"Let a thousand schools bloom!!" that was once the slogan of the founder president of Ryan International Schools, Dr Augustine F Pinto, who believes education is power and has earned a reputation as a leading educator. From his humble beginning with a one-room school with 30 students at Kandivili in 1976, he has come a long way, driven by his ambition to make a name for himself and to make a contribution to society. Today, he believes too that there is more to power than education and repeatedly stresses that Bible believing and Spirit-led Christians can change the world. Ever since he came to recognize the power of faith in transforming lives, this former Sheriff of Mumbai has been playing an active role in building up the people of faith by effectively disseminating the principles of life embodied in the teachings of Jesus Christ. He spoke to MPK Kutty during a recent trip to Delhi.
You are widely known as an educator with a firm faith in God. There is an impression that educational institutions set up by missionaries had not had the desired impact on society in terms of propagation of faith, though their value in spreading education has been considered significant. Do you agree?
The missionaries originally set up schools in obedience to the great commission from the Lord—the command to preach the good news to every creature. They found that they could transform society and bring about changes in people by educating them. Literacy will also make it easier for them to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ. More than anything, the missionaries wanted to communicate to the people of the world, the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. It was their mission to spread the message of salvation.
Contrary to the current propaganda that the missionaries were more bent on conversions than improving the lot of the people, don't you think they have made immense contribution in the fields of education, health care and uplift of the oppressed sections?
Yes, this is a fact well acknowledged by historians and leaders of society. They were pioneers in spreading literacy and bringing about a social awakening in people. Their lives and achievements were very remarkable. This country owes a lot to them.
Even with the best of education these institutions provided, they only produced an educated elite able to look after themselves by securing well paid jobs or running successful enterprises. They have not become agents of change willing or able to transform society by standing up against corruption, injustice, inequality and oppression…
It is one thing to teach youngsters to read and write and to pass examinations and quite another to make them selfless and loving towards fellow beings. It is one thing to equip them with the ability to make a living and quite another to produce men and women who would work for a new world order wherein equality and justice would prevail.
Are you referring to value education?
Yes. Qualities of the heart like truthfulness, compassion and humility are promoted through faith. It is said that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Education must include inculcation of a firm faith in God. A former prime minister of England had said that education without God only produced criminals. In other words, mere academic excellence without a spiritual dimension do not produce nobility of character. The Gospel message can change lives. Not enough is done by these institutions in this regard.
Do you think that Christian institutions suffer from a fear complex?
They lost the original vision of the founders. Most Christian schools are scared lest the charge of proselytization be leveled against them. At school functions, even the choice of prayer is such as not to take the name of Jesus Christ. It is forgotten that Christian schools are entitled to teach the Bible and pray in the name of Jesus. The late prime minister Morarji Desai had studied the Bible at Wilson College.
Do you think authorities in Christian institutions are unduly apprehensive?
Christian institutions are, by law, entitled to teach the Bible and they are free to pray in the name of Jesus. But they are afraid and are not aware of these rights. Further there is the promise in the Bible: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."(Mathew 10: 32) I have always honoured the name of Jesus in my schools. And He had honoured me. We do not start any programme without prayer, whoever happens to be the guest at the function. As for apprehensions, did not the Lord tell the disciples that He was sending them as "sheep among wolves?" He had also wanted them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Could it be also because the men at the helm may lack the faith?
Well, even I did not allow the Gideons to distribute Bibles to students in my institutions claiming that I wanted to safeguard secularism. That was before I underwent the "born again" experience. Later, I had invited representatives of Gideons to distribute the same to those students who were willing to receive the same. The fact remains that many among those, who occupy top positions in Christian schools are not acquainted with the word of God themselves. They have no faith in the Word and so are totally ignorant of the power of the Word to influence lives.
There is a growing awareness that our educational system is not producing responsible citizens…
True education is expected to transform lives. When education is reduced to a process of filling the students with mere information, it leaves them unaffected as regards attitudes and outlook.The current stress on values education arose out of a recognition of the failure to promote values so far. We train students from an early age in keeping with the Biblical dictum, "Train up a child in the way he should go and, when he is old, he will not depart from it."(Proverbs 22:6) Man, it is said, is created in the image of God. He has great potential. Through education, it must be possible to draw out the invisible resources in the individual.
You had to face opposition or ridicule when you declared yourself to be a "born again" individual?
My family members, relatives, friends and the church authorities did not appreciate my step. They talked behind my back but did not challenge me openly. Perhaps that was because I was occupying a respectable position in society. However others were cautioned against getting too close to me lest I should influence them.
You had mentioned that it was once your ambition to become a man of power and influence. You wanted to enter parliament and make a difference. On committing your life to Christ your priorities had undergone a change. Is it likely that you may consider entering parliament if an opportunity presents itself in future? In other words, do you think serious Christians should enter politics?
Christians should be there in every profession including politics. They should enter business, trading, services and leadership positions. We are called to be the light and salt of the earth…As for my choice regarding a parliamentary career, I will take it up only if it is God’s will for me.
What was the turning point in your life?
A manager of my school called me for an Easter dinner and presented me a Bible. As instructed by him, I started reading the Gospel of John. The verse, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God," had a powerful impact on me. I wanted to have that "born again" experience. Since that yearning entered my heart life has not been the same.
What do you mean by being "born again?"
Once we are born of parents; we take physical birth. We need to be reborn spiritually because "that which is born of the flesh is flesh." When a person repents of his sins, accepts the Lord Jesus as saviour and Lord and decides in his heart to follow Him, he becomes born again. He becomes dead to sin and alive to the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit comes to dwell in him. He becomes a changed person, a new person, led by the Spirit of God.
Do you think every Christian should have this experience?
Yes, the 'born again' experience is mandatory to every individual. Of the 6 billion people of the world, two billion are Christians. If they all have the born again experience, become bold, love Jesus and everyone else, the world will have undergone an amazing transformation.
How would you like to be known?
I would like to be known as a disciple of Jesus—serving Him in different ways, as an educator, as a social worker and as a good neighbour.