Brethren in Christ Church Society (India)
The Brethren in Christ Church established its first mission station in India near the site of the later Madhipura Christian Hospital in Saharsa District, Bihar State, in 1914. This area of India, lacking a Protestant witness, was designated for the denomination by the Comity Committee (a cross-section of churches and missions already established in India).
Over the next 35 years, a number of mission stations developed, including Madhipura, Supaul, Bajora, Monghyr, and Saharsa. Saharsa served as the headquarters for more than 50 years. The erratic Kosi (Koshi) River destroyed Supaul, which was then replaced by Barjora. A ministry was conducted in Monghyr, a former Baptist mission center, for less than a decade.
Orphanages and schools were established at Saharsa and Barjora. After 1950 no new orphans were accepted and, by attrition, this ministry was eliminated by 1965. Dispensaries and a widows' home served needs during the early days of mission activity. The farm at Barjora began as a labor relief project during the local famine of 1957. It soon became a bridge that built excellent rapport with both government officials and the local people. Madhipura Christian hospital had its origin in the mid-1950s, experienced expansion in the 1960s and 1970s, and continued to provide excellent services under the auspices of the Emmanuel Hospital Association (see below).
In the late 1940s a new work was begun among tribal peoples in neighboring Purnea District to the east. Two stations were established, one in Banmankhi and one in Purnea. For the first time, Christians remained in their own villages. Three groups were reached by the gospel: the Santal, Uraon, and Munda people. The larger Santal and Uraon groups now have their own regional conferences. The Munda people who live in Purnea work with the Uraon conference.
The upheaval during and after World War II emphasized the need for the church to become indigenous. Along with this was the growing awareness that the purpose of mission was to produce a truly national church. It was not until 1967, however, that a constitution was implemented and the first Indian national became chairman of the church. In 1973 the church became a registered charity, and in 1974 property held by the mission was deeded to the church.
Since 1970 the church among the tribal peoples continued to experience growth in Purnea District and beyond. New villages were constantly being contacted and new churches established. Some of the migrant Santal people found affordable land in nearby Nepal and began to establish new churches. Lay pastors have provided much of the leadership for the churches in both Purnea and Nepal. In 1982 a new ministry was initiated in Orissa. In the late 1980s, steps were taken to capitalize on church planting opportunities in West Bengal and Assam.
In 1987 there were 1,944 communicant members recorded with more than 3,000 people in the Christian community. These were scattered throughout 90 villages over approximately 4,000 square miles (10,000 sq. km.). There were 48 places of worship, fewer than half of which had church buildings. Church planting is a definite, direct thrust reaching new villages, both in the area of the established churches and beyond.
Institutions continue to be the primary ministry among the Bihari people of Saharsa District. The church operates two elementary schools, at Barjora and Saharsa, both of high caliber. There are three hostels, one at Barjora and two at Purnea. The children at the latter attend nearby government schools. Madhipura Christian Hospital has developed into a significant institution. In addition to serving up to 40,000 patients a year, it has initiated a rural health program in an attempt to heighten preventive medical care in the community and beyond. In cooperation with Mennonite Central Committee, the church initiated a rural development program. The Brethren in Christ Church has been involved with Mennonite Christian Service Fellowship of India since its inception in the 1960s.
Leadership training is a significant facet of church: life. This occurs at various levels, including seminary and Bible college opportunities. Recently, church growth training is being provided to some leaders through the Haggai Institute in Singapore. Because many of the new tribal Christians are semiliterate, significant lay leadership and literacy training occurs at the Banmankhi Centre. The village lay leaders who provide spiritual oversight in their local villages come together periodically for training by the more adequately trained pastoral leadership. Former missionaries return to share in leadership training seminars during short visits to India.
Engle, A., J. Climenhaga and L. Buckwalter, There is No Difference. Nappanee, Indiana: Evangel Press, 1950.
Hoke, William. Each One Win One. Delhi: Pioneer Fine Arts Press, n.d., ca. 1971.
Sider, Harvey. The Church in Mission. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1975.
Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: The Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, Indiana: Evangel Press, 1978
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 96-97. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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To cite this page:
MLA style: Sider, Harvey R. "Brethren in Christ Church Society (India)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 19 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B747.html.
APA style: Sider, Harvey R. (1987). Brethren in Christ Church Society (India). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B747.html.