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A missionary for today

Legacy of Ziegenbalg and 300 years of Protestant mission in India still empowers people

Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg may not be a treasured name for ELCA members. But in India his legacy was celebrated through worship, seminars, panel discussions, processions and building dedications. Church leaders, government officials and lay people—including a 16-member ELCA delegation—met in Chennai and Tranquebar, July 3-9, to commemorate Ziegenbalg and 300 years of Protestant mission.

Drummers (right) lead a procession
Drummers lead a procession in Tranquebar on July 9 to celebrate 300 years of mission in India.
Who was this man and why all the fuss?

A German Lutheran missionary, Ziegenbalg was sent to India by King Frederick IV of Denmark to seek converts to Christianity. On July 9, 1706, he arrived in the then-Danish colony of Tranquebar (Tarangambadi in the Tamil language). He remained there until his death in 1719 at age 36.

Throughout the week, the missionary was praised for his contributions to society. At the event’s inauguration, Surjit Singh Barnala, governor of Tamil Nadu, said Ziegenbalg’s “introduction of a Tamil printing press in Tranquebar in 1712, his commitment to serve the poor and setting up the first school for girls in 1710 make it fitting to celebrate the great missionary.”

Other speakers noted that his major contribution was recognizing the Tamil as people with a strong cultural and societal heritage at a time when missionaries tried to covert people they perceived as “heathens” to their beliefs and customs.

During a seminar, Daniel Jeyaraj, professor of World Christianity at Andover Newton [Mass.] Theological School, said the missionary “wanted to empower people.” He worked with the Tamil, enabling them to articulate their fears and hopes, he added.


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