Relating the Word to the World

Bible Society of India expands Scripture mission.

Rev. Dr. M. Mani Chacko is a man with style and substance.

As the general secretary of the Bible Society of India (BSI), Dr. Chacko brings a radically different approach to leadership: equality. “I practice community leadership,” he said in a recent visit with American Bible Society. “There is no high or low here. No one is better than another. We all have our assignments and tasks. All of us are leaders together.”

In a country defined by caste— what Dr. Chacko calls a “deeply rooted evil in our society”—his leadership style certainly raises an eyebrow or two. “I stand for what I believe in. We are all created equal in the eyes of God.”

This means Dr. Chacko has an open door to anyone who wants to see him. All 350 employees of BSI have access to him so they can share ideas, concerns and thoughts about the Bible Society’s work and mission.

Style intersects with substance in this man, an ordained clergy of the Church of South India. Dr. Chacko believes God loves all people—whether they’re Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish. This openness to people of all faith communities sets him apart from many of his contemporaries.

“Who am I to condemn anyone because they happen to be Hindu or Muslim?” he asks. “I am a Christian, and I am called to be like Christ. This translates into the values Jesus stood for: sacrificial love, peace, compassion, justice, making the world a better place. It’s not about condemning others.

“Anyone can give themselves a label and say they’re Christian,” Dr. Chacko continues, “but the question is ‘How do they live their lives?’ I want to show I am Christian by the life I live. I want to build a community of love at the Bible Society of India.”

This community of love, in Dr. Chacko’s view, necessitates expanding BSI’s mission, which traditionally has been Bible translation and distribution. Translation is still important, since 1,652 official languages exist in India. (This number doesn’t include tribal dialects.)

“But we can’t let our work stop there,” Dr. Chacko urges. “Times have changed. The world has changed. The mission of BSI will not be complete unless our work is holistic. To do that, Scripture engagement must become a vital part of what we do. What’s the point of translating the Bible into multiple languages unless people can engage with the Scriptures?”

This engagement requires BSI to think about the other, Dr. Chacko emphasizes. 

The “other,” as he defines it, “may be an orphan, a sexually abused child, a widow, a suffering woman,” he says. “The other is an extension of myself, whether rich or poor, sexually abused, high or low.” An array of projects, funded in part by American Bible Society, will help BSI reach the “other.” By engaging with sacred Scripture, these people will know the God of the Bible who loves, cares and offers hope.

Dr. Chacko shares the story of stopping at a red light in India, always an opportunity for beggars to rush the car, asking for money. One day, a young girl of about 12 or 13 was begging. She was pregnant—bereft, lonely and pathetic.

“I can’t get her out of my mind,” he says, as he talks about child sex trafficking, a problem in India. “We must relate the Word to the world,” he says. “Translation becomes complete when it touches a person’s heart and transforms them.

“She needs to know that God loves her,” Dr. Chacko continues, “that she is worthy of dignity, respect, love. And only by engaging with the Scriptures will she understand that.

“This is precisely why I’m here at the Bible Society of India.”

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