From its earliest days,the Missouri Synod has been a church of missions. The first missions were to the native “Indians” of North America and to the immigrants of the New World. The first overseas missionaries of the Missouri Synod, however, went much farther away. India was their destination. They and many after them in the first part of the 20th century were sent there to proclaim the Gospel to the Indian people.
Thanks be to God, today, as a result of their efforts more than 100,000 souls in India believe in Jesus. The fruits of the missionaries’ labors may now be seen in the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC), an LCMS partner church since 1971.
Making a difference
Earlier this year, I traveled with a group of classmates and professors from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne to visit the IELC. We saw over and over again the visible signs of the long partnership between the LCMS and the IELC in the many churches, schools, hospitals, and institutions of mercy.
Our LCMS contributions make a big difference in India, due in part to the fragile economy and because so many live in extreme poverty. The smallest gifts were most gratefully received, an incredibly moving experience for me when I remembered the luxuries of my own life. Particularly impressive is the Lutheran school system, with its large numbers of students and thus the massive potential it holds for bringing the Gospel to the people of India. The vast majority of students are Hindu, not Christian, and yet all of them get the opportunity to learn about Jesus and the Christian faith. Everywhere we went the Indian Lutherans honored and thanked us, not only for the work that the LCMS is involved in today, but also because of what was done in the past. The many missionaries sent to India over the years are well remembered.
“Each and every member of the IELC is thankful for the sacrifice of the missionaries,” asserted Rev. J. Samuel, president of the IELC, as he recounted the story of Rev. Theodore Naether, the first LCMS missionary to India. Naether watched two of his children die before succumbing himself to the plague, blessing and preaching to his flock until his last breath. “I am here today [a Lutheran pastor and church president] because of the sacrifices of the missionaries.”
Darin Storkson, LCMS director for Southern Asia and Oceania, explains that the people of the IELC are everywhere “intensely aware of their heritage.” The result is what he calls an “intense loyalty towards the LCMS.” The School for the Blind in Barugur is but one example. There is a prominent display of signs for “Rev. Naumann Stage” and “Rev. Naumann Park,” in memory of my own great-grandfather’s cousin, Johannes Naumann, a missionary in the region from 1929-64. His daughter, Helen, now a resident of Fairibault, Minn., has fond memories of growing up in India. “I miss the people there,” she told me, “They were always so good to us.”
The Missouri Synod does not send missionaries to India any more, at least not to serve as pastors and evangelists, but Indian Lutherans very much want the relationship to continue. President Samuel expressed two hopes in particular. “The first thing that we expect: prayer. The second thing is guidance. Guidance is very important. We believe that today the LCMS is our parent and we look to our parents for guidance.”
That “guidance” is exactly what the LCMS is most happy to supply. Storkson explains that plans are underway to foster a closer partnership specifically with Concordia Theological Seminary in Nagercoil, India, the sole training center for IELC pastors and the backbone of their mission efforts. The partnership includes scholarships for Indian seminarians to study at LCMS seminaries, and in the near future, the sending of LCMS theologians to teach in India as part of the Synod’s Global Seminary Initiative. All of this and more will help secure the close relationship that we enjoyed in the past and lay the foundation for a long future of cooperation toward our common goal of preaching the Gospel to all nations. Finally, let us respond gladly to President Samuel’s request for prayer by asking our heavenly Father to remember His children in India.
Our Work in India
The IELC Today
Active Pastors: 210
School of Nursing: 1
Budget Amount for Our Work in India: $187,000
About the Author: Edward Naumann is a fourth year student at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS) in Fort Wayne. He and his wife, Monica, have three young children.