Feature

The Christian Kirtankar of India

Foundations

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All India loves a kirtan. There is no greater delight to the people of Maharashtra than to sit and listen to their gods extolled through the medium of speaking and singing accompanied by the sweet sound of instruments and the rhythm of the cymbals. This is a kirtan.

In his childhood, Lauren R. Carner had watched the people as kirtankars would recount the long histories and stories of their gods. When he returned to India as a missionary, he again observed that India’s people would sit quietly through a four- or five-hour kirtan, oblivious of the passage of time. But Christians would become restless during a preaching service of only an hour. He realized that the kirtan could be used effectively for the spread of the gospel. Therefore, he decided to learn how to give them himself.

That he was a foreigner, that Marathi was not his mother tongue, that his voice was not that of an Indian—to these things he gave no heed. Claiming the help and enabling of the Lord, he began to do kirtans first among Christians and then among non-Christians. . . .

Once he did a kirtan in a leprosy hospital at Nasik, and as usual, everyone present received a great blessing. The patients said to him, “We are poor people, and we have nothing of this world’s goods to give you. You are building God’s house through kirtans. . . .”

Lauren Carner had a booming voice; he was a strong man. He always dressed for his kirtans exactly as the kirtankars of Maharashtra dressed. . . . He had the best of musical instruments. When he stood to begin his kirtan, one sensed his deep devotion to his Lord. His Marathi was excellent, always suited to his audience. In educational centers he used the highest of Marathi; in the villages, simple village Marathi that all could understand. He made much use of homey stories, proverbs, and everyday happenings to illustrate his kirtans. Like his forerunner David, who danced before the ark in complete abandonment to his Lord, so Lauren Carner completely lost himself in this witness to his Lord whom he so adored. Thousands heard the gospel of salvation as they sat hour after hour unwearied, enthusiastic to the end, listening to his splendid presentation of the old story, which is forever new.

Adapted from The Alliance Witness, October 19, 1960

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