Baptist World Alliance

Heritage and Identity Commission

Who are the Baptists?


India and Burma

The Baptist message began to move out from Britain and North America in the 1780s. William Carey, a young shoemaker in Northamptonshire, England, was baptized in 1783 and became a self-educated preacher. He had a brilliant mind and a burning desire to evangelize the lost.

In An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for Conversion of the Heathens (1792), he urged his fellow Particular Baptist ministers to support a foreign mission enterprise. Christ’s command to go into all the world is as binding as that to baptize, and the program to accomplish this is simple: pray, plan, pay. His “deathless sermon” on the theme, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God,” moved his hearers to found the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) in 1792, and the following year Carey and John Thomas sailed to India.

At Serampore, near Calcutta, Carey translated the Bible, composed grammars and dictionaries, set up a printing press, and opened a training college. The BMS developed a support system, dispatched more missionaries to India, and expanded its work into other nations.

The BMS was active in the states of West Bengal and Bihar and in Delhi, whereas the General Baptist Missionary Society of England opened work in the state of Orissa (1822). Both struggled against the caste system. The BMS mission to Mizoram in the northeast (1903) witnessed more converts. Since 1970, more than half of the churches have entered the Church of North India.

Missionaries of the Triennial Convention (USA) began to work in Andhra Pradesh with its Telugu-speaking people in 1836, and today the Samavesam of Telugu Baptist Churches has 475,000 members. Also in 1836, missionaries of the Triennial Convention started a mission in Assam in the northeast and soon expanded into Nagaland and Manipur. They reduced the tribal languages to writing and established schools. Baptists became very numerous in these states. In 1950, the Council of Baptist Churches of North East India was formed, but today the five regional conventions are becoming more important. About 550,000 Baptists are to be found in the northeast.

In 1874, the Baptists of Ontario and Quebec sent missionaries to northern Andhra Pradesh, and as a consequence today the Convention of Baptist Churches of the Northern Circars has 126,000 members. Today, there are more Baptists in India, about 1.7 million, than any nation other than the United States, and the Baptists are the most numerous Protestant denomination in India.

Baptists in America were keenly interested in Carey’s work and gave money to support it. In 1810, six theological students, including Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice, petitioned the Congregational church association in Massachusetts to send them to Burma. It agreed to form the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), which in 1812 appointed Judson and his wife Ann Hasseltine, Rice, and three others. On the voyage to India, Judson studied the question of believer’s baptism and became convinced of its correctness. In Calcutta the Judsons and Rice were immersed and resigned from the ABCFM. Judson went on to Burma, where he and Ann carried on pioneer missionary work under the most difficult circumstances. Rice returned home to secure funding, with the result that the Triennial Convention was organized in 1814. This agency sent more missionaries to Burma, and remarkable growth occurred. In present-day Myanmar, Baptists number more than half a million.

From: We Baptists by Study and Research Division, Baptist World Alliance, (Franklin Tn, Providence House Pub., 1999) pp  13-15

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