Ends Das Prdhan is Treasurer of the Church of North India Synod, New Delhi.
This paper was presented at the Conference on World Mission and the Role of Korean Churches, held in November 1995 in Seoul, Korea.
In global terms the forces of business, in their headlong rush to gain profit by any means, have already begun to engage upon a satanically mindless vandalism of Mother Earth. In this terrifying picture where are the women, children and indigenous people (dalits and tribals)? Where is the Church? Who is the Church? Who can claim to be God’s people in India? What is our theological education all about? What is the relevance of dogmatic theology inherited from our benefactors in Europe?
It is my proud privilege to represent the Indian Church, the CHURCH OF NORTH INDIA at this historic International Consultation on WORLD MISSION AND THE ROLE OF KOREAN CHURCHES, and I am very grateful to the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Korea and all functionaries and members of the extraordinary committee responsible for the preparation, for extending an invitation to me to participate in the Consultation. The Church of North India which is celebrating its 25th year of inauguration, held its 9th Synod recently in Delhi from 5th to 10th October, 1995, where the new Moderator and the Deputy Moderator were elected for the next triennium: 1995-1998. I bring warm greetings in the precious Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from our new Moderator the Most Rev. D. K. Mohanty. The entire membership of the Church of North India spread over two thirds of the land area of the country, join me in greeting all of you present here representing your churches. I take this opportunity to present a CNI-SILVER JUBILEE PLAQUE AND BANERRETTE to the Honorable Moderator on behalf of my Church, CNI.
The inauguration of the Church of North India in 1970 brought together people belonging to six different denominational backgrounds into the fold of one united Church. The Church of North India stretches across two-thirds of our country and ninety-seven percent of its members live in rural areas. The majority of its membership consists of the marginalised minorities of the country such as Dalits, Tribals etc. They share divergent cultural realities, geopolitical and linguistic identities. One of the major impacts of the Church Union in 1970 was that we were able to break the foreign flower pots and readjusting to the new soil, struggling to take roots, searching for water, fertilizer and other such resources to grow, all helped the CNI to recognize the need for new insights, methodologies and paradigms. This recognition encouraged openness to fresh ideas rather than clinging on to the past, and the initiation of new types of ministry. One of the areas where CNI could enter into some new experiments was in the field of development.
The global phenomena as experienced in the socio-ecological environment by the human civilization in the closing decade of the 20th century distinguishes it from all other periods in this, that while the human race in former periods had time at their disposal to reflect and recover from their mistakes and to make drastic readjustments to new conditions and also to formulate and establish alternate approaches and strategies, we have in our own day hardly any time at all. There is an urgency about our predicament today, any sense of which appears to be almost completely absent in the leadership of the nations. The overwhelming nature of the compulsions being generated by the system and its agent the media, is depriving the human race of its BASIC RIGHT TO MAKE RESPONSIBLE CHOICES.
In global terms the forces of business which are in the process of taking over the affairs of human beings have created a momentum nothing less than a pandimonic progress of the Gadarine Swine. In a blind headlong rush to gain profit by any means these forces have already begun to obliterate animal species, forest cover, fish stocks, water reserves, land and air, and have engaged upon a satanically mindless pilfering of finite resources by vandalism of Mother Earth, and have raised gigantic questions over human survival prospects. This fearful explosion of environmental wantonness takes no account of the human dimensions of the debacle. We are witness of a savage destruction of historic human values and experiences at our base-level communities in the villages, in the localities and towns. Millions of people are moved about from one end to the other to live in monster mass aggregates. This only adds to all the political problems of reconciling freedom with order, and wealth creation with justice, while eliminating any possibility of establishing peace. This has resulted in creating social mechanisms which are uncontrollable, corrupt and which give birth to criminalisation of politics, degeneration of architecture and art in all forms, and the prevailing sickness of the body, mind and spirit.
The unprecedented scale of destruction of historic social structures and marginalisation of human relationships which have always been the pride of the Indian society, has created yet another threat to human survival through the proliferation of human numbers.
The Nazareth Manifesto recorded in Luke 4:18-21 addressed itself fairly and squarely to our contemporary situation. Today the question of justice and violence confronts us with greater force than ever before, with the difference that there has emerged a single super-power which in the name of the corporate sector is in the process of imposing a global CORPORATE CAPITALISM. The income disparity between the richest 20% and poorest 20% of the world’s population has doubled since 1965. 62% of the world’s poorest are in the Indian subcontinent. 90 million households in India live below Rs. 15000/annual income which is US $400.00. This means 455 million people in India live below the poverty line, 52% survive on US $3.00 per month. The dangerous trend in our Indian context is that religious fundamentalist forces have wedded themselves with corporate business forces.
In this terrifying picture where are the women, children and indigenous people (dalits and tribals)? What is the state of the environment? Who in the profit-making race has plundered and robbed Mother Earth? Where is the Church? Who is the Church? Who can claim to be God’s people in India? What is our theological education all about? What is the relevance of dogmatic theology inherited from our benefactors in Europe? What should be the module of our ministerial formation? Who is doing theology anyway? What are the alternate life styles of our clergies which manifest a spirituality of humility and the mind of Jesus of Nazareth? Where are our theological institutions located? What is the process and praxis of formulating Indian theology?
MISSIOLOGICAL EXPERIENCES OF THE CHURCH OF NORTH INDIA
In the emerging reality as experienced in the Indian society the Church of North India has made attempts to respond to the challenges. The manifold concerns of CNI are expressed through its various Boards, Commissioners and Committees. The CNI-SBSS, the SYNODICAL BOARD OF SOCIAL SERVICES (SBSS), was conceived as a response of the Church to the whole issue of poverty and related social justice for the poor and exploited as against the prevalent ethos of relief and charity. The main task of the Board is to coordinate and facilitate sustainable development programmes on Justice, Peace and Environmental issues in all the Dioceses of the Church of North India.
At present, the Board is reaching out to more than 600 villages through a network of about 500 people’s organizations of the poor. Further, the Synodical Board of Social Services undertook the task to re-orient the Dioceses to emphasis that development is an integral component in the mission thrust of the Church. It continues to create awareness in the local congregation that authentic mission and services must originate in congregations through training and human resource development initiatives.
This process began with a Consultation in 1978 on The Churches’ Role in Social Service. It marked the overt expression of the aspirations of the newly formed Church to build comprehensive human communities. This aspiration was a renewed look at the Church’s mission in terms of the faith in the social thrust of Christianity. The next most important process that was experienced was the leadership development programme titled TRANSFER OF VISION.
However, much of the statements and articulations and even social action still, by and large, remain as one of the several activities of the Church and have not become integral to the mission of the Church. It was also realized that the membership of the CNI is in the grip of conservatism and fundamentalism and lacks the theological perspective of God’s redemptive work in action HERE AND NOW. The preachings and teachings of the Church tend to avoid the burning concerns of the people.
This could be rectified only through a long process involving theological and sociological reaffirmation. Born out of such realization the CNI was ushered into a new era in July 1993 when the CNI Synod embarked upon a major effort to mobilize the entire CNI to be obedient to the challenges of the Gospel and to witness to our Lord as the Suffering Servant through its programme TOWARDS A HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF MISSION(THUM). This process covered a period of 30 months from July 1993 to December 1995, divided into four phases.
The first phase saw a major consultation at the national level for Synod leadership along with a few partners from abroad to raise questions about the mission of the Church and during the second phase the Diocesan leadership was trained through four Zonal Training Workshops to carry on the programme in the 23 Dioceses who during phase three within a period of one year conducted various programmes involving grassroot-level congregations. The fourth phase saw one of the milestones in the history of the Church of North India. In a historical event, ten mainline churches in India (including the Church of South India and Mar Thomas Syrian Church) participated in an Ecumenical Consultation. The purpose of the consultation was to share the experiences gained by the CNI through the above process, with other churches in India and also to learn from the churches in India their mission experiences.
We can only list some major achievements of this process:
1. The process enabled people to engage in a serious missiological debate. It was a great joy to watch the young men and women, clergy and laity and mahila mandals and simple village folks debating missiological issues hotly.
2. Slowly but surely, the thought developed that mission was neither some foreign body’s, nor only Church’s, but God’s own enterprise.
3. Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation came to be regarded as mission issues.
4. In the light of the discussions, debates, seminars, conferences, conventions and workshops, our institutions and organizations came to be accepted as parts of of different aspects of the holistic mission and not as aids to or ancillary things to mission.
5. The whole process also meant a time of spiritual renewal for the Church of North India.
6. The process helped bridge the gap between social service action and proclamation of the Gospel. The two came to be seen as one continuous mission activity.
7. The discussion on the issues of marginalised and exploited people and God’s special gracious activity towards these, enabled our people to name these nameless groups, these faceless groups and call them DALITS, TRIBALS, WOMEN, LABORING CHILDREN, BONDED CHILDREN AND SEXUALLY ABUSED CHILDREN. It was no longer possible to include all of them under one general umbrella – as the West does.
The process may only end when the Kingdom of God has dawmed and the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH are unfolded and the holistic mission has the assurance that God is at the helm of affairs and it is God’s mission in which the whole creation, including the Church, participates. Equally inexhaustible and rich is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which undergirds and enlightens all our efforts to seek to understand and discern God’s Holistic Mission in our own context and our own generation. That is why the MISSION MANDATE and the MISSION AGENDA call us all afresh to MISSION INVOLVEMENT.
THE PROPHET MICAH EXPRESSES A POSSIBLE HUMAN RESPONSE TO GOD’S MISSION BEAUTIFULLY WHEN HE WRITES: HE HAS SHOWED YOU, O MAN, WHAT IS GOOD AND WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? TO ACT JUSTLY AND TO LOVE MERCY AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD (MICAH 6:8)
TO BE INVOLVED IN GOD’S MISSION IS TO WALK WITH GOD … JUSTLY, TENDERLY AND HUMBLY.
Having prepared the ground for our understanding and also highlighting some of the efforts made by the Church of North India in the foregoing paragraphs, I would like to place here below some concerns for the consideration of this Consultation:
Spiritual Renewal, emphasized in the 7th Synod, is to get top priority in the coming years. Spiritual revivals come when people and churches are on their knees. We are living at a time in human history where there is crisis in every walk of our lives. Individual life is at the threshold of uncertainty and unrest-there is lack of peace and joy. Family life is divided-there is lack of harmony and reconciliation. Community life is corrupt-there is lack of justice and righteousness. God’s creation is on the brink of destruction. There is a vacuum of spirituality. What we need is genuine revival, fresh renewal, new commitment and self-surrender at every level beginning from the grassroot-level to the Synod level.
Such revival should lead to pastoral care and concern for the people within the church. The concern for the people in the community will strengthen our efforts to establish peace and a just society, to work in solidarity with women, to stand by the poor, exploited, marginalised and Dalits and to give a voice to the voiceless.
We are in a world today where nobody can work in isolation. In our journey together with our partners-their mission boards and the missionary societies we must now stretch our hand to establish partnership with churches in Asia and in this context of growing mistrust and uncertainties, the Asian churches need to come together and exercise mutuality, transparency and accountability in the life and work of the churches.
Efforts should be made to encourage churches to maximize the utilization of indigenous/local resources to meet their mission priorities rather than depending on external resources.
It is important to nurture mission activities which reflect the cultural realities of the churches and the hopes and aspirations of the people of the particular areas. In fact, the mission priorities need to be evolved from the local communities based on their experience and need. Care must be taken not to impose any alien ideas and concepts.
A common strategy needs to be evolved to train mission workers through a continuous human resource development programme and exchange visits. Opportunities for learning and sharing of mission experiences have to be the main thrust of these programmes.
We must encourage more dialogue among the leaders of various churches so that a common missiological agenda can be evolved and implemented collectively.
IN CONCLUSION, MISSION SHOULD BE SEEN AS MOVEMENT, A MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE WHO ACT JUSTLY, WALK HUMBLY AND LOVE TENDERLY TOGETHER WITH GOD. TOWARDS THIS DREAM LET US SEEK BLESSINGS FROM THE ALMIGHTY. AMEN