organizations (POs). From conception to successful implementation of plans for sustainable development, TRDP helps prepare and strengthen existing plans for development, to benefit almost all members of the village.

TRDP has programs in education, health and nutritional care, community organization; a watershed development program, training in water conservation; and the preparation and use of fertilizers, which motivates men and women to start self-help groups (SHGs) to raise funds for income-generation activities.

The Community Rehabilitation Program, especially for polio-affected and handicapped children, is the most challenging and rewarding service to the marginalized section of society. The project functions in three districts: Pakur, Sahebgunj, and Dumka. Its aim is to enable children to take their rightful place in society.

TRDP under MCI faces financial constraints. In response, it has developed an innovative Cow-Raising Project to meet part of its salary support to its staff.

Theodori Christian Hospital (TCH) is perhaps the only hospital in this region in which facilities and personnel are available for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and others. With 30 years at TCH, its present Director and Medical Superintendent, Dr. Stephan Murmu, is ably assisted by Sister-in-Charge Usha Kisko, who was nominated by the Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI) and sponsored by GBGM. She was trained at Georgia University in the USA.

Despite the foregoing success stories, the MCI leadership is also aware of the hard realities—both in the urban and rural regions—which are subtle and need to be handled cautiously. Communal forces at the village level confront church members about acceptance of Jesus Christ. Some church members face death threats if they do not publicly denounce the Christian faith and return “home” to their Hindu faith.

A number of Christian institutions run by minority communities are granted funds by state governments. Because these groups profess primary allegiance to their Christian faith, an antisecular political party in power (aligned with Muslims or Hindus) in any given state may either discontinue the grant or adopt tactics of long delays in releasing funds, resulting in teachers having to wait for their salaries for 12 to 15 months. The meager fee charged to the poor students can hardly meet the school expenses.


If these unjustified anti-Christian campaigns continue, the Methodist Church in India will have to review its strategies to strengthen its mission and service.


These are the challenges the MCI, as a member of the body of Jesus Christ, confronts in the 21st century.


* Dr. J. S. Murthy is a freelance writer in Jabalpur, India, and a member of the Methodist Church in India.


Date posted: May 03, 2005