by Debo Alder Okunade
Getting a good church to worship in India could be as tasking as attempting to locate a Sarasvati temple in Sokoto state of Nigeria, or trying to locate a shrine of Krishna at the hallowed chamber of a Pentecostal church in Nigeria. This was really not unexpected in a country where 83% of the people practice Hinduism of different gods and goddesses.
Indians don’t joke with language and custom, irrespective of status and class. I witnessed the celebration of ‘Dussehra’ in Mumbai and was amazed at the flavour attached to traditions and still wonder when and how any form of religion will make an impact among the Hindus of over India’s one billion people.
The celebration of Dussehra is the climax of a nine-day worshiping of Navratri with pomp and pageantry. The mood of the last night of ‘Navrattri’ at the Goreagon Sports Club (in West Malad) on October 5, 2011 was similar to the mood of a new year eve in the West. It was a mad rush at many offices and malls as people rushed to make last minute shopings for the celebration. Offices, shops and houses were decorated with shininng materials and symbols of many gods and goddesses.
The calculation of Dussehra is based on Lunar calendar. In my office chocholates and coconuts were shared among the hindu faithfuls. People worship their working tools as part of the festival; books, cars, computers, pens and all that are part of what the hindus worship during Dussehra, but the global theme of the festival is hinged on triumph of good over evil.
I was aware that India had a marginal population of Muslims and Christians, so I made up my mind to attend church services during my four week assignment in Mumbai just as I made up my mind to locate the 69-year-old old Indian thespian, Amitabh Bachchan, who now anchors ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’, KBC (Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”). Amitabh handles KBC with exceptional mastery of Hindu language.
One afternoon, I did a virtual search of local churches close to Bombay and Google returned a local church in Parel – “Rahator Memorial Methodist Church”. Parel is a suburb of Bombay and it is roughly a 40-minute journey by rail from Mumbai, the commercial nerve of India. I felt a pleasant relief. After all, I was born and taught in Methodist lore; I share the evangelism traits of John and Charles Wesley.
The use of modern technology in India is admirable. I don’t know how many local churches in Africa are on the internet and also equipped to respond to cyber hits on their websites promptly as John Jebaseelan, Assistant Pastor of Rahator Memorial Methodist Church, would later do to my request to attend their church service. He sent the greetings of the Priest-in-charge of the Church, Rev. Lionel Hector and a complete guide of the church location.
If I had visited the historic ‘Gateway of India’ in Bombay before I searched for a local church on the internet, I would not have needed to do the search. Close to the ‘Gateway of India’ (which is now more famous for the Pakistan attack on Mumbai in 2008) is another Methodist Church, Bowen Memorial Methodist Church.
Rev. Lionel Hector, an astute preacher and one whose diction and poise I admire, later told me he used to be the pastor-in-charge of the church some years back. My friend and colleague, Prashant, had agreed to accompany me to the church, though he is Hindu and a devotee of ‘Sai Baba’, but the concept of what the Yorubas call ‘Omoluabi’ which is a universal concept runs in his veins and together we went to the church in Parel.
The first service of the church is usually conducted in Tamil Language, garnished with a tint of English. The majority of the congregation are from the Tamil tribe. Drumming and dancing are not part of the service but the delivery of songs and the use of grand piano are.
The activities of churches in India are purely conventional. There is little room for the overt evangelism as is so evident in Nigeria. Religious activities outside Hinduism are highly monitored by the government. The approach to evangelism in India is also passive, similar to the passive resistant approach of the man who was honoured by the Indians as the father of Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
You go to church or worship anything you desire based on your conviction and volition. Even in the midst of this, the joy of worshiping could be felt in the atmosphere of the service and on the faces of the congregations especially with constant free sumptuous meals which follow each service on Sundays.