I was with a team from the Cornhill Training Course, part of the Proclamation Trust. We had travelled to Delhi as part of a mission week to see Christianity in a different culture and teach and train some of the young men who were being raised up there. It was a formative moment in my Christian life, not least because of the people I met and friendships I formed.
Ramraj was one of these. As you will know if you watch the DVD that came with the EN April 2012 issue*, Ramraj was born a Dalit, what we sometimes call an ‘untouchable’ and what the Indian government calls ‘a scheduled caste’. There are nearly 170 million in India, with further small populations in Nepal and Pakistan. Life for a Dalit is miserable. Persecution due to caste is illegal in India, yet Ramraj’s story is not untypical.
It’s a story of injustice that makes any Christian heart burn with righteous anger. Never mind that he was a Hindu, and a militant Hindu at that.
We believe in the God of justice and we are made in his image, so injustice — whether in the form of forced labour, beatings, rape, lack of access to education or whatever — makes us cry out to the sovereign God of the universe.
Worse, if Dalits become Christians they actually lose out because the government reserves a certain proportion of jobs for scheduled castes but Christians do not count in this category. Miserable though the plight of a Dalit is, in social and financial terms a Christian Dalit can be worse off.
Ramraj felt this injustice and fought against it, sometimes physically. He became the leader of local Red Army Communist cell and developed a reputation as a fixer — sorting out injustices by force whenever he heard about them. But he knew that, as fast as one situation was dealt with in a certain place, another occurred somewhere else. It was a losing battle.
Meeting Jesus, changed by Jesus
That was when he met Christ, or rather Christ met him. Three former comrades had become Christians and they came to tell Ramraj about Jesus. What bravery! And how significant their actions were in the kingdom economy, better than they might ever have guessed. Ramraj was born a Dalit, but as a result of their visit he was born again into Christ. And his new birth changed him completely. In his own words, ‘my hands were used for violence, now they are used for good’.
And what good! Ramraj is a great teacher, trainer and encourager with a vision for his people to know and believe the gospel. I have watched him in action and marvelled at the way he is able to interact with students and fire their imagination as they prepare to serve Christ in villages across North India.
And what of the injustice? Does it disappear on conversion? No, a Christian Dalit still suffers injustice. But he or she is able to see it differently. He or she is able to bear up under it. He or she is able to entrust themselves to ‘him who judges justly’ just as Jesus did. And so its power is smashed. The injustice may remain, but its chains are broken.
The ultimate goal
This is why the gospel is the ultimate answer to such injustice. We can (and should) do what we can to stop such terrible situations. We can lobby. We can persuade. But what Indian Dalits really need is the gospel of Jesus Christ which gives them eternal hope and presents them with divine and everlasting justice in the work of the cross, the place where wrath and mercy meet. This is the kind of ministry which we must keep investing in and never forget.
Since 2003 I have returned to India many times and, God willing, will do so again with a Cornhill team ten years on in 2013. One of the people I most look forward to meeting is Ramraj. Not only is he a willing, godly, diligent, joyful servant of Christ, he is a living example of how the gospel of Christ breaks the chains of injustice and he gives me assurance that the task of mission remains unchanged: to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ by spreading the good news of his death and resurrection wherever we can.
Adrian Reynolds is Director of Ministry, The Proclamation Trust, and Honorary Associate Pastor, East London Tabernacle Baptist Church.
The former comrades who told Ramraj about Jesus were from the Delhi Bible Institute. DBI is supported by the UK registered charity Partners in Service.
* If you want to know more about DBI, or if you would like to receive a copy of the DVD that went out with the April issue of EN, please contact Partners in Service on 01225 427428 or email firstname.lastname@example.org