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The Cambridge Mission to Delhi
A Brief History

By Lilian F. Henderson

Westminster: The Offices of the Mission, 1931.

Chapter I. The Cambridge Mission to Delhi: a brief survey.

A LITTLE more than three-quarters of a century ago, there came to live in Delhi a certain Chaplain of the East India Company. He had already spent nearly twenty years in India, and his life had been devoted to the work of ministering to his fellow-countrymen there. But, true servant of Christ as he was, he could not be content to think only of those of his own race. All round him seethed the life and thought of a vast country, and her myriad peoples. He had lived long enough among them to know something of their ways of thought, their devotion to their religion, their age-long search for God; and he longed that they might know the supreme revelation of Himself which God has given to the world in His Son Jesus Christ. Especially did he turn again and again in thought towards the ancient City of Kings--the heart of India--and longed that it might become the city of the King of kings, and the heart of His Kingdom in India.

And so, in God's own time, and according to His purpose, Midgley John Jennings came to Delhi. It might have seemed in that stronghold of the Mahommedan faith, with the gleaming white minarets of the Great Mosque dominating the city, that such a hope as he cherished was merely ridiculous. What could one man do, alone and unaided, amid those teeming thousands which jostled and swarmed in the labyrinthine bazaars and gullies of this great eastern city? But this simple-hearted chaplain had no such thought. His was the faith in God, and in His love and power, which removes mountains, and, unlike so many of us in the present day who put the cart before the horse, he set himself without ceasing to the work of patient, persevering prayer.

The English church of St. James's in Delhi is a picturesque, cruciform building surmounted by a large, white central dome. Sitting at its western end, beyond the dome, there might have been seen, one Sunday evening, two young high-caste Indians, watching with curious eyes to see what the worship of Christians could be like. Several of the worshippers in the church were English gentlemen whom one of them at least knew and respected; and afterwards recording his impressions, he says: "they kneeled down, and seemed to be praying most devoutly." That simple sight was the means by which a great change was wrought in the soul of one of these young men. He was led by the Holy Spirit to search and to read, and Sunday by Sunday he was to be seen in his usual place in St. James's church, often accompanied by a friend.

One hot July evening, Mr. Jennings was surprised by a visit from the two young men. They told him who they were: Ram Chandra, the Professor of Higher Mathematics at the Government College, and Chimman Lai, Assistant Surgeon in the Delhi Hospital. It was a long story which they told him of how each in a different way they had been led to Christ; and now they wished to take the final step of being admitted into His Fold by Baptism. How much courage and strength of purpose it needed thus to cut themselves off from home and kindred, only those who are well acquainted with India know. But these two had found the pearl of great price, and were willing to pay. And so on July 11th, 1852, they made the public confession of their faith, and were received into the Church--the first-fruits of a harvest to be, the seed of which was sown by faith and prayer. It was the birthday of the Delhi Church.

The baptism of Ram Chandra and Chimman Lai was followed up by an appeal from Mr. Jennings to the S.P.G. to open work in Delhi. The appeal met with a ready response, and the Society not only sent out two missionaries, but also voted the entire sum dedicated to India from its Third Jubilee Fund. Thus the Delhi Mission was launched, and its work was so wonderfully blessed, that the Bishop of Madras wrote of it:

"The Delhi Mission is one of the most hopeful and promising of our Indian Mission fields. The intelligent and well-informed converts, . . . the superior nature of the school, with its 120 boys, among the best I have visited in India, and the first-rate character for attainments and devotedness of the missionaries and schoolmasters are making an impression which is moving the whole of that City of Kings."

Then came the terrible storm of the Mutiny, and the infant Church in Delhi received its baptism in blood. Every European found in the city was put to death without quarter, and the faithful chaplain among them went to his reward. The Indian Christians were given the chance of life if they would deny their new-found faith. Many were killed, and a few, Ram Chandra among them, escaped out of the city, but not one, as far as we know, denied Christ. Chimman Lai was murdered outside his dispensary "because he denied not that he was a Christian." After some weeks of terrible suspense the message was received in England "The Delhi Mission has been completely swept away."

In St. James's churchyard, close to the path, there stands a large hollow orb of copper, surmounted by a cross. In the days before the Mutiny it crowned the summit of the dome. The mutineers fired again and again at the hated emblem, and tried hard to dislodge it, but though riddled through and through with shots, it remained immovable. So did the work of God in Delhi. Hardly had the sound of the shots died away before steps were being considered in England for a forward move and an appeal was made "for clergymen and schoolmasters to go to Delhi." When they arrived they found that Ram Chandra had returned, re-opened the boys' school and was bravely carrying on. Not only so, but two more high-caste converts were ready to confess Christ in baptism.

The record of the years that follow is one of patient re-building and steady progress. The rapid growth of the school necessitated constant change of building in order to accommodate the number of boys who wished to attend; bazaar preaching was started; a house was purchased for the Mission headquarters; work amongst women by women was begun, and finally a noble church was built on one of the main streets of the city, and dedicated to St. Stephen, in memory of the martyrs who had laid down their lives in the Mutiny.

Let us take a peep inside the church as it is to-day. The congregation on any ordinary Sunday fills it, but on special festivals it overflows into the verandah and even into the compound outside. Some of its members are Christians of the third and fourth generations. Truly the blood of the martyrs was not shed in vain, but has indeed proved to be the seed of a promising church. Rich and poor, high and low, brilliant saris of silk embroidery side by side with cotton rags; neat rows of schoolgirls and schoolboys; Brahmin convert and Sweeper worship God side by side; and at Christmas and Easter BOO to 600 communicants stream up to the altar to make their communion.

But to return. Nearly twenty years after the Mutiny was a thing of the past, there came to birth in the University of Cambridge a new venture for God which was to bring a further access of life and power into the little Mission already established by S.P.G. at Delhi, and to give it from henceforth the name by which it is always known: "The Cambridge Mission to Delhi."

It is always wonderful to trace the working of God's Holy Spirit in the beginnings of great enterprises, and the story of how those who were responsible for the connection of Cambridge with Delhi were inspired by Him is one of thrilling interest. Two men, French, of Oxford, and Westcott, of Cambridge, were led to the conviction that, in Dr. Westcott's own words: "the Universities were providentially fitted to train men who shall interpret the faith of the West to the East, and bring back to us new illustrations of the one infinite and eternal Gospel."

It was a great and noble idea, and it found lodgment in the heart and mind of a young man named Edward Bickersteth. Earnest and prayerful, he was ripe for the plan which God had chosen for him. The idea developed into what was at that time a new form--that of a Brotherhood, or Community Mission--a band of men, unmarried, who should be recruited from, and claim the support of, their University at home, live together for mutual help and encouragement, and concentrate upon one sphere of work, so as to create a strong centre from which missionary activity could go forth to other places. His enthusiasm spread to others and a little band of men was gathered round him who pledged themselves to this work. Delhi was chosen as a fitting centre for the enterprise and as the Government college there had just been closed, the Cambridge Mission was asked if it would fill the gap.

And so on October 30th, 1877, Edward Bickersteth and one of his companions sailed for India. In the train between London and Dover a touching little scene took place. The two young men were accompanied by Bickersteth's father, and on the way the three men knelt together in a final prayer for a blessing on the new enterprise. The son begged the father to give them some word which they could remember for their guide and inspiration, and the elder Bickersteth gave them the words which have ever since been the special motto of the Cambridge Mission: "For my sake and the Gospel's." Those simple words still make their appeal, and from Cambridge and elsewhere, men and women have from that day to this been ready to give up all to do God's will in that great city where the Mission carries on its special work.

Within two years the Brotherhood grew to the number of six, among whom were two future Heads of the Mission--the Rev. G. A. Lefroy, afterwards Bishop of Lahore, and the Rev. S. S. Allnutt. Edward Bickersteth himself, after five years' service in Delhi, was called to a missionary bishopric in Japan, and the headship of the Cambridge Brotherhood was taken over by Mr. Lefroy.

It may not be amiss at this point to give some idea of the life and aims of the Brotherhood. It is not a private concern, but works, as it has done from the first, hand in hand with S.P.G., with which Society it is affiliated. The Brothers are not a Religious Community and take no life-vows. They are bound together in a common life of prayer and work that, as is so well expressed in Bishop Westcott's beautiful prayer, they "may labour to bring the Gospel to the many peoples of India." In that work they believe that prayer takes the first place. Their life is centred in the little chapel of the Brotherhood house, where they meet for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist, midday intercessions and compline. They have very few rules, and those of the simplest, each man being entirely free to develop his own individuality both in life and work; but the comradeship and mutual help of the Brotherhood is a safeguard from the perils of loneliness which in a land such as India can lead to dire results.

Side by side with the Brotherhood there grew up a Women's Community, known as the Community of St. Stephen. Work amongst women by women (the only way in which it can be done at all in India) was commenced as early as 1862. Workers were drawn at first from among Anglo-Indians and others resident in India and trained for the work. As this increased and its necessity became more and more apparent, an appeal was made for women workers from England, and St. Stephen's Home, a large airy bungalow at the foot of the historic Ridge, was built to be the headquarters of the women's work. The idea then took shape of a Community of workers on similar lines to those of the Brotherhood, and the new Community was duly founded. To-day the Community House of St. Stephen's is the "Home" of a band of women workers--some thirty-six strong--scattered abroad in various schools, hospitals and districts, who from time to time gather together within its friendly walls and in its beautiful chapel for corporate worship. Like the Brotherhood, the Community has little in the way of rules. Its Head, in consultation with the Head of the Mission, is responsible for the placing of her workers to the best advantage, but the members, though representing many varieties and shades of thought and method, are free to work on their own lines. The main idea of a Community, apart from its advantages to the individual member, are that it ensures continuity in work. No member looks upon any special piece of work as her own, but is ready at a moment's notice to take up something more urgent, or to fill a gap.

The partnership of the Cambridge Mission with S.P.G. is a singularly happy one, and the work of witness has quietly continued its development through the years. The Mission holds fast by the belief that a sacred trust has been given to our country in her connection with India, and that such a trust can only be fulfilled by the way of service: service not only to the individual, but to the nation in the making, and to the many and varied races and peoples that go to make up Indian society. It longs to do its part to show India that in the heart of Christian Britain is a real desire to break down barriers, and to establish true friendship and understanding between the races. It strives to show the way to the true ground of unity on which Hindu and Mussalman, high-caste and low, become one in Christ. It endeavours in the building up of His Church to serve soul and mind and body in His name, and thus each branch of its varied activities--evangelistic, pastoral, educational--has grown in its turn out of the response to a definite need, or the seizing of some opportunity so to serve. The object of this little book is to trace out the ways in which the prayers of a good chaplain, the God-given vision of a great scholar, and the obedience to the Divine call of a noble and eager-hearted young priest and his companions, have borne fruit and continue to bear fruit to the glory of God.

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