The Bharatiya General Conference Mennonite Kalisiya (India General Conference Mennonite Church) came to birth in July 1904 with the baptism of P. A. Penner's first convert, Sirkanti Bai, a patient suffering from Hansen's Disease (leprosy). She died soon after. Less than six months later, four orphan girls and eight boys were baptized. The nucleus for Bethesda (Leprosy) Church was formed in February 1905, when eight lepers accepted baptism.
By 1916, the small mission congregations of Champa, Janjgir, Korba, and Mauhadih, together with Bethesda, met annually for fellowship, Bible study, and sharing. These congregations were shepherded by missionaries, assisted by national workers imported from other missions. One of these, M. R Asna, was later to become the first ordained elder in the "Hindustani Conference," which was organized formally in 1922 by these five churches. It became the forerunner of the Bharatiya General Conference Mennonite Kalisiya. C. H. Suckau, its first chairman, served two terms; after that Indian leadership took over.
One of the congress's early objectives was evangelism. The choice of a home mission station fell on Kendai, in the state of Surguja, 40 mi. (65 km.) north of Korba. Not much could be accomplished until Surguja state became open to Christian witness after India's independence in 1947. Puran and Lily Banwar were commissioned as the conference's first missionaries to Surguja in 1959. Calvary Church came into being two years later.
Exciting things were happening in the southern end of the General Conference Mennonite Mission area. As early as 1918, evangelistic work gained momentum in Sukhri, where Isa Das and Mathuria Bai were stationed as evangelistic workers. In Basna, S. T. and Metta Moyer opened the Jagdeeshpur station in 1921. When, in 1938, the English Baptist Mission ceded the Basna-Saraipali area of its operation to the General Conference Mennonite Mission, a large number of Christians were added to an already rapidly growing group of new Christians. This required a reorganization of 17 evangelistic outposts in an area of 700 sq. mi. so as to better nurture the new converts and bring together scattered Christian communities. This reorganization found concrete form in the Phuljhar-Deori Sammelan (Assembly), thanks to the vision and genius of W. F. Unruh, followed by J. R. Duerksen.
The Sammelan was organized in Sirko, on 20 July 1938, with 40 delegates present from the 17 village "churches." It was named the "Sammelan of the Phuljhar-Deori Mennonite Churches." A simple constitution, revised several times during its brief but significant history, stated its objectives as providing a channel for teaching God's Word, and for exercising necessary discipline. These 17 church groups became six large district churches, some containing as many as 37 villages. They adopted the names of Bethel, Bethany, Antioch, Salem, Emmanuel, and Eden. In a later reorganization, Philippi was formed out of parts of Antioch and Salem, and Ephesus from parts of Emmanuel and Eden. Each church was so set up as to later fit into the Hindustani Conference as recognized member churches.
Representatives, called "members," from the various churches, gathered monthly for spiritual refreshing, consultation, and planning. Sermons were outlined and prepared. Bible stories were studied and prepared for use in evening village worship. Eventually these monthly meetings became semi-annual events with the Palak Sabha (Council of Shepherds) assuming responsibility between sessions. The Palak Sabha became the administrative body and was composed of all ordained elders, deacons, and one missionary.
The need for the Sammelan ended when the Hindustani Conference in 1951 assumed the full national support of all ordained pastors of the eleven member churches. This was a significant step towards becoming indigenous. The Hindustani Congress had become the "Hindustani Conference of the General Conference Mennonite Congregations in India" with the adoption of a revised constitution in 1943. This constitution included a provision for a governing body which acted both as an executive committee and as the final authority on conference matters. It consisted of 10 Indian and 7 missionary members.
Foreign support of evangelists ceased in 1959. With it came a drastic reduction of lay evangelists and Bible women. Indigenization, understood to mean the achievement of a self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating church, a goal that had existed from the beginning, was accepted as a challenge by the Hindustani Conference. Beginning with 1960, the conference began to carry the full support of its own appointed evangelists. With the 1960 revision of the constitution, the term missionary no longer appeared. Missionaries became members of committees and the conference governing body by election. Within seven years provision was made for a central treasury. The conference also undertook partial support of its students in seminary training. The Hindustani Conference thus became the Bharatiya General Conference Mennonite Kalisiya, indigenous in its existence and functions. In 2003 there were 26 congregations with 7000 members.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 125-29.
Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 27.
"2003 Asia/Pacific Mennonite & Brethren in Christ Churches." Mennonite World Conference. 2003. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/asiapacific.html (accessed 11 April 2005).
Ratzlaff, Mrs. Harold [Ruth R.]. Fellowship in the Gospel. Newton, KS: MPO, 1950.
Ratzlaff, Harold. "Planting a Church in India." MTh thesis, Bethany Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Biblical Seminary, 1950.
Cite This Article
Kornelsen, Helen. "Bharatiya General Conference Mennonite Kalisiya." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1986. Web. 20 Apr 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bharatiya_General_Conference_Mennonite_Kalisiya&oldid=91104.
Kornelsen, Helen. (1986). Bharatiya General Conference Mennonite Kalisiya. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 April 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Bharatiya_General_Conference_Mennonite_Kalisiya&oldid=91104.
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