Bundi Bai, oldest of two children born to a wealthy Kshatriya family named Chauhan, near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, came from a Marathi ethnic group which dates back several millennia to the Scythian invasion of the western coast of India. When she was about eight years old, she and her brother, Hiralal, two years younger, became orphans in the Great Famine of 1898-1900. The children wandered from home to home and village to village to beg for a life-sustaining morsel of food, or, when this wasn't forthcoming, to search for berries, roots, and leaves in the jungle.
The famine was particularly severe in western India. Thousands of orphans' lives were saved when missionaries gathered them up and placed them in mission orphanages. Frightened, but assured of food and care, Bundi Bai and her brother climbed confidently into one of several freight cars rapidly being filled with famine orphans. Some children jumped out and ran away when the train stopped, but not Bundi Bai and Hiralal. Bundi Bai found a home in Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission in Pune, her brother in the Methodist Boys' Boarding Home in Bombay. Bundi Bai received a new name, the vernacular name Karuna (Mercy) and the English name Rachel, but she was most affectionately known by her given name of Bundi Bai.
At age 12 Bundi Bai became gravely ill. All despaired of her life except Pandita Ramabai who spent 24 hours a day, days on end by the sick girl's bed, praying for her recovery, whispering the assuring words into her ear that God had a great ministry for her and would surely make her well. When Bundi Bai recovered, she set her heart on serving the Lord in "zenana" work, mission work among women in Bombay.
The handsome young headmaster of the Methodist Middle School for boys in Raipur, Madhya Pradesh, John Walters, himself a mission protégé, changed Bundi Bai's plans when he asked for her hand in marriage. Bundi Bai and John Walters were married in the Methodist church in Pune and then made their home in Raipur where John continued his teaching profession. As John's wife, she was appointed housemother for the boys in the boardinghouse. Nevertheless, "zenana" work received a high priority from her. In later years, as "Bible woman" and pastor's wife, she was able to fulfill her youthful dream to her heart's content.
Her husband, she quickly discovered, had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. He was already well educated by the mission, in business college and in biblical and theological studies. As a teacher he had recurring opportunity to improve his teaching on a self-study basis. This was not enough. He had a special interest in church history, which he studied privately and in which he passed an examination with success. He could read, write, and speak fluently in three different languages with three different scripts—English, Hindi and Urdu. He also enjoyed preaching and would walk miles on Sundays in surrounding villages to preach and to teach. Seeing his interest in preaching, the mission assigned him to preach in Gondia, Dongargarh, Dondi Lohara, and Durg, totaling a period of 16 years.
Bundi Bai and her husband were blessed with five sons and five daughters. Three died while they served in Gondia; one died upon their return to Raipur. Sensing their need of change for their own spiritual growth, the couple requested a transfer to Narsingpur. The mission did not approve. John resigned his position. P. W. Penner, of the General Conference Mennonite Mission heard of John Walters' resignation and the couple's availability as church workers, and invited them to join the Mennonite mission. John served for many years as pastor of the Janjgir church, became a teacher in the Janjgir Bible School, served as conference treasurer, edited the conference periodical Mennonite Bandhu, and later pastored the Jagdeeshpur church for several years.
Plague, known as black fever, took their beloved six-year-old Yonathan soon after they settled in Janjgir. Two years later another son, Wilfred, was born. Once again the family was as complete as it had been when they came to Janjgir: three boys, Joel, David, and Wilfred, and three girls, Taramani, Martha, and Ashalata. One more, Taramani, was to die during their stay in Janjgir. At age 38 Taramani had come with her two children from Delhi to be nursed by her parents. After her death, the children returned to their father in Delhi, only to die soon thereafter.
Bundi Bai, with only a fourth-grade formal education, was a remarkably self-taught person, especially knowledgeable in the Bible. The loss of her children one by one drove her to find comfort in God's Word. Her faith in God's love despite all the sorrow that had come to her, made her a Christian of unusual and strong character. Also, coming from a sturdy race of invaders as she did, a race with warlike characteristics, she brought to bear upon her ministry, especially to women, that same unwavering determination and steel-like discipline that she had inherited and exercised in her own life. She was a forceful speaker in the Hindi language even though she had grown up with the Marathi tongue.
She was considered an "aggressive" Bible woman. In group preparatory meetings with her women she demanded modesty, courage, boldness, and, no less, discipline. If any younger women would sit with head uncovered, she would chide them to pull their saris over their heads. If she and others would start off on an afternoon of teaching in a village and any failed to bring her Bible, she would say that no soldier starts out without full equipment. The Christian workers must always bring their Bibles.
In dress, too, she was exact. No frills, fashions, or perfume were tolerated. Sleeves must be three-quarter length, blouses and saris worn so as not to draw attention to the wearer. The only jewelry she allowed herself was what her husband had given her on her wedding day. But in matters of compassion and kindness, there was no limit. She knew from experience the loneliness and deprivation of being an orphan and her loving heart and generous hands reached out to the needy, especially to widows and orphans.
Bundi Bai shared her husband's ministry for about 40 years, but she also left her own mark on the church by a life that was deeply committed to the Lord and by her individual traits of character and purpose. She died on 2 May 1969, eleven years after her husband's death.
Cite This Article
Kornelsen, Helen. "Walter, Bundi Bai Chauhan (d. 1969)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 11 Feb 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Walter,_Bundi_Bai_Chauhan_(d._1969)&oldid=78582.
Kornelsen, Helen. (1987). Walter, Bundi Bai Chauhan (d. 1969). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 11 February 2016, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Walter,_Bundi_Bai_Chauhan_(d._1969)&oldid=78582.
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