In 1895, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod began mission work in India—the first “foreign” mission field in the Synod's history. Over the ensuing decades, the LCMS invested human and financial resources in developing a total Christian ministry of congregations, pastoral training, lay training, school education and human care ministries. The India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC) became an LCMS sister/partner church in 1959. It is also a member of the International Lutheran Council. A large LCMS missionary presence continued until the 1980s, and the last full-time LCMS career missionary retired from service in 2003.
The LCMS began an experimental approach to involvement with a mature church body from 1997 with the use of short-term consultants in India. The IELC requested help in the areas of theological training, administration, conflict resolution and education, and the LCMS provided the IELC with consultants who visited India twice a year to train in these areas. Beginning in 2003, LCMS short-term missionaries have conducted Spoken English Workshops at the seminary in Nagercoil in June of each year. From 2008-2011, educational consultants served the IELC’s primary and secondary schools, developing religion curriculum, training teachers and upgrading school facilities.
The LCMS has also contributed toward supporting new seminary graduates during their three-year “probationary” period, during which students work in church planting and mission outreach efforts. As a result of this probationers-as-church-planters program, more than 75 congregations have been established or re-established.
Over the years, the IELC has grown to a baptized membership of 50,000 in almost 1,000 congregations and preaching stations with a national staff of more than 185 pastors, in addition to evangelists, teachers, deaconesses, lay preachers and other staff members. The IELC also manages three hospitals; a special deaf ministry; a printing press; a technical training institute; five boarding houses; 80-plus schools; a teachers training institute (with a full-time faculty of four); and institutions for the deaf, blind, mentally disabled and physically handicapped. The IELC is currently proclaiming the Gospel in seven languages throughout India.
The IELC operates Concordia Seminary in Nagercoil, which includes a full-time faculty of five people. This institution is key to the ongoing development of the church. Every three years, approximately 15 new pastors graduate, and approximately 25 laypeople complete the one-year evangelist training course each year. The seminary has plans to expand its educational options with a new Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) program. This undergraduate degree will attract students and faculty from across India, and it has even garnered interest from other Asian countries.
The LCMS first supported mercy projects in 1986 by funding a microcredit for farm laborers project. Since then, support has also been provided for social and economic development; youth and widows job skill training; dam construction; building homes; providing clean water through digging wells; livestock projects; medical clinic services; x-ray and ultrasound equipment; hospital and schools for children with disabilities, outreach and social ministry to Roma people (gypsies); orphanage support; hospital expansion; disaster response (specifically, flood, cyclone, monsoon and fire relief); roofs for new chapels; free wheelchairs for those in need; post-tsunami education; and economic rehabilitation. Current mercy projects include providing computer training for young people and disaster grants to help flood-effected families in the Andhra and Nagercoil Synods.