Then came the freelance evangelists. They were not necessarily part of any church. They just went round places under the auspices of churches of different denominations and conducted ‘revival’ meetings to wake up the Christian spirit dormant in the various congregations. Meetings were generally held in the evenings in open grounds or in school compounds if spacious, to accommodate large congregations of Christians who eagerly came to listen to the evangelists who combined singing, music and profuse quotations from the Bible unlike in church sermons. Their sagging spirit was waken up from slumber and they were made aware that the truth of Christianity was the only truth and their God the one and only God.
Vedanayakam Sastriar of Tanjore imparted Christian knowledge through the traditional story telling method of “katha kalakshepam’, consisting of songs composed to Tamil classical ragas with accompaniment of Indian musical instruments and the typical story-telling technique of kalakshepam. In those days the churches used only Organs, pianos and violins. Playing the tabela and mirdhangam before the alter is a post independence phenomenon.
Ponnammal sanyasini was very effective in drawing crowds for her meetings, both by her style of delivering the message and by her singing with a tambourine in her hand beating the rhythm. Usually she conducted three or five evening meetings in any one place before she moved on to the next. Hers was a small group that moved like the disciples of Jesus after His resurrection, no permanent residence, no palace-like homes to stay, no families to fall back upon and living frugally on the meagre sum they collected at their meetings. They were men and women who had dedicated their lives to God and were able to inspire the people and helped to awaken the Christian consciousness even among the superficial and nominal Christians.
Then there was Sadhu Sunder Singh, a lone evangelist, a Sikh convert from the Punjab who literally followed the instructions of Christ to his disciples; at least most of them. All that he carried with him was a copy of the Bible and an unquestioned faith in Christ. His ministry in Tibet where preaching of Christian religion was banned was hazardous and filled with unbelievable suffering. He was once thrown down a deep and dry well and its mouth sealed. God miraculously got him out of the well and he continued with his preaching. His wanderings in the Himalayas leaves us wondering why he spent a part of his life in the unpopulated wilderness of this mountain range.
This period also saw the growth of groups of Christians flocking around a charismatic leader, considered very spiritual. These ‘leaders’ drew men and women away from the churches to form characteristic groups of their own, more or less as a cult. They believed that the Church had deviated from the truth and only they were on the right path. Paul Asir Laurie was one such leader who later in his life claimed that he was Christ incarnate (some in this group denied that he claimed so) and that wherever he went the clouds had a white silver lining around them! For sometime he was believed to have become a Hindu sanyasi with the new name, Muthu Krishnan. He had established an ashram near Thirunelveli where his European followers and disciples lived under severe conditions of discipline and poor living comfort. On his death this group disintegrated and the disposal of the landed property which he had acquired for the ashram during his life time of evangelism is anybody’s guess.
Brother Daniel was a popular and powerful evangelist who went round preaching the word of God, particularly in the Tamil districts of what was once the Madras Presidency. When he died his body was preserved for three days , all his followers praying for his resurrection in the belief that he would come back to life. The police interfered and forced them to bury the body. Brother Daniel’s group is still carrying on under the pastoral care of his son Joe Daniel, centred in Madras.
The other famous Christian group leader was Bhakt Singh who has world wide following. He was a Punjabi Sikh convert and a devoted believer and evangelist. He organised groups of his followers into independent local churches, all of them showing unflinching loyalty to its founder Bhakt Singh. He was a very simple man, very spiritual, disciplined and prayerful. His headquarters in Hyderabad, A.P. is