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- 1 Stories
- 2 History
- 3 Identity within the Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition
- 4 Major Challenges
- 5 Future
- 6 Important Individuals in the Life of the Church
- 7 Electronic Resources
- 8 Key Documents
- 9 Annotated Bibliography
- 10 Archives and Libraries
- 11 External Links
- 12 Citations
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Bharatiya Jukta Christo Prachar Mandli (BJCPM), the Indian United Christ Evangelistic Church, is the offspring of the United Missionary Church of North America (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). Dating back to 1896, interest in serving in India began after publication in the Gospel Banner, a United Missionary Church magazine, about the prevailing famine conditions in India (Storms, 1948). After receiving a call from God to serve in India, Frances Matheson and Ruby Reeves of Aylmer, Ontario arrived in India in 1908 as missionaries under the Methodist Episcopal Church (Storms, 1948). Matheson worked in Bengal for fifteen years, focusing her efforts on orphanages, schools, and women’s work (Storms, 1948). Following the organization of the United Missionary Society in 1921, Matheson transferred her efforts and labors directly under her own church, the United Missionary Church, and became the denomination's first missionary (Lageer, 1979). In 1924, the denomination acquired its own territory in the Purulia District of West Bengal (S. D’Souza, personal communication, November 23, 2014). Matheson collaborated with another missionary, Reverend W. E. Wood, to establish the first mission station in the area (Lageer, 1979). Matheson went on to open a Christian Training Center for Girls in 1926 (Lageer, 1979). In 1927, Woods baptized the mission’s first convert (Lageer, 1979). Recognizing the need for medical assistance, Dr. and Mrs. Stahly came to India as missionaries to provide treatments for blindness, malaria, TB, and leprosy in 1929 (Lageer, 1979).
In 1948, the United Missionary Society merged with the Hephzibah Faith Mission, a missionary program that ministered to India for over 36 years (Lageer, 1979). Emma Landis, a member of the Hephzibah Faith Mission and mother to many in the orphanage, brought Reverend Pronoy Sarkar, a future leader of BJCPM, to the mission with her (Lageer, 1979). In 1955, the first United Missionary Church in Calcutta, Emmanuel Chapel, was established by Alfred Rees and his family (Lageer, 1979). It was here that Sarkar began designing courses for non-Christians that could be read and easily understood (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). Sarkar’s efforts eventually led to his position as principle at the Calcutta Bible Institute with 10,000 enrolled students in the first year (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). As the mission continued to grow, the United Missionary Society acquired Hastings Chapel in 1961 (Lageer, 1979). By 1962, two Bengali-speaking churches, three English-speaking churches, and one Telugu-speaking church emerged from the mission’s efforts in Calcutta (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). BJCPM continues to this day in Hastings Chapel where Sarkar became the first Indian pastor to serve (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). As president of the Missionary Church in India, chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the Union Biblical Seminary, and representative at the Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India (MCSFI) at major conferences in Brazil, Japan, France, Argentina, the Philippines, and Taiwan, Sarkar was an important leader of BJCPM for several decades (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
Although its parent body of North America is the Missionary Church, BJCPM is affiliated with Mennonite World Conference (MWC) (India GAMEO). Identifying itself as a Missionary church, BJCPM does not identify itself directly as a Mennonite church (S. D’Souza, personal communication, November 23, 2014). The United Missionary Church in India has been active in Mennonite circles and has become a member of MWC as Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) facilitated coordination between the various Mennonite-related church groups in response to the humanitarian crisis and trend toward independence in the Indian churches (Zimmerman, 2011).
1899: Rev. D. W. Zook and his family were sent by the Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association (HFMA). In response to news of the devastating famine in West India, missionaries visited the area and brought back 100 orphans to feed, educate, and bring up in the knowledge of Christ(Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1903: UMC mission moved to Raghunathpur in the Purilia district, where the mission bought several buildings that would be converted into hostels for boys and girls (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). -Miss Emma K. Landis arrived in India as part of the Hephzibah Mission. She would later play a major role in the life of the Missionary Church of India. During the same time, Rev. and Mrs. C. L. Eicher arrived and began their work under the Christian and Missionary Alliance (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1908: Miss Frances Matheson of the formed United Missionary Church arrived to work in Bengal with the Methodist Episcopal Church (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1914: The Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association began its mission work in Balarampur, and expanded to Ahmadabad in response to severe famine conditions. The mission established an orphanage and schools for boys and girls, focusing on education and Christian caring. The mission eventually received faithful workers in the church from the original group of orphans. When the original missionaries of Hephzibah Faith Mission returned to the U.S., they approached BJCPM (UMC) with a proposal to take over the Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
1916: Rev. and Mrs. Walter Wood from the UMC joined the HFMA.
1920: Missionaries in Orissa responded to severe famine conditions by returning with a number of orphaned boys and girls, as well as some elderly people, and provided them with home, shelter, and Christian nurture. Many of these people were later converted and have served faithfully in church ministries (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
1921: The UMC organized its own sending agency in 1921 and Miss Matheson and the Woods returned to India as its first missionaries to the land.
1924: The denomination acquired its own territory in the Purilia district of West Bengal, where a mission station was opened at Balarampur by Matheson and W. E. Wood (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
1927: W. E. Wood baptized the mission’s first covert (Lageer, 1979).
1945: The United Missionary Society was formed as UMC and HFMA merged together. Immediately following World War II, the Hephzibah workers were sent home and the work of the church was carried on solely by nationals. Miss Landis envisioned “United Missionary Society” as a way to “multiply the strength” of the two missions (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993, p. 3) -John and Helen Blosser arrived in India and became involved in village evangelism among the Bengalis and Santals. John would later become field chair and director of the work. -All of the properties belonging to the Hephzibah Faith Missionary Association were legally handed over to the BJCPM mission to increase the strength of the two groups (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
1947: Richard and Ruth Reilly arrived and were recognized for their evangelism and organization ability. They worked with Youth for Christ, establishing crusades in Calcutta, and attracting many to Christ. A Bible correspondence course, Light of Life, was started as a supplementary evangelist program. The new program brought “nine hundred letters flooding in,” (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993). -India’s independence from Britain. The Indian government gradually increased its resistance to missionary activity, and began to refuse visas in the 1960s (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1948: In response for the need of trained national pastors, the Bengali Bible Institute was established. It became the only Bengali Bible training program in all of the Bengal Province, and the “Mennonite Mission” was considered the greatest evangelical witness in Northeast India. It was at this school that students were trained and sent out to establish new congregations (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1949: Weyburn and Dorothy Johnson arrived and served in the Evangelical Literature Depot when its production began to decrease. Weyburn became the director and, within five years, sales increased 150%, literature was published in twelve different languages, and thousands of mail order customers were being served (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1951: John and Lydia Gamble arrived who and contributed to the goal of evangelism by directing “Every Creature Crusade” which sought to reach every home in the region with the Word of God (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993). -First Annual Conference following the 1948 merger (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). -BJCPM officially organized (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
1952: Dick Reilly began to play programs in the Bengali language that were broadcast into India by the Far Eastern Broadcast Company and later Trans World Radio in Sri Lanka. The programs were produced by John Blosser, John Gamble, and Pronoy Sarkar (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1954: Alf and Lela Rees arrived to specialize in evangelistic work and took over the mission on Royd Street to create a local congregation called Emmanuel Chapel (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1956: While Alf Rees continued his pastoral work at Emmanuel Chapel in Calcutta, he was also asked to direct the correspondence work. The Light of Life headquarters was moved to Emmanuel Chapel and the correspondence program became known as “The Calcutta Bible Institute.” With the assistance of Pronoy Sarkar, recent graduate of UBS, and many missionaries over the years, thousands of lessons were designed for non-Christians that could be read and understood easily. By 1963, 72,000 students had enrolled, and the program averaged 1,500 letters a month. The Missionary Church was becoming known in many regions of India. (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1962: Emmanuel Chapel acquired its first national pastor, Noel Baker. The UMS restored the historic Hastings Chapel in Calcutta that was built in 1862 by the London Missionary Society to serve the non-conformist British soldiers in a nearby army camp. John Blosser served as the first pastor in Hastings Chapel, as it grew in numbers and strength. Pronoy Sarkar went on to pastor the congregation for decades. Joren Basumata is currently the pastor of BJCPM. -John Blosser appointed full-time director of the Bible courses. Thirty to forty students were baptized into the church every year, helping to establish the Bengali Church in Calcutta (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
1973: All foreign missionaries were withdrawn, and the entire church and mission work fell into the responsibility of the national Indian leaders. At that time the work consisted of 18 churches with a membership of 1,000, a boarding school for girls and one for boys, the Bengali Bible Institute, and the Calcutta Bible Institute. The leadership was indigenous, though some help came from the North American Missionary church. The ministry now became known officially as “the India United Missionary Church. (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
1976: Radio equipment was imported from the United States and Dan Blosser was sent to India to install a studio in Hastings Chapel to broadcast programs in Bengali language. Today an average of about 200 letters are received each month in response to the radio messages (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
1989: 29 organized and six house churches with a membership of 3,500 baptized believers in East India and Bengal Province (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
Identity within the Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition
Although BJCPM does not identify itself directly as a Mennonite church, it is affiliated with Mennonite World Conference (MWC) and is a member of Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship India (MCSFI). One of the eight conferences in India, BJCPM has become involved in four workshops with Mennonite churches in India over the last six years to discuss their identity within MWC (Peacock, C., personal communication, November 11, 2014). Cynthia Peacock, chairperson of MWC Deacons’ Committee, explained that missionaries from the United States and Canada did not share the history and identity of Anabaptists to the newly established congregations in India (personal communication, November 11, 2014). Although some of the older generations had a limited understanding of Anabaptist history, the information was not passed down to subsequent generations. Peacock identified the workshops as a tool to learn more about BJCPM’s identity within an Anabaptist context. One of the main objectives of the workshops is to promote peace. They also discussed differences in baptismal practices, as BJCPM practices baptism by immersion (Peacock, C., personal communication, November 11, 2014). She identified, however, that many members of the congregation are still hesitant to change the names of the churches from Missionary to Mennonite, as there is still limited understanding of how they fit into a Mennonite identity (Peacock, C., personal communication, November 11, 2014). Peacock stated that there is work being done by individual conferences and the larger group to increase communication and understanding of BJCPM within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition (personal communication, November 11, 2014).
The UMC identified five special kinds of ministry with one goal to enrich the Church of Christ in India: evangelism, church growth, secular education, theological education, and social ministry (A Brief History of India United Missionary Church, 1993). Evangelism acts as one of the congregation’s top priorities. In 1989, ten trained evangelists sold literature to the Purulia district and contacted 1,850 villages (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993). This resulted in the baptism of five families. Young people are also encouraged to engage in evangelistic work. The “Purulia Outreach Project” was an attempt to contact every family in the area with the message of the Gospel (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993). Radio has also played a large part in BJCPM’s program of outreach, receiving 200 letters each month (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993). Youth retreats, youth conferences, family camps, and retreats also serve as methods for evangelism. “It has been said by other denominations that the India UMC is known far and wide as giving outstanding leadership among evangelicals throughout India” (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993, p. 9).
Peace Emphasis: “Although BJCPM follows many Mennonite practices, Pronoy Sarkar feels that the MCSFI should provide literature on Mennonite faith to all the BJCPM churches, because the congregations are not aware of the Mennonite positions. He also feels that MCC and MCSFI should work on promoting peace, since all churches are very weak in this area, and pastors do not preach on the subject. In his view, church disputes take place because of a lack of teaching on peace values” (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011, p. 209).
Role of Women: “The role of women in BJCPM is somewhat limited. They are allowed to pray publicly, but they are not allowed to preach from the pulpit. However, there are some exceptions, such as Mrs. Margaret Devadson, who was treasurer of her church; she sometimes even preached in the church. Cynthia Peacock has also provided leadership in BJCPM Women’s Conference and as chairperson of MWC Deacons’ Committee. In her view, BJCPM should be open to women and invite women preachers” (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011, p. 210).
Economics: Extreme poverty remains a critical social problem in India. “According to World Bank figures, extreme poverty declined from 60 percent of the population in 1981 to 42 percent in 2005. However, the total number of people living below the extreme poverty benchmark of U.S. $1.25 a day increased from 421 million in 1981 to 456 million in 2005” (Zimmerman, 2011). Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, and Missionary efforts in India can focus on providing education to the children in families of poverty to help alleviate economic disparity.
“Whatever the future may hold, the global fellowship of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches can learn from, and draw on, the rich legacy of the past mission efforts. The centrality of service is part of that legacy which can inspire renewed activity today. For example, while India has made enormous social progress since independence, masses of people still live in debilitating poverty. Working with these people and helping to empower them will remain central to Mennonite service in India in the foreseeable future” (Zimmerman, 2011).
In the next five to ten years, “Mennonites and Anabaptists will become more familiar and visible as a major part of the mainstream churches in India.” BJCPM will more readily recognize their own identity within an Anabaptist/Mennonite context as their sister Mennonite churches become less isolated and modest, and more open in sharing their history and identity. Peacock states, “We have things to share and it is important to show what we believe. First we need to learn about our history to work together and share gifts” (Peacock, C., personal communication, November 11, 2014).
Shane D’Souza, General Secretary of BJCPM, stated that in the future, “We hope to establish a more comprehensive relationship with our Mennonite brothers as a peace church both in India and worldwide” (personal communication, November 23, 2014).
BJCPM identified the following as their “Goals for Next Five Years” in 1993: Establish at least one church in every district town in the province of West Bengal. Establish one house church in every village in the District of Purulia. Cooperate with North East India Conference in mass evangelism and their goal to establish anther 30 churches in that area. Help build primary schools attached to every church of the denomination. Meet at least 50% of the total budget through local resources Train as many young people as we can for ongoing ministry. Build preventive medical clinics wherever it is possible. (A Brief History of India United Missionary Church, 1993).
Important Individuals in the Life of the Church
Pronoy Sarkar became the first Indian pastor to serve at Hastings Chapel (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011). As president of the Missionary Church in India, chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the Union Biblical Seminary, and representative at the Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India (MCSFI) at major conferences in Brazil, Japan, France, Argentina, the Philippines, and Taiwan, Sarkar was an important leader of BJCPM for several decades (Sarkar & Lageer, 1993).
Shane D’Souza is the General Secretary of BJCPM.
Joren Basumata is the current pastor of BJCPM.
Cynthia Peacock serves as chairperson of MWC Deacons’ Committee and is the regional representative of South Asia, India, and Nepal. Part of her Deacon’s commission work focuses on Anabaptist women of India and women of Asia. Peacock has been accepted as a leader in her own church and conference, and has drawn other women from her region into leadership roles (C. Peacock, personal communication, November 11, 2014). In her view, BJCPM should be open to women and invite women preachers (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
Margaret Devadson was treasurer of BJCPM and occasionally preached in the church, contributing to the increased role of women in the Indian church (Asheervadam, I. P. et al., 2011).
Malagar, Pyarelal J., John Thiessen and Harold S. Bender. (May 2014). India. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 December 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=India&oldid=122293
Zimmerman, E. (2011). Calcutta connections: Mennonite service in India. The Conrad Grebelreview, 29(1). Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/publications/conrad-grebel-review/issues/winter-2011/calcutta-connections-mennonite-service-india
Asheervadam, I. P. et al., Churches Engage Asian Traditions. (2011) Good Books, Intercourse, PA.
A Brief History of India United Missionary Church. (1993). Written by members of BJCPM. No information available. Retrieved from the Bethel College library.
D’Souza, Shane. (November 23, 2014). E-mail Interview.
Imbach, David. (Nov. 18) “Pass It On” “What’s Happening” at the West Valley Missionary Church, CA
Lageer, Eileen. (1979). Merging Streams: Story of the Missionary Church. Elkhart, Indiana: Bethel Publishing Company.
Letter to Dr. Everek R. Sotrm from Pronoy Sarkar (Dec. 10, 1982)
Letter to Dr. and Mrs. Storms (April 10, 1979)
Malagar, Pyarelal J., John Thiessen and Harold S. Bender. (May 2014). India. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 December 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=India&oldid=122293
Meet a Church Leader in India. What’s Happening. The Missionary church. Fort Wayne, Indiana. (July 1973)
Peacock, Cynthia. (November 11, 2014). Skype Interview.
Sarkar, Pronoy. (1978, November 15). God’s Leading in My Life. Emphasis, 12.
Sarkar, P., Lageer, E. (1993). Missionary church in India. Fort Wayne, IN: World Partners.
Storms, Everek Richard. (1958). History of the United Missionary Church. Elkhart, IN: Bethel Publishing Company.
Storms, Everek Richard. (1948). What God Hath Wrought. Springfield, Ohio: The United Missionary Society.
Zimmerman, E. (2011). Calcutta connections: Mennonite service in India. The Conrad Grebel review, 29(1). Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/grebel/publications/conrad-grebel-review/issues/winter-2011/calcutta-connections-mennonite-service-india
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