16.02.01-Jessica-Kawamura---Photo.jpgOver winter break, 18 Candler students traveled to New Delhi to participate in a seminar of the World Methodism Evangelism Institute on the topic of "Following JESUS in a Pluralistic World." The trip was led by Dr. Arun Jones, Dr. L. Wesley de Souza, and Dr. Deanna Ferree Womack.

The seminar was organized in partnership with Bishop Subodh C. Mondal, Presiding Bishop of the Delhi Episcopal Area of the Methodist Church in India as well as World Methodist Evangelism. Our group of Candler students participated in the seminar along with pastors, missionaries, and church workers from across North India. 

Seminar lectures invited us to consider evangelism in the context of Biblical history, emphasizing discipleship over conversion. We discussed the importance of contextualization in different cultural contexts and the importance of humility and clarity in evangelical work.

In preparation for the seminar, our group spent a week and a half traveling and learning about the religions and  cultures of India.

We landed at the southern end of India and traveled to Kottayam, Kerala where Dr. V. S. Varughese, Professor of Religion at Mar Thoma Theological Seminary, and his students graciously served as our hosts. We learned about the roots of the Syrian Orthodox tradition of Christianity dating back at least to the 3rd century, worshiped with local congregations, and visited multiple churches and temples. We also visited a demonstration farm and took a backwater boat ride on one of Kerala’s famous houseboats.

Next we flew to Hyderabad, a center of the Indian technology industry, where Rev. Dr. Joseph Prabhakar Dayam generously hosted us. We learned about Dalit Christianity, challenges facing Dalit and Tribal communities, and recent activism by Dalit university students. Dalit people are those who have been the most oppressed by the caste system in India.

We visited the Henry Martyn Institute, an NGO focusing on interfaith dialogue, cooperation, and peacebuilding, and toured one of their sites serving families in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of the city. We had a chance to spend time with students and their mothers, who shared their sewing projects and henna designs with us.

We were also able to visit CHORD, a nonprofit led by one of Rev. Dayam’s church members. CHORD reduces child labor by providing education for children and training for parents. We had lunch at one of their schools and visited a sewing program located in a city slum.

Our visit to Hyderabad also included lectures by Professor Suleiman Siddiqui and public intellectual Sajjad Shahid on Islamic history and culture in Hyderabad. Through Emory professor Dr. Scott Kugle, we were able to attend a qawwali (devotional music) concert at a local Sufi mazar, a shrine honoring a saint. We also enjoyed eating biriyani, a local specialty of rice cooked with meat and mixed spices.

From Hyderabad, we flew to Jaipur, where our trip turned to a focus on visiting historical sites. We saw the Hawa Mahal “Palace of the Winds” and went on a tour of Jantar Mantar, a collection of architectural astronomical instruments dating from 1700s. We visited Amer Fort, where many of us took the opportunity to ride up to the fort on an elephant!

Our touring continued with a visit to Fatehpur Sikri built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar and culminated with a visit to the Taj Mahal.

The trip was a valuable opportunity to learn about evangelism, Indian Christianity, and the pluralistic context in which it exists. As students, we were challenged to consider how little we know and how travel can help us understand the limits of our own perspectives. We were able to learn from and be inspired by our Indian counterparts, particularly as our American contexts continue to become more diverse. We were grateful for the leadership of our professors and gracious hospitality of our hosts.