Monday, October 14, 2013

In no particular order 3 .......Mission & missionaries - ancient and modern

Spending time with the Church of South India I was once again very conscious of the footmarks made by bygone missionaries...
The Church itself exists in its current form because of the courage and passion of those who travelled across the sea to share God's love and for the most part their legacy is treasured and valued. Again and again on my last trip I was struck by the way the founding missionaries set their stamp on the churches they built, even down to being remembered in the names. While we were in Chickballapur we visited the tiny mission church from which schools, hospitals and many many churches grew and we visited too the CSI cemetery where many of the early missionaries lie. They were so very young, these men and women who set out willing to risk everything for the love of God and God's children.
Their names live on in the churches they founded - but though they remain revered, many Indian Christians I encountered on this trip fought shy of celebrating their debt to the missionaries. They agreed that so much that is good and admirable was established through their faith and courage -  but the world is a very different place today, and the loving paternalism of the past can no longer be welcomed.

Younger Indian clergy are anxious too that western influence on India should exclude the spiritual malaise which they see destroying our churches...and worry, I think, that as long as the Indian churches are shaped so thoroughly by their western heritage, they will never fully connect with the culture they exist to serve.

So - I was excited to visit a new mission field - in the deeply rural community of Kannapura. Travelling there from Bangalore was a journey back in time, as we reconnected with village India. Cows, flocks of sheep and goats and the inevitable bullock-carts were our companions on the road, and we passed many labourers ploughing with oxen as their ancestors must have done for centuries. As we headed towards Mysore, we saw strange woven structures, looking a bit like archery butts, at the side of the road - lodgings for silkworms, on their journey from mulberry tree to silk-merchant's store

We turned off the metalled road and bumped along a dirt track...soon, even the dirt track was abandoned and we travelled cross country - to a simple house in a field. This was the mission  - part home, part worship space - where Jason and his wife had settled to build a church, supported by Revd Shilpa and her congregation at Christ Church Kannapura . 11 years ago, when the CSI hospital in Channapatna closed, the couple came here, reclaimed the near- derelict building, and set about befriending their neighbours. Jason visits the scattered villages and hamlets regularly, his wife runs a drop-in clinic that is open all hours - and their kindness and compassion have gradually drawn others into the church that meets in their one-room home. When we visited, the children crammed in first - some shy at their first ever western visitors, others giggling....Their parents followed, coming in from their work in the fields til the room was packed. We took it in turns to sing choruses to one another - the children specially delighted when we sang familiar tunes with English words - we prayed together, and then each of us was presented with a rosebud - coming with warm handshakes and a blessing that touched us deeply. There was no doubt at all that this was holy ground - an inspiring glimpse of how the church can be - a small humble community whose only aspiration is to love and serve.

We spent that evening with their "sending church" - another small group, meeting in their pastor's home, in the shadow of a Hindu temple. Shilpa told us that the CSI have approved a new building - a purpose built church to be built in her garden - provided the local community can contribute 5 lakhs towards it - a huge target for 20 families to meet. She asked us to pray - understandably - but also commented that the excellent relationship that church and temple have means that she is confident of some support from her Hindu neighbours, who already to a great deal to further the work of the church in supporting the community, and often celebrate Christian festivals with her congregation.
Syncretism - or outreach? It felt wholly good.

Worship that evening was wonderful...Again, adults and children packed into a small room, the young on floor mats, their elders ranged on benches around the walls, everyone completely at ease with each other. A small boy performed his party piece - a breakneck dash through all the books of the Bible; children sang action songs, and together we learned an African action song/dance - which I found myself performing with a delightful toddler on my hip. There was room enough for all, children and adults listened attentively to the teaching and contributed along the way, and after prayer and blessing we all ate together, the community offering hospitality as a loving duty which we felt truly blessed to receive.

Travelling back to Bangalore that night I felt as if I'd spent the day living in the early chapters of Acts - an experience to treasure and to learn from.

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