Gadwal Mennonite Brethren Mission (Gadwal, Andhra Pradesh, India)
In 1836 the American Baptist Telugu Mission (ABTM) began its work in the Andhra region of the old Madras Presidency. Apart from the Baptist mission, the first Mennonite Brethren missionaries in India came from Russia in 1890. Mennonites could not then independently establish mission stations on their own, so they began their work with the American Baptists. When World War I began the early Mennonite missionaries were cut off from Russia. Thus the American Baptist Mission took on their financial support.
The initial work at Gadwall was started in 1885 by Dr. Elbert Chute, an American Baptist missionary. He built a church first at Poodur village. In 1893 the Gadwal mission field became independent, and included Alampur, Raichur, and Adoni. Gadwal became a separate station with no new foreign missionaries for ten years.
In the late 19th and early 20th century Protestant missions in India generally observed the principle of comity, generally agreeing not to work in the mission territories of other groups unless invited. The Mennonite missionaries from Russia had worked along with the Baptists out of necessity. In 1928 John A. and Anna Penner, a Mennonite Brethren couple from the Molotschna Mennonite Settlement in Russia, continued the mission work in the Gadwal field under the American Baptists. But by February 1935 the Baptist mission faced a financial crisis.
In the meantime the American Mennonites, in agreement with the Baptists, developed their own field in the extensive "Baptist area" south of Hyderabad. They started work in a strip of territory some 30 miles wide and about 100 miles from north to south between Nalgonda and Mahabubnager. They then moved into even more of the Baptist field south of Hyderabad, and into the Deverakonda area. An agreement was reached between the American Baptist Telugu Mission and the American Mennonite Brethren Mission to hand over administration of Gadwal and Mahabubnager to the Mennonite Brethren. The ABTM had established several mission stations in Telugu area of Hyderabad state. The ABTM and Mennonite Brethren Mission agreed to exchange their mission fields. In 1937 the Mennonite Brethren bought the mission properties of the Baptists in Mahabubnagar and Gadwal and soon after began to work out of these two centers.
John A. and Viola Bergthold Wiebe (served 1927-1959) came from Mountain Lake, Minnesota. Wiebe worked from Mahabubnager doing evangelism and church planting work in Gadwal field. He died in 1963 while swimming. After the Wiebes came Abram A. and Annie Enns Unruh who served at Gadwal from 1937 to 1971. They had an outstanding native worker as their assistant in the mission. He built boys' and girls' hostels and a house for native teachers. At this time there were 4,000 Christians in the field. When Unruh returned to India in 1946 after a furlough he came to Gadwal, with Julius Kasper, Emma Lepp and Helen Harder. During this time Bhoompag Chinna Krishnaiah who a national leaders who assisted the missionaries.
Later missionaries included Julius Kasper and wife and Ted Fast and wife. Margaret Willems (later married to Peter Balzer) was a trained nurse and started hospital at Gadwal in 1948. She extended her ministry by visiting the sick in various villages by Bullock cart. She worked in Gadwal until 1953. Other female missionaries included Katharina Reimer, Anna Epp, Anna Peters and Agnes Neufeld.
Edna Gerdes started the American Mennonite Brethren Mission Middle School at Gadwal. In 1948 she served as Principal, and developed the school in many areas. Anne Ediger (1953-1968) served in teaching ministry in mission school at Gadwal; she became principal of this school and upgraded it to a high school and obtained government recognition.
In the 1970s a long-running indigenization process saw leadership handed over to national leaders. Although the church continued to grow, it was at a lower rate. A number of missionary-initiated programs were also dropped.
The impact of Western missionaries included some negative aspects. The theology and worship taught by the missionaries was very Western in content and culture. Local customs, forms of worship and methods, bhajans, were not encouraged. This prevented the transmission of the ancient rich tradition that Gadwal people held in their church worship patterns. The status of indigenous missionaries was frequently undervalued in relation to the "white-skinned" foreigners. When work was discontinued for periods of time, local leaders needed to continue programming without requisite training.
Nonetheless the church grew in the mission era. In 1970 there were 9,369 members. There was an emphasis on evangelism and expository teaching of the Bible in local languages. They encouraged local support for indigenous evangelists. They trained pastors for the churches, evangelists to preach the gospel, teachers to instruct the youth, Bible women to carry the gospel door to door. They trained the leaders to work for the community as well as for evangelistic work. The missionaries established schools as well as a Bible School for the explicit purpose of training national workers for Christian service. In times of need they helped provide emergency relief. Medical ministries and social reform were not separated from the gospel.
In the post-missionary era membership peaked in 1990 at about 20,000. Since 1990 there has been a gradual decline in church attendance in Gadwal. This seems partly due to a decrease in church programs -- some congregations became more irregular in holding weekly cottage prayer meetings or holding regular Sunday school for children. Programs for youth and women also decreased. Poverty and the continued influence of the caste system have also been factors. Since the missionaries had especially targeted the Dalit castes, the political revival of the Mala and Madiga castes within the Dalit movement have directly or indirectly discouraged conversion to Christianity. Recovery and renewal both of personal faith practices and church institutions are needed.
Ross, Roser Benhur B. "Growth of Mennonite Brethren Mission Gadwal Field, Andhra Pradesh since 1970: Analysis of Church Growth." B. Div. Thesis, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India, 2007.
Original Article in Mennonite Encyclopedia,
vol. 2, p. 429-430
The Gadwal Mennonite Brethren Mission Station, India, located in the Gadwal Samista, Raichur District, 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Hyderabad, was built by the American Baptist Mission, which occupied this field at first, but in 1937 transferred the field and work to the Mennonite Brethren Mission. On the mission premises in the 1950s were a residence for the missionaries, a church and school building, a hospital with a number of ward buildings, and some smaller buildings.
Resident missionaries stationed here in the 1950s were Abram A. and Annie Unruh, Margaret Willems, and Edna Gerdes. The station was for some time supervised by J. A. Wiebe and by J. J. Dick. Activities included regular church services, a primary school, and a dispensary. The Gadwal field, comprising 1,200 square miles, had a population of 200,000 in 1950. Response to the Gospel message was good, and in 1949 there was a total church membership of 3,500. -- J. H. Lohrenz.
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MLA style: Ross, Roser Benhur B. "Gadwal Mennonite Brethren Mission (Gadwal, Andhra Pradesh, India)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. November 2010. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/G14.html.
APA style: Ross, Roser Benhur B. (November 2010). Gadwal Mennonite Brethren Mission (Gadwal, Andhra Pradesh, India). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/G14.html.