Christian Friedrich Swartz Impacts Southern India

This is the day that Christian Friedrich Swartz was born in Prussia (now Poland), in 1726.

He has been described as “one of the most energetic and successful missionaries of the 18th century (Schaff/Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 2131).

His youth was spent at Halle, the centre of German pietism. Founded by Jacob Spener, this was a movement that sought to add spiritual life to a moribund Lutheranism. Young Swartz here studied the Indian dialect, Tamil, that he might superintend the translation of a Bible in that tongue.

Lutheran Missions to India had seen success under several missionaries, notably two eminent Germans, Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (1683-1719) and Heinrich Plütschau (1678-1747). Both of these men had preceded Swartz at Halle. Ziegenbalg’s work in southern India was an inspiration to William Carey for the latter’s later work in northern India.

In 1750 Swartz sailed for India, where he lived for the next 48 years, and where he died. When Schwartz arrived in south India, the Tamil-speaking Christian community established by Ziegenbalg and others was close to 2,000 persons.

Swartz threw himself into the missionary work. “His passion to save men made all labour and sacrifice seem little. He studied the habits, modes of thought and idioms of speech, and even the mazes of mythology, which are the paths to the hearts of the Hindus” (New Acts of the Apostles, by A.T. Pierson, page 91).

In 1768, the East India Company appointed Schwartz as a chaplain in Trichonopoly. Ten years later in 1778, Schwartz moved to Tanjore where he lived the rest of his life. During his service with the British, Schwartz was known as a peacemaker (i.e., diplomat) during times of war caused by the East India Company’s aggressive policies in India. Schwartz’s linguistic abilities became legendary as he related easily among Germans, English, Portuguese, and many different Indian peoples. Schwartz learned Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, Persian, Hindustani, Marathi, and Portuguese.

He established many schools for native Indians and orphaned Indian children, which greatly endeared him to the Indian people.

Swartz never married; indeed he was critical of fellow missionaries who did! (Christian Missionaries, by O. Milton, page 33.) Rajahs, governors-general, haughty Brahmins, English military officers, all seemed to look upon him as a man of God.

It was Wednesday, 13 February, 1798, that he lay upon his deathbed and, “with clear and melodious voice”, joined with the friends gathered around him, singing, “Only to Thee, Lord Jesus Christ”.

The Rajah’s son, Serfojee, acted as chief mourner a few days later.

It is estimated that Swartz was responsible for the conversion of over 6,000 Hindus and Moslems during his years in India.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Dohnavur Revival Breaks Out In Southern India

This is the day that Revival came to Dohnavur, under the care of Amy Carmichael. It was 1905.

Amy Carmichael’s ministry began in Ireland where she reached out to women working in the factories. She was influenced by the Keswick Movement calling people to enter a deeper life of devotion.

In 1893 she went to Japan at age 25, where she stayed for just over a year. During that time she was challenged about her culture getting in the way of her ministry.

She recounts the experience as follows. “We went to see an old lady who was very ill. She had not heard the Gospel before, but was willing and eager to listen. … She seemed to be just about to turn to Him in faith when she suddenly noticed my hands. It was cold weather and I had on fur gloves. `What are these?’ she asked, stretching out her hand and touching mine. She was old and ill and easily distracted. … I went home, took off my English clothes, put on my Japanese kimono, and never again, I trust, risked so very much for the sake of so little.”

She went to South India because “the Lord told me to follow Him down to Ceylon”. She then spent the rest of her life (57 years) in Dohnavur saving children from temple prostitution. After 12 years she had 130 children under her care. She formed a Protestant religious order called “Sisters of the Common Life”, emphasizing celibacy, mysticism, fellowship, and service. She also wrote 35 books detailing life in India and sharing testimonies about her work. Bishop Houghton was attracted to learn more about her when he discovered that she did not include photographs of herself in her books.

Ten years into her missionary service in India a wonderful revival broke out. Amy Carmichael had spent the previous five years rescuing young girls from a life of misery and shame before the revival fell at Dohnavur.

Dohnavur was a refuge that had previously been set up with funding from a Swedish-Prussian Count Dohna (hence its name in his honour). When Amy Carmichael began rescuing girls she was able to use this refuge as her base.

Child devadasis are literally “female servants/slaves of god”, so they were temple courtesans, dancers and prostitutes. Amy was able to rescue huge numbers of these girls from a life of slavery and degradation.

One Sunday, as the group of children met for worship, revival came. Let us read of the blessing that fell – in Amy’s own words.

“On 22 October, to quote one of the little girls, Jesus came to Dohnavur. He was there before, but on that day He came in so vivid a fashion that we cannot wonder that it struck the child as a new coming.

“It was at the close of the morning service that the break came. The one who was speaking was obliged to stop, overwhelmed by a sudden realization of the inner force of things. It was impossible even to pray. One of the older lads in the boys’ school began to try to pray, but he broke down, then another, then all together, the older lads chiefly at first.

“Soon many among the younger ones began to cry bitterly, and pray for forgiveness. It spread to the women. Our children began, I think, simultaneously with the boys, but it was so startling and so awful, I can use no other word, that the details escape me. Soon the whole upper half of the church was on its face on the floor crying to God, each boy and girl, man and woman, oblivious of all others. The sound was like the sound of waves or strong wind in the trees. No separate voice could be heard … nothing disturbed those who were praying, and that hurricane of prayer continued with one short break of a few minutes for over four hours. They passed like four minutes.”
(From Amy Carmichael, by Bishop F. Houghton).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.