EFFORTS OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES TO CONVERT INDIANS
From the beginning of the indenture period, the Christian churches made efforts to convert the Indians. The first batch of Indians who arrived in 1838 included only three Christians who tried unsuccessfully to influence their colleagues to convert.
The Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in 1852 made the first concerted attempt to preach Christian ideas to the Indians. Missionaries visited the plantations, and even though the Indians respectfully listened to their message, they refused to abandon their religions and only very few converts were made.
The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches also made efforts to convert the Indians with very little success. Their failure with the Indians, especially when they were very successful with the Chinese migrants, made them very worried. In 1871, the Anglican diocese in Georgetown gave this explanation of the difficulty in converting the Indian population:
"He (the Indian) has more pride of race; he has a keener intellect and has that pride of country and of race which prevents him from becoming a convert to any of the new doctrines preached to him."
The sole Indian missionary of the Anglican Church in the late nineteenth century, Rev. Ebenezer Bhalawant Bhose, felt that the failure was due to the fact that Indians believed if they became Christians they would have to remain in Guyana. The Indians came to work for a relatively short period and they felt they would become outcasts in their home communities in India if they converted to Christianity.
In addition to Bhose, another Anglican missionary, Rev. Henry Bronkhurst also worked valiantly for over 34 years to convert Indians, but he also showed very little success.
The Canadian Presbyterian Church entered the scene in the 1860s by establishing the Canadian East Indian Mission in Guyana. It appointed a number of East Indian catechists to work among the Indians on the plantations. One of the chief missionaries of the Canadian Mission was Rev. James B. Cropper who concentrated on providing educational opportunities for the Indian population. He felt that if the Christian churches set up schools to educate the Indians, they (the Indians) would better appreciate Christian teachings and values and would willingly convert from Hinduism and Islam.
In the late 1890s, when the Government was beginning to establish settlements for Indians who completed their indenture, Cropper was appointed as superintendent for the settlements of Helena and Whim. At Helena, he established the first Canadian Mission primary school in 1896. In subsequent years (in the early twentieth century) a few Canadian Mission schools were built in areas with a large East Indian population. Cropper was also interested in making available quality secondary education, and to this end the Berbice High School was started in New Amsterdam in 1916. Among its first teachers were some recruited from the United States and in a very short time the school earned a very good reputation for itself.
Cropper, by this time, was managing the affairs of the Canadian Mission Church, and he continued in this post until 1940 when he retired.
Another denomination that worked among the Indians was the Lutheran Church. It started its evangelical work in Guyana in 1919 and was also involved in education. It erected a number of primary schools in various parts of the country, and later one secondary school at Skeldon on the Corentyne.
Despite all the evangelical work of the Christian denominations among the Indians, the conversion rate was significantly very low and the proportion of Hindus and Muslims among the Indian population remained almost unchanged. By 1931, when there were about 124,000 Indians in Guyana, only about 1,000 of them were Lutherans, and roughly the same amount were members of the Canadian Mission Church. There were also 1,958 Roman Catholics and 3,465 Anglicans who were Indians.