US missionaries celebrate Adoniram Judson’s journey to India in 1812

New York: The American missionary impulse crossed boundaries into Asia when Adoniram Judson sailed from the United States to India 200 years ago. The American Baptist missionary and his wife Ann Hasseltine arrived in Calcutta on June 17, 1812.

There are several “Judson 200” commemorative events being organized across America. Religious liberals and conservatives, who both lay claim to Judson’s legacy, will hold separate events. One, on 6 February will include the unveiling of a new name to reflect last year’s merger of two of America’s leading evangelical mission societies, CrossGlobal Link and The Mission Exchange, representing some 35,000 American missionaries.

US missionaries celebrate Adoniram Judson’s journey to India in 1812

Adoniram Judson set sail for India 200 years ago

“We picked that date because it is the 200 year anniversary of the commissioning of the first US missionaries who were sent out. Most notably, among them was Adoniram Judson, who first sailed to India and eventually was redirected from there to Burma (modern-day Myanmar) where he spent almost 40 years,” Steve Moore, CEO and president of The Mission Exchange, told Firstpost.

The Judsons had a brief stint in India because the British East India Company didn’t really want American missionaries converting Hindus. Americans were also treated with suspicion by the British Raj because of the raging Anglo-American War of 1812 being fought between American forces and those of the British Empire. By July, 1813 Judson shipped out to Myanmar and en route his wife miscarried their first child on the ship.

In Myanmar, Judson created a grammar system, translated the Bible into Burmese and reportedly won some 100,000 converts to Christianity. But it took him seven years to score the first convert from Buddhism. Judson Sunday is still commemorated by Burmese churches every July.

India's conversions controversy

Hindu groups resent Christian missionaries from far-flung America, Britain, Australia, Ireland and other Western countries trying to convert India’s tribal population and lower caste Hindus. Changing faith has also become a messy issue thanks to a state law which outlaws religious conversion by "force, inducement and fraud." It also instructs that every case of conversion has to be reported to and recorded by the local authorities.

A large number of tribals and people from the lower castes have converted to Christianity in states like Orissa and Chhattisgarh to escape grinding poverty and the ignominy of being at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. The first Baptist missionaries reached Nagaland 125 years ago. Now 90 percent of Nagaland's 1.5 million people are Christians and the church is sending missionaries to other parts of India.

"Crude evangelism is a reality. We may also be uncomfortable at the fact that people seem to convert for all kinds of inducements," political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta told the BBC.

Does this mean that American missionaries are still following in Judson’s footsteps to export Christianity to Asia and rack up large conversions in India?

“Our workers would not view it to be ethical or in line with our own faith convictions to try to proselytize someone in a way that is manipulative or deceptive or in a way that involves any kind of force,” said Moore.

Our missionaries are motivated to live a life that is winsome and cause people to want to know the source of their faith. They would also want to be open about sharing that when it is appropriate, but they don’t believe in proselytizing someone in ways that are manipulative. They don’t offer social services based on any faith preferences. They offer the services freely to anyone regardless of their faith, regardless of their openness to their message,” he added.

Due to the problems of getting a missionary visa, most US missionary organizations rely heavily on Indian priests, sisters and partners to support micro-enterprises and deliver community health programs, HIV/Aids services, and run literacy programs in India.

The Vatican and Baptist organizations release names of murdered missionaries every year. It can be a very tough job, but US missionary organizations have been sending flocks of missionaries to all corners of the globe. The Washington Post reported that by “the mid-20th century, America was sending more missionaries than any other country.”

America still sends the most: 1,27,000 of the 4,00,000 foreign missionaries sent in 2010 came from America, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, in Boston.

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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2012 16:16:33 IST

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