The Faith of Ashish Discussion Questions: Kaye Marshall Strom


1. For most Westerners, India is a country shrouded in mystery. We think of elephants and tigers, beggars and snake charmers and spicy food, dancers in jangling ankle bells and holy men in saffron robes. When you started this book, what were some of the pictures you had of India? Have those pictures changed? In what way? What words would you use to describe the country?



2. When Western missionaries came to India, they brought medical treatments and the strange idea that education is appropriate for all, regardless of caste. They also brought the Bible and its message of a God who loves all people. What do the exchanges between Dr. Moore and Abigail Davidson tell us about the difficulty of ministering in a culture one doesn’t really understand? What did Abigail do to help her grasp the Indian culture? To what extent do you think she was successful? If you could give her a bit of advice, what would it be?



3. How does the abiding Indian belief in karma—that the sum total of a person’s actions determines his fate—affect efforts to change one’s life? Throughout the book, we see various characters comment about their lives being punishment for sins of the past (Virat, Latha, Ashish, Little One, Anup). How does this differ from the Christian belief in Original Sin?



4. Several characters and situations in this book are adapted from real people and actual circumstances. Virat’s humiliating trek to the landowner in the first chapters is one of these. Another is the practice of killing baby girls, as Sethu the midwife was paid to do. Yet another is the maiming of children to make them into more pitiful beggars (Latha’s blinded eye). What effect might an adherence to karma have on such things? What effect might a Christian belief system have? Would there be a difference? Why?



5. The story of Saint Thomas’s work in India, while apocryphal, is widely accepted among Indians. The Varghese family takes pride in its deep Christian roots. Why would Dr. Moore downplay the validity of this? Why would that history bring the landlord, Mammen Samuel Varghese, such a level of pride? In what ways does Mammen Samuel compromise his beliefs? Why? Do we Western Christians compromise our own beliefs for the sake of fitting into and benefiting from our culture? In what ways?



6. Many people believe the caste system to be the most onerous element of Indian society. How does this strict system of social strata differ from the British class differentiations of the time? How does it differ from the haves and have-nots we see around the world? The caste system (varnas) is part and parcel of Hinduism, yet the practice deeply impacts Indian Christians and divides churches in that country. Why do you suppose this is so? (HINT: You will see more about this in book 2, The Hope of Shridula, and book 3, The Faith of Divena.)



7. Some would compare the plight of Indian Untouchables (called Dalits today) to that of African slaves in the American South in the 18th and 19th centuries. In what ways are such comparisons fair? In what ways do the two kinds of servitude differ? What lessons might Indians take from the place African Americans have achieved in today’s society? What hope might they gain?



8. The majority of Christians in India come from the Untouchable (Dalit) strata of society. How might adhering to Christian teachings affect their way of life? (HINT: We’ll see how they affected Mohandas Gandhi when he walks through the pages of book 2, The Hope of Shridula.) How might the growth of Christianity among the Outcastes affect the upper castes?



9. Many people ask how factual the situation is in which Virat finds himself. The answer: terribly factual. Today, millions of people are enslaved as bonded laborers, most of them in India. The majority belong to the Untouchable Dalit caste. Like Virat, their enslavement comes about because of a loan from a moneylender. Laborers work long hours in fields or factories or rock quarries, seven days a week. They must accept the moneylender’s meager shelter and food, and the cost is added to their bills at inflated prices. No matter how hard they work, the debt is never paid off. Some families
are enslaved for generations. With this so familiar a plight, why do you suppose people still borrow from moneylenders? What options might they have?



10. The title of this book is The Faith of Ashish, yet we never see the fruition of the child Ashish’s faith. Is this a realistic conclusion? (HINT: He comes back in book 2, The Hope of Shridula.) Why do you think the book has “faith” in its name?





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