Written by Rev. Dr. Roland E Miller
Have you ever heard of Christian Friedrich Schwartz (l724-1798)? He ranks very high among missionaries in South India. Coming from Germany, he worked in the large section of southeast India where the Tamil-speaking people live. He arrived in India when he was 26 years old and laboured there without a break for 48 years. He is especially noted for the qualities of faith and impartiality, simplicity and purity.
It wasn't easy to get into India because of the British East India Company's no missionary rule. Cooperative Christians found a solution. The Halle Mission in Germany said, "We'll pay your salary." The Danish king said, "You can enter at Tranquebar," which was a tiny Danish territory on the southwestern coast. A little later the Anglican Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge said, "We'll get you to Tanjore under our auspices." And what a job he did there!
There is an idea floating around that you cannot do mission work at a time of political unrest. That may not always be true. The situation in Tanjore, which was Schwartz's main working area, was precarious. The people were predominantly Hindu, but they were under a Muslim ruler called the Nawab. At the same time the British were contending for power. Schwartz decided to befriend all of them. He learned Tamil for the sake of the common people, English for the British, and Persian and Hindustani for the Nawab's court. He became both the chaplain for the British garrison and a close friend of the Nawab.
There is also a current idea that to do effective mission work you have to concentrate on one age level, or one econornic class, or one kinship group. Schwartz believed that he had to work among both the high and the low. He started with the high but did not neglect the common folk. To do that, he felt, you have to live simply like they do, but that approach also seemed to reflect his own nature. He did not spend anything on himself. He received a small salary from Halle but didn't use it all. When he died, his savings were turned over as an endowment for the work he started. His simplicity was accompanied by a good character. His moral behaviour contrasted with that of many other Europeans. People felt, here is a man of God. They responded to him and his gospel message, and a large congregation developed in Tanjore city .
There was a lot of grieving when Schwartz died. The most poignant lines were written by the young Muslim ruler whom the missionary had guided, Raja Saraboji. He wrote:
"Firm wast thou, humble and wise,
Honest and pure, free from disguise,
Father of orphans, the widow's support,
Comfort in sorrow of every sort.
To the benighted, dispenser of light,
Doing, and pointing to, that which is right,
Blessing to princes, to people, to me,
May I, my father, be worthy of thee
Wisheth and prayeth thy Sarabojee."
How remarkable! There is a passage in Hebrews (11:4): " ... Through his faith he still speaks", which describes men and women like this. What does he say to us?