Behari Lal Singh and His Vision for Missionary Training

Behari Lal Singh and His Vision for Missionary Training

Singh believed that people in different environments had different questions, most of which had not been addressed in the Western church. In fact, his voice as a native of India added weight to Duff’s efforts to present missions as an integral part of the church and to raise consciousness about their concerns. For a long time after this conference, many Scottish missionaries continued to uphold Duff’s and Singh’s vision.

Only one representative from Asia appeared in 1860 at the overwhelmingly British Conference on Missions in Liverpool. It was Behari Lal Singh, who had become a Christian under the guidance of the Scottish missionary Alexander Duff. By then, Singh had been serving in the Scottish Reformed Church for almost twenty years.

While grateful for all the service and sacrifices of foreign missionaries in India, Singh humbly submitted his suggestion that they should give more room and better training to Indian converts, allowing them to evangelize their own country.

He gave the example of translations. Until then, he said, “the plan of translating the Bible had been conducted as though foreign missionaries were the only successful or competent translators.” Wasn’t it time for the foreigners who had so commendably “expended their time, strength, talents, and accomplishments in the work of translation” to spend now “their time and strength in raising an effective native agency to translate the Bible with far greater purity and precision than it had ever been done before?”[1]

He also suggested that native converts be given better education so they could confidently explain Christianity to learned Hindus and Muslims. At that time, most missionaries were only given a minimal education. Because of the scarcity of workers, most of them didn’t have to attend a seminary or undergo serious studies. The assumption was that they would be speaking to uneducated people in so-called third-world countries.

But missionaries to India often discovered that the common people referred their religious decisions to the highly-educated Brahmins. While the Brahmins represented a small percentage of the population, they were held in high esteem, and few people would venture to embrace Christianity without their approval.

Not everyone at the Liverpool Conference shared Singh’s views. Many thought that higher education was unnecessary and a poor investment of time and money. In case anyone thought that he was moved by personal money interests, he clarified that he taught for free for the first two years in the mission and, “if it would concede to the welfare of the native churches, he was willing to surrender anything.”[2]

Providing high education and reaching the influential classes had already been Duff’s vision from the start. With the help of the Hindu reformer Ram Mohun Roy, Duff had been accepted by the Hindu community and had been able to bring the gospel to many young Brahmins who were dissatisfied with traditional Hinduism. Until then, many of these young people had found a confirmation of their objections in Western atheistic Enlightenment literature. That is, until they understood the radical message of the gospel.

Duff, who was probably the most renowned missionary at that time after William Carey, raised money to endow a missionary chair at New College, Edinburgh to prepare missionaries to face the new questions raised by people who lived in different cultures and environments. The goal was to give missionaries a thorough knowledge of the history, geography, languages, literature, and beliefs of different countries. He served there as the first professor.

Moved by Christian Example

Singh was one of the young men who learned under Duff’s teaching ministry. It was Singh’s father, eager to give his sons a thorough knowledge of the English language, to send Singh and his brother to Duff’s school in Calcutta.

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