It was July 1706. The people of Tranquebar, a small Danish trading station on the Coromandel Coast in southeastern India (modern-day Tamil Nadu), rejoiced to see the Danish ship Sophia anchoring in the deep waters. Tamil boatmen rushed to offload the cargo. The captain who oversaw the transfer of goods became impatient and mercilessly whipped the boatmen. But one of the passengers on the ship, a 23-year-old German missionary, objected, "Do not whip! They are people." To this the captain replied, "No, they are Malabarians [i.e., 'beasts']."

In contrast to the callous attitudes of merchants who exploited lowly workers without concern for their well being, the missionary, Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719), had come to India for the express purpose of letting all people, high or low, know their privileges, rights, and responsibilities before God. Ziegenbalg's deep respect for the Tamil people, their culture, and their traditions left an enduring impact upon south India and had far-reaching influence. By the time William Carey, the celebrated English Baptist missionary often called the "father of the modern missionary movement," arrived in Calcutta in 1793, evangelical Christianity in India was nearly a century old. Almost every missionary method that he later developed had already been tried—by a Pietist Lutheran in Tranquebar.

Pietist pioneers

Early Lutheran Reformers had associated "mission" with preaching the Word of God and administering the sacrament, leaving little place for cross-cultural missionary work. But German Pietism (sometime called "The Second Reformation") opened the door to a more holistic understanding of Christian outreach. Halle Pietist leader August Hermann Francke believed that evangelism and education ...

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