A class on Brethren history and traditions at the Gujarat School of Theology, a Church of North India (CNI) seminary in Gujarat State, India. Jeanne and Herb Smith (standing at back) taught the course in early 2011 on behalf of the Church of the Brethren Global Mission Partnerships. Photo courtesy of the Smiths
Herb and Jeanne Smith recently taught a course in Brethren history and traditions at Gujarat School of Theology, a seminary of the Church of North India (CNI). Affiliated with McPherson (Kan.) College, the Smiths have taken students and alumni on international trips every January interterm. They also have taught at universities in Japan and India during sabbaticals. This second experience in India, however, of all their travels and teaching was the most impactful. Following is their report:
India assaults the senses, intrigues the intellect, and inspires the spirit. In this land of enchanting diversity, the Church of the Brethren initiated its mission in 1895. Eventually over 90 schools were founded along the central western coast in an area of over 7,000 square miles.
As we were anticipating flying to Ahmadabad to teach at the Gujarat School of Theology, we were naturally apprehensive. Both of us during our educational training had experienced presentations by guest professors from other cultures, not usually in sync with the students. The apprehension was heightened when upon arrival we found out that our teaching would be translated line by line from English to a Gujarat dialect.
To our surprise, the sessions on Church of the Brethren history and traditions were very well received by both the seminary students and the professors who attended.
The School of Theology is the graduate seminary for CNI. In 1970, amid considerable controversy, the Church of the Brethren joined this consortium consisting of six denominations. The school is located in the semi-arid city of Ahmadabad, where Mahatma Gandhi had his ashram and began the long trek of his epic salt march.
Because most of the seminarians and faculty had come from other denominational backgrounds, the history and traditions of the Brethren were almost entirely new to them. The service motif and the pacifist stance were highlighted. Since CNI has adopted both the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, we featured the Brethren emphasis on the teachings of Christ, which are totally omitted by the creeds. Also, much emphasis was placed on the monumental change when the fourth century Roman emperor Constantine militarized his understanding of the Christian faith.
One of the seminary students shared about his background and decision to join the Christian faith and prepare for the ministry. His decision was made under threat of death in a province where the right-wing BJP political party promotes a brand of Hindu fundamentalism, and Christianity is not well received by the general population.
Stirring the emotions was a visit to the leprosy settlement supported by CNI. Everyone has heard of Mother Teresa, but few have been told about Father Albert–except for people who beg throughout north India. Lame since birth, this saint personally applies salve to the wounds of those with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) and directs an orphanage of 76 children whose parents have died of this debilitating disease. In India, those with leprosy often are shunned by their families and are left homeless in the streets. Father Albert’s compound provides warmth in the context of Christian love.
From the pioneer era of Mary and Wilbur Stover along with Bertha Ryan, the Church of the Brethren continues to have an impact on the lives of many in India.
— For more about Church of the Brethren relationships in India, where the denomination relates to both the Church of North India and the Church of the Brethren India, go to www.brethren.org/site/PageServer?pagename=go_places_serve_india .
Go to www.brethren.org/Newsline to subscribe to the Church of the Brethren Newsline free e-mail news service and receive church news every other week.