East is East and West is West – Part II

Veteran missionary Stanley Jones’ integral question and Mahathma Gandhi’s insightful response are both unique and universal (refer to my last post, part I).  Here is Gandhi’s last point:  “Study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people”.  It sounds like a typical oxymoron, simple yet uneasy to explain.  Many have tried theologically. At the risk of sounding trivial, I will attempt with two trifling examples – drums and paintball.

Did you ever see a drum in a church twenty years ago? It was considered a pagan instrument although it was an integral part of all classical and non-classical music for millenia all over the world. Drums were used for worship and social gatherings.  Yet, I recall a church in Calcutta, when the pastor’s son wanted to play drums, the church almost split.  The outcome, many young children learned neither drum because it was pagan nor organ because there was none in the Community.   Fast forward to 2013, can you now find a church without a set of drums?  The stone the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone of all worship services. Had we only studied sympathetically.


Now to the Paint Ball Bash.  Being a senior with limited knowledge on this event, I sought the leader of a church youth group to educate me.  Basically it is a group activity sport, he said.  The facility provides a cover-all from knee up, a helmet for neck and head, paint guns and a bunch of paint balls.  The game is to move skilfully from one end to the other without getting drenched by the opposing team with their bazookas.  The purpose, he emphasized, was to loosen up, have fun and to get to know each other. What a great idea! Will this bash spill over to the seniors group?

This reminded me of an Indian festival called Holi, originated around 400 AD.  Annually, coinciding with the start of Spring, Hindu families took dry powder in bright colors and, in fun and frolic, threw at any and every one they meet, from head to toe, no protective clothing.  In praise of Holi they have no age limit, open to all from grandparents to grandchildren and all inbetween. They start it on the streets as soon as they get out of their homes and begin dusting, blowing or splashing on any, colour, caste, or creed, like one big family.  It was also a time to repair ruptured friendships or soured relationships.  Were they centuries ahead?

The objective of both the modern paintball bash and the ancient Holi, is the same – to relax, have fun and create or restore friendship.  Alas, had we sympathetically learned and told the neighbours “what a great idea, not only to have fun and repair relations between one another but also between God and man and grab the opportunity to explain the good news that Jesus brought”.  Sympathetic learning is not ecumenical compromising.  It is communicating the gospel with understanding, “if necessary use words” as St.Francis taught.

Returning to Gandhi’s answer, there are legitimate questions, like why must we spend our time, energy, and finance studying other religions? Christian mission is not only important but also expedient, isn’t it?  Did not Jesus warn “work for the night is coming”?  Nevertheless, the lingering question still is, must we sacrifice the important for the urgent?  If the mission is that important, shouldn’t one make time preparing for the noble task?  Did not Jesus himself think it so important that he prepared thirty years, the so-called silent years for three year’s mission?

Jesus defined his mission. He came to seek and to save that is lost. No one disputes there will always be some who disagree with anything or everything. Few disprove the historic Jesus’ words, works, cross, death and resurrection.  Jesus put his manifesto in his Sermon on the Mount.  Does anyone contradict that?  So, like the Ethiopian Finance Minister to the queen’s question to Philip, “what doth hinder”?

One large contributing factor, which I hesitate to admit, may be my lack of unsympathetic understanding.  There is a tendency to cover it up with pseudo-orthodoxy.  If nothing else, learning sympathetically cautions us from the proverbial saying “beware the man with one book” (homo unius libri).  Am I still harbouring a bit of Jonah’s spirit?  St. Paul wrote: “to the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some”.

While typing this post I am whistling the old Spiritual “it’s me O Lord standing in the need of prayer”.

God bless,   Danny Paul

“East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet” – Part I

I had promised to post a dialogue between one of my favorite missionaries to India, E. Stanley Jones, and Mahathma Gandhi, venerably named the “Father of modern India”.  I was fortunate to hear both of them.  Though very young, I did hear Gandhi on the radio.  As for Jones, I heard him thrice, the last time at our own church in Calcutta.  I made up for the rest by reading all their books.

But wait, what has that got to do with my title?  First, mercilessly, my English Teacher,  forced us to read this ballad by Rudyard Kipling and write it in prose in our own words.  Our teacher’s favourite was Kipling’s poem simply called “If”.  That was back in 1951.  By the way, Kipling was well equipped to write about East and West, for he was born and educated in Bombay, India.  Later he returned to England.

Now back to Jones and Gandhi.  Can you picture a brown man wearing his Dhothi made of rough cotton and hand spun with a spinning wheel?  Winston Churchill mockingly called him “the half naked fakir”.  Jones was a larger man, in his western suit, but no tie.  These two great souls (mahathmas) had things in common.  Gandhi studied Law in England, before embarking on his great mission for India’s rightful independence from Britain. It was a lifelong struggle and Gandhi gave his life for it.  I was twelve years old when he was shot dead on his way to a prayer meeting.

Jones studied in Baltimore, later took Law, and finally graduated from Asbury College.  Like Gandhi, he too changed his course.  Instead of pursuing law, he became a Methodist missionary to India.  He loved India so much that he spent most of his life there, even after a severe stroke, and finally died in India.  In the providence of God, these twain met in India!  Do not stop with the first lines of the ballad.  It continues: “But there is neither East nor West, Border nor Breed, nor Birth; When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from ends of the earth”.

They developed a mutual admiration for each other, as Kamal and the Colonel’s son in the ballad.  Gandhi respected Jones, as a disciple of Jesus and for his support for India’s freedom.  In those days, normal missionaries did not meddle with Indian politics.  Who would dare to lock horns with the ruling British?  Stanley Jones honoured Gandhi not only as a leader and for his non-violence principle but also for his devotion to Jesus Christ, though a Hindu.   I believe Jones influenced Martin Luther King with the Gandhian principle of “Satyagraha”, the nonviolent struggle towards his “dream” for America.

Jones asked Gandhi a pointed yet spiritual question:  “How can we make Christianity naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and foreign people but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift”?  The answer from Gandhi was equally poignant, pragmatic, and precise.  Although the immediate subject was the Christian mission in India, the magnitude and challenge was the Gospel and world missions.

GhandiRemember these two were students of law and did not mince words. This was Gandhi’s answer:  “First I would suggest that all Christian missionaries begin to live more like Jesus Christ.  Second, practice without adulterating or toning down.  Thirdly, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central to Christianity.  Lastly, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people”.

I doubt whether their question and answer was the result of one sitting like today’s “talk shows”.  There were no TVs then in India, never mind a talk show.  There were radios, but few could afford.  Probably Jones took notes and wrote later.  Had Gandhi written his thoughts on this, it would have become the best seller among Christian thinkers.  Perhaps not!  In general, Christian thinking had not reached there yet.   In my humble opinion, I would insist this as Course #101 for all aspiring missionaries.

I am close to my 800 words limit and hope to continue on this theme later as part II.  Guess what tune am I whistling tonight?  Gandhi’s favourite hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross”. The Government of India played it at his funeral. In the meanwhile, let me hear from you, preferably before I write Part II in a few days.

God bless,  Danny Paul


Kids Smile Again

December is unique – the year ending, Merry Christmas , Happy Holidays, gifts, family reunions, turkey dinners  etc.  However, not everyone is joyful.  In fact, for many it is a cold month of regrets, sad memories and loneliness.  I wanted to write a post to these special friends, highlighting how Jesus promised to gently wipe away the tears and change the darkest cloud into joy of sunshine.  So, out of the blue last night, I requested my friend Larry to email me a brief write up about his own heart-wrenching experience.  With his kind permission, here is his email unedited:

Hi Danny,

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV)

Since your call last night, I’ve been thinking about the loss of our son Christopher, who was born on Christmas Day, and the double edged sword of pain and joy that never goes away. The spear of pain that has penetrated our hearts, knowing that he is gone from us never to be seen again in this present world. Yet the joy of knowing that he is with Jesus, that he did not die in vain as this was God’s perfect plan, and that we will soon be with him for all eternity. 

gni - smilingBefore God took him home, Christopher became aware of Good News India (www.goodnewsindia.com) and his heart was touched by “kids that never smiled”.  He wanted to be a part of Good News India and help change their lives to see them smile again. With his passing, we built a Dream Center in Balasore, India in his memory. Two years later, my wife and I and younger son traveled to India for the first time for the dedication of the home. What an explosion of singing, dancing, excitement, and joy erupted as 80 kids left their mud hut refuge to experience living in a home built on a solid foundation just for them (as meager as it was by the measure of the affluent Western society). 

Today, eight years later, if God hadn’t taken Christopher home to be with Him, we would never know the joy of knowing and being a part of the lives, of over 2,600 children and lepers, who call us mommy and daddy or auntie and uncle. These discarded souls abandoned by society now live and grow in the joy of the Lord and blossom with excitement and happiness every moment of every day. All are given the opportunity to experience a Christ centered loving family environment, they are fed and cared for, dressed in uniforms equipped with books and supplies for school, and encouraged to excel in the giftings that God has given each one individually. They are given the opportunity to dream dreams that they could never before have imagined, as God’s love and the world of possibilities are opened before them. 

It’s an amazing sight to see the transforming power of Christ at work in each child’s life. We are humbled that God would give us the privilege of partnering with Him to change the faces of the kids and nation of India. Although no one could ever replace the love we have for Christopher, God has filled the painful hole in our hearts with the kids and people of India, who we love so much, that now smile. They smile because they know that they are highly valued by God, feel the love and protection of Christ around them, and have grown to trust in Him. 

In closing, below is today’s November 3rd.   Streams in the Desert, devotion, which speaks to “sacrifice  of sorrow” that we all have to make to find the peace and joy of living in His shadow with our faith fully anchored in Him. “You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain” (Isa. 40:9).

Toys and trinkets are easily won, but the greatest things are greatly bought. The top-most place of power is always bought with blood. You may have the pinnacles if you have enough blood to pay. That is the conquest condition of the holy heights everywhere. The story of real heroisms is the story of sacrificial blood. The chiefest values in life and character are not blown across our way by vagrant winds. Great souls have great sorrows.

The capacity for knowing God enlarges as we are brought by Him into circumstances which oblige us to exercise faith; so, when difficulties beset our path let us thank God that He is taking trouble with us, and lean hard upon Him. 

Your brother in Christ, Larry

Thank you Larry for sharing with my readers your traumatic but triumphant experience.

God bless,    Danny Paul