Brethren in Christ Church Society-Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali, India
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|Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali|
India: World Factbook, 2011
Number of Congregations
Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali, or the Brethren in Christ Church Society, is a BIC conference in the northern state of Bihar, India. Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali is affiliated with a variety of Anabaptist organizations: Mennonite World Conference, Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India, Mennonite Central Committee and the All Asia Mennonite Fellowship. At the end of 2007 Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali reported to have 4,841 members in 65 congregations.
- 1 History
- 2 Present challenges
- 3 Identification within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition
- 4 Future of Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali
- 5 Key Individuals in the BIC Church in India
- 6 Electronic Resources
- 7 Citations
- 8 Acknowledgments
Early mission attempt
In 1903, the BIC General Conference authorized the Foreign Mission Board to establish a mission in India under the supervision of the Brethren in Christ Church. The mission began to take form in 1904 and a year later the BIC missionaries arrived in Bombay. The group took up residence in Arrah, near the India-Nepal border in the state of Bihar. But after the first year, it became evident that the mission was struggling. In 1905 the leaders of the mission group left the Brethren in Christ to work with a different mission society. Beyond this initial setback, the missionaries were not providing large numbers of converts. In fact, by 1909 the mission community numbered a mere 15 individuals. It was recognized that the Hindu caste system was making evangelism a much more difficult task than in other regions such as the mission field in Africa. Because of this reality, the BIC in North America experienced a church-wide shift in attention away from India towards the fruitful missions in Africa. Eventually, in 1912, the missionaries returned home. They had been unable to successfully establish a permanent mission station but they set the stage for later mission work in India. The experience revealed the need for stronger leadership in the field, a permanent mission station and for more adequate financial support. 
Founding of the Brethren in Christ Church Society
The Foreign Mission Board soon issued a statement that a second mission to India would soon be established. The group solidified and in 1913 the missionaries reached Calcutta under the leadership of Henry Smith. The missionaries spent their first month observing the facilities and methods of other established Anabaptist missions in India. After this short period the group began looking for a place to start their own ministry. Smith approached the comity committee, a collection of Christian churches and missions in India that guided new missions to yet un-evangelized regions of India. Through the guidance of their fellow Christians, the group eventually decided upon a location in the densely populated Bhagalpur District of Bihar. The mission, established it's first residence house in the village of Saur. Several months later the group decided to move twelve miles north of Saur to Madhipura. By 1918 the mission had established a presence in Bihar with mission stations in Saharsa, Madhipura and Supaul.
|1905||The first BIC missionaries arrive in Bombay on January 6. The missionaries station themselves in Arrah, in north India. While they spend most of their time engaged in language studies, the Missionaries set up a preliminary Sunday service and Sunday school for those able to speak English. By October the the missionaries had baptized the first three converts: a Brahman and a Muslim father and daughter.|
|1906||The leaders of the BIC mission, the Angeneys leave the BIC for a different mission society. The 1906 General Conference directed the Foreign Mission Board to seek a capable leader to take charge of the mission. Meanwhile, the remaining missionaries conducted Sunday services, engaged in visitations, ministered to the sick, attempted to meet the needs of widows and conducted bible classes. The mission also expanded their ministry to education programs for women and the poor.|
|1912||Missionaries return home after struggling for seven years. In the end the missionaries were unable to establish a permanent mission in India. But they did give the next generation of missionaries valuable insights into what is required for establishing a successful mission in the region.|
|1913||Foreign Mission Board sends over a second group of missionaries led by Henry Smith poised to conduct a mission informed by the difficulties of the past mission in Arrah.|
|1918||The mission reached a benchmark in 1918 and had established three stations in Bihar: Saharsa, Madhipura and Supaul. After five years of mission work, Saharsa and madhipura reported to have two members and four inquirers; Supaul had 16 adherents. |
|1919||Marked the beginning of the church's orphanage ministry. The missionaries began by simply caring for a motherless boy but soon formed both a boys and girls orphanage each with their own school. The orphanages would eventually become the principle source of members for the church as it developed through the mid-century.|
|1922||The mission adopts a new statement of purpose to explain their shift in mission tactics. Because of the lack of response to their evangelistic efforts, the mission had already begun focusing their attention on various social ministries to address issues related to orphans, widows, education and health. To continue the mission's direct evangelical work, leadership began to hire Christian nationals to supplement the foreign missionaries.|
|1924||After a decade of mission work in India, Henry Smith dies of Smallpox. Leadership passes to Amos Dick who would give a lifetime of service in India. In 1935 the General Conference made Amos Dick the Bishop of the India Mission field.|
|1939||The church in India celebrated its Silver Jubilee with 151 baptisms of new converts; the Christian community now numbered around 200. The church recognized that it had been growing slowly. Likely the biggest contributing factor was the fact that evangelism had always struggled to make inroads into the Hindu community. The caste system had always been a hurtle for the likely convert. Essentially, in caste system conversion makes one equivalent to an outcast among their people. Which explains why the most converts prior to the mid-century the most converts were form lower castes whose members would likely loose less by conversion. But thankfully, the church's 25th anniversary would be seen in retrospect as a turning point for the mission and the growth of the church.|
|1945||The widely successful mission to the Santals begins. The Santals were a tribal group moving into the Bihar region. They were notably less bound to the Hindu caste system and were thus more responsive to evangelism. In fact, when BIC missionary Charles Engle originally contacted them he discovered that some of the Santals were already baptized Christians. Because of the Santals response to evangelism, a new mission, Banmankhi, was established within access of the Santal villages. This outreach to the Santal villages largely accounts for the fourfold increase of the Indian church in the decades following the Silver Jubilee. Among the Santals, several nationals rose up as talented leaders. Benjamin Marandi, an excellent church planter, began a church by himself that would swell to well over 1000 members before his active days of ministry were done.|
|1954||The first three India nationals are ordained by the church.|
|1955||The first constitution for the Brethren in Christ Church in India was written. Within the document, there was noted cooperation between the foreign missionaries and the native church leaders. Both would serve on the church's executive committee. Unfortunately the constitution was never registered as an official document. Subsequently, the document was only ever loosely followed. Among several new changes the constitution provided for a church chairmanship to be rotated among four regional superintendents. An interesting factor to note is that the first church Chairman was a missionary and not a national.|
|1967||A foreign missionary continued to sit as church chairman until 1967 when Chairman Harvey Sider indicated that he would not be available to continue being church chairman. Form this point onward the church chairman has been an Indian national. The first nationals to hold the office were Hem K. Paul, Surendra N. Roy, Patros Hembrom and Sohan Lal Bara. Following this movement towards integrating nationals into church leadership, the ordained leadership joined the mission/church executive committee. This was the first real opportunity for nationals to become a real part of the decision making process. Naturally this slowed the process down considerably, but it also furthered the development of trust, mutuality and holistic decision making.|
|1972||As nationals continued to take over the institutions of the church, it became increasingly important to have a constitution that was registered with the sate government. In 1972 a revised constitution was finally approved and registered in the state capital of Patna. Besides allowing the church to be recognized as a authentic Indian institution, the registered status, allowed for the church to receive funds directly from North America rather than through the mission. The document remains to be the basis for policy decisions in the Brethren in Christ Church in India.|
|1974||With the church officially registered, the Mission transferred ownership of all lands and holdings over to the national BIC church of India. And in 1974 the BIC Mission in India was officially terminated. This was the moment when the BIC in India became fully autonomous.|
Economic and literacy challenges
Listed among the current issues that Harvey Sider cites as the main challenges for the people of Bihar and for the church was government corruption, low education and poverty. In the 2011 India census, the state of Bihar was reported to have the third highest population among all other states and union territories, at the same time, Bihar also possesses the lowest literacy rate in the country with only 63.82% of the state's population being literate. Furthermore, the statistics for the fiscal year 2010 showed that Bihar had the lowest per-capita income for all of India: 16,119 Rupees or approximately 340 US Dollars (the exchange rate used was 47.36 Indian Rupees to 1 USD). In terms of governmental corruption the situation is bleak. Nitish Kumar, Chief minister of Bihar's state government, has said that curbing corruption is the greatest challenge facing his administration. Reuters reports that "Bihar has become a byword for poverty, lawlessness and corruption."
Though the situation has not escalated in the Bihar province, the Indian church has suffered devastating losses at the hands of anti-Christian nationals. According to Sider, the situation seems to be an increasing issue. In particular, the Brethren in Christ Church in Orissa, where it is illegal to preach about Christ and to baptize, has had both buildings and lives lost. In 2001, a Brethren in Christ pastor was martyred, the first such incident, and a foreign missionary from Australia and his two sons were burned to death. Reporting to the International Brethren in Christ Association the regional administrator for South Asia, who oversees the 180 congregations in India, explained that the violence goes far beyond the BIC church engulfing the entire Christian community. "There have been threats, beatings, and persecution for the last 20 years, but the [current] situation is very tense. People have been brutally murdered, hacked to death, women have been gang raped, and more than 100 churches in all six districts have been burned." In this most recent wave of violence, "Brethren in Christ members have been attacked but not killed." The administrator is referencing primarily to the events of August 26, 2008 when a crowd of up to 4,000 Hindu fundamentalists attacked the BIC Girls Hostel in Nuagaon. The militants, set fire to the building, bombed the campus and destroyed a nearby BIC church. The hostel was one of nine such facilities operated by the Indian BIC Church through the BICWM-sponsored SPICE program. Luckily the staff and children all managed to escape unharmed. The church official cited four actions which are currently underway or have been planned: calling the global Church to pray for Christians in Orissa; meeting with 15 to 20 church leaders from the immediate area in late September to plan a response to the violence and its victims; seeking financial support to rebuild homes, churches, and institutions; and meeting later with up to 200 church leaders in the broader area to hear from them how to help their people who have been victimized.
It is estimated that there were approximately 3 million people who were forced to flee their homes in Bihar because of the flooding along the Kosi river in 2008. In some places, waters spanned across 50 miles of what is normally dry land. While the death toll varies widely from 10,000 to estimates reaching into the hundreds of thousands, Harvey Sider, who was traveling in the region around the time of the flooding, indicates that these figures are usually grossly underestimated. Apparently, the Kosi overflowed due to mismanagement of the waterway system. A strategic breach in a barrage on the Nepalese side of the border got out of control and sent a rush of water into the Kosi River area. While the majority of those effected by the flooding are Hindu, about 8,000 members of the Brethren in Christ church live in the affected region. Mennonite Central Committee provided $50,000 in aid through its associated counterpart, the Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India. The Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India then organized volunteers from the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches to distribute food to the displaced families regardless of their religious affiliation. The recovery has proceeded slowly and various church leaders have asked the BIC churches of North America to pray for the recovery of the church and for the flood victims.
Identification within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition
Response to MWC General Assembly 1997
Rev. Samuel Hembrom, the most senior leader of the Brethren in Christ Church in India, shared his impressions on 13th Mennonite World Conference general assembly held in Calcutta, India. "I had been sharing with my people here in the BIC Church areas in Bihar about the variety of Mennonites around the world...about different customs and practices...about world gatherings at one place, eating, singing and praying together. This had created enormous anticipation. When MCSFI announced subsidies for India 1997 Assembly Gathered, many more wanted to go and many registered for Assembly 13." "It was amazing to see even those who had never dared to go out of their district come to Calcutta..." "Our people enjoyed every bit of the Assembly Gathered. They even enjoyed initial confusions and difficulties. Seeing so many Mennonite Christians of the world under one shamiana made them even more proud Christians. Roaming around in the streets of Calcutta with their badges and cotton bags hanging from their shoulders they declared with pride being Anabaptist Christians. Even those who were generally very timid confronted elite Calcuttans by declaring that they are loyal citizens of India as well as of heaven. When they returned from Calcutta they were different Christians. They became bold to witness for the Gospel. I believe Assembly 13 has made Indian Christians stronger in the faith."
Ties and associations with Anabaptist-Mennonite groups
The Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali continues to be active participants within Anabaptist and Mennonite institutions. Among their local connections, the Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali participates regularly with the MCSFI (Mennonite Christian Fellowship of India) as well as the All Asia Mennonite Fellowship. But besides participating with regional Anabaptist organizations Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali also coordinates with both Western and Global Anabaptist organizations including Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite World Conference and Brethren in Christ World Missions.
Future of Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali
In the next several years, Bharatiya Khristiya Mandali will be striving towards self-sustainability. Currently the church has set a goal of 2014. The church is devoted to church planting and evangelism and the BIC continues to grow. Over the next several years the BIC community will likely continue this trend and have to expand upon their current number of pastors and missionaries to meet the needs of the expanding church.
Key Individuals in the BIC Church in India
- Rev. Samuel Hembrom is the General Secretary for the Brethren in Christ Church in Bihar and also the most senior church leader in the region.
- Sujit Kuman Khuntia is the Chairman of the Brethren in Christ Church in Orissa.
- Rev. Dan Deyhle is the Director of the West India Brethren in Christ Conference.
- "India," CIA World Factbook. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html (accessed 12 April 2011).
- "Global BIC Church Statistical Summary (Year ending Dec. 31, 2007)." Brethren in Christ World Missions. http://www.google.com/url?q=http://bic-church.org/wm/forms/download.asp%3Ffname%3D2009%2520Policy%2520Manual%2520Appendices.pdf&sa=U&ei=Q4R-TcWVEILYgQegl4WeCA&ved=0CAMQFjAA&usg=AFQjCNGJlLbCDpnCC4lCYGM7_dJIDllehw (accessed 14 March 2011).
- Sider, Harvey. Email interview. 23 March 2011.
- Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: the Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, Ind, Evangel Press, 1977.
- Sider, Harvey. The Church in Mission. Nappanee, Ind, Evangel Press, 1975.
- Sider, Harvey R. "From Mission to Church: India." Brethren in Christ History & Life 17, (August 1, 1994): 113-144.
- Sider, Harvey. Email interview. 14 April 2011.
- Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India. "Census 2011 Provisional Population Totals." Ministry of Home Affairs. http://www.thehindu.com/multimedia/archive/00517/India_Census_2011___517160a.pdf (accessed 16 April 2011).
- VMW Analytic Services. "Economy of the Federal States & Population for Year 2011." UNIDOW Financial Intelligence Services. http://unidow.com/india%20home%20eng/statewise_gdp.html (accessed 16 April, 2011).
- "CM: Corruption biggest challenge." The Times of India. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2008-12-13/patna/27922120_1_corruption-nitish-kumar-gallantry-medals (accessed 16 April 2011).
- Financial Express. "Doing business the hard way in Bihar." Reuters. http://www.financialexpress.com/news/doing-business-the-hard-way-in-bihar/274316/ (accessed 16 April, 2011).
- "India." Brethren in Christ World Missions. http://www.bic-church.org/wm/explore/india.asp (accessed 14 April 2011).
- Burkhardt, Ferne. "Leader from BIC Church in India reports on violence in Orissa." Brethern in Christ Church of North America and Mennonite World Conference. http://www.bic-church.org/news/churchwide/archives/08_09_24_mwc_india_release.asp (accessed 14 April 2011).
- "SPICE Hostel Attacked." Brethren in Christ of North America. http://www.bic-church.org/news/churchwide/archives/08_08_27_spice_attack.asp (accessed 14 April, 2011).
- Shenk, Tim. "MCC provides flood relief in India." Mennonite Central Committee. http://mcc.org/stories/news/mcc-provides-flood-relief-india (accessed 14 April, 2011).
- "BIC traveler reports effects of flooding still in Bihar, India." Brethern in Christ of North America. http://www.bic-church.org/news/churchwide/archives/08_11_24_india_flooding_still_felt.asp (accessed 27 March, 2011).
- Devadason, Margaret. "That wonderful 'Third World county' Assembly." Courier, vol. 12, number 4, 1997.http://www.mwc-cmm.org/News/Assembly/1204p11.html (accessed 27 March, 2011).
Jonathan Harnish compiled much of the information presented here in a student research paper for a spring 2011 Anabaptist Mennonite History Class at Goshen College.