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The Missionary India Never Forgot
Germany has been blessed with an abundance of history-changing Christians: theologians and pastors who have become household names. Martin Luther, for one; and Karl Barth; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and, of course, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg.
If that last name on the list doesn’t roll off your tongue quite as easily as the three prior, there's no cause for embarrassment. At least not yet. Christopher Gilbert had never heard of him before, either, when a Tamil church planter in New York City showed up one day in 2006 and pleaded with him to make a movie about Ziegenbalg. It was the 300th anniversary of Ziegenbalg’s landing on Indian shores, and wasn’t that cause enough for celebration around the world?
In short order Gilbert discovered that while Ziegenbalg’s may not be a household name in North America or his native Australia, it certainly is in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Ten thousand people joined the week-long festivities celebrating the tercentenary, for which the national government issued a commemorative stamp. And not only Christians were there. Hindus and Muslims came to sing his praises just as loudly. In fact, the first English-language study of Ziegenbalg’s life and ministry, The First Protestant Missionary to India, was by Brijraj Singh, a Hindu. The title is correct—the Pietist Lutheran Ziegenbalg preceded the better-known Anglican and Reformed missionaries in India by a century. More recently, Tamil scholar Daniel Jeyaraj has awarded Ziegenbalg the moniker “the father of modern Protestant mission.”
This is an impressive designation for someone who was only in the mission field for a total of 13 years, made a mere 250 converts, and was roundly persecuted ...1