This article highlights the story of a failing mission work in India and how it became responsible for the Indian Baptist work in South Africa. It is one of hope, faith, and determination, and is sure to be of encouragement to missionaries around the globe. It is written by Rodney Ragwan, Former-president of the Baptist Association of South Africa and currently a Doctoral Student at Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. [completed in 2009] We welcome him as our new Global Mission Partnership Specialist. American Baptist missionaries Samuel S. Day and his wife together with Mr. and Mrs. Lyman Jewett worked among the Telugus in India. On two occasions there were attempts to disband the work among the Indians.
The American Baptist-led work in Burma was progressing well, but the work in India was not. At a meeting of the American Foreign Baptist Missionary Society, a presentation was made of their progress on the various mission fields. This progress was denoted by stars. Only one star was placed in India. The Board decided it was time to close the mission work in India. That night, S. F. Smith, who composed the song “America,” was very troubled about that decision. Unable to sleep, he wrote a poem about the Lone Star. This poem had such a powerful effect on the Board that they agreed that the work in India would continue. In 1853, a church was established in Nellore called the Lone Star Baptist Church. It was at this church that a Hindu priest, Tupela Rangiah, gave his heart to the Lord under the ministry of Lyman Jewett. Rangiah and his wife had four sons, Daniel, Samson, John and Benjamin, all of whom became Baptist ministers.
In the late 19th century Indians from the sub continent of India, upon the invitation of the British Colonial Authority arrived in South Africa to work on the sugar and tea estates. Among these folks was a group of Telegu Christians who saw the need to organize the Indian church in South Africa. A request was sent to the Telegu Baptist Home Missionary Society for assistance. John Rangiah, son of Tupela Rangiah and a member of the Lonestar Baptist Church in India responded to this request. In 1903 John Rangiah arrived in South Africa to work among the Telugu Indian indentured laborers. This resulted in the establishment of the first Telugu Indian Baptist Church in Africa now called the Baptist Association of South Africa. Rangiah established many churches in Natal, South Africa.
Three continents were involved in this world mission account – North America, India, and Africa. The American Baptist Churches, USA did not have a direct working relationship with the Indian Church in South Africa. In 2001 when I was president of the Baptist Association of South Africa, an initiative was undertaken to connect these two organizations. A partnership was formed between the Baptist Association of South Africa and the American Baptist Churches, USA.
* Thank you to the Rock Mountain American Baptist editor for granting permission to publish this article which appeared in the June 2006 edition. Rodney Ragwan is a native of South Africa. He is married to Eva Anita and they have three children. He graduated in 2009 with a Doctor of Ministry in Marriage and Family through Palmer Theological Seminary in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. In 2011 he completed a PhD in Church History through the University of Pretoria, South Africa.