World Christianity, Part 2
An assembly from the Culham St Gabriel archive
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To introduce an aspect of world Christianity – in this case, Christianity in India.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and one or two readers. For your reader or one of them, if possible, ask a student who can speak Hindi, Bengali, Urdu or one of the other Indian languages as well as English to translate a Bible passage into that language and perhaps even dress in clothes typically worn in India every day or for a special occasion. Either this reader or another student could then give the English translation of the passage in Hindi or other language, doing so phrase by phrase.
- If possible, have available some images or tourist posters of India and the means to show them during the assembly.
- Have available, too, some Indian music, perhaps by Ravi Shankar, and the means to play it at the beginning and end of the assembly.
Play Indian music as the students enter the assembly, if using.
Leader If I say 'India' to you, what images come to mind? Snowy mountain ranges? Gorgeous Goan beaches? Crowded slums? Exotic bazaars? Sacred cows? The Taj Mahal? Trains overflowing with people?
Reader New Delhi, 2 May. News from The Hindu newspaper.
India and China are among the top 10 countries registering the maximum number of dotcom companies this year with Network Solutions, the global leader in domain registrations.
Leader Did you know that India is one of the most computer-literate countries in the world? What else do you really know about India?
Even for those who live in or come from this vast country, there are many aspects of it that they do not know about. Whenever things are unknown, people tend to form stereotypes. Holiday brochures are all about stereotypes. People pick up certain ideas – such as that the Taj Mahal is romantic by moonlight or long train journeys are exciting – and in this way the myths are born.
Show the images or posters, if using.
Not that such myths have no truth to them at all, but the reality is not always quite like you’d imagine it would be from these sorts of images.
Today we are thinking about Christianity in India. Most people would probably make the connection straight away with Mother Teresa, poverty and charitable works, as well as, perhaps, the work of agencies such as Christian Aid and Cafod. They form only a very small part of the story, though.
Christianity in India is a minority faith and sometimes Christians are still persecuted. Christians account for no more than 3 per cent of the population, although, as India has a population of 1.252 billion – in 2013 – it’s still a fair number of people.
Being in a minority isn't something unique for Christianity. After all, that's the way it started out. Thinking about India, though, for a moment, why do so many young – and older – people from the West want to go there? People often talk about 'searching' and finding there something that can't be found in the Western world.
Mark Tully, one-time head of the BBC’s Indian office, says:
the West starts from estrangement, the East from familiarity. The West starts from dogma taught from outside, the East from the inner conviction that there is a God.
Bede Griffiths, for example, was a Benedictine monk from England who went to live in India and started an ashram, which is a simple place of worship, and a community there where he spent his life living like an Indian holy man, dressed in saffron robes and learning from Hindu and other local religious traditions. He lived like this until his death in 1993.
People came to visit him as pilgrims. They wanted to know more of what he had to say about the insights that could come from India. Bede spoke about:
the extraordinary sacredness which attaches to every created thing in India.
There, God is known to be present in all nature – in the earth, fire, water, plants, animals and humans, as well as beyond them. Let's stop and think for a moment about what that says about the world around us. It's quite a thought . . .
A country in which the life of faith is in tune with its environment, where nature is seen as helping us get close to God and respect for creation helps us to be in tune with the whole created world – perhaps that is one of the most important insights of Indian Christianity. It keeps us in touch with a deeper reality in a world of fast food, fast travel and temporary dreams.
Reader or readers Read Bible passage in chosen Indian language and English translation, phrase by phrase, if it has been possible to arrange this.
Time for reflection
There is a very strong tradition of meditation in India. Explain this to the students, then spend a few minutes in silent, wordless prayer.
- Find out about Christianity in India. Visit the website at: members.tripod.com/~Berchmans/chridx.html for details of history and practices. (Although mainly suitable for older and more able pupils, it is a source for teachers, too, as it has some interesting background facts – the story of Thomas, founder of Christianity in India, being particularly important.)
- Discuss Mark Tully's book Lives of Jesus (BBC Books, 1996), which contains records of several of his conversations with Indian Christians and is full of thought-provoking ideas, accessibly presented.
- Discuss the responsibility that Christians have to the environment. For information on this topic, visit the website of the REEP charity at: www.reep.org.uk.
Indian music of your choosing, perhaps by Ravi Shankar