Conversion and Ghar-vapsi: My Initial reflection

Conversion and Ghar-vapsi: My Initial reflection

We are hearing a lot of hue and cry about conversion, anti-conversion and re-conversion. The ongoing debate is that conversion should stop. If it does not stop rules will be framed or force will be used to stop conversion. Let us examine some basic truths that come out of this conversion debate.

Conversion is inevitable:

Change and conversion is inevitable. Worldundergoes change and get converted into new shape in every other second. The world we see is not the same that we saw few years back. Is it bad? Given an option, people opt for conversion. A person havinga bike converts his mode of transport to a car when he can afford for it and feels the need for a conversion. He can either hold on to a philosophy of contentment and retain biking or can have a more comfortable philosophy and can convert his mode of transport. When a person gets a responsible position in government or a political party, his whole life style gets converted. No party – even the ones against conversion are no exception. Even ordinary people who migrate from one part to another gets themselves converted to a new place’s life style. Sometimes this conversion is thrust upon, sometimes accepted willingly.

Why does one get converted:

When a person wishes to convert, he eitheris dissatisfied with the existing system or wants to adopt a new set of philosophies, life style and principles. Some may convert even for getting some benefit. But such opportunists who convert may not be very loyal to the principles, philosophizes and ideologies of the converted way of life. They may not even have problem in converting themselves again to some otherparty for some gains as and when the opportunity knocks. But willful conversion is different from forced conversion. Why do many give up their lives when they werethreatened? Why did not they compromise even when faced with severe persecution and threats?

Conversion by Hinduism:

Hindus show that Muslims and Christians are the ones who convert. When I go to some parts of tribal villages of Tamil Nadu,Andra, etc I find people worshiping gods other than Hinduism but calling them as Hindus. Their gods mostly are based on their village tradition. Mahabarata, Ramayana, Upanishads are alien stories to them. Then why do they call themselves Hindus? Did they too undergo some kind ofconversion somewhere in the history? Since we have history from the perspectiveof the influential can this conversion be ruler out?Who can claim to be original?Today we live in a globe with different religions. At one point of time in history there should have been one religion and even before that no religion. Religion as an ideology might have developed over the years. Can’t it be? Beginning of human existence should have been the origin of all. If any “ghar vapshi” should take place it should take place to respect human beings’worth and grand them their right. That is a real ghar vapsi. If we know history only from one perspective and only from a particular period of time, we should not give a call about “ghar vapsi”

More serious problems raised by conversion debate:

Willingnes to conversion also shows the need for a better alternative for the one who wishes to convert. When a conversion happens we should not ask the question “how to bring back the convert”, but introspect on a more serious question “why did they get converted?”. Instead of alleging false and superficial accusation, the losing party should think of restructuring so that it can retain. Deep questions should be asked from sociological, ideological and practical point of view.

A note on Christian conversion:

Before commenting on Christian conversion of non- Christian, let me make it very clear that a Christian can never give birth to a Christian. They give birth only to ordinary human beings. They will also have to undergo Conversion. They can either choose to be Christian or not. Every new generation born in Christian families have to under go conversion.

Christians are often told that they lure people by money. But Christians empty themselves and their pockets when they see a need. Because of the love shown to them by Jesus Christ by giving Himself completely and His teaching to love everyone, charity becomes a part of Christian living. So when they find a need for hospital they will not stop from emptying their pockets for a social cause. What do you expect from a Christian? Not to respond at the time of need? By the mean time when some of those benefited by this upliftment gets to hear about this new teaching, he may wish to accept this self giving ideology. What is wrong in him? Why did the existing community wait till a Christian community empty its pocket? Why did it not think of such activities? Christianity went through different phase of reformation. Why not other religions who cry about conversion go through reformation? Why use force? Why use influence? Why politicize it?If there is weakness in you why do you want to invent a problem to hide your weakness? Why don’t you dare to change yourself? Why threaten people ?Why fight against conversion? Conversion was a part of history and it will have to b

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Commemorating Diwali as an Indian Christian

Commemorating Diwali as an Indian Christian

“Commemorating Diwali as a Christan?”, sounds strange???

Well. As a Christian I am equally enthusiastic to commemorate the festival Diwali. I believe that every Indian Christian (or any Christian for that matter) can retrospect on these themes of the festival when their Indian Hindus friends celebrate Diwali.

I grew up in my village in Kanykumari along with my Hindu and Christian neighbours and relatives. Diwali for us was more of a social celebration than a religious one. I am privileged to live in India where I can learn and understand the perspectives of people following different religion. During every festival I try to study its background and try to relate it with Bible and grapple to find how it appeals to me as a Christian.

Today it is time for me to reflect on Diwali. There are lot of narratives revolving around Diwali. Commenting on different ways people celebrate diwali, reporter Ankit Mehara writes to international Business times,

Owing to India’s cultural diversity, the festival gets a distinct regional touch in different parts of the country. In north India, people celebrate Diwali to mark the victory of Lord Ram over demon King Ravana and his return to Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakhsman after 14 years of exile… In the south, the festival is called Deepavali and marks the defeat of demon Narakasura. During Diwali, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi are worshipped. The festival also holds a special importance to farmers across the country. Diwali marks the end of the harvest season, which is why the farmers celebrate it1.

Swami Chidanand Saraswati ,who conceived the idea of and laying the foundation for the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism, talks about Diwali his blog2as:

The time of Diwali is one of the most festive and beautiful times of the year. Diwali literally means a “Row of Lights.” …It is the darkest night of the darkest period, yet it is a celebration of light! Diwali is heralded as the triumph of good over evil”.

He also mentions about some of the important themes of diwali like the celebration of light, the triumph of good over evil, of righteousness over treachery, of truth over falsehood, and of light over darkness, a fresh start and worship of Maha Lakshmi (prayer for prosperity). We can find parallel Christian theme for most of them in the Holy Bible as well.

Though I can elaborate on each theme, this year I would like to dwell on the theme of celebration of light from the Bible. I am excited to know how “celebration of light” can be very much Christian as well. The very first book of The Holy Bible has a mention about Light:

“And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.

And God saw that the light was good”. 3

Even the Bible ends with a beautiful declaration about the light. Talking about the new heaven and earth Bible says in the last chapter:

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever”. 4

The declaration about light by Jesus is simply incredible for me. He claimed

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”5

I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. ”6

Having declared himself as the Light of the world, He gave a higher responsibility to His followers. He called them as Jagdeep (Light of the World)

“You are the light of the world.” 7

Christians are encouraged to walk in the light

for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light ”. 8

Yes. diwali is definitely important for me as a Christian. As my friends and neighbours light crackers, I have to introspect myself how am I reflecting Christ’s expectation of being the light of the world! Christian community should think of different ways of being light of the world in these days of darkness.

If the Christian community is the light of the world in Indian context, how is it reflecting it in politics, higher education, media, judiciary, social involvement, policy making, civil service and so on. We Christians were quite successful in being the “light of the world” in terms of proclaiming the good news of light and being light in the area of school education and providing medical facility. What about other areas??? Now its time for us to enlarge our diwali. What step we can take to be the Diwali in all spheres of life?

3Genesis 1:4

4Revelation of John 22:5

5 John 8:12

6John 12:46

7Matthew 5:14

8Ephesians 5:8

 

Engaging the University as a student of English Literature

Engaging the University as a student of English Literature

‘Engaging the university’ is the term that is getting popular these days in IFES circle. As I turn back and look my college days I could see how God enabled me to engage in a limited level primarily during my post graduate student. I would like to share few of my experiences as to how God enabled me to do that.

During my under graduate days my involvement was limited to spiritual life and very less as a “Christian student”. I used to involve actively in debate club in college and write to college magazine but all these as a ‘student’ and not as a ‘Christian student’. Many times I was scared about the reaction of my mentors for writing about ‘feeling’ without any mention about ‘Christ’ in them. In my project in BA I chose a topic where I tried to analyze how the American author has used symbolism from Bible characters and themes in his novel “Moby Dick” along with few other faith student. I remember to have read Bible themes and explaining Bible characters to my class mates from other faith.

My PG education marked a great difference. From a small degree college to Asia’s biggest residential university; from a Christian institution to a Hindu institution; from a Christian dominated society to a Hindu dominated society; From a mother land to a foreign land where local language too is foreign.

I was triggered, by one of my professors, to engage when he explained ‘Christianity is the religion which is against gaining knowledge. That is why God forbid Adam and eve from eating from the tree of knowledge’. I was embarrassed to hear the argument. I did not have the courage to dialogue with my professor at that particular movement or in his chamber personally. I went back to my room, took my study Bible and searched the concordance for the verses that talk about knowledge. Then I went to my friends, showed the Bible and presented my case to them. That was the beginning of my dialogue with my friends of other faith. We used to discuss Osho, ultimate reality, casteism, creation, Vivekananda and so on.

I do not know how, but many teachers knew me as a Christian and used to give me an opportunity to put forward my opinion in any thing related to Christianity. Though in most of the classes I kept mum, I did dialogue with my professors from Biblical perspective in few classes. Now I realize that if the idea of ‘engaging the university’ emerged 6 years earlier I could have dialogued with my professors in a better manner. Many times Christianity was portrayed from a biased view in most of the classes, specially while teaching American literature, literary theory and Commonwealth literature.

I was in the campus when the Kandamal riots in Orissa took place where many Christians were persecuted by fanatics. Being the only Christian in the hostel, I was asked to speak from Christian perspective in a political debate that was primarily organized by a left wing student political movement. There were students from the Hindu political group, left wing group and other student groups too.

Now I blog at times of festivals or national holidays and relate their theme from Biblical perspective (https://benalin.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/teachers-as-nation-builders/, https://benalin.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/symbolism-in-literature/ , https://benalin.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/164/ ,https://benalin.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/dussehra-celebrations-in-varanasi/ , https://benalin.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/brave-chachi/ ). My class mates and lecturers in BHU read them and post their comments. I wrote a short story on child labour in and around BHU which eventually got published in Volcano, the magazine run by English Department, BHU. Looking forward to get more ideas to engage and train students to engage in the campus effectively.

Missions vs Misunderstanding

On a fine saturday afternoon I went to a hollow brick manufacturer in Kanya Kumari district. And I noticed a group of people speaking in a language other than Tamil and Malayalam. As I closely observed their conversation I understood that they were speaking in Hindi and some in Assameese. And my quick inquiry with different people said that more than 50 % of labourers in Hollow Bricks in Kanyakumari district in Tamil nadu are from North Indian states. This kind of pattern came into existence not earlier than five to ten years.

Well. India and Indian Missions have passed through different stages. During British reign in India foreign missionaries tried to reach India with the gospel, At this period of time, there were some parts of the nation where the gospel was accepted in a big mass and areas which were not very much receptive to the gospel. Southern India was receptive to the gospel and a big revival could be seen in the twentieth century. In the latter part of twentieth century South Indian missions was boosted up by a wave of sending missionaries to needy places, especially to the northern Indian states. Northern India has seen open doors and rich harvest happened in the latter part of twentieth century. Many of missions present in Norther India owe much to Southern Indian missionaries.

As we closely observe there is a shift in the pattern of ministry among North Indian Missions. This is the time when God is raising up many North Indian missionaries to serve in Northern India. How good it is to note that a place once said to be closed is a home for producing missionaries! Sadly enough this growth in missions is also coupled with pseudo-missionaries (from both part of India) who ‘labour for their tummy and for their own gains’. And this is also the time when handing over of leadership need to take place. But North Indian missions either lack local leaders or see the old missionaries not willing to hand leadership . South Indian missions at time witness tension between the young and the old.

One of the key shifts that is taking place in India is mass migration. Many people from Northern Indian states are migrating to southern India to take up jobs. I sometimes hear less of Tamil and more of Hindi when I visit some parts of Tamil Nadu. South India is flooded with North Indian workers in different factories and are employed as masons. Is the Indian church seeing the need to meet these people? South Indian church prays that North Indians need to be saved. But what is the south Indian church doing for the people at their doorsteps? The treatment of worldly people towards those people are as ‘the other’. Is the church ready to look at these people with love?

Europe and America are continents which send missionaries to different parts of the world. But today they are in a situation to be ministered seriously by missionaries. Is this going to be the predicament of South Indian church? South Indian Church is eagerly supporting North Indian missions. In many places people feel that true mission is only going as missionaries to North India. But what about the pathetic situation in their own states?But how is it going to address the problems of nominal Christianity a growing attraction towards prosperity gospel?

Are we doing missions or in a big misunderstanding????