Monday, August 20, 2007

Nineteenth to Twentieth Century’s Missionary Movement


In the early-to-mid 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church carried out its mission works in India. Protestant Christianity was firmly planted on India through the Tranquebar mission with the arrival of German Lutherans sent from the King of Denmark in the early 18th century.

From the mid-nineteenth century the Christian Protestant mission developed a great momentum. The movement engaged women on a large scale in the USA and in Europe and enjoyed an unparalleled success among married as well as unmarried women. Women played a central role both at home, as fund-raisers and as active agents in non-Christian countries. Women were a majority in the missionary movements and missionary work attracted women. It also offered middle class women a wider range of permissible activities. While spreading the Christian message was initially the main aim, social work, especially health and education, soon became accepted missionary activities, legitimized as the best way of reaching the local population. As the result, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century mission thinking emphasized the need for the social work along with the evangelization by providing health facilities and education to the recipients of the Gospel. In such a shift in the mission activity, the contribution of women to the mission in India is remarkable.

The Contributions of the Missionaries in the Evolution of Women’s Education in India
The Christian missionaries played a pioneering role in promoting female education in India. Infact, we can say that they were the initiators of female education in India, “because in the early 19th century the officials of the East India Company were reluctant to take up issue for they feared that it would create unnecessary hostility amongst the people and would amount to interference in their social and religious activity.”[1] It was the Christian missionaries who promoted the female education in India despite the strong opposition because of their evangelical and humanitarian zeal. However, the education work of the Christian missionaries is often criticized badly as the cause and the end of proselytization. There were agencies through which the Christian missionaries worked for promoting female education. They are: 1) Girls Day Schools 2) Orphanages and Boarding establishments 3) Domestic teaching of women arranged in middle and higher class families popularly termed as “Zenana teaching”[2]

The Role of Education in Women’s life

Education became the most widespread and effective form of women missionary activity and was seen as the primary avenue for social change. The Girls’ schools were started in the mission fields and much importance was given to the education of women. However, the education of women was seen as an opportunity for evangelization. Besides teaching local girls and women hygiene and childcare among other things, education thus played a central role in the proselytism. The education of women would besides provide Christian wives for the native Christian workers also subvert the very foundations of ‘heathen’ society and would catalyze the profound social changes needed to accompany broad conversion to Christianity. In general, Protestant missionaries were eager to found boarding schools and especially boarding schools for girls, in hopes that more sustained and pervasive influence of the teachers would result in more effective evangelism and the formation of ‘Christian Character’.

Schools became havens for the girl children of all communities, though they meant certain restrictions. It was here they started to discover themselves away from their families. While for some of the girls, whose childhood was in a way no childhood at all because they were not allowed to play freely, speak loudly, even hop, skip and jump, school must have meant a real liberative experience. For some others, in their childhood, they had to take care of their siblings or to contribute to the family earnings. In this way, the education of women in the schools must have opened them to totally new avenues of life.

Contribution of Women in the Teaching ministry

v Mary Lyon, a schoolteacher from Massachusetts, America, was the pioneer who founded the world wide model of higher education for women.[3] She is considered as the important personality in the history of mission.

v Jarena Lee: Lee born in the year1783 at New Jersey. Lee left home at the age of seven to become a maid in a household. Though lee is recognized as the first female preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, she was not ordained. Lee used to conduct prayer meetings and preach in the churches. In this way, lee’s teaching ministry through preaching in the church is remarkable.

v Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922): Ramabai was the daughter of orthodox Hindu parents and the native of India. When she was eight, she learned to read the sacred puranic literature from her parents. At that time, there were no schools for girls or women, and training in the sacred literature was forbidden. After her family suffered during an extreme famine, Ramabai and her brother journeyed to Calcatta in 1878. in 1881, at age twenty-two she married, but sooner he died leaving her with an infant. In 1883 she left for England to study, and there was baptized. After returning to India, she established the Mukti mission in 1889, to provide education and opportunities for women and girls of India.

Ramabai in her autobiography mentions about the education ministry that she did through her mukti mission.
“…there were only two day-pupils in my school, when it was started…, No one was urged to become a Christian, nor was any one compelled to study the Bible. But the Book was placed in the library along with other religious boos… After the first ten years of our existence as a school, our constitution was changed slightly. Since, then every pupil admitted in the school has been receiving religious instruction…Many hundred of the girls and young women who have come to my Home ever since its doors were opened for them have found Christ as I have. They are capable of thinking themselves. They have had their eyes opened by reading the Word of God, and many of them have been truly converted and a saved, to the praise and the glory of God…”[4]
v Amy Carmichael (1867-1951): Carmichael was a Protestant Christian missionary in India, who opened an orphanage and founded a mission in Dohnavur. She served in India for fifty-five years without absence. Amy Carmichael was born in the small village of Millisle in Northern Ireland to David and Catherine Carmichael. In many ways she was an unlikely candidate for missionary work. She suffered neuralgia, a disease of the nerves that made her whole body weak and achy and often put her in bed for weeks on end. It was at the Keswick Convention of 1887 that she heard Hudson Taylor speak about missionary life. Soon afterward, she became convinced of her calling to missionary work.
Initially Amy traveled to Japan for fifteen months, but she later found her lifelong vocation in India. She was commissioned by the Church of England Zenana Mission. Much of her work was with young ladies, some of whom were saved from forced prostitution. The organization she founded was known as the Dohnavur Fellowship. Dohnavur is situated in Tamil Nadu, thirty miles from the southern tip of India. The fellowship would become a sanctuary for over one thousand children. In an effort to respect Indian culture, members of the organization wore Indian dress and the children were given Indian names. She herself dressed in Indian clothes, dyed her skin with coffee, and often traveled long distances on India's hot, dusty roads to save just one child from suffering. Even today, the educational institution stated by Amy Carmichael stand as the monument for her contribution in serving the children of the missionaries.
The mission movements gave much importance to the education from 19th century onwards. The education of women and their engagement in teaching has made a huge change in the social condition of the people. The entire life of the people has changed dramatically, with the education that they learnt from the mission societies. In this way, the contribution of women to the shaping of the church and society is remarkable.

[1] Gouri Srivastava, Women’s Higher Education in the 19th Century (New Delhi: Ashok Kumar Mittal Concept Publishing Company, 2000), 38.
[2] Ibid., 40.
[4] Amy Oden (ed), In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 326,327.


Franklin Samraj said...

enjoyed your presentations on missions

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