In 1889, Rudyard Kipling published his poem, “The Ballad of East and West,” which begins, “Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
Those lines sound as if Kipling is saying that there is no hope that people from East and West can ever come together, but the opposite is true. The poem tells of Kamal, a man of India who steals an English Colonel’s horse. The Colonel’s son rides off in pursuit. The two men end up in a place where Kamal has a soldier behind every rock, but he respects the young Englishman’s courage and spares his life. The young Englishman, in turn, passes up a chance to use a hidden pistol with which he could have killed Kamal. The poem ends as it began with these lines:
Oh, East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently
at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!
Kipling’s poem celebrates the possibility of mutual respect between people who are very different from each other.
Nine years later after Kipling’s poem was published, William Arthur Dunkerly (using the pen name John Oxenham) wrote this hymn, “In Christ There Is No East or West.” The occasion was a great missionary exhibition sponsored by the London Missionary Society.
The hymn, which gets its inspiration from Kipling’s poem, takes Kipling’s idea a step farther. It reminds us that Christ brings all sorts of people together “in one great fellowship of love.”
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan