The story of conversions in India is an excellent example of the indigenous discovery of Christianity (rather than a Western Christian discovery of indigenous societies). No culture is sacred but every culture has the potential to become so. Throughout history, Christian faith has transcended ethnic, national, and cultural barriers, reshaping and redeeming the cultures it has entered. But Christian faith has also taken the shape of those "host cultures" as people in each culture recognize resonant themes in the faith.

Missionaries from abroad bring an initial stimulus, with new technologies for transmitting both Scripture and science. Those technologies serve, together with local agents, to "translate the message" into idioms that are locally acceptable and attractive. After an incubation period—during which early converts absorb, thoroughly internalize, and adapt the gospel to their own culture—explosions of spiritual energy turn whole communities to the new faith. Nowhere can this pattern be more clearly seen than in the process that culminated in Tirunelveli (then spelled Tinnevelly). From 1799 onwards, whole villages forsook old ways and turned temples into chapel-schools. Christians doubled or tripled their numbers in every decade thereafter.

Strategies: literacy and learning

This story starts in eastern Germany—in Halle and Herrnhut, the wellsprings of Pietism. Evangelicalism and Enlightenment were twin engines in A. H. Francke's vision of bringing universal literacy and numeracy to every person on earth—man, woman, and child—so that each might gain access to God's Word in his or her mother tongue.

Ziegenbalg came to Tranquebar on the southeast coast of India in 1706. He built the first modern Tamil schools, printed ...

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