missions in India have had the greatest success amongst the Dalit and the
tribal populations.1 Initially, the early missionaries targeted the
upper castes, especially the Brahmin communities, under the assumption that if
the Brahmins are won, then the other castes would follow. However, such an
evangelistic approach yielded limited success. Most Brahmins and the higher castes
could not easily accept Christian doctrines such as creation and the equality
of human beings. Rather, they perceived Christianity as a significant threat to
their traditionally acclaimed high status, privileges, and rank in the
caste-dominated Hindu society. Those that became Christians had to face severe
persecution and painful separation from their families.2 Eventually,
with the rising opposition, missionaries began to move out of the urban centers
and resumed their efforts among the socially, economically, and religiously
exploited outcasts. These outcasts, also known as the “untouchables” or
“Dalits,” proved to be the most open and receptive to the gospel.
foreign and native missionaries still continue this focus on the Dalits.
Inadvertently, the focus has led to the misconception that persons from other
castes are resistant to the gospel, leading to the neglect of evangelism among
the other caste members. However, beginning in the twentieth century, a number
of trends seem to point to the fact that several segments of upper castes and urban
middle classes are opening to the gospel.3 The challenge for the
missionary today is to overcome the misperception that the upper castes are
staunchly opposed to the gospel.
1John C. B. Webster, The
Dalit Christians: A History (New Delhi:
ISPCK, 1994); F. Hrangkhuma, Christianity in
India: Search for Liberation and Identity (New Delhi:
2C. B. Firth, An
Introduction to Indian Church History (Madras:
Christian Literature Society, 1961), 185.
3Atul Aghamkar, Insights
into Openness (Bangalore: SAIACS Press,
Professor and Head of the Department of Missiology at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies.
Joshua Muthalali is a third-year MDiv student at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was born in Chennai, India, and grew up in the Indian Pentecostal movement. He is currently a chaplain intern at a hospital that has a fairly significant Buddhist patient population.