John Hands was born in 1780 in Dublin, on the eastern coast of Ireland. Amidst great poverty, wars and political turmoil, John found his way to the London Missionary Society. By the age of 30, he decided to set sail for India.
John Hands was commissioned to set up a mission base at Visakhapatnam but he was unable to do so. Instead he moved to a small town, 500 miles South-West of Visakhapatnam, called Bellary.
To his utter dismay, he found the locals drenched in spiritual darkness and his fellow countrymen in spiritual poverty. Their traditions were superstitious and their culture, drowned in idolatry. The natives were suspicious and often outright opposed to any form of ‘Western doctrine’.
John Hands’ arrival was however welcomed. He decided to study the local language to communicate with the locals. Very soon he began to work on translating the gospels into Kannada. Within two years, without a lexicon, and virtually no help from the locals, he was able to translate the Gospel of Matthew, Mark & Luke. Work on Kannada grammar and vocabulary also commenced in the same year, 1812.
The love for Christ was his fuel and empathy for the locals, his motivation.
John Hands established a church to serve his fellow countrymen from the army. In 1813, Joseph Taylor, an old friend of John, joined the mission in Bellary. Together they set up a native school. After initial resistance, local children came in droves. Soon there was a need to set another English school to meet the demands. Slowly, the locals seemed to be willing to listen to the missionaries, accepting the folly of their superstitions. Yet no one abandoned their faith and it took nine years before someone accepted Jesus as Lord.
During his time in India, John Hands together with his successor, John Reid, produced the first complete translation of the Bible into Kannada. They were instrumental in setting up several schools to educate the masses.
They established the first Kannada press called the Bellary Mission Press, which went on to print more than 30,000 copies of N.T. Bibles, several tracts and books, and also a Kannada newspaper called ‘Samachar’ in 1844.
The personal life of John was on filled with turmoil. In 1818, John Hands suffered his first major setback. His beloved wife and partner in missions, Sarah departed to be with the Lord. He remarried in 1822, but she too died young. He was later struck with illness and was forced to return home for a two year furlough. Finally after three decades of joyful labour in Christ, he retired in 1842.
John spent the rest of this life in Dublin, inspiring many more for the cause of the gospel.
One will not find the name of John Hands in the famed lists of missionaries who built India, but by the time he had completed his work, John Hands had impacted the lives of the natives, challenged their ignorance, and shone in them the eternal light.