Autobio 2000

A Personal View of the Twentieth Century

by Robert Brow  Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2000

Chapter 6

Mission In India

After passing through the Suez Canal, the ship spent a few hours in Aden. Lionel Gurney came on board and tried to persuade me there and then to join him in the work of the Red Sea Mission Team. I had heard of his incredibly courageous journeys by camel to preach the Gospel among Muslims way down into Africa. As far as I know, at that time there were only two church buildings in the Arabian peninsula. One was the military garrison church in Aden. The other was an embassy church far to the north in Bahrein.

Since then over the past forty five years there has been a huge influx of Christians from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and other countries. They have come to work in Kuwait, Bahrein, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. In seven of these countries, but excluding Saudi Arabia, Christians are freely allowed to meet for worship, and the Sheikhs have donated land for them to build churches. In all these countries any Arab who is baptized, or joins in Christian worship, can lose his life but there are apparently very large numbers of secret "Mosque Christians" (see the Essay with this title on this web site).

I arrived in Allahabad, where there was at that time a winter language school for missionaries from various countries. I had taken the Higher Urdu examination in the army, so all I had to do was learn the Hindi script and some grammar to complete the first year's work. For the second year there were many new Hindi words taken from Sanskrit. In April, as the plains began to heat up, we moved up to the language school which met in Kellogg church seven thousand feet up in Landour just east of Mussoorie.

Mollie had completed her first year Hindi examinations at her mission station in Bihar. So we found ourselves in the same class. She sat the other end of the row of three men and six women who sat being drilled by Mr.Sharma, the language teacher. Soon we had to preach short sermons in Hindi. So she preached at me and I preached at her, but as far as I remember we never talked to each other. Since my conversion I had not dated a girl in six years. I had settled that I would not think about marriage until I was in India and knew what work I would be engaged in. This is taken verbatim from my 1953 diary with a few additions from memory :

"Saturday 27 June. Went on the hill village trek to a village below Allen Wynberg school. We had a good hearing but not much response. One of our team was a very fashionable American Pentecostal girl who insisted on wearing nylons on the theory that bare legs would distract the men. I had the impression it did just the opposite.

Sunday 28 June. Communion at St. Paul's Anglican Church. Bible class and morning service at Kellogg Church. In the afternoon I went down to preach at the Dhobi Ghat (place where washermen did the laundry) with Mollie Tarrant. Two Plymouth Brethren friends and I ran an open air meeting in the center of the village, and this went very well. I had a quick tea with Mollie at Edgehill, and went to the evening service at Kellogg. Dr. Cattell of the American Friends gave a message on the Book of Revelation. I had supper at Edgehill, where Dr Neville Everard had invited me to meet Dr. Cattell. I found it very hard to say good-bye to Mollie, who is leaving Tuesday.

Monday 29 June. I couldn't stop thinking about Mollie, and after asking the Lord to stop me from taking a wrong step, and much prayer, I plucked up courage and asked her to come out to tea in the afternoon. She apparently felt she had to ask for permission to do this from Sylvia Norrish, who was in charge of the guest house. We had a picnic together by the haunted house, and then sheltered from at least an hour of torrential rain in a small village tea house on the Tehri road. We shared our life stories.

We went on to have supper together in Mussoorie. When we go back outside the gates of Edgehill, we hugged, and kissed and got engaged there and then before we said goodbye. I have never been in love before, or even approaching it, and now I can hardly cope with the joy of having found Mollie.

Tuesday 30 June. I sent a note to Mollie about five a.m. to catch her before she went down to the plains to work at the Duncan Hospital, Raxaul. I was thrilled to get a note back assuring me all was well. I left a few days later for the Allahabad Bible Seminary to prepare for classes that would begin later that month. There was just time for a brief visit to see her.

Saturday 18 July. I arrived at the Duncan Hospital in Raxaul, Bihar. I stayed with the business manager and his wife, and Mollie had her meals with us. Mollie and I walked into Nepal for a mile of two. (At that time there were apparently no Christians in that country, which was closed to missionaries. Now 45 years later, in spite of terrible persecution, hundreds of churches are growing rapidly).

Sunday 19 July. Morning worship in Raxaul. In the afternoon Mollie and I went by train to Ghorasahan to meet Howard and Betty Barclay. Mollie and I went for a walk and sat on the grass by a little stream, which might have been in England. We prayed together, and feel wonderfully one in our life purpose together.

Monday 20 July. Mollie was on a duty in the very busy obstetrics ward all the morning. We attended the evening welcome back for Dr. Trevor Strong, and Ruth Horne announced our engagement to the staff. We are not yet officially engaged but announcing it to the staff now avoids a lot of gossip.

Tuesday 21 July. Mollie and I spent all day together till the train left at 8.30 in the evening. I traveled with Ruth Horne, Mollie's senior missionary, and was so tired I fell asleep on her shoulder."   She was apparently greatly amused by this.

When we wrote to announce our engagement to Mollie's parents in Cheam, Surrey, they put the announcement in the local paper. Everest had been conquered by Hillary and Tenzing a month before and the two main London evening papers picked up the news, and featured us with many embellishments under the headline, ROMANCE IN THE HIMALAYAS. Which suggests that newspaper stories should be taken with a pinch of salt.

One letter of congratulations came from a Doctor who wrote "the better man deserves the prize." I later discovered that Mollie had been smitten with him at the language school, but he had failed to express any interest in her. Since then I have explained that I got her on the rebound, or was it that "A faint heart never won a fair lady." Haste and impetuousness have characterized my life, but I have never regretted getting engaged on our first date.

Mollie and I wrote to each other every day. Two or three weeks later it dawned on me that she had been raised in a very different moral climate from mine. I began to wonder what she would think when she inevitably discovered, and perhaps met, some of my previous girl friends. I finally decided I should write and give her the names and locations of each one. I was very much afraid that, having heard all this, she would decide I was not the right person for her. And in fact she told me that the letter was a terrible shock, and she very nearly decided she could not go ahead with our relationship. Her mother and sister were in England, and letters took three weeks each way, so she very much missed the support of her family at that difficult time.

She made a brief visit to see me at the Seminary. We went to Mirzapur to meet some of the other BCMS missionaries. A favourite word among senior missionary ladies was munasib (appropriate to Indian culture) and took great pains to make sure no one saw us alone together. That would not have been at all munasib. But they also managed to disappear discreetly, and we managed to share and talk about the stresses that were already apparent.

Mollie was finding Anglican talk about diocesan affairs, Advent, Archdeacons, Bishops, Confirmation, etc. somewhat disturbing, and she wondered if she could ever cope with this evangelical but very Anglican mission.  I got a letter from the Secretary of her mission saying that they had spent a lot of money training and sending this girl out to India, and they expected me to pay twenty-five English pounds towards this. I wrote back that she was worth more than that, and enclosed a cheque for twice that amount. From time to time when things get tough I can remind Mollie that I paid fifty quid for her.

I arrived in Raxaul two days before the wedding. Mollie was under pressure. She had been measured up for her wedding dress two months before, but she lost so much weight that it had to be taken apart the day before the ceremony and sewn together again.

The service was under a shamianah (tent) outside the hospital. Most of the guests were the Indian and Nepali nurses and staff. None of our family on either side were able to attend, but Mollie's good friends Mabel Maclean and Joan Short were bridesmaids. My best man was Bill Duncumb the business manager of Kachwa Hospital. The reception was in another tent, and I responded to Ernest Oliver, who had given Mollie away, in both English and Hindi.

An elephant had been ordered to take us to the railway station. When I got up the animal thought it was time to move. Mollie was hanging half way up, and the mahout had to beat the elephant on the head with a piece of wood to make it sit down again. For those who doubt the truth of this, there is an 8 mm Kodak film of the wedding, which our son Peter had copied on regular film.

We spent our honeymoon at Ahava, a guest house run by Miss Ella Hogan of Dr. Graham's Homes in Kalimpong. On the way up the winding road Mollie was exhausted and terribly car sick. But we were the only guests over Christmas and we enjoyed being together and going out for long walks in the hills. As we looked over a valley I would bark like a dog, and dogs from the villages all around joined in the chorus. Mollie was amazed I knew their language.

When I began teaching at the Allahabad Bible Seminary I shared an upstairs apartment with Joe Black. The khansama had asked us what the Sahibs would want to eat, and we ordered exactly the same for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day without any change whatsoever. When Mollie and I arrived back from the honeymoon the first thing she did was to fire the cook. She also said the apartment looked like a second hand furniture shop. It improved slowly as we saved money for each item. But first we took delivery of an engagement ring made by a goldsmith in Allahabad. He also made me a gold band. My RB initials are still visible and I have worn it every day for the past 45 years.

In Urdu Allahabad means the dwelling place of Allah. But Bishop Christopher Robinson presided over the very impressive Anglican Cathedral. He was happy for me to be teaching Anglican students at the Allahabad Bible Seminary, but he felt I should be ordained to do this. I said that I did not feel called to be a parish minister, as that work should be done by Indian priests.  Would he be willing to ordain me for a Bible teaching ministry ? He agreed to do this, but wondered if it would not be wise for Mollie to be confirmed first ? She had been baptized as an adult in Cheam Baptist Church on Easter Sunday 1940 but she could not be welcomed to Anglican communion.

Mollie coped with the simple service of confirmation, and we joked that she had become a confirmed Baptist. But she wept all the way through the pompous ritual of her husband's ordination. She tried hard to become a loyal Anglican, but none of our four children were baptized as babies. And she did not begin to feel at home in Anglican worship till we attended Little Trinity Church seventeen years later (see chapter 7).

Meanwhile I had a very busy teaching schedule at the Seminary. As soon as classes were over students from the university and other inquirers, scroungers, and police spies would come and discuss interminably. Mollie had to serve them tea and retire immediately to await their departure. This was very hard on her, and I am not sure it did anyone much good.

One of the most promising inquirers, a lawyer, after weeks of discussion said "Mr. Brow, why can't I be baptized?" I said I wasn't sure he was truly born again. "Mr. Brow, that is just what I want so badly. I was married aged twelve to a pockmarked and ugly village girl. After baptism I want to marry an educated Christian woman." I explained Christians were meant to love their wives, and he never came again.

The Allahabad Bible Seminary was owned by the Oriental Missionary Society of America. I was on loan to them from my mission (The Bible Churchmen's Missionary Society) as the Anglican staff representative. The Principal Wesley Duewel was also responsible for the OMS churches in Central India. He would come back from touring exhausted and riddled with dysentery, and insist on calling his students to his bedside to read his lecture notes. Every now and then he would sink back on the pillow to renew his strength and then lift his head again to go on lecturing with Betty Duewel looking concerned at the door.

They were a wonderfully dedicated and loving couple to work with. She had been raised in the Fire Baptized Holiness Church, where in addition to the usual rules about no lipstick and bobbed hair, women had to wear sleeves down to their wrists even in the middle of the American mid-west summer. They and other members of the teaching staff were committed to a Wesleyan Holiness type of Arminian doctrine which I was not comfortable with. Forty years later I wrote jointly with Clark Pinnock, Unbounded Love: A Good News Theology, 1994. On the cover J.Kenneth Grider of the Olivet Nazarene University wrote "The authors teach, on the whole, what James Arminius and John Wesley taught." This theological model shift suggests that an old dog can eventually learn some new tricks.

Hindi had become the national language of India, and we decided we should do our Seminary teaching in that language. This was certainly a mistake. Our students came to us for a B.Th. degree after completing the first two years of University, and so knew some English. Most of them came from other language groups, and for them studying in Hindi was far more difficult than doing their work in English. There were next to no text books in the language, though we valiantly tried to meet this need.

My first book was an introduction to Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon (translated into Hindi and published by Masihi Sahitya Sanstha, Delhi, 1962). Apart from covering too much ground too shallowly, perhaps a book in simple English slanted for India might have been more useful. Even worse was the fact that our students were deprived of the opportunity to learn English and so have access to the vast resources of other theological materials throughout their ministry.

Strangely I never mentioned in any diary how my classes went. I struggled to make the Bible relevant to what the students would face in their work, but I suspect I was often far too detailed and complicated. But my eight years of teaching in India did eventually bear fruit in several books.

I taught a course on comparative religion with special emphasis on the Hinduism and Islam the students would encounter in preaching. I used this material for Religion: Origins and Ideas, London: Tyndale Press, 1966, 2nd. ed. 1972. This sold 20,000 copies, and when it went out of print the first half of the book was taken verbatim for the Eerdmans Handbook of World Religions, and it is still going strong in several languages. Twenty five years later in the Christian bookshop in Limassol, Cyprus, I was astonished to find the modern Greek translation of this book, Katastoly ton Thryskeion published in Athens. Teaching this course also began my interest in setting out alternative models of religion, which eventually gave this web site the name Model Theology.

By way of practical work I used to take the students out to a remote area to experience preaching and one on one discussion with ordinary people. Half a dozen students would be in one tent, and Mollie and I would sleep in another. One very hot day she had seen me and the students cooling off in the nearby talab (a large pond dug out to collect rain water for the animals). She waded in and swam wearing her blouse, sari petticoat, and sari covering her head to avoid offending the village women. It was her first swim since coming to India.

For some reason Mollie wrote up the following in my diary.
"Tuesday 26 October, 1954. Very restless night, hearing what I imagined to be dogs outside. 2.30 am I thought I saw a light outside our tent. We got up to find we had been robbed of my tin trunk, and Bob's leather folder with his seminary notes. Several went out to search for the remains, and found the folder and scattered papers. But we had to give up the trunk containing every bit of my clothing !

About 4.30 am onwards very heavy rains fell and washed out the students completely. They all moved into our tent, and we eventually had prayers, breakfast, and much amusement over the night's happenings. All I now possessed was one pair of pyjamas, and I wandered around in Bob's naval sweater. The boys cleared their tent, and put everything out to dry. While Bob was buying a sari for me to wear the shopkeepers told him that one of the "Robber Religion Rules" is they have to steal something the night before Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights). Everyone sits up all night with clubs in their hands to watch their goods. Pity no one told us a bit earlier !!"

When I was about to start preaching in the middle of a crowded mela (a village fair) a fellow came up and grabbed me by the neck. "You are an American, aren't you?" I said no, I was from Britain. "Well then give back all the loot you British plundered from our country." All I was wearing was a pair of slacks and a bush shirt. So I unbuttoned the shirt, and gave it to him. "Here you are, my friend, this is all I have." The crowd laughed, and he became very friendly. The students were impressed and said that was exactly what Jesus told us to do in the Sermon on the Mount. They also said it could have become a very unpleasant situation.

On another occasion a Muslim came up to me as I was preaching, and said "You believe the Father is God?" I said yes, and he held up one finger. "You believe Jesus is God?" I said yes, and held up another finger.. "You believe the Holy Spirit is God?" I said yes, and he held up three fingers and counted 1 + 1 + 1 = 3. "You are a heathen polytheist like the Hindus." So I said that with God you don't add but rather you multiply. I then help up my fingers as he had done, and counted 1 x 1 x 1 = 1. The crowd thought I had won the argument, but I told the students I was ashamed of myself for making a fool of him.

Next time I was asked that question I picked up a mango from a vendor's stall, and asked "Is the skin mango?" and he said "yes." "Is the flesh mango? . . . Is the stone mango?" When he nodded each time, I said "So you believe this is three mangos?" That captured the idea of the Trinity as a living organism, but it still missed the point. Eventually I came to see that God is love, and you cannot love alone. That means that there must always have been an interpersonal love between the three Persons. God is one, the Trinity is a oneness of loving, and we can be welcomed into that love.

But by then the harshness of my theology was already beginning to change. After my conversion I had been taught a particular evangelical model. For eight years it governed how I saw God impinging on my life and in my world. I went to India believing that all people in the Ganges basin were lost and would burn in hell unless I could get them to make a decision for Christ. That gave a tremendous sense of urgency, but with a hundred million people around me the task was obviously unrealistic. A way out was to see myself as training Indian leaders to go and get people to make the decision that would save them from eternal damnation. But was God really that unloving?

In the CICCU, the InterVarsity group at Cambridge where I was converted, C.S.Lewis was viewed as too liberal to be invited to preach. But when I finally read his The Great Divorce (1945) I immediately saw that no one would end up in hell if they would be happy with the love of heaven. On the other hand no one would be comfortable with heaven if their heart really belonged to Grey City. As a result of that model shift the vision of my task on earth was clarified, and later chapters of this book will show how my perceptions have changed.

By the end of our first five year term in India I knew I had to do some more study. I wrote to Princeton Theological Seminary, and when Principal Mackay offered us the free use of one of their missionary apartments, it seemed a good place to spend our furlough and also be near my mother, who lived in Forest Hills, New York. Mollie bravely agreed to come with me and our two children, instead of being able to spend time with her family in the warm atmosphere of Cheam Baptist Church.

Chapter 7 ...