Hanson Manova

In October 2019 we enjoyed a visit from Hanson Manova, an Indian pastor from Namakkal in Tamil Nadu. Hanson trained in the evangelical theological seminary in Hosur near Bangalore, but has recently returned to his home town as an interim pastor to find a successor for his father, Stanley Jones, as pastor.

What moved you to return to ministry in Namakkal?

My Dad has been pastor of the church since 1980. In my childhood I was offended and hurt by many struggles we went through as a family. He was the first Indian pastor and other people wanted to grab the property, so I never wanted to be a minister. Then one day my Dad took me on his motorcycle to travel 700 km, visiting all the churches ahead of an annual convention and inviting them. We visited Paniadipatti where the missionaries had worked. There used to be a hospital, a chapel and Bible training programme, but now nothing was there. I asked my Dad, ‘You’re a pastor of a Tamil Baptist Church, why aren’t you doing anything?’ He said, ‘Young people from England came to serve, but now our young people just want to go abroad.’ That really struck me, and I thought I must go to Bible College. For a long time I was not associated with the Tamil Baptist churches. I thought there would not be any progress. But I used to come to the annual conventions, and had a casual chat with Pastor Sam Devenesam and my Dad, and I felt there was a need to get involved. During my doctoral research I found that Namakkal has only 0.8% Christianity, the least Christian district in Tamil Nadu. It came to my mind, ‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem’ first.

What is the church in Namakkal like now?

The church at Namakkal has 120 members and has planted four village churches. The church building was bought with a few acres of land in the 1920s by David Morling. He started a new school, and today we have nearly 700 children, mostly high school. We have a morning prayer every day and the teachers will teach a Christian story. Through the children we are able to connect to the families, and work with them. We talk to the parents and find here is a family with an alcoholic, and we are able to work with him.  

We hear of great gospel growth in Chennai, but how are things in the villages?

In a city like Chennai you have migration every day, so the churches grow very fast. In India, if someone wants to follow Christ, if they are living in their native place there is a social pressure from their family. In Chennai they are independent, and so the Christian population there is 12%. In our area the churches are not multiplying as fast, but the Namakkal church has planted four churches in twenty years, and two in the last ten years. We also have cell groups in four different places, and at some point we will be able to have a fully-fledged church in those localities.

You have also been reclaiming buildings that fell into the wrong hands.

I was talking with Philip Grist (former GBM missionary) and he shared his bitter experience of going to Irukkur and they were chased away by a man who wanted to grab the property. Now we have a pastor, Prince Joshua, working there. We have been able to regain some of the land, and God willing we would like to build a church there. We have twenty-five believers gathering. We have about twenty-five villages around there where we can work. In India, the caste system prevents reaching people from someone’s home. Having a public building helps us reach all kinds of people.

Tell us about the training course you have set up. Who is that for?

We believed in a plurality of elders, but at some point in our Tamil Baptist churches we moved to a different form of ecclesiology, with one pastor and deacons. The pastor alone has the burden of evangelising, discipling, visiting the sick and teaching. When I first taught the present pastors about plurality of leadership, many of them were thinking this was a doctrine that I want to import from my seminary. I found the Preachers’ Study Papers in Tamil by John Appleby, and I converted them into lecture notes. A study paper on church clearly talks about a church having elders and deacons. Then we also have a church handbook written by the missionaries in Tamil, and it very clearly states that every church should have elders and deacons, and one of the elders can be the pastor. I was so excited!

In Namakkal we were able to train thirty people, and in reviving some of the churches in the south we wanted to use lay-preachers. Unfortunately some of our pastors think that only seminarytrained men can be pastors, but our missionaries did not teach us this way. We have been able to start a B.Th. for pastors in Anbinagaram, but the vision is that every church should have a strong team of elders, and we have a diploma course for others, such as leaders in Sunday School and women workers.

Is Indian society quite segregated between men and women, so that women need to reach women?

If we want to visit a family, we will always go as husband and wife. I will never go alone unless only men are in the house. Most of our churches have more women than men.

So we should be training those women to reach women…

Yes, and it is more effective when a woman goes to those women and brings them to the church. In our culture only the sons had property rights, but now with rising feminism there is more attention to women. Our churches should train and empower our women to serve the families, church, and society in a biblical way.

How is the western liberal agenda having an impact in urban areas of India?

Last December I was speaking at the Chennai youth retreat for about 200 young people. One girl came to speak to us over lunch, and said she has an identity crisis as to whether she is a man or a woman. She is tempted to transition with surgery to being a man. We talked with her about the image of God and the significance of both genders in God’s sight. She was happy after talking to us, and she is making progress. Also, living together before marriage was a taboo in India, but now it is common. We want to have a counselling centre in Chennai to deal with these issues. Some of us are doing counselling training.

Is the transgender movement going to take root in India?

On the flight to London I was shocked to see an Indian movie in which a man becomes a woman after having a family, and the message of the film was ‘Everyone has the right to live the way they want. Don’t judge other people.’ You may know the influence of the movies in India. India is now a post-modern society.

And that fits with ancient mythologies?  

The ancient mythological stories have myths of male gods becoming female gods, and same-sex marriage. Generally people think these things are a social evil in Hindu families, but values are changing. Even though it is a new thing among young people, there is a story, a myth or an ancient practice to support it. The challenge for us is not just to share the gospel but helping people to understand the image of God and the purpose of God in their lives.

Hanson Manova
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