History despite all its claims of authenticity has always been accused of a bias. This bias could be intentional in that attempts have always been made to construct history to suit ones agenda, and it could also be unintentional in that access to primary information and variant perspectives were unavailable. Whereas the evaluations of the evangelistic work of the LMS missionaries are concerned we have three major advantages. First that most primary material from the perspective of the Mission Agency has been properly archived sans a few years that were destroyed by the World Wars. Second, that literature from the perspective of the beneficiaries of the mission work is available for us to evaluate how the native people looked at mission. Third, a critical evaluation of the mission work from the third eye is available for us from the ardent critics of mission work. Our job, therefore, is to search between the lines of these three available sources, use the immense research on mission that is available as a touchstone and then arrive at some directions in which an evaluation of the mission work canbe done.
This attempt has, however, two basic limitations. One is the vastness of the topic under discussion and the constraints of the space within a lecture, and second, the inability to evaluate every part of the global impact of the evangelistic work with the same lucidity. Attempt to elucidate the arguments propounded are, therefore, limited to the “local” and that too, with minimal details.
Officially we have four volumes that help us look at the work of the London Missionary Society from 1795to 2009.
Richard Lovett, The History of the London Missionary Society 1795-1895. 2 Vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1899).
Norman Goodall, A history of the London
Missionary Society, 1895-1945 (London: Oxford University Press, 1954).
Gales of Change: Responding to a shifting missionary context: The story of the London
Missionary Society, 1945-1977, Ed. by Bernard Thorogood (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1994).
Water, Des van der, Work in Progress or Mission Accomplished? An appraisal ofthe 30 years of CWM’s partnership in Mission (1977-2007), (London: CWM, 2007).
The London Missionary Society- Formation
One of the best narrations of the beginning of the London Missionary Society is fromNorman Sykes in his essay Ecumenical Movements in Great Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He writes, “Towards the end of the 181h century, the spirit of co operation found new expression in the foundation of the London Missionary Society by some Anglican clergymen and dissenting Ministers, with the express purpose “not to send Presbyterianism, Independency, Episcopacy or any other form of Church order and government .. but the glorious gospel of the blessed God to the mission field.” A meeting of independent church leaders not necessarily representing their churches along with Anglican and Presbyterian clergy and laymen held in November 1794 established the aims of the society ”to spread the knowledge of Christ among heathen and other unenlightened nations.” It was formally established in Sept 1795 and renamed the London Missionary Society in 1818. The LMS work went on till1966 when the LMS merged with the Commonwealth Missionary Society and in 1977 evolved into the Council for World Mission.
The historical context was marked by the Methodist revival and the great evangelical revival in the Church of England with affinities to the German pietistic movement and the great awakening in the American colonies. This led to a period of close co operation among all Calvinistic evangelicals, irrespective of differences of Church order. The London Missionary Society was more congregational in structure and when the Evangelicals with Anglican
roots gradually withdrew for the formation of the Church Mission Society -more church based than
Missionary work expanded into North
gospel based- the LMS took a very broad ‘ecumenical position’ in Mission. The Christ Church Kollam website sums it up beautifully “This missionary society like other great religious and philanthropic organizations which sprang into existence at the close of the 18th and the beginning of the 19thcenturies was the result of the evangelistic revival in England led by George Whitefield, John Wesley and his brother Charles Wesley. The hymns of Charles Wesley expressed in words the new religious passion of the awakened Christendom. Christianity took root in all five continents as a result of this great religious awakening. Never before had any religion been planted over so large an area of the earths surface as in thecaseoftheimpactoftheworkoftheLMS.”
The evangelical awakening knew no national boundaries. InBritain, between 1792 and 1813, every great denomination had developed a missionary organization. The LMS was an exemption. It was started as a union effort of Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Methodists and Anglicans. Its foundation was hailed as the “funeral ofbigotries” and it had never changed its interdenominational basis though it early became very largely congregational as one after another the other denominations formed their own societies.
The missionary activity started in the South Seas with the first overseas mission to Tahiti in 1796. Mission work expanded to Polynesia which means “many islands,” covering a roughly triangular-shaped geographical area of the Pacific Ocean, with Hawaii at the northern apex, Aotearoa or New Zealand in the southwest, and Rapa Nui or Easter Island in the southeast. Work also began in the Society Islands (Archipel de Ia Societe’) which comprise two groups of islands: the Windward Islands (lies du Vent) and the Leeward Islands (liesSous le Vent).The group is amix of mountainous islands and coral atolls spread over the central South Pacific.Mission spread to the Hervey Group of Islands- Hervey, or Cook’s Islands, lie to the southwest of the Society Islands, and consists of seven islands, viz., Rarotonga, Hervey Island, Mangaia, Aitutaki, Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro. Several of these islands, including the one from which the group takes its name, were discovered by Captain Cook in 1773 and 1777; whilst the largest and most populous one, Rarotonga, was found by the Rev. John Williams, in
America, South Africa, in areas of Eastern and
Southern Europe including Russia, Greece and Malta. There was also aLMS ‘mission to Jews’ in London. In the 19thcentury, the main mission fields ofLMS were China, South East Asia, India, the Pacific, Madagascar, Central Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and the Caribbean including British Guiana. Missionaries were refused entry to China until after 1843, and in Madagascar they went through a period of repression and religious intolerance.
Evaluation ofthe frrst hundred years
Evaluating the first 100 years of LMS and identification of major achievements Richard Lovet deciphers six areas of impact that the mission agency brought about in these places.
Disappearance of Heathenism- The primary assumption of the missionaries was that the unreached territories were barbarian territories replete with pagan ways oflife and worship. With the coming in of the missionaries and their consistent work mostly with the support of a colonial benefactor the claim is that heathenism disappeared from these lands. Most reports, letters and historical missionary documents seemed to take this line.
Civilization foUowed its train- Another assumption about the ‘mission fields’ was that they were all uncivilized lands. The missionary claim is that civilization reached the door steps of these places thanks to their concerted efforts. They introduced settled laws and customs and every other indicator that defines civilization owes to the missionaries.
Interaction between the Islands improved- Most of the missionary enterprise during the early periods of the LMS work was in islands and regarded as an impact of the work of missions is the interaction that became possible within these islands. These interactions had far reaching implications in the geo politics of the region.
Wherever gospel went education followed: The fourth assumption that we find in all the mission documents was that the areas into which the missionaries went with the gospel were all ”uneducated areas”. The Chapel and the School house stood hand inhand in most of the mission centers. W. J. Edmonds who followed J.W. Gillies in Quilon in 1899
came from Madagaskar and spent 30 years here. Not only was this a period of mass movement to Christianity but he worked hard to improve educational facilities eventually leading to the formation of an English Middle School. Attingal which later became the centre of work was pioneering in the field of education of women. Every missionary context thus has narratives of the formation of schools, colleges, theological institutions and several educational institutions.
Rich contribution to local literature: There is little doubt that the missionary gave tremendous contributions to the local literature of all the places they went to. In areas where the missionaries worked the natives got the Bible or at least the New Testament in their language. In many places the missionary contribution to the grammar and literature of the local language has been tremendous.
Te”a Incognita areas came to the limelight- Many areas of the world which were considered to be in darkness and savagery became full of points of light with the coming in of missionaries. People began to know of these places globally.
Though criticism is possible on each of these claims in the hind-sight for whatever truth there is in these assertions, we ought to give credit. Atwenty first century oriental re-looking into the mission history of these hundred years would be through very different eyes and we ought tobe open to the same too.
The Second century ofMission of the LMS
The Second Century of the Work also had far reaching impact on India, China, Africa, Madagascar,
South Seas, Papua and West Indies and the impact of mission during this time can be looked at in four directions
The Indigenous Church- One of the greatest contributions of the London Missionary Society was the formation of the indigenous church. Most other mission agencies were extended arms of denominations back home and were constrained to form mission churches in the order of their denominational roots. The London Mission Society was an exception and therefore could contribute effectively on two counts. One, for the formation of a truly local indigenous church in line with their policy of self supporting, self governing and self-propagating churches and two, forthe formation of united churches and church union movements.
Education as the Central Purpose of Mission Norman Godall points out that during the second century of the work of the LMS they realized that “evangelizing is not the goal of Christian work, the climax of Christian service, it is the commencement, the initial stage. Evangelism has itself prepared for another type of work. Education was essential for sustained evangelism.” An attempt to put down the educational impact of the evangelistic work of the LMS would run intovolumes.
Medical Missions: All along the areas in which the LMS missionaries went, Medical Missions had a crucial role to play. From token medical clinical assistance to major undertakings, the medical work had a far reaching impact on all areas where the LMS missionaries went. In 1895 the Society was maintaining seven hospitals in India and eleven in China. In 1914 it rose to twenty six and thirty one respectively.
The South Travancore Medical Mission for instance with its head quarters in Neyoor had pioneers like Alexander Ramsey, Arthur Fells, S H Pugh, T. H. Somerwell, Ian M Orr and others doing yeomen service. The names of Margaret Mcdonald who pioneered maternity work and Edith Haker who did lot of work in the area of nursing are worth remembering. Similarly in every context the LMS worked, history would remember pioneering medical missionaries.
Involvement in the struggles of the people is the major factor that has to be noted when we look at the impact of the work of the LMS the world over. The social conditions of the 18th and 19th centuries marked by the feudal order had evils like slavery, caste system and inequality embedded to the social fabric. The London Mission Society missionaries were pioneers in taking the side of the people in their struggle towards liberation.
The work of the LMS in Quilon began as early as 1821 and was among the poorest hampered not only by poverty and degradation but also by fierce opposition from land owners and slave owners. Converts were won and gathered only at the cost of frequent persecution. J W Gillies traces the persecution in Kulakada where all classes of society united in burning down the huts of the converts. Yet the missionaries held on.
One of the most potent examples is the very story of Travancore where the missionaries worked
alongside the people in bringing significant social changes. A seminal work that beautifully places this achievement in the historic context is by Bishop J W Gladstone. In his pioneering work, Protestant Christianity and People’s Movements in Kerala, he traces the social, religious and political backgrounds of the beginnings of the Protestant Missions in Kerala, Christian Mass Movements and the Struggles for emancipation and the Neo Hindu social religious movements in Kerala including those led by Chattampi Swamikal, Sree Narayana Guru and Ayyankali. After a very careful study Gladstone acknowledges that “in the history of the Christian Mass Movements, the missionaries played an important role as the agents who brought thenew form of religion.”They were pioneers of English education and medical work and they felt compelled to intervene in the social life of the people. The actual needs of the oppressed people made the missionaries take a definite gospel stand by the side of the poor and the oppressed for the emancipation. In a strongly caste entangled social fabric the missionaries attempted to inculcate a vision though not successful, that went beyond the barriers of caste. Gladstone identifies that the Nadar, the Pulaya and the Paraya converts of the LMS found it extremely difficult to integrate. He points out that in the LMS area there were missionaries who even closed down a church because of the refusal to accept Christians lower to them in caste. Yet they persisted despite limitations. The realignment of the social relationship map of the region owes a lotto the efforts of the missionaries.
Dr. R. N. Yesudas has done considerable research on the history of the London Missionary Society in Travancore -1806 to 1908. In his research he traces the establishment of the Travancore Mission (1806 to 1816), the era of in-gatherings (1817 to 1865), emergence of the indigenous church (1866- 1908), Union Movement and the Formation of the SIUC (1908), the educational activities of the mission, the struggle for abolition of slavery, social protests, fights against the civil disabilities and relations between the missionaries and the Travancore Government. Hepoints outthat the missionaries of the LMS in Travancore (as was the case in most missionary enterprises) did not limit their exertions to the propagation of the gospel, though that was their primary object. They were moved by the harrowing tales of the oppressed classes and they invested their energies for the amelioration oftheir conditions.
The role that the LMS missionaries played for the abolition of slavery can be taken as one classical example of the impact of the work of the missionaries. The castes below the Nadars and the Ezhavas such as Pulayas, Parayas, Kuravas and Vedans were considered slaves. They were bought and sold like cattle, severely humiliated and punished and were deprived of any dignity andright. Ringeltaube, the first missionary, fearing a social backlash did not do much about this but the arrival of Charles Mead and Mrs. Mault brought about a change. Slave girls were admitted to boarding school, they wrote articles to conscientise the public and the authorities on this evil. In 1843 the Act was passed in British India abolishing slavery and the missionaries ensured that it was implemented in Travancore and the slaves were educated. They were able to walk the highways and barter onthe roadside.
The Upper Cloth Movement was yet another symbolic struggle of the people that got the missionary support. The lower caste women were not given the privilege to cover their bosom. They were allowed only a single cloth of coarse texture no longer than the knee, no longer than the waist. Col. Munroe had promulgated an order allowing Christian women to wear upper clothes but it was Mrs. Mead and Mrs. Mault who helped the Nadar women to gain strength to wear upper clothes.The Nairs reacted and communal riots ensued in May 1822 and in 1828 the women bearing the bulk of the brunt. The missionaries persisted though this brought in lot of will against the Christians who were believed to bringing inchanges to age old customs and traditions. They, despite persecution, stood firm and a proclamation was issued on 26 July 1859 allowing them to cover their bosoms. This formed the basis of the radical changes leading to mass peoples’ movements for social change.
Several other disabilities like the permission to use public roads, entry into courts and public offices which were denied to them, exclusion from government schools and public services caught the attention of the missionaries . They also addressed issues like the right to inheritance, and worked towards a legislation on Caste Disabilities removal. They brought a sense of dignity, self-respect and aspiration for better living and created an ambience that ensured social justice and freedom to a much greater extent. Similar stories can be shared from every missionary context.
Contribution to the Church Union Movements Worldwide:
In 1904 in India, the Congregational churches of the American Missions in Madura and Jaffna and the London Mission in South Travancore came into a federal union. Negotiations towards a wider union between Presbyterians and Congregationalists went on from 1905 to 1907.As a result, disregarding their denominational differences and realizing their essential oneness of Christian faith, the South India United Church (SIUC) was formally constituted paving the way formuch greater united organisations.
In the formation of the United Church in China also the LMS played a significant role. An extensive debate on the name of the new church was held .The Chinese delegates were strongly opposed to including any denominational name and also opposed to including the word “united” on the grounds that the new church was to be in itsown right a Chinese church and not just a “union ofWestem denominations.”The name chosen was “The Church of Christ in China” (Chung Hua Chi Tu Chiao Hui). An invitation was extended to other church bodies to join in a wider church union. As the momentum for church union continued to build, two of the oldest and most prestigious mission boards -the London Missionary Society (LMS) and the ABCFM -decided to enter the negotiations even though they were congregational in polity and soon their churches became part of the United Churches.
WiUingnesstobe Transformed ….
Bemad Thorogood traces the story of the London Missionary Society from 1945-1977 in his book Gales of Change. The global changes had an impact on the way the London Missionary Society was mandated and this resulted inthe transforming of the mission agency into a newer form. The commitment made in the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948 was a signal that change had occurred and greater change was due. The ecumenical movement transformed the concept of foreign missions and the LMS was open to be transformed.
The movement against colonialism and the national movements had an impact on the missionary mindset and the mindset towards missionaries too. The local churches had by now come of age and it was the responsibility of the mission agencies to hand over
the leadership to the local. This necessitated a thorough redrawing of the identity of the mission agencies and they were willing for that change. They started searching the ”beyond” of mission.
With over three centuries of experience and with the willingness and openness to change,mission was defined in a three fold way- One, as people bearing witness in their lives, Two, mission confronting the values of the age and three, mission proclaiming the now and not yet dimension of the kingdom of God
The Thirty years of the CouncU for World Mission
Rev. Des van der Water, trying to redefine the role of the CWM, points out that, the London Missionary Society was a pioneering missionary organization, but its approach, understanding and practice of partnership were not free from the influences of colonialism, cultural imperialism and paternalism. CWM represented a partnership of churches in God’s mission and was a partnership in mission. The new concept of mission is no longer from a dominant geographical centre but from “everywhere to everywhere”. He confesses that as we look at the future we are confronting a destination unknown. CWM has emerged in 30 years as aplace ofhospitality and space for creativity in mission. Partnership has to be understood beyond the self, with the poor, and should address pressing issues like rapid, relentless and far reaching social change, extremes of excessive wealth on the one hand and abject poverty on the other, frequent natural catastrophes, use of violence and force, insecurity and the inability of agencies to provide security, direction, coherence and peace.He says the lpalo house, the present Head Quarters of the CWM, is the right name in the wrong address. !palo is a Zambian word meaning blessing but the address is Great Peter Street London. This very confession points at the increasing impact of the work of the London Missionary Societyworld wide.
The journey of missions was not easy. The blurb of the book Fruits of Toil of the London Missionary Society published in 1869 reads thus “South Seas; though their islands were almost unknown. But the West Indies were close shut. “If you preach to the slaves,” said the Governor of Demerara to a missionary, “Icannot let you stay here.”They were
excluded from SouthAfrica and from India. China was sealed, and remained so for forty years. Passages were expensive; voyages were full of discomfort; letters were few. They knew little of the manners and systems ofheathen nations; they knew less of their literature; they knew nothing of their languages. Dictionaries, literature, buildings, converts, everything had to be produced. Their fields of labour were unprepared. Their message and their aims were little understood”. Yet the London Mission Society pioneered a great work the worldover, the impact of which cannot be easily gauged within thisbrief paper.
Tom Hiney in his book “On the Missionary Trail: A Journey through Polynesia, Asia and Africa with the London Missionary society” talks of the
challenge of going to barbarous, fierce and pagan nations of whose very language they were ignorant expressed as early as fourteenth century by Bede. And now the CWM General Secretary confesses that the partnership in mission must find contemporary and contextual expression, fmd new impetus, draw fresh inspiration and tap untapped energies for the missional task ahead.
The vision of William Tobais Ringeltaube in South Travancore continues to seek newer ways of being relevant in a rapidly changing world. However, a cursory look at the results of the evangelistic work of the LMS missionaries world wide and its result make us look with awe and wonder at the great and mighty work ofGodAlmighty through the people of God.
Rev. Vinod Victor
(Co-ordinator, South Asia Ecumenical Partnership Programme, WCC)