Evaluating contemporary Protestant missions to children at risk in South India: investigating foundations and principles for future Christian mission
Phillips, Dhinakaran Robert Jaba Prasad
The 2011 Indian Census indicates that children under the age of 18 constitute more than 400 million, and most of them are Children at Risk (CAR). This study suggests that the care and protection of children at risk is not a twentieth- or twenty-first-century secular enterprise but has precedents in Protestant missions in India from the late eighteenth century. In the first section, the study focuses on evaluating contemporary Protestant mission contexts in India and a brief historical survey of Protestant missions to CAR in India through case studies. The evaluation concentrates on the implications of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) for the predominant Protestant models of mission in contemporary India – which may be summarised as child evangelism, child compassion and child advocacy. The thesis argues that child care and protection is increasingly becoming secularised and professionalised. Moreover, with the emergence of new laws and with increasing, vigilance from international and national agencies, and from Hindu fundamentalists, Christian mission to CAR is itself at risk. Under these circumstances, the study also investigates whether there is a transition from ideas of ‘saving’ CAR to ideas of protecting the human rights of CAR. In the second section, this hypothesis is further substantiated by case studies of select Protestant churches and Christian NGOs engaging with CAR in the cities of Bangalore and Chennai. Using empirical data, it then claims that the predominant Protestant approaches of evangelism, compassion, and advocacy are still underdeveloped and inadequate primarily because the majority of caregivers working with children still perceive CAR as objects of their mission – an assumption that may be contrary to UNCRC (Articles 14 and 30). Further, it argues that the churches and agencies most active among CAR are from a ‘conservative’ background, who are often exclusively ‘spiritual’ and otherworldly in their concerns. The final and most constructive section, based on the evaluations of the empirical data, seeks to recommend a preliminary theology of mission in and through the idea of ‘childness’ based on Matthew 18: 2-5, an idea developed by Adrian Thatcher in the context of a theology of child participation. Based on these foundations, it suggests that UNCRC can be integrated as a set of principles for contemporary Christian missions with CAR in South India through a missiological process called ‘dialogue,’ emerging from a pluralistic Indian context. It further proposes that adults and children are to be perceived not as either independent (liberational) or dependent (paternalistic) agencies, but as interdependent agencies working together in God’s mission. This thesis finally proposes basic principles for Christian mission to/for/with CAR – a multi-dimensional approach integrating CAR as subjects of God’s mission and not just as objects.
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