Listen to the Voices: Re-Examining the Creation of Mission Goals

by Mary Schaller Blaufuss

Rev. Dr. Mary Blaufuss teaches in the Department of Mission and Ecumenics at the United Theological College, Bangalore.

The following article appeared in the Bangalore Theological Forum, Volume 34, Number 1, June 2002, page. 176-185. Bangalore Theological Forum is published by The United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Goals of mission can be created most authentically only in interdependent relationships through which there is true communication among participants perceived by one another as equals, rather than as bearers and receivers of the Gospel.

A. Introduction

Mission theory is an important, yet neglected sphere in the Modern Missionary Movement. Intentional reflection on the "foundation, motives and aim, and the nature of mission" has not been an integral component of modern missions.1 Now, at the turn of the twenty-first century, we are aware of the need to navigate a complex missiological maze that includes questions of conflicting God concepts, search for personal and group identities, and the role of the church in this changing world. In 1987 James Scherer noted, "Since Willingen 1952, both the ‘why?’ of mission -- can it be fundamentally justified? -- and the ‘what?’ of mission -- what after all, is mission today? -- have continued until now as burning issues."2 Yet, because of the lack of intentional reflection throughout the history of the Modern Missionary Movement, we have few resources to help us find our way through this current crisis of emphasis and direction. A major component lacking in this discernment of historical and current mission goals as they actually operated in practical situations is the consideration of the voices and actions of local people who came into contact with missionaries in each place.

This paper is an attempt to address some of this deficiency. It focuses on a particular mission in southern India, the American Madura Mission (AMM), started and funded by the first mission sending organization in North America, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) with its headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts of the United States of America. It is an attempt to sift through written documents available from this mission and its sending organization to identify ways in which the local people in Madura (now Madurai) influenced the emphasis, direction, and shape of mission activities and goals in the AMM.

This paper is an outgrowth of my Ph.D. dissertation that focused on the interaction between the ABCFM’s Boston Board and the AMM missionaries in the creation of mission goals. In that dissertation, I identified the explicitly stated goals of the administrators and missionaries, as well as goals implied in stories they told to illustrate the "success" of the work. I discovered that in the ABCFM and its missions no single party ever arbitrarily formulated mission goals. Instead, those goals emerged out of a formal and informal interactive process during which a variety of players analyzed and reflected on mission goals. Those players either affirmed current directions or articulated new content of goals appropriate for different or changing contexts. The administrators and missionaries often used the same rhetoric to articulate those goals, but the methods and content of the results they envisioned were so different that the actual goals were not the same. Through correspondence and occasional meetings the administrators and missionaries shared their goals, influenced one another, and thus formulated operative goals for the AMM as well as general goals articulated to other missions through official ABCFM policy.3

In the midst of that research, however, I realized that the variety of voices integral to the creation of mission goals is much broader than even these two parties. The administrators were highly influenced by theologies and local church priorities among Christians in the United States. At the same time, the people of Madura, among whom and with whom the missionaries lived and worked, helped shape the goals articulated by the AMM. Dana Robert, in her 1994 article "From Missions to Mission to Beyond Missions: The Historiography of American Protestant Foreign Missions since World War II," laments that the historical study of Protestant mission theory tends "not to be grounded in study of actual mission practice."4 I try to take seriously this critique by examining mission goals in their context. I believe that considering Indian voices in the shaping of mission goals in India is an important way to ground theory in practice. This paper provides examples of how South Indians during the mid-nineteenth century influenced the operative goals of missionaries in Madura, even as those missionaries simultaneously influenced official ABCFM policy.

B. Identifying Various Voices in the Beginning of the AMM

The American Madura Mission began in 1834 in the city and surrounding areas of Madura, India. From the beginning, its purpose and direction was influenced by a variety of groups of people. The beginning of the AMM corresponded directly with the 1933 act of the British Parliament establishing a new charter for the East India Company. In the past, the East India Company had discouraged mission because of the fear of upsetting people and discouraging trade. This 1833 Charter now permitted and encouraged the Company to extend their realm of influence in India from commercial transactions to promoting also the moral and educational "civilization" of India. To better facilitate this influence, the Parliament granted non-British missionaries permission to reside in East India Company territories, requiring that the Company provide "sufficient facilities. . . . to persons desirous of going to, and remaining in India for the purpose of accomplishing those benevolent designs, i.e. the introduction among the inhabitants of India of useful knowledge and religious and moral improvements."5 This gave American missionaries permission to legally enter India and establish institutions.6

At the same time, the British Governor of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) lifted restrictions on new missionaries allowed into Ceylon that had been in place since 1818. This allowed the ABCFM to send addition missionaries to Ceylon and for some of the missionaries in Ceylon to go to a Tamil speaking area of India -- Madura. In 1834, seven workers from the ABCFM Ceylon Mission went Madurai to begin the AMM.7 Among the five North American missionaries, only the Rev. Levi Spaulding knew enough Tamil to begin work immediately. The two in the group from Ceylon, Edward Warren I and Edward Warren II, who were graduates of the ABCFM Batticotta seminary in Ceylon, were prepared to begin teaching in schools that the mission soon established.

C. Official Mission Goals Articulated by ABCFM Administrator, Rufus Anderson

Missiologists often refer to Rufus Anderson to describe nineteenth century ABCFM mission theory and goals -- for good reason. Rufus Anderson served as the Foreign Corresponding Secretary of the ABCFM for thirty-four years and remained a member of the governing Prudential Committee and the official Board historian for another eleven years. The mere length of time Anderson worked with the ARCEM assured his influence. Yet he not only served a long tenure, but also possessed skills as a creative thinker and strong administrator. R. Pierce Beaver calls Anderson the "Grand Strategist of American Missions."8 Secretary Anderson formulated most of his theory in the decades between 1834 and 1854. In 1854, prompted by concerns over the role of education in mission work, Anderson and another member of the Prudential Committee, Augustus Thompson, traveled to India and Western Asia (Syria). They met with individual missionaries and with mission bodies to prompt them to intentionally consider and articulate their goals of mission. When a controversy erupted in the United States over Anderson’s ecclesiology and his administrative style during this Deputation, the ABCFM appointed a "Select Committee" to obtain written comments from each missionary and from Secretary Anderson concerning the Deputation meetings. The Prudential Committee later adopted Anderson’s written response, called "Outline of Missionary Policy," as their official goals. In this "Outline" Anderson asked his basic mission question, "How shall missionary societies establish a living, out-working Christianity in the dark places of the earth?" 9 He then outlined four constitutive parts to this "end" of mission: " (I) the conversion of lost men, (2) organizing them into churches, (3) giving those churches a competent native ministry, and (4) conducting them to the stage of independence and (in most cases) of self-propagation."10 In other writings Secretary Anderson named this the establishment of "self-governing, self-sustaining, and self-propagating churches."

D. Experiences in Madura Shape AMM Goals

1. Conversion and Church Membership

AMM missionaries accepted the basic articulation of these goals as their own. But the goals received their content for the Madura context through their interaction with the experiences of Indian people. Secretary Anderson’s first goals included the conversion of individuals and gathering them into churches. This goal remained constant in the AMM, but defining the meaning of that goal in specific situations was a bit more complex than Anderson’s "Outline" portrayed it. Secretary Anderson called for a "simple spiritual mission of proclamation of the gospel so as to win souls, gather them into churches, and enlist them in the same mission."11 Yet, beneath his rhetoric, Anderson assumed that New England civilization "is the highest and best, in a religious point of view, the world has yet seen." 12 Anderson believed that Christian faith, as a by-product of mission, eventually would transform any society into one similar to that of his generation’s New England.

Indian society, however, was organized along much different lines than that of nineteenth century New England. Dharma shaped Indian society. John Koller loosely defines dharma as "whatever is right to do." Koller explains, "The various senses of dharma all refer to what must be done to maintain and support the individual, the family, social class, and the whole society." 13 Dharma includes that social classification of people the missionaries identified as caste. Even though Secretary Anderson envisioned conversion and church membership in so-called spiritual terms, in India this goal necessitated a break with an entire social system effecting family, vocation, and physical well being through the threat of persecution.

Indian people reacted in various ways to this goal of conversion and public church membership. Some Indians refused to separate themselves from their social system. Missionary, William Capron, wrote about the head-mason of early mission building projects. Capron said that this man knew of Christianity, but "for fear of persecution he never renounced caste he never became a church member."14 In 1847, the AMM Seminary at Pasumalai almost closed because teachers and students refused to ignore social distinctions by eating food prepared by a low caste cook. When the missionaries insisted on the renunciation of caste observances many students, and all but one of the teachers left the school.

The reluctance of some people to separate themselves from their social system and this crisis at the Seminary influenced missionary goals by making missionaries more determined to remove caste distinctions as a prerequisite for becoming Christian. In fact, the missionaries viewed the resulting persecution in the positive light of early Christian martyrs. William Tracy, the missionary in charge of the Seminary, dealt with the 1847 crisis by praising Charley Coit, the first to renounce his affiliation with caste. Tracy directly connected this renunciation of caste with Coit’s conversion. He wrote to Secretary Anderson,

Some time after his connexion [sic] with the Seminary he [Coit] became deeply anxious for the salvation of his soul, and after having given most pleasing evidence of a change of heart, was admitted to the church . . . He has not dared to visit his father’s house since his profession of Christianity, as his life might be in danger from his father’s violence.15

Missionary, John Rendall, also described the persecution of a young man in the village of Smayanalloon, near Madura. This man had attended worship services for six months before his mother came to Rendall in tears. He wrote, "She told me of the persecution of her son and that even she was persecuted on his account. He has been driven from his business and is now a fugitive in one sense, as his own relatives are forbidden to speak with him."16 Rendall considered this young man ready for church membership because of what he endured.

ABCFM missionaries continued to prioritize the removal of caste distinctions, but many Indian Christians still unofficially organized churches along caste lines. B. Sobhanan, a Christian from Kerala, observed in his 1996 book on South Indian missions,

Despite the universal character of the Christian churches, the Christian missions in South India underwent a uniform metamorphosis depending on the social and cultural standards of the South . . . caste differences were further aggravated by denominational and congregational disputes.17

2. Native Ministry

Secretary Anderson’s mission goals also advocated training a competent native ministry. AMM missionaries agreed. This goal assumed some basic characteristics of a minister. Some Indians seemed to exhibit those qualities and reinforced missionary expectations. Tracy’s comments to Secretary Anderson concerning a catechist studying for the ministry betrayed the qualifications they sought for Indian pastors.

He [Mr. Yesadian] has an unassuming character, consistent and earnest piety, knowledge of divine truth, and the promise of much usefulness as a pastor of a native church... May the time be not distant when many others, as well qualified shall come forward as candidates for the native ministry!18

Other Indians though questioned these presupposed qualities of a competent native ministry. Controversy initiated by S. Rayappan Winfred, the first native pastor ordained in the Madura mission, forced the missionaries to reconsider issues of authority and salary. Winfred was born into a Christian family, trained at the Palmacotta Seminary under German missionary C. T. E. Rhenius, and studied at the Batticotta Seminary of the ABCFM Ceylon mission. Before his ordination. Winfred served as a teacher at the newly established Seminary at Pasumalai.19 When Anderson visited the AMM during the 1855 Deputation he encouraged Winfred’s ordination as pastor of the newly established church at Mallinkinaru. The ordination took place before Anderson left so he could participate in the service. Three years later, controversy erupted. The church complained about the distinction Winfred made between his own family and those of the church members. When Winfred refused to address the problem to their satisfaction the congregation sent a petition to missionaries Herrick and Tracy. Winfred expressed resentment over the effect of Herrick’s superintendence over him, saying that it diminished Winfred in the eyes of his congregation.20 On the issue of authority, Tracy admitted, "Mr. Winfred complained also that he did not receive sufficient honor from the missionaries. 21

Issues of self-support also surfaced in this controversy. Winfred at first agreed to receive his entire salary from the church. When the church could not pay a sufficient amount for him to educate his children, he petitioned the AMM for more money. 22 Winfred met with a committee of the mission, but they denied his request for additional salary. As a result, he formally resigned as minister in July of 1858 and moved to Madras where he worked as minister of a church supported by the ABCFM Madras Mission.

At first, AMM missionaries reacted defensively to the Winfred controversy. In matters of authority, Tracy claimed, "We did not receive their petition but advised them to pray over the matter… this was all the interference, if this can be called such, that has ever accrued between Mr. Winfred and his church." 23 In their consideration of salary, the AMM committee referred to the signed call statement stating clearly that Winfred agreed to receive his entire salary from the congregation in order to promote the goal of self-support. Over the years, however, the Winfred controversy and other assertions by Indian pastors, slowly forced the AMM to turn over more authority to Indian pastors and churches. In 1869, the Native Pastors’ Union took responsibility from the mission for examining candidates for ordination. In 1919, missionaries and Indian pastors together formed a decision-making body called the Madura Church Council. The Madura Mission Sangam, composed of Indians and missionaries, church and institutional delegates, took responsibility for all departments of the AMM in 1934. Its enacting resolution began,

Whereas the time has come when, in the interest of the further advancement of the Kingdom of God in the area served by the AMM during the past one hundred years, a larger share of responsibility for and a more determining voice in directing the work begun and at present carried on by the mission, should be given to the Indian church and the Christian community associated therewith.24

3. Self-Propagation

Secretary Anderson. considered his final and primary goal that of fostering independent and self-propagating churches. He began his 1856 report to the "Select Committee" of the ABCFM with the assertion that "missions are instituted for the spread of a scriptural, self-propagating Christianity. This is their only aim."25 Indian Christians reinforced this goal with their agreement. In 1841, Tracy praised boys from the boarding school who went into the streets and bazaars distributing books and conversing with all who would listen, even in the midst of opposition. He wrote to Secretary Anderson,

May the Lord pour out his blessing abundantly upon all our Boarding Schools that a host of pious youth may be raised up, filled with the Holy Spirit and clothed with the whole panoply of God who shall go forth as angels of mercy bearing life and light and peace to this benighted, perishing people.26

Eighteen years later, William Capron related a similar story of self-propagation by students from the Madura Girls Boarding School.

In the class of eight pupils graduated on March 28 (1859) all were members of the church. They gave correct deportment, by pleasing evidence of their being truly children of God. They go back to their villages with a heart to do good, and we are now hearing from them by occasional notes, of their attempts to render themselves useful. Seven of the eight are teaching school, and some of them speak of spending their leisure in teaching the women of the village congregations to read, or in reading to them and holding prayer meetings with them.27

In the early twentieth century, Indian Christians demonstrated this goal of self-propagation through the Madura Church Council’s initial emphasis on every church member as an evangelist; and in the growing leadership of Indian teachers, doctors, nurses, and administrators in Christian institutions like schools and hospitals.

E. Conclusion

The discussion above demonstrates that it is possible to discern the voices and actions of Indian people in the creation of mission goals in the AMM and the ABCFM. but the process is difficult. The available mission records are written from the perspective of the missionaries and mission administrators and the voices of Indian people must be read between the lines. Yet, the active presence of Indian Christians and non-Christians are there in the experiences of the mission. Indian voices and actions definitely influence the shape of mission goals adopted as the operative way in which the AMM and ABCFM engaged in mission work.

The voices and actions of Indians become more obvious in the historical records as the years pass, although the struggle for the AMM to turn over the responsibility and share work with the Indian church has been a slow and on-going process.28 The Madura Church Council was organized in 1916, composed of eighty members, including all the Indian and foreign ministers and a large number of Indian laymen. At the Madura Church Council’s first meeting on January 17, 1917, the AMM reported that the Council was a "thoroughly democratic, ecclesiastical body, organized without reference to lines of race. to which has been entrusted the care and development of a large and growing work."29

In 1934, the AMM celebrated its centenary by creating the Madura Mission Sangam to which the AMM with the approval and urging of the ABCFM handed over its authority.30 The Madura Mission Sangam consisted of missionary, church and institutional delegates: twenty-four Indians, eighteen Americans, twenty-five men and seventeen women.31 It was organized in committees to carry out the work of all departments formerly in the AMM. The only exception was the American College that was governed by its own board. The AMM continued as a body and the ABCFM and its successor bodies in the United States continued to send missionaries to the Madura area to work with churches

and institutions for another half century. 32 Today, the AMM no longer exists as a legal entity. Churches and institutions established during the time of the AMM are now part of the Madurai-Ramnad Diocese of the Church of South India.

Although the churches in the United States and in India are now separate entities with discrete administrative structures, issues with which both churches live and work are similar. Christians gather to faithfully worship. Christians are involved in theological education, trying to discern the best ways to train pastors for the coming century. Christians struggle with how best to share Christ’s message in violent contexts of rising religious nationalism, continuing social and economic stratification, and other situations they considered unjust. No church can address these issues comprehensively by excluding the voices and actions of the other. Goals of mission can be created most authentically only in interdependent relationships through which there is true communication among participants perceived by one another as equals. Discerning mission goals requires that we listen to a variety of voices from the past, as well as take seriously the wide range of voices acting today.


End Notes

1. David Bosch includes these components in his definition of mission theory. David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 4: See also Hans-Werner Gensichen. Glaube fur die Welt: Theologische Aspekie der Mission, (Gutersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1971), 27-29.

2. James A. Scherer, "Missiology as a Discipline." New Directions in Mission and Evangelization. Theological Foundations, James A. Scherer and Stephen B. Bevans, vol.2 (Maryknoll. NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 181.

3. Of course, other missions in different parts of the world also were engaged in similar interaction with the ABCFM Secretary at the same time. These interactions also influenced official board policy.

4. Dana Robert, "From Missions to Mission to Beyond Missions: The Historiography of American Protestant Foreign Missions Since World War II," International Bulletin of Missionary Research (October 1994): 150.

5. James Hough, The History of Christianity in India from the Commencement of the Christian Era (London: Seeley, Burnside, and Seeley, Hatchard & Son. Nosbet and Co., 1865), 4, 193; quoted in B. Sobhanan. "The American Madura Mission" in A History of the Christian Missions in South India, ed. B. Sobhanan (Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Historical Society, 1996), 140.

6. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was the first foreign mission sending agency in North America. It sent its first missionaries in 1812 to India. Upon reaching India and being denied entry, some in the group went to other locations in the area. Samuel and Harriet Newell tried to start a station outside of British territory on the Isle of France, but Harriet soon died during childbirth. When Samuel tried to re-enter India, he was diverted to Ceylon where he was the initial missionary of the ABCFM Ceylon mission. The first ABCFM missionaries to Madurai came from this Ceylon mission. Samuel and Roxana Nott and Gordon Hall found refuge in Bombay where they started covert mission work. Adoniram and Ann Judson and Luther Rice had decided to become Baptists during the voyage to the East and soon resigned from the service of the ABCFM. Eventually the Judsons made their way to Serampore to work with the Baptist mission. Rice returned to the United States to solicit aid for the establishment and maintenance of a Baptist Mission in India. See Oliver Wendell Elsbree, The Rise of the Missionary Spirit in America 1790-1815 (Williamsport, PA: The Williamsport Printing and Binding Col. 1928), 114-118.

7. The North American missionaries who went to Madura were the Rev. Levi Spaulding, the Rev. William and Mrs. Lucy Brownell Todd. the Rev. Henry Hoisington, and Francis Asbury. Edward Warren I and Edward Warren II, from Ceylon, were also part of the original group.

8. R. Pierce Beaver, introduction to To Advance the Gospel by Rufus Anderson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), 9.

9. American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Report of the Select Committee on the Deputation to India (New York: John A. Gray’s Fire-Proof Printing Office, 1856), 37.

10. Ibid.

11. Beaver, 14.

12. Rufus Anderson, The Theory of Missions to the Heathen, A Sermon at the Ordination of Mr. Edward Webb, as a Missionary to the Heathen. Ware, Mass., Oct. 23, 1845 (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1845) Reprinted as The Office and Work of the Missionary to the Heathen (Boston: The Board, n.d.).

13. John M. Koller, The Indian Way, Asian Perspectives Series. ed. Charles Wei-hsun Fu (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1982), 62.

14. William Capron, Madura, to Rufus Anderson, Boston, 22 December 1865, Transcript in the hand of William Capron, "Papers of the ABCFM," ABCFM 16.1.9, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

15. William Tracy, Madura, to Rufus Anderson, Boston, 4 April 1848, Transcript in the hand of William Tracy, "Papers of the ABCFM," ABCFM 16.1.9. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

16. John Rendall, Madura, to Rufus Anderson, Boston, 23 December 1859. Transcript in the hand of John Rendall, "Papers of the ABCFM," ABCFM, # 245. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

17. B. Sobhanan, ‘Forward," A History of the Christian Missions in South India. ed. B. Sobhanan (Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Historical Society, 1996), 1

18. William Tracy, Madurai to Rufus Anderson, Boston, 1 December 1856, ABCFM 16.1.9.

19. S. Rayappan Winfred, Madurai, to Rufus Anderson. Boston, 3 July 1853, Transcript in the hand of S. Rayappan Winfred, "Papers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions," ABCFM #60, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

20. James Herrick, Madurai, to Rufus Anderson, Boston, 18 February 1858, Transcript in the hand of James Herrick. "Papers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions," ABCFM #354, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

21. Tracy to Anderson, 28 July 1858, ABCFM 16.1.9.

22. Herrick to Anderson. 18 February 1858, ABCFM 16: 1.9.2, #354.

23. Tracy to Anderson, 28 July 1858. ABCFM 16.1.9.

24. "Resolutions Dissolving the Mission and Instituting the Madura Mission Sangam and the College Governing Council," In Centenary Program, 39.

25. ABCFM, Report of the Select Committee, 35. Anderson’s emphasis.

26. Tracy to Anderson, 1 April 1841. ABCFM 16.1.9.

27. Capron to Anderson, 28 March 1859, ABCFM 16.1.9.

28. The technical term for this process is "devolution." Many missionaries and Indian Christians do not feel that devolution transpired quickly enough, thus creating a relationship of paternalism rather than partnership.

29. Gertrude Chandler, America,, Madura Mission Eighty-Third Annual Report (Madura: Lenox Press, 1918), 56.

30. John Banninga, Centenary Celebrations, January 11-14, 1934 (Madura: Lenox Press, 1934), 3

31. Dorothy Lockwood, Glimpses 1929-1980: The Lockwoods, January 1934 (Patton, Michael. David and Merrick, 1991), 33.

32. In 1961, the ABCFM became part of United Church Board for World Ministries (UCBWM) in connection with the church union that formed the United Church of Christ in 1957. This UCBWM merger included the mission and service agencies of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. See David Stowe, Year 175: A Brief History of the United Church Board for World Ministries (New York: UCBWM, 1984). In 1996, the UCBWM covenanted to work in partnership with the Division of Overseas Ministries of the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ. This programmatic and decision-making body is called the Common Global Ministries Board. During the re-structuring process of the United Church of Christ in 2000, the UCBWM became part of the Wider Church Ministries division of church administration.