CHRISTIAN MISSION PROPERTIES-II
Apostle Thomas came to the southern shores of India in the first century AD to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Later, St. Francis Xavier landed in Goa and obeyed the Lord's Great Commission. Late in the second millennium, very committed Christian missionaries came to India. Led by the Holy Spirit, they sowed the seed of God's Word. It sprouted and bore the sweet fruit of several generations of Christian believers. After India attained independence, the steady flow of missionaries stopped. But they left behind the rich heritage of huge mission properties. This amounted to 50% work done, leaving the relay race of the Gospel work!
However, like in the book of Job, Satan did not miss the opportunity to spread his vicious cobweb of worldly temptations over the 'desi' missionaries, who were led to abuse the rich heritage to their selfish ends! They forgot our Lord's loving commands, 'Follow Me' and 'You are My witnesses.' They also forgot their responsibility towards their less fortunate Christian brethren. The Christian believers are the inheritors of the mission properties. But the parable of the Wheat and Tares seemed to unfold itself in the scenario.
Contribution of BDTA
The Bombay Diocesan Trust Association (BDTA) has done laudable work by providing flats suiting the pockets of the average members of the church in major cities of Maharashtra. It raised colonies on the vacant land. Their work surely proved to be a practical step in the changed times. Their example is worth emulating in other parts of the country.
'The earth is the Lord's," says the Psalmist. And 'He created man in His own image,…male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…'(Gen. 1:27-28). The real question now is: how are we going to be fruitful? What are we supposed to do as believers?
The Bible tells us about certain persons, witnessing the early apostles' preaching and the work of the Gospel, saying, 'Those who have turned the world upside down have come here!' Following in the footsteps of the early apostles, the foreign missionaries continued to implement the Great Commission. They played their role with full integrity, proving themselves to be a strong link between the apostles, apostolic churches and us. With the departure of the foreign missionaries, the challenge before us has been: Do we rise to the occasion and prove ourselves to be an equally strong link between the missionaries and the Indian churches?
Are the 'desi' successors going to play their role with equal integrity? Besides playing their role effectively in the urban areas, they have to bridge the rural and urban divide. The socio-educational history shows that the Christians have been pioneers in the country. While the government is now highly concerned about rural development, can we remain complacent?
Predicament of Villagers
Christians in the rural areas need a helping hand on priority basis. The very basic socio-educational and religious needs of the rural folks, which the urban dwellers take for granted, are not met for want of general development. Very often, they do not have church buildings for worship services, weddings and other religious rituals. Besides, it cannot be said with certainty that they receive any pastoral care. They remain neglected and uncared for.
Owing to poverty and lack of facilities, several young boys and girls face lack of opportunity for secondary education. Consequently, they become part of the rural unemployment problem. It is necessary to provide such unemployed youth with facility for training in some basic trades, and hostels, where possible. Some such facilities were started by the foreign missionaries. Some denominations are operating such Centres in rural areas with hostels and boarding arrangements for boys. More such schools/Centres should be started, even for girls.
It is needless to stress the need for providing Basic Trade Training Centres and Worship Centres in the rural areas. One might come across some stray examples in the northern States, where foreign missionaries with foresight have established agricultural training schools/Centres for rural folks. It is possible to start such Centres in other areas to put the landed property to the best possible use, instead of allowing the evil of encroachment to creep in.
As Christians, we should be more conscious about the urban-rural divide than all others (government, NGOs and philanthropists), because Jesus stressed the dire need to extend a helping hand to those who are needy, neglected and weak. It is particularly important as the Lord put this thought before us by associating Himself with it. He said, "If you do it to one of these least, you have done it to Me." If we are not consciously attentive to this aspect of Christian life, let us not merely talk about social justice.
Christian Guest Houses
No doubt, worldwide organisations like YMCA and YWCA do meet the need for guest housing marginally, in major and medium cities. However, due to the prohibitive cost, the average Christians and their family members cannot avail of the facilities provided by them. Certain churches also have guest houses in big cities; but they do not allow members of other denominations to avail of the facilities. Similar situation is faced by students/trainees who are required to stay in cities for specific periods of time.
Thus there is a sure and definite need for guest houses, extending minimum basic needs at moderate charges, in the A and B grade cities. There are guest houses belonging to the majority and some minority communities for their people. They provide facilities to stay for some days at moderate rates. But who would cater to the needs of average Christians?
The Christian guest houses should also make arrangements for small 'Conference Rooms' to provide such facility at moderate charges. This will also help provide additional revenue.
Home For The Aged
We are required to think actively on providing homes for the aged. It is true, we have a tradition of 'Joint Families'. But, since most urban Christians live in one-room-kitchen accommodation, both the family folks and the aged members face a real problem. The need of the hour is to build Homes for the Aged--men and women alike. Christian communities and local churches need to give thought to this rising need in major and medium cities.
It is noteworthy that this need is being discussed in Parliament. Homes for the Aged, even at the District level, are being contemplated by the government. We are reminded of the prudence of the foreign missionaries who had provided such facilities. Dedicated to the Christian cause and led by the Holy Spirit, they had proper vision. It is now for the local churches and Boards of Trustees of the mission properties to rise to the occasion and take decisive steps in the matter. For want of vision, the 'desi' missionaries either usurp accommodation, or try to use the properties to meet their selfish ends, instead of putting them to use for the extension of God's Kingdom.
There are a number of small projects for raising church buildings. In the area of educational and vocational training, scholarships can be provided for poor students and trainees, both boys and girls; this will bring most needed succour to them.
Christian families engaged in small scale farming often fall into the trap of money-lenders, for want of optimum use of inputs, in order to make their farming profitable. Besides farming, subsidiary projects like keeping milch animals or even raising a small poultry farm, need proper investments, which they cannot afford.
Entrepreneurs, businessmen and NRIs may be invited to come forward to adopt certain villages and rural Christian students who suffer for want of proper educational and training facilities. There are ample opportunities for extending a helping hand to fulfil genuine requirements of the weaker section in this generally neglected area.
Jesus once clearly acknowledged this fact. He said, "The poor people are always with you"! In short, there are acres of diamonds! One has only to look for them and find them!