• India and the gospels

    Posted by Nils

    14 February, 2012

    Poverty is in your face in India. It is a constant daily reality that cannot be ignored.

    As I tried to allow the reality of what I saw in India impact me, I was struck by how much the Gospel comes more alive in such a place, where social norms are much closer to how they were back in biblical times. There is a distinct class difference in India, mainly because of the caste system, which, while officially outlawed, still determines people’s lot in life. While India is making swift economic advances, it is crucial to remember that, in the DNA of of the country, economic growth is not inclusive. This fact is put in perspective when we remember that there are 836 million poor people in India and only 200 million non-poor, despite extraordinary economic growth of recent years.

    The Gospel came more alive to me in India because it was easier to see how it is the answer to poverty in India. In Hinduism, which still forms the background of much Indian culture, to aspire to something more than what you are is a sin. So, as always when approaching the Gospel, you need to consider the worldview of the person you are relating to. In the minds of the poor of India, they are poor because of something they did in the past. In Hinduism the here and now is critical to the hereafter (or afterlife). The Gospel breaks this cycle. If you ask people why they are poor, they will say it is because they were born into the wrong caste. It is about their identity. But as we saw in my last post, Jesus affirms our identity. He says you are made in the image of God, so there is no class distinction. There is neither Jew nor Greek, rich or poor, slave or free. In the Hindu culture you appease God – behave yourself so that God will not hurt you. In Christianity you can relate to God. It is about a conversational relationship with God. Fear is broken and love is found.

    The social situations we encounter in the gospels are also strikingly similar to what happens in India today, and they make you realise the scandal of the Gospel. For example, in Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells a story of labourers waiting to be chosen for work for the day. That happens in India today. People wait on street corners waiting to be chosen for work. And when you remember Jesus’ story of those being chosen late being paid the same as those who have worked all day, you see very clearly the scandal that would have caused, and the scandal it would cause in the present day.

    Being in India helped me to realise again that any Gospel that is not about good news to the poor is not the Gospel of Jesus. Simple as that. The belief pervading much of Western Christianity that it is all about going to heaven when you die is just not something that the poor in India think about. They have more immediate concerns. They are poor now and the Gospel must speak to that. If it doesn't, it is not good news to anyone, let alone the poor.

    We need to shake the idea that our version of Christianity in the West is what the rest of the world needs to hear. Unfortunately, Western Christianity – mainly that coming out of the United States – has a huge influence on many churches in India. But, as was pointed out to me, Jesus and the disciples never saw America, and they never saw much of what is now Europe. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that one of the twelve disciples - Thomas - did go to India. So there is a strong sense in which India has a much more solid link to early Christianity than does the West.

    Jesus is alive and well in India. I saw Him in the eyes of the poor and in the hearts of those who work with the poor. ‘Whenever you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40). This is what much of the church in India is doing. Only 2.7% of people in India are Christian, but with the persecution it experiences, the church is growing. As Director if World Vision India, Jayakumar Christian, pointed out to me, the Church is always called to be a remnant and to be persecuted. It is in suffering that the real Gospel is seen and it is changing lives in India. The challenge for us when looking at poverty is to ask ourselves how we see poverty and the solutions to it, and then ask if our response is sustainable without a faith position. After visiting India, I am more convinced that it is not.


    Nils von Kalm works as a resource developer with World Vision Australia (a Micah Challenge Australia Endorsing Agency). Nils is passionate about the importance of biblical theology informing our Christian worldview, and showing how Christian faith is relevant to the whole of life.