Autobio 2000

A Personal View of the Twentieth Century

by Robert Brow     Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2000

Chapter 7

Mission Interserve

After our first term in India we arrived back to stay at Mollie's home, 112 Mulgrave Road, Sutton, Surrey. I met her parents and their family when we already had two children (Rachel aged 2, and Peter aged six months).

Mollie had been sent out as a missionary from Cheam Baptist Church.  Although she had married an Anglican minister, and had moved into his very Anglican mission, they graciously welcomed me with her into their loving community. Mollie had studied at Redcliffe Missionary Training College before going to India, and they wondered what kind of a man she had married. So they asked me to speak at the College garden party. With some trepidation I wanted to say something about the new image of missionary work that was emerging.  But it rained on and off, and in between interruptions I made a disastrous comparison with the new image given to prunes by the California fruit growers. This was greeted with shocked silence.

Princeton Theological Seminary gave me a wonderful opportunity to spend a whole year reworking my New Testament foundations. I did two very stimulating courses with Professor Bruce Metzger, who seemed to know every Greek text from 400 BC to 600 AD. I still have the interleaved New Testament I used, and I have consulted it again and again ever since.

The thesis topic I chose was "The But I Say Unto You Sayings in the Sermon on the Mount." This has found expression again and again in my sermons. It has also resulted many years later in another major model shift, though I did not grasp the implications of this at the time. I have come to see that God works through nations (Acts 17:26-27), and in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gave his "But I say unto You" for the Jewish mix of laws and customs at that time. But in every period of history any nation has its own quite different background of legal and cultural assumptions. And concerning each of these Jesus also wants to declare his "But I say unto you." This means that in proclaiming the good news we should first respect the history and culture of the people of that country, and then point out how it needs to be seen in the light of God's kind of love.

For me studying in the Seminary was enjoyable hard work. But taking care of our day to day needs was a severe test of faith. We had a free apartment provided for us by the Seminary in Payne Hall. But our small furlough allowance from England hardly covered our basic necessities.  We needed a car for preaching engagements in New Jersey and beyond. So we bought a 1950 Chevrolet for $275. One tire went flat as we arrived at the apartment, which seemed ominous. But after that the car never stopped once in 11,000 miles, and we sold it when we left eight months later for $60. We could easily have been in big trouble as we traveled up and down the east coast, and west to the Urbana Conference. Once as we were leaving the Regions Beyond Missionary Union office in Philadelphia, I knew we did not have any money to buy gas to get to Nyack, our destination that evening.  But as the car was already moving, Bertel Vine rushed down from the top floor, came out and stopped us. "The Lord has told me to give you $20 for your gas."

Here is a sample of personal and international news at the time :

At that time there were more millionaires per square mile in Princeton than any other place in the world. But we used to buy two day old bread. We had not thought about medical or dental coverage, but we were saved from major problems till we got back to England.

On March 12 we sat down for breakfast with our two children, Rachel and Peter, we gave thanks, and knew we had nothing left to eat for the next meal. The mail came immediately after breakfast, and that day to our astonishment there was an envelope with $200 from Mrs. Gordon, the mother of Jocelyn Gordon of our mission in India. On May 14 again we gave thanks for our breakfast, knowing there was nothing left for lunch, and an envelope arrived in the mail from Mrs. Gordon this time with $300. We thanked her, but I am sure she never knew what those gifts meant to us.

By the end of our time at Princeton we realized that we were less and less comfortable with the idea of going back to India with BCMS (Bible Churchmen's Missionary Society). Having come from a Baptist church, and gone to India with an interdenominational group, Mollie had found the strongly Anglican basis of our mission. I was studying at the leading Presbyterian Seminary in North America, and most week-ends I preached in Presbyterian churches. The Episcopal (Anglican) church in Princeton did not appeal to us, and we attended Westerly Road Independent church. Our circle of friends from different denominations, and our increasing interest in student work, and Indian Inter Varsity in particular, was interdenominational. So nothing was drawing us to continue in an exclusively Anglican mission.

As we struggled with this, and wondered what we would do with no mission affiliation, we decided the first thing was to take the step of resigning from the mission we were with.

We had been invited by the Duewels, with whom we had served at the Allahabad Bible Seminary, to join them at the Winona Lake Conference Center. We were astonished to see cars with the bumper sticker : "When the Lord comes to rapture us, this car will be driverless." That again forced us to think about our view of the Lord's coming.

Mollie had taken a course at Princeton Seminary with Professor Metzger on the Book of Revelation, and she had already moved, as I had, from a pre-millenial view of the second coming. But it is only in the last two years that I have seen how the eternal Son of God had kept intervening and coming in days of the Lord throughout Old Testament history. After the ascension, the Lord has continued his reign, and the first great day of the Lord for the Jewish people was the destruction of the temple and the religious establishment of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus had said this would take place in the generation of his hearers. But then he has continued coming and intervening in the lives of individuals and in days of the Lord among nations. There will be a final coming when He terminates out space-time system, but I no longer talk about the second coming, as if the Lord has done nothing for the past two thousand years. (See the book Advent Comings of the Lord in History)

That was a very close call. At 8.30 a.m. Mollie was vomiting and obviously very ill. We called the family doctor, and he thought it must be a severe case of the flu. Happily Mollie was nurse, and she had mentioned to me the possibility that the spotting she had had might be the beginning of an ectopic pregnancy. As the doctor was already leaving the house, I mentioned this to him, and he immediately realized what had happened. Her pulse had already stopped and she would have been dead if there had been another hour of delay. But five pints of blood and emergency surgery saved her just in time. We were very grateful for the free British medical coverage, as the cost would have been astronomical in the United States. That evening I went for the final interview with our new mission.

We had known BMMF (the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship) since we first went to India. And Mollie and I were engaged outside Edgehill, the BMMF guesthouse in Landour. Having begun as a women's mission, Jack Dain was invited to include men in the team, and lead them out of their institutional work in hospitals and schools in the new directions needed for India and Pakistan. We knew Alan and Sylvia Norris who had joined them as field leaders in India. Peter Bagnall was a friend at Cambridge, and he and Alison were already in Karachi, where we met them in April. The mission had been interdenominational from the beginning, and we could see that they were already moving in the direction of the kind of bloodstream ministry that we were interested in. I later wrote about the model shift that occured in this quite new approach to mission in New Bottles, 1966.

For the first three years of our second term in India we continued in the same work we had been involved in at the Allahabad Bible Seminary. But, in addition to my teaching, we found ourselves working more and more with university students. A group of them were from the Naga tribes. Their grandparents had been fierce head hunters, but many had become Christians through the work of an American Baptist mission at the turn of this century.

The missionaries began translating the New Testament into their languages, and then were expelled from those politically sensitive areas of the eastern borders of India. The first group of young people who had become literate came to study for B.A. and M.A. degrees in Allahabad University, and we loved having some of them every week in our home. The Nagas had been taught as children to write music in simple tonic solfa notation. Mollie would play a melody, or we would sing a new song to them.  To our amazement they immediately wrote the melody down, put in the alto, tenor, and bass parts, and sang it straight back to us in beautiful four part harmony. One of these, Chiten Jamir, became the Education Minister for the new Naga state, and we were thrilled to hear of others tasking responsible positions.

I worked under P.T.Chandapilla, the very gifted and dedicated leader of the Union of Evangelical Students of India. When I asked him what he wanted me to do he said "You take North India." I discovered this included Calcutta University with 135,000 students and a dozen universities from the Punjab to Assam and down into central India. I was also to develop the Graduate Students' Fellowship all over India. These alumni of the student work have not only supported the movement financially to this day, but began and encouraged new work all over the country.  For me there were the demands of constant long distance travel in crowded third class railway compartments. But Mollie had to stay at home, mind the children, and take care of all that needed to be done just to survive in a foreign country. Hardest of all was having to put our Rachel from the age of six and then our Peter from the age of five into boarding at Hebron School in Coonoor. The distances and travel were horrendous. Here are some extracts from my diary: 1963 was a challenging year for me, but it was very hard on Mollie. When the year began we were in Benares (now called Varanasi), the sacred city for Hindus who long to be cremated there and have their ashes thrown into the River Ganges. Our Tim was only two, and Susanne was three months old.  I was North India Superintendent of our mission, and had two conferences to attend, visits here and there, and many things to settle before I left for a three month speaking tour in Australia and New Zealand.

For this speaking tour I prepared a series of talks and sermons on the theme of a local church congregation as a body with many members. I pointed out that the only kind of church membership taught in the NT is having a function as a member of the body. By way of missionary emphasis I also developed the idea of the bloodstream that moves all over the world to nourish and correct the life of local churches. This theme was published as The Church: An Organic Picture of Its Life and Mission, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968. I believe it was the first exposition of the function of each of the gifts of the Spirit, which is now standard teaching in many churches. Unfortunately the publicity and sales people at Eerdmans viewed this as a head on threat to Calvinistic doctrine. They had the book remaindered almost immediately, and it never even got into their catalogue.

The book was published in Britain with the title Twenty Century Church. I discovered twenty years later that various groupings of the new house church movement had used the model I suggested of apostles as church planters for the phenomenal growth of their movement. So what had seemed a failure turned out to have fruitful results after all.

When I arrived in Australia I was given a cheque to cash at the bank. I had been used to our bank in India where, although I was known, my cheque was handled by seven different men. The last two sat cross-legged at the counter and after one had counted the notes, the other counted them again. The teller in Perth glanced at my cheque and shelled out the notes so fast I stood there looking dazed. She asked me if there was anything else I was waiting for?  I fell in love with the city and its people, and wondered if we couldn't settle there.

It was good that I had the outline of a dozen different talks ready because every day the pace of life left no time for preparation. I would be interviewed on the local radio station before breakfast, speak at a coffee gathering, and a lunch, and tea, and after the last talk and questions Australians expect you to come to one of their homes and talk till midnight.

In Melbourne I was met off the plane by a student who told me the InterVarsity group was waiting for my arrival, and I had to speak immediately on Buddhism and Christianity. It was not one of the talks I had prepared, but they got one of my seminary lectures.

In Sydney I stayed with the Anglican Rector of Manley, a short ferry ride across the harbour. I was told an actress had put her leg over the side of a yacht the previous week and been killed by a shark. I had my first day off swimming and sunbathing on Manley beach, and was astonished to see thousands of people swimming. They said "Oh, the odds are pretty good with fifty thousand people going in."

After a week each in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Tasmania, Sydney, and Brisbane, I had a second day off on 25 April. I complained that I had not seen a single Kangaroo. So the Pearce Skermans kindly took me for my first sightseeing in Australia. In a park near Brisbane found myself looking across the fence at a boxing Kangaroo. I gave him a biff on the nose and he turned nasty. Just then two Australian boys came up and I told them to be careful, but one of them got too close and the animal grabbed him and tore his shirt off. I was told he could have been killed if the roo had jumped up and kicked him with its powerful legs.

The New Zealand Interserve groups gave me a much more relaxed time.

Here is a note in my diary that day which suggests that I needed a relaxing furlough rather than a further speaking tour in North America. I wrote : "I can well understand the existential "angoisse," that Mounier describes : The pressures of this furlough, leaving Mollie and our four children in September for another three months, then going back overseas to an undefined location with constant travel and upheavals." I bravely added "Happily I can make the existential 'leap' to faith in Him." That was true, but I now wonder if my heart feelings at that time did not contribute to my decision to stay in Canada four years later and go back to university study. My general impression is that, like many others, I was trying to do far too much. The student work across North India involved travelling in third class compartments two days to the east into Assam, a day and a half west into the Punjab and down to Nagpur in Central India. I was also trying to keep in touch with those who had graduated and became members of the Graduates Fellowship in universities all over India. In addition to being on the board of the Ludhiana Medical College and the Yeotmal Biblical Seminary, I became the Interserve North India Superintendent. That involved dealing with difficult problems of overwork and relationship pressures. A traumatic moment was being called to the Patna, Bihar, Women's Hospital, where there were no remaining doctors, and yet hundreds of very sick women were still pouring in for help. The heroic nurses were at cracking point.  There and then I declared the hospital closed. Some did not appreciate the ending of an institution which had served so many for so long, but pretending to run a hospital without surgeons or anaesthetists was neither good for the patients nor good for the missionaries who tried to serve them.  Already by then it was more and more difficult to get visas for missionaries from other countries. And we all felt the strain of handing over to Indian leaders who would have to work in quite different ways with less and less financial support.

The missionaries who were coming in were a new breed. Naomi McGorman did a degree in nursing in the Medical School in Delhi before going on to work among nurses and then university students. When Basil Scott came out with a view to taking over the student work I suggested he enrol as a student at Benares Hindu University. He lived in the hostel, and not only graduated with a Masters Degree in India's history and religion but he knew the mind of the students from the inside. Dr. Ray Windsor taught open heart surgery in a government hospital. I felt proud of BMMF (now called Interserve) for being able to make these huge shifts into modern missionary methods.

Chapter 8 ...