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The packing paper gospel of William Carey

We don’t always see the outcome of our actions, we tell people about our faith and we never meet them again, we sow a seed and we never see it grow – but that doesn’t mean it was wasted

BMS World Mission founder William Carey never met Gangadhar Sarangi, but in the early 1800s his translation of John’s gospel gave devout Hindu priest Gangadhar a glimpse of Jesus, a glimpse that resulted in a life-long Christian faith and hundreds of baptisms.

Gangadhar’s great, great, great, great, great grandson Kalyan Das, Minister of Botley Baptist Church in Oxfordshire, shares the story:

Gangadhar Sarangi, a Brahmin priest, was an intellectual, a poet and a musician. He belonged to an ashram called ‘Kugibur Matha’ on the banks of the Mahanadi River near Cuttack, Orissa, where the head Guru was trying to find the truth by studying the great books of the world. During that time a Chinese trader came to the temple; a trader who had met Carey.

In the early 1800s, William Carey used to provide refuge for traders who would come to India from China bringing silks and chinaware to sell. In his mission compound, Carey would befriend these travellers, and I guess introduce them to the gospel in a way that was appropriate.

While working on translating the Bible into Bengali, Carey produced many gospel tracts; the gospel of John was among the first gospels he translated into Bengali and later Sanskrit. Carey would encourage these travelling traders to use the gospel tracts as ‘packing material’ and stuffing, encouraging them to leave it where they sold their goods.
And that’s what they did. The gospel of John was left at the temple, and Ganghadhar read it. He understood that the God described in the gospel of John was the true God, and he started worshipping him, putting aside all the other old texts he had.

On 23 March, 1828, Gangadhar stepped out to publicly declare his decision to follow the living God through Jesus Christ.

He asked the Baptist missionaries from Serampore, who had arrived on the outskirts of Cuttack at around that time and had been preaching the gospel with little success, to baptise him in public in the Mahanadi River. A large crowd gathered to witness the baptism.

As Gangadhar came out of the water, he was threatened by a menacing crowd. The village came out to stone him because they said he had given up that which was sacred to them. Gangadhar asked the two English missionaries to go to their bungalow and pray. He then turned to crowd and started preaching the gospel, saying:

'O intellectuals, read your religious lore and tell me which of your ten incarnations and navagrahas had ever laid down his life to liberate you from your self-centered life and sins. If you as parents can suffer to save your children from sickness and danger, how much more the God who implanted that love would not pour out his sacrificial life in absolute love for you, freeing from your deadly sins?'

He pleaded like this with the crowd for three hours. What followed that day was the baptism of several hundred people on the banks of the river!

Gangadhar Sarangi was the first Oriya convert to Christ.

I’m very privileged to be born into a Christian family that are active in their faith. We live and serve with the blessing of the faith of our forefathers and the prayers of our parents. It is a privilege and an honour for my brother the Revd Rupen Das and I to serve the God of the gospel of John whom Gangadhar embraced with courage. Rupen works with Canadian Baptist Ministries and I am privileged to serve as Minister at Botley Baptist Church in Oxford. 

Kalyan Das is Minister of Botley Baptist Church and was talking to Sarah Stone.

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission

BMS World Mission, 18/11/2013
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