The Story of The
Punjab Indian Mission
1907 to 1969
The title image portrays Dr WJ Porteous with the Indian staff of Jagadhri Mission Hospital, 1921.
The Planning :
The growing interest in Indian Mission work
through the Madras Mission and other Indian Christian Missions awakened
a growing commitment and resolve among New Zealand Presbyterians to open
their own Indian Mission.
Providentially, the Convenor of the NZ Foreign Missions Committee, Rev William Hewitson and his wife Margaret, who was President of the Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union, visited India in 1906 and provided the Committee with first hand information about the opportunities for Christian Evangelism in India.
At the annual Presbyterian Church General Assembly in 1907, Prof Hewitson moved "That the committee be instructed to arrange for the opening of our own work in India, and that with that end in view, Dr Porteous be directed to select a suitable sphere".
Dr WJ Porteous, a volunteer for Medical Missionary service, was therefore sent out to India in 1908 to seek out a suitable field of our own.
The Preparation :
Dr Porteous travelled widely throughout India
considering various possibilities and consulting various other Missions.
The experience in China of working closely with a much larger Mission such
as the American Presbyterian Mission (APM) had shown the value of a small
Mission working alongside of and in association with a larger organization.
So, when the APM invited the NZ Presbyterian Mission to establish work
at Shahabad in the Northern Punjab, this proved a decisive factor in the
decision. Being assured that the initial costs of £4,500 for establishing
the Mission would be forthcoming, approval was given to proceed.
The Jagadhri district allotted to the Mission comprised of 400 square miles, 379 villages, two towns and a population of 160,000. A small Christian community already existed upon which to build.
The Punjab District :
The Missionaries faced an often trying climate
and conditions which were very different from those experienced in New
The Punjab is a vast alluvial plain running up to the foothills of the Himalayas. It experiences extremes of temperature with a temperate climate in between. The summer is indescribably hot and from May, a hot wind called the "Loo" is in full blast and the whole plain heats up like a furnace. During the latter part of the hot season, the humidity rises to uncomfortable levels.
The Missionaries took their holidays during this period in the cooler climate of Landour, high up in the foothills of the Himalayas and well above the hot and dry Punjab plains. The monsoons break about July, the wet season lasting for approximately three months.
The Beginning :
Dr Porteous completed a year of language study in 1909 and then established a medical dispensary in a rather tumble - down but temporary building. The first day brought 80 enquirers, the second day 180, and the third day 240. And so the Mission was launched.
By the end of 1909, five additional Missionaries had arrived including the veteran Madras Missionary, Miss Alice Henderson. A Mission Council was established to oversee the day to day management of the new Mission. However the mission's centre at Shahabad was short-lived when in 1911 the Mission Council learned that the Maharajah of the neighbouring State of Patiala banned access to his territory. The decision was then made to move 40 miles east to the township of Jagadhri. From the outset Indian Evangelists were employed by the Mission.
Opening of Jagadhri Hospital :
The first stage of the brick Jagadhri Hospital building opened in 1914, after the building appeal for the Canton Villages Mission was over subscribed which enabled some excess funds to be transferred to the Punjab Mission. The continuing arrival of new Missionaries gave much promise to the future success and expansion of the Mission.
A Slowing of the Work :
As with other Mission fields, the First World
War had a consequent effect on the finances and expansion of the emerging
Punjab Mission. Existing medical staff and Missionaries were called up
for Military Service, some to act as Army Chaplains. Others served with
the Indian Military Forces.
Funds to complete the hospital building had been put aside but the Church budget could not sustain the cost of additional staff required for expansion. In 1915, the NZ General Assembly was told that five new Missionaries were required to replace those in war service but they were not forthcoming. The two schools that had been established, at Jagadhri and Buriya, became handicapped by the lack of adequately trained staff. In 1918 the NZ Young Women's Bible Class Union took some of the financial load off the Missions Committee by subscribing the cost of building a bungalow (actually a large brick Missionary home surrounded by a cooling veranda). Individuals and Parishes helped likewise, by subscribing funds for one - off items such as hospital beds and cots and some took upon themselves the support of Indian Biblewomen.
Evangelistic Work :
Evangelistic work primarily included handing out of Religious tracts, sales of Religious books, lantern lectures at night, village preaching and visiting that included an annual camping tour during November to March of the outlying villages. An annual Christian Melá (or fair) was held at Jagadhri. Children's education as well as the medical work of the Mission both had a strong Christian basis. Zenana or Women's Evangelistic work comprised of visitations of women and supervision of Indian Biblewomen.
In 1918, Miss Henderson advised that the number of enquirers had risen to 5,000 and expressed her concern at the inadequate staff levels, "In truth we are only playing with the problem". By 1920, the Mission area included 1,800 villages and the Rev Thomas Riddle felt compelled to comment, "The question of reaching these villages with the Gospel is one which our Mission can hardly be said to have faced".
In 1913 the Mission took over Leprosy work in the isolated district of Subathu. This required the attendance of one of our Missionaries which contributed to stretching of staff resources to the limit during the First World War, Miss Henderson being forced to delay her furlough to New Zealand. In 1922 this area was handed over to an adjoining Mission enabling the NZ Presbyterian Mission to consolidate on its existing area.
Increased Staffing :
From 1921, 8 new Missionaries arrived to begin a new development stage in the history of the Mission. A number of Missionaries on the field remained for over 20 years, giving the Mission a stability through experience and fully trained staff. Work was expanded in education and work with women and children.
The Mass Movement :
The Punjab Mission experienced in ample measure
Indian Nationalism which disrupted the work by an anti - Christian and
anti - foreign campaign. The disruptive elements in the community were
not as violent as in China, but the results of Evangelistic work and the
witness of Christian medical and education were hardly more encouraging.
The Church, as a result, grew slowly through the 1920's and some Christian
converts fell away through the actions of the Movement.
The opportunities for Evangelism persisted and the numbers of enquirers rose at times but the resulting Church membership never bore witness to the initial hopes of the Mission. The continuing weakness and economic vulnerability of the Indian Church precluded any serious attempt at this time to hand over control as had occurred with reasonable success in China. Interest among the Sikhs was evident, however Christian baptism involved too great a break with their religious, social and cultural traditions.
The Kharar Field :
In 1923, the NZ Mission took over the Kharar Field 100 miles north west of Jagadhri from the American Presbyterian Mission, which had suffered a desperate shortage in funding and an urgent curtailment of some activities arose. For a nominal amount, the NZ Mission received established Mission buildings and a Boys' High School.
Education & Industrial Training :
A strong emphasis was placed by the Mission
on manual and practical training alongside an academic education. Mr George
Gray, an Industrial Missionary was employed in 1930 to set up a Manual
Training School at Saharanpur. Manual training included woodwork, blacksmithing,
leather work, tailoring and motor mechanics.
It was considered imperative that the boys gained sufficient skills to earn a living and to make a contribution to the development of their nation. The basic aim of the Mission Boys' Schools was to train them within a Christian environment to become "self - respecting, self - supporting members of the Church in India and useful citizens".
The Christian Boys' and Girls' Schools during this period showed some progress with measurable results. Whether this was due to the Indian eagerness to secure education for their children, even at the price of participating in Christian teaching, it is difficult to speculate. Two hostels attached to the schools enabled 55 boys and 30 girls from surrounding scattered villages and homes to be accommodated giving them the benefit of regular schooling and supervision.
A printing press was established at the Kharar Boys' High School, which had the added benefit of enabling Christian literature to be printed and distributed.
The Depression Years :
Throughout the 1930's, a swift rise in the strength of the Mission was followed by a levelling off of activity and the reluctant acceptance that there was a limit to what the home Church could provide both in personnel and in money. For five years, no additional staff went out from New Zealand and in fact the Mission budget was considerably cut with salaries reduced. The New Zealand Government's 25% tax on overseas remittances to preserve precious overseas funds led to some very tight budgeting and an added burden on already financially stretched Parishioners.
Missionary salaries were never high and often
hardly adequate to make ends meet. New Missionaries not used to utilizing
the more economical local Indian ways of doing things often found it the
hardest to cope. Placing Missionaries children in the American run Woodstock
Mission School with its high school fees was generally out of the question.
The bitter alternative meant leaving their children with relatives for
schooling in New Zealand. A furlough home only came every seven years hence
parents and children did not see each other for these years.
By 1939, an increasing number of Christians were reported as returning to their Hindu faith, and the annual report states that the "difficulties for the presentation of the gospel have never been greater".
The Mission on Film :
In 1936, the Rev Henry Gilbert, a member of the Foreign Missions Committee took 1,500 feet of 16mm cine film showing the work of the Punjab Mission. This was subsequently shown in New Zealand to encourage support for the Mission. As early as 1914 just prior to the First World War, the Indian Mission had suggested the forward thinking idea of using cine film of Indian Christian Mission activities as a way of promoting interest in the Indian Punjab Mission. Sadly the 1936 film has disappeared beyond trace, despite being filmed on safety film and possibly also partially in colour. We have gone to considerable lengths to ascertain the fate of this historic film without luck.
World War Two :
The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939
which involved India as a member of the British Empire caused more difficulties
for the Mission. It gave rise to considerable unrest among the Indian people,
many of whom deeply resented being dragged into a conflict not of their
However, the Missionaries worked hard during the war years, so much so that they were congratulated in 1942 on the vast amount of work they had done.
Financial assistance from New Zealand enabled the hospital to be enlarged by 20 beds, child welfare work was developed, 400 girls were beng educated in four different Primary and Middle schools, and 600 boys were being educated at Kharar and Saharanpur.
The Emerging Indian Church :
From as early as 1931, more control of the
Evangelistic work of the Mission had slowly been placed in to the hands
of the Punjab Synod of the Church of Northern India. Increasing emphasis
was also placed on building up organized congregations and regional Church
Councils (Presbyteries). Gradually, Indians were integrated into the Mission
Council to gain experience in running and planning the Mission's various
By 1944, the Mission Council planned to transfer authority to Indian control, however the Indian members were unwilling to assume control until they gained additional experience. It was, however, the policy of the Kharar Boys' High School to have joint New Zealand and Indian Principals, an arrangement which appears to have worked well. This system was thereafter introduced into the Jagadhri Girls' school and the Jagadhri Hospital. As the consensus opinion in Council that the process of Indianisation was indispensable and inevitable, they believed it should begin as soon as possible.
The Mission Council and the Indian Church continued to work side by side. However when Indian Independence was achieved in 1947, the Mission Council foresaw that full ecclesiastical freedom must soon follow.
Independence & Bloodshed :
Internal strife and much bloodshed followed the partitioning of Muslim Pakistan from India. The Punjab area became split in two, and millions of citizens in both countries moved fearing Religious persecution, discrimination or even death if they remained in either India or Pakistan. Refugee numbers grew alarmingly and many who had no opportunity of fleeing were massacred by opposing factions. Missionaries risked personal injury as they ministered to the thousands of refugees during this tragic time. The refugee numbers were so great that little practical assistance could be given.
1950's Expansion :
With the closure of the South China Mission in 1951, funding and resources could be diverted to the Punjab Mission to finance a series of new projects and extensions to existing projects. These included additional Indian Pastors, increased provision for work amongst women, technical training, enlarging of school hostels, providing Theological Scholarships, assisting various educational Colleges, increasing the scope of the Kharar Press, and participating in the establishment of a new Christian centre in the new Punjab State capital of Chandigarh.
Indian Church Leadership :
Early in the 1950s, the NZ Mission work was
integrated with the Ambala Church Council of the United Church of Northern
India, a natural progression from the gradual handing over of control introduced
in 1931. Under this new arrangement, the Indian Church had control of the
entire Mission work and authority to use the NZ Missionaries and the money
made available by the NZ Church in whichever area they deemed most beneficial.
The hand over of control was total despite misgivings by many including
the Missions Committee. In 1956, the American Presbyterian Church also
divested its authority to the Synod.
However, a certain inertia began slowly to permeate the Indian Church.
It was to take 10 years of experience to realize that the handing over of complete responsibility was too great a concession to Nationalistic sentiment, and the best way forward would have been an actual working and planning partnership. Weaknesses in the new arrangement revealed themselves in areas such as finance. To encourage financial responsibility without the danger of becoming dependant on the NZ Church, lump sum payments were regularly paid over with the synod left to apportion the funds as they saw fit. When this did not solve the problem, the grants were slowly reduced encouraging the Synod to move towards increasing self - funding. In the end, areas of work suffered and brought forward the concept of "Responsible Partnership".
"Responsible Partnership" :
Under this new arrangement, beginning in 1964, the concept of "Responsible Partnership" was accepted by the American, Indian and New Zealand Churches. The concept of integration under which all control had been handed over to the Church of North India was abandoned. In its place was established the principal that each partner Church had it's own responsibility, which would be adequately discharged by conferring together on joint tasks, undertaking joint planning for the future, and, while leaving the ultimate policy decisions to the Church of North India, gave each other the right to decide on independent levels of funding contributions and support.
60 Years Service :
1969 saw the completion of 60 years official Missionary service in the Punjab by the New Zealand Presbyterian Church. Behind it stands assistance for three hospitals, three schools, a medical college, a University College, a Literature programme, a scholarship programme, the subsidizing of the Ministry and support for the Synod Administration. Ultimately a successful partnership in Mission after many years of toil.
Donald Cochrane, PCANZ Archives, March 2001
Resources used in writing this history :
- PCANZ Missions manuscript material
- "A Century of Growth" by Rev JS Murray (1969)
- "My Yesterdays in Sunshine and Shadow", by Alice E Henderson (1947)
- "Through Shadow and Sunshine", by Rev WM Ryburn (1961)
- "The Light of Other Days", by Rev TE Riddle (1949)