History of Christian Missionaries in India and present day Pakistan
First Christian Missionary to the Indian Subcontinent
There are differing opinions as to how Christianity came to the area where present day Pakistan is. Most of the research points to the first century with Thomas Didymus, also known as Doubting Thomas.
One of the disciples of Jesus, Thomas arrived in India in 52 A.D., landing in the southern province of Kerala. He is believed to have brought the good news of Christianity to the Hindus of the land, and many accepted his teachings. Those believers were the first Christians on the Indian Subcontinent. At Palyur, now in the Trissur district of India, he organized new converts, appointed priests, and coordinated the construction of the first church in India. He is credited with subsequently establishing six other churches in India.
St. Thomas then moved on to the east coast of India making conversions along the way, and ultimately crossed over to China. Upon his return to India, he went to Madras, now Chennai, to spread the good news . But the people there did not appreciate the new religion, and in 72 A.D., he was persecuted and killed in a cave in what is now called St.Thomas' Mount.
Armenian Christians discovered his grave in the sixth century and built a church on the site, in Chennai in a village now called Mylapore. Traders called the village "Betumah" or "Town of Thomas". Marco Polo in his travels was supposed to have visited this church.
Work of Christian Missionaries During the Mugal Empire
The next notable spread of Christianity through missionaries was during the reign of Akbar the Great, the most prominent Mugal ruler of India (1542 A.D. -1605 A.D.). King Akbar was a Muslim himself but made great strides during his reign to find common ground in all the religions of the Indian Subcontinent. He introduced the concept of "Deen-e-Elahi, which laid the foundation of a "Code of Ethics", establishing a set of human values which became common to all of faiths in India at that time.
Akbar invited the then existing Christians in the south to be advisors to his Kingdom to the north in Delhi. At the same time, the European Christian missionaries from the Portuguese Orthodox Church and the European Jesuit Priests also spread the word of God among the masses and converted many Muslims and Hindus to Christianity. Sufism and other similar faiths also took root in India during this same time period.
Christian Missionary Work During the British Rule of India
The most notable work of European and American missionaries took place during the British rule of India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
These Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, not only saved souls and built churches but also ushered in an era of humanitarian work primarily in the areas of education and healthcare building schools, colleges, universities, orphanages and hospitals throughout the 1800s and the 1900s.
The masses who came to Christ in the hundreds and thousands during the 1800s and 1900s mostly belonged to the lowest caste Hindus (Dalits and Shudras), also known as the untouchables within the Hindu communities and the low paying menial working Muslims (Musalees) from the Muslim communities.
Both European and American Christian missionaries realized that the only answer to self reliance and self sustainability for these new converts was to provide them with education and offer them healthcare.
The most prominent denominations in Pakistan providing education and healthcare services are the Scottish and the American Presbyterians and Catholic sisters of the Dominican order.
Role of Catholic and Protestant Institutions in present day Pakistan
Both the Catholic and the Protestant Institutions in Pakistan continue to provide the best education and the best healthcare to a large number of Muslims and Christians in the Pakistani community
Most members of the Muslim elite, serving in the military and politics, as well as members of the Academia are educated at these Catholic and Protestant schools, colleges and universities. Pakistani individuals have made great progress and have risen to prominence on the world stage in engineering, medical sciences, education and other fields, due in large part to these strong missionary educational institutions in Pakistan. The average Pakistani can speak, read and write English, and can be very successful in the world and most recognize the importance of and are grateful for the institutions that past Christian missionaries made possible for modern day Pakistan.
The Pakistan Christian Outreach Foundation is committed to raising awareness about these Christian missionaries who have served in Pakistan over the last 70 years, at times risking their lives for the cause of much needed humanitarian work. Some of these missionaries went to Pakistan as young adults with a passion to serve, fell in love with Pakistan and its people, grew old there, and died and are buried there.
Unfortunately, the historical archives both in Europe and in the United States have very few stories of these Christian missionaries chronicled. A lot more research is needed to explore and record all the stories of these selfless and brave missionaries. Most of this research has to be done in Pakistan and will require ongoing funding. We strongly believe that their stories need to be told. Their legacy in Pakistan needs to be celebrated and their years of service needs to be honored.