Stanley E. Jones wrote a book about Mahatma Gandhi called Gandhi: portrait of a friend (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1948). Jones began his career as a missionary/evangelist to India in 1907 and established himself as an activist. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times and awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize in 1961. He died in India in 1973 at the age of 89.
Jones authored 29 books and the Foreword to his book on Gandhi is instructive when he says, “I have believed in and have loved Mahatma Gandhi through the years—in spite of differences” (p. 5). “I bow to Mahatma Gandhi, but I kneel at the feet of Christ and give him my full and final allegiance” (p. 8).
There are 11 chapters in the small book and in chapter 5 Jones records a particular interaction with Gandhi. He had asked Gandhi: “How can we make Christianity nationalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and a foreign people, but a part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift?”
Gandhi had replied with great clarity and directness: “First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is essential in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people” (pp. 51-52).
Living in India, Jones showed great respect for Gandhi and had an intimate knowledge of the Indian culture. He therefore provides a model for all of us to follow, regardless of the country, or the government they serve. Yes, even Americans can show respect for their culture and government.
This is because the advice from Gandhi that Jones received as a missionary many years ago is particularly relevant to Christians today. American elections seem to bring out the worst in us and since the most recent elections, there have been accusations about our leaders that are unfit to print, and many of them by Christians. Instead of praying for our government and our leaders, we assail them. Paul implores his audience (and us) as follows: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13.1,2)
The news media keeps us well informed about the most recent political accusations, lies and fights between opponents and their parties. There is an aura of mistrust and bitterness that lies behind many of the “inside” stories. We may not like certain government policies and practices but expressing hatred instead of hard questions is often the road “most travelled.”
Jesus replied to hard questions about Caesar, who would not have been a favorite guy with any believer. Should they pay taxes? Jesus replied, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” In other words, both had legitimate rights coming to them. Caesar’s image on the coin represented the government and citizens had a duty to pay taxes to it. But citizens of heaven who are God’s couriers have an obligation to follow his laws and commandments, including the great ones “love one another” and “pray for your enemies.”
Sometimes, when living in a foreign country with a different worldview of government, corruption, and laws in general, it is difficult to have the wisdom of God. Other missionaries to India worked to outlaw the Hindu practice of temple prostitution, which had existed for more than 5,000 years. Amy Carmichael was such a missionary and spent her life rescuing children from Hindu temple prostitution in India.
Her commitment to serving in India included these accomplishments:
Founding the Dohnavur Fellowship that provided a safe haven for children caught in child prostitution
Witnessing the passing of Indian laws prohibiting temple prostitution in 1948
Writing 35 books that inspired many other missionaries, including Jim and Elisabeth Elliot
William Carey (1761-1834) was also a lifelong missionary to India. He was a Baptist minister, translator, social reformer and cultural anthropologist who founded the Serampore College and the Serampore University, the first degree-awarding university in India.
However, the first missionary to India was St Thomas, the apostle, who is thought to have landed on the Periyar estuary north of Coshin about A.D. 52. Many schools and people in India bear the name “Thomas,” a lasting tribute to his life.
E. Stanley Jones is not listed as one of the greatest missionaries of all time, such as Adoniram Judson, David Livingstone, Mary Slessor, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Francis Xavier, Saint Patrick, John Eliot, and others, but he provides an example how love and friendship was interpreted by a great Indian leader. Cameron Townsend, founder of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, had a similar influence with government leaders in Mexico, Peru and Columbia. (You can read about him in For the Gospel’s Sake by Boone Aldridge (Eerdmans, 2018).