Do Missionaries Take Advantage of the Poor in India?

Question from a reader:

"I am an educated Hindu (an electrical engineer). Not the Hindu projected by the Western press as a fanatic. Like millions of my countrymen who are educated and are Hindus, I share an anti-pathy towards the missionaries. I have studied in Christian schools (the Seventh Day Adventist schools as well as schools run by the Jesuits). I admire their teaching skills and I also admire them because they never tried to convert the children. They also never mentioned anything much about their religion. But this does not decrease my hatred against the missionaries trying to take advantage of the poor by offering them a few kilos of rice and some money in return for their souls. 
I notice that your views expounded in your website smack of western arrogance. You feel that the president and his meddling government should interfere in the internal affairs of other free nations and allow people like you to propagate your religion.
Besides this, Christians like you suffer from what I term as a “persecution complex.” Probably this is because of your upbringing. The Bible says that Christ was a martyr and was persecuted during his time. So, I guess that you people try to wear the shroud of persecution in order to imitate him.
It is high time that the government of India places a ban on people of your ilk coming over to India and trying to convert the people over here. The foreign missionaries do not know anything about the rich and composite culture of India. These ignorant boors whose eyes are coloured with religious fanaticism and arrogance advise the Indians to forget their age-old customs and spew venom towards the Hindu religion. Naturally, this is causing strife and in the bargain, a lot of innocent people are being killed. Did your God preach hatred or love?
We Indians had universities before you guys came out of caves. India is one of the few nations on the face of the earth where there was no anti-Semitism. We welcomed all religions and they prospered here. But now Christian missionaries are trying to take undue advantage of our benignity.
We Indians (irrespective of class, caste, creed, or religion) are rich spiritually. We do not require any other means of salvation and especially the artificial variety propagated by people like you. Mind you, I am not talking anything against Christianity. We Indians believe that a person must search his own path for spiritual needs. This path may be even atheism. In fact, the greatness of Hinduism lies in the fact that even atheism or animism are viewed as different paths towards God.
If people like you want to show off your western imperialist might and try to convert people in my country, I will be among the millions who will oppose you and justify any action taken against people like you. I believe that people like you want the entire nation to convert to Christianity and thus become another satellite of the US or any other Western country. Therefore, the message is loud and clear “INDIA DOES NOT REQUIRE ANY FOREIGN MONEY IN THE NAME OF AID FOR PROPAGATING CHRISTIANITY.”

Answer from Randy Alcorn:

I wanted to get back to you and hopefully address some of your concerns. Even though we disagree about some things, I’m glad that you wrote. By dialogue perhaps we can come to a better understanding.

You suggest in your email that missionaries are “trying to take advantage of the poor by offering them a few kilos of rice and some money in return for their souls.” But when I give to the poor, which I am committed to doing, I am not trying to buy their souls. If someone is trying to do that, they are doing something that is not just wrong, but impossible. Jesus alone died for the souls of men. There is no amount of money or food that could buy their souls.

But what should I do as a Christian? The Bible says, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?’“ (James 2:15-16).

The motive of a true missionary is to proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ; he is concerned for the eternal souls of people. But he is also concerned about the whole person, which includes his physical welfare. If the missionary does nothing for the physical needs of the people around him, then he is not following the teachings of Scripture.

It’s also important that, when offering material assistance, a Christian asks nothing in return. Most recipients of food and clothing will not become Christians, but they are still loved and cared for. When I help someone in need, I don’t require that he become a Christian. But I do wish to share with him that Christ loved him enough to die for him. I don’t believe that is taking advantage of him. I believe it is loving him. Now if someone does it in a condescending or paternalistic way, he is wrong. I’m sure some Christians have done it this way, but I can certainly tell you not all Christians do it this way.

It is not out of animosity toward the Hindu religion nor the Indian culture, that missionaries spread the Word of God. Rather, it is love for people and obedience to God that compels true Christians to share about their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6; “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If His words are true, then only by faith in Jesus Christ can a soul be saved. I realize you do not believe this and I am not trying to force you to believe it—I’m only telling you what I believe.

The Indian culture does, in fact, have a long and rich history that should be respected and appreciated. A true follower of Jesus Christ does not seek to change cultures, but to change hearts. I have been to many different countries, though not India, and I’m sure there are many things about India that are better than America. These things should be encouraged and learned from, never disrespected. America has become a very ungodly and materialistic country. I am not at all proud about many things I see in America. Some of them I am very ashamed of.

The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This means that God is holy and perfect and all mankind has missed the mark of perfection. The book of Romans also tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (6:23). Because we have all fallen short of God’s perfection, we are deserving of eternal death and condemnation. But Jesus paid the penalty for our imperfection and by faith in Him, we can be made perfect in the sight of God. This makes it possible for us to be in His presence after we die and our souls leave this earth.

Some think this is a hard message, and it is. I don’t want to admit that I am an imperfect sinner. But, the solution is not to cover things up and say that I am perfect when I really am not. The solution is to rely on God to save me and to make me perfect in heaven someday. If I pretend that I am perfect and that I can save myself by choosing my own path, then I am deceiving myself and I will have to pay the penalty for my sins on my own. That is what the Bible calls Hell. It is not something I made up or ever would. But since I believe the Bible, I naturally very much desire that people would go to heaven and not hell. So I want to tell them about the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

The difference between Christianity and every other religion is that Jesus teaches that I can do nothing to earn perfection before God. Only God Himself can cleanse me and purify me. The things I do in this life to obey Him are out of gratitude and service to Him; they are not a way to earn salvation or a better place in the next life. Most people would like to think that they can make their own way, that they can take care of themselves. But the true Christian must admit that he is helpless and that only God can save him. Then he must place his faith in the physical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one who died to pay the penalty for the imperfection of all mankind. This is a message that needs to be spread to all people everywhere, regardless of culture or race. It is a message of spiritual freedom, which Jesus instructed His followers to share with the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20).

As you can see, this is not about America, it’s about Jesus, who was of a different race than I, and lived in a very different culture than America or any western nation. The message of Jesus transcends all cultures and times. God has chosen to reveal Himself to the world through His Son Jesus Christ and through His Word, the Holy Bible. If I believed this to be true and did not tell others about it, I would be a selfish and arrogant person, caring only for myself. But Jesus is my example. He cares about all people, and I am constrained to share the message not only with those in my own country, but with the rest of the world as well.

You say I want to show off my “western imperialist might.” I have no interest in that. It’s not the West my allegiance is to. It’s to Christ, who was not a Westerner. You say our website smacks of Western arrogance. I don’t know what you’re referring to. But if there’s something I’m shown that is indeed arrogant, I will remove it. Please show me.

You say you will “justify any action taken against people like you.” That’s sad. I would not justify any action taken against you, no matter how emphatically you desired to convert others to your beliefs. You say, “I believe that people like you want the entire nation to convert to Christianity and thus become another satellite of the US or any other Western country.” Again, it isn’t about the west—in fact, if you think the West is Christian, you’re wrong. It’s post-Christian. The average American’s beliefs aren’t Christian at all. To say that Christian missionaries are representing America or the West is simply not accurate. They are trying to represent Christ, who did not speak English and who lived in a land much closer to India than to America.

As for the persecution of Christians in India, it is not western missionaries I’m concerned about. It’s Indian Christians, who I believe should have the same right—no more and no less—to be Christians as anyone else has to be Hindu or Muslim or anything else. I don’t believe someone should have his rights taken away because of his religious beliefs. I hope you don’t believe that either.

I hope this addresses some of your concerns about the motives of missionaries in India. Certainly, since missionaries are also sinners, many mistakes have been made. The goal of missions work is not to “westernize” your nation or any other nation. Rather, it is to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for the imperfections of mankind and to give people in every part of the world the opportunity to receive His gift of eternal salvation. Any material assistance provided should only reinforce the message of love and concern for the whole person, body and soul.

If you wish to dialogue any further, I am open. Obviously we have different perspectives. But if you think my attitude is wrong, I want to know specifically in what areas. I hope that you will experience the love of Jesus, not for my sake, certainly not for the sake of America or western culture, but for your sake. You have my sincere best wishes and prayers.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries