Following Jesus

All of Life for Christ, Part II

May 28, 2020 by

India and Indians have their problems and burdens. They need a Christ to come among them, to share their burdens, to love them and to lift them. And that should be the missionaries’ goal. Not primarily to present a dogma, a creed [or] a practice of so-called civilization, but to share the burdens and thus present the living Christ.

Change a few words and phrases, and you’d think this came right out of a contemporary bestseller on inner-city mission. But Grandpa Bill typed these lines from rural India in 1926, within a missional worldview enamoured with Kipling’s “white man’s burden.” This was a time when the mission compound kept white Western folk separated from those they came to serve.

A year earlier, Bill and Charlotte Wiser and their two sons began living in a mango grove outside a village in north India. Though fellow missionaries could not understand why the couple felt compelled to live near the people in order to serve them better, they gladly offered some tents. My grandfather’s words, written to friends back home, have the ring of truth because he lived them. 

missionaries

In the letter, Bill describes an Armenian pastor familiar with the standard mission model who “didn’t understand why people of that type didn’t stay at home. Service like that did not exemplify to him the love of Christ. At the time I was shocked, little thinking that at the end of my first seven years of service in India, those among whom I worked could honestly say the same about me.”

And those times in which he lived were changing. “Gandhi,” my grandfather’s letter continues, “has been emphasizing the need of closer fellowship with Indians if we desire to prove to India our love for Christ.” To further emphasize this point, Bill quotes from an Indian speaker at the Glasgow Student Conference in 1921, stating that the speaker’s words (below) “should make you as well as ourselves more sensitive to the judgment of those to whom we want to present the only perfect Christ.”

What bewilders the alien observer…. is not the occasional aberrations of the Christian nations but their habitual conduct and organization; not their failures, but their standards of success; not their omission to live up to right principles but their insistence that wrong principles are right. Your religion is a noble if paradoxical creed, which affirms that all men are brothers, that humility and poverty are blessings, and riches a dangerous misfortune, that the way of service and self-sacrifice is the way of happiness.
I do not blame you for not reproducing those theories in your practise. Evidently they are not meant for daily life. What surprises me, however, is that you erect into a system the duty and happiness of practising precisely the opposite….. Your creed is exalted, but your civilization is a nightmare…. I would forego the former in order to escape the latter.

Back to Grandpa Bill for the final paragraph:

Condemn us not too readily. We are but human and the faults common to us are common to many good folks . . . Your missionaries are all consecrated and devoted workers. But a constant demand for results tends to create an efficiency-loving professionalism which is unlovely and exclusive, and likely to conceal Him who is the personification of love.

It took time. But the combination of rudimentary medical assistance, their ordinary family life (boys will be boys), and Grandpa’s mastering the native music on his magical violin, gradually won hearts and minds – and a home within the village.

vintage photo of India

Other work followed, most notably the creation of India Village Service. This novel approach to rural development saw lives transformed as educated youth with degrees in health, nutrition, and agronomy were inspired to serve in the villages. Later studied by India’s newly independent government, it was incorporated into the Community Development Program. By that time my grandparents had moved on. It was not their way to found institutions, and others needed their attention, care, and love. 

What vision drove them on? What gave them the strength of will and the daring to buck missional norms? I found an answer at the back of Grandpa’s personal copy of their own book For All of Life, an outline in his own hand. Was it the start of another book that never saw the light of day, a passionate articulation of emerging truth that he wished to share with others?

I have taken only slight liberties by combining phrases and creating paragraphs from the original outline. The words are his. Calling it “the thrill of our work,” Grandpa posed the question, “What are the needs of the common people and how are we meeting them?” His answer: 

We pledge ourselves to give the common people of every land where we are at work:
The Light of Knowledge: There is a need for knowledge. For how can they know the Bible if they cannot read and there are no translations and no teachers to teach in their native tongue? Our gift is knowledge, given with love.
The Blessing of Health: There is a need for better health among them. Their lives are buried in filth and surrounded by the accompanying smells. Their heads are covered with lice; their undernourished bodies are wracked by fever. There is ignorance around disease prevention and the care of the sick. Our gift is health, for better Christian living.
The Joy of Work Skillfully Done: There is a need for training. Too many are unskilled and never dream that they can learn a skill. This is to the advantage of those who exploit them and desire to keep them unskilled. Our gift is the joy of skill and working for Christ.
The Grace of Living and Working Together: There is a need for living and working together with Christian grace. Those who are poorest, crowded in tight living conditions where tongues are sharp and oppression keenly felt, need this most. But so do their oppressors and the nationalists. Our gift is Christ’s way of lived and shared brotherhood.
The Inspiration of Worship: There is a need for right worship. The common people fear the gods of their homes and the evil spirits that are associated with the disease and disaster that are so much a part of life. Our gift is faith in the place of fear, and courage born of faith. This is no opiate!
All of Life for Christ: There is a need for Christ in all of life. Our mistake has been to keep religion separate from all the rest of life. Drawing all the areas of life together, we give them the knowledge that all of life may be consecrated to Christ. Our gift is the joy of living!

To paraphrase President Lincoln, it is our responsibility to honor the departed through our dedication to the unfinished work they left behind. For my grandparents, mission was all about the doing of it. Not because they believed that doing would earn them a place in heaven, but because their love for Christ urged them to let his love work through them in a concrete manner; in a visible way, that love affected all of life.

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About the author

photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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