To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. - Apostle Paul, Letter to the Corinthians (Bible)
What image comes to your mind when think about Jesus? Maybe a bearded man with long robes surrounded by children? Or a man hanging on the cross? Whatever it may be, it is highly unlikely that you pictured Jesus as an Indian!
Well, that is what one young evangelist tried to visualise - Jesus on the Indian road! His name was E.Stanley Jones.
Born in Maryland, USA in 1884, Eli Stanley Jones grew up as a rebellious teenager. From a very young age he got involved with gangs. One night when he and his gang planned to disrupt a Christian service, the most unexpected happened - he responded to the evangelist’s call! His life was changed forever! Stanley wanted to become a lawyer and he went on to graduate from Asbury College, Kentucky in 1906. The following year, when he was just 23 years old, his young missionary heart led him to India.
Dr. Stanley Jones’ innovative method of evangelization was born out of the various challenges he faced in India. Once a Hindu Judge challenged him and said, “Christians seemed only interested in the outcasts of India and not the high castes or educated classes”. This statement changed his focus and he began reaching out to a rapidly growing audience of educated non-Christians.
Unlike other western evangelists, Dr. Jones empathized with India’s cultural diversity, her religions and people. Indigenized evangelism was Dr. Jones’ way of not just de-Westernizing Jesus but Indianzing Him by understanding the cultural, social, economic and political spheres of India.
This was a crucial step in his method of bringing Indians to a closer understanding of who Jesus was.
Dr. Jones was a dynamic personality and traveled extensively. He proposed the idea of Round Table of Nations, thirty years before the United Nations was formed. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his reconciliation work in Asia, Africa, and between Japan and the United States. In India, he initiated an inter-religious round table dialogue as an approach to bring together people of various faiths to share their religious experiences.
The result was two fold - more people were interested to know and experience Christ and it made Christians have greater sympathy and respect for other religions.
Dr. Jones shared a close relationship with Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji would exhort Dr. Jones that all Christians must begin to live more like Jesus Christ, practice Christianity without adulterating it and emphasise on love. During his time with Gandhiji, Dr. Jones studied deeply about the importance of ashrams. He went on to start the Christian Ashram in 1930 in Sattal, up in the Himalayas. He was determined to keep the ashram Christ centred yet very Indian in its nature. He introduced Indian music and art forms in the ashram to adapt culturally without losing focus on the gospel of Christ.
Dr. Jones also supported medical and social institutions in India. He facilitated the setting up of the Nur Manzil Psychiatric Centre in Lucknow, the first of its kind in India. Dr. Jones wrote extensively and authored over 25 books. In 1963, Dr. Jones received the Gandhi Peace Award for his contributions for fostering peace.
After Gandhiji’s death, Dr. Jones wrote his biography titled “Gandhi - portrayal of a friend.” This book went on to inspire Dr. Martin Luther King to adopt non-violence in the Civil Rights Movement.
Introducing Christ in an Indian setting was a road less taken by Western missionaries. Dr. Stanley Jones brought a whole new perspective of evangelisation in India. He brought the good news of Christ with charisma to people of all walks of life. He treated statesmen and village outcasts all the same with the imperishable love of Christ! Dr. Jones will be remembered as a friend of India, an evangelist who presented the gospel of Jesus Christ in an Indian cup!