Breakthrough or insignificant? That's the issue raised for Catholics by this bit of missions news comes via S. D. Ponraj, General Secretary of Bihar Out-reach Network (BORN)
Bihar, India was the birthplace of both Buddhism and Janism (although few adherents remain in Bihar today, which is majority Hindu with a significant Muslim minority). It has the nickname of the "graveyard of missionaries" because generations of Christian missionaries bore witness and died in Bihar with little visible impact.
But that has begun to change just in the past 10 years. During the past decade, 50,000 Biharis have been baptized. Today, on average, 400 new Christians are baptized every month. 70% of Biharis are illiterate (back to the Orality issue mentioned in my post on audio Bibles below) so 2500 local evangelists have been trained in communicating with non-literate people.
Is this significant - 50,000 new Christians - in an ancient land of 76 million that has already birthed two major world religions? Although Christians "officially" only make up about 1% of Biharis - the unofficial total is higher: 1.5 - 2%: 1 million to 1.5 million Christians.
(In India, all citizens register their religion with the government and there are many profound social and economic implications when one changes one's religious affiliation which go beyond the distress or opposition of one's family and friends. There are many millions of practicing but non registered Christians in India and as many of 15 million non-baptized "followers of Jesus Christ" from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds.)
As I wrote in my series on Independent Christianity (see blog side bar for the link if you haven't read it already)
"It is sometimes said that Catholics have a “big battalion” mentality. Is being a small but growing minority evidence of a failed mission? This would seem to imply that “success” involves the rapid conversion of the majority and the establishment of some kind of “Christendom”. In contrast, Independent Christians expect to be a minority and have no use for Christendom. They accept “outsider” status as the normal situation in which Christians live in this world and in which evangelization and mission occurs. For them, minority status is not evidence of mission failure. What matters is, “Are people becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ?”
The conversion of 1% of the population of a hitherto completely non-Christian people would be regarded by Independents as a giant breakthrough. But viewed through the lens of the “Christendom norm,” it could be used to “prove” the futility of missionary activity.