India is a vast country with a population of 1.2 billion people – a fifth of the world’s total population! It is a land of great extremes. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Extreme heat and dryness and extreme monsoons rains. Extreme religious fervour and extreme western materialism. Cutting edge technology (especially IT) and primitive medieval utensils. When you visit India your various senses are assaulted. Your ears are battered by a cacophony of sound – especially vehicle horns! Everywhere you look you see a kaleidoscope of sights that mesmerise. And then there are the smells, ranging from beautiful exotic spices to less pleasant aromas. Someone has observed that whatever you care to say about India it will be true somewhere.
Three main religious faiths are found in India. The majority of the population would be considered Hindu. This is a faith system that is hard to define as it is characterised by the worship of as many as 330 million gods. As a result each community, even each family will focus on a limited number of gods that are important to them and there is wide diversity in how religious devotion is practiced. The main unifying factor is whether or not the Hindu texts or Vedas are considered sacred. Many Hindus are quite happy to accept Jesus Christ as another god among many.
Christianity varies in significance according to regions. The stronger Christian presence is historically found in the west and south and there are reasonable levels of religious freedom in those places. In other parts of India there can be great hostility towards Christians. Officially there is complete freedom of religion however Hindu government officials will often turn a blind eye to attacks on Christian businesses and homes meaning that persecution is a real threat in many places, especially those that are more remote or rural.
Islam also has a significant presence in India and in places there can be great tension between Muslims and others. Part of the independence package imposed on India by Britain led to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh through a process known as partition. This was an attempt to try and resolve some of these tensions.
Indian is the world’s largest democracy and the current ruling party are Hindu. They are implementing some welcome reforms such as ensuring that everyone has access to decent sanitation. They are committed to generating economic growth and trade but at the same time seeking to break free from historic western influence. So for example many cities have reverted to Indian names (Bombay becomes Mumbai, Bangalore becomes Bengaluru).
The two national languages are English and Hindi, and educated people will speak both quite fluently. Each of the many states also has its own regional language which will be spoken by many people. There are thousands of other languages spoken across the country. Some poorer and less educated people may speak little English or Hindi and so have limited opportunities to better themselves.
Our connection with India arises out of the longer term relationship between Commission and Newfrontiers India. A relationship that dates back to the era when there was just one apostolic sphere of Newfrontiers churches in the UK. We have a particular relationship with a church in Mumbai and a church in Goa. If you visit www.commission-together.org you can find a map that indicates where the churches that Commission relates to are distributed.
During November a team of people from Life Church will be heading to India to spend some time fellowshipping and encouraging our Christian brothers and sisters there. The team members are David Grant, Jo Grant, Angie Colebrooke and Dave Whiteman. Please pray that they will be kept safe while travelling and be free from illness. Please also pray that they will be a blessing to the people they meet. If you would like to have details of their itinerary please ask David Grant.
This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Lifelines