Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19 - Sundar Singh, Convert, Missionary, Sadhu

The crumpling of a body is a unique and easily remembered sound. As the Brahmin holy man's legs gave way he fell into a heap at the crowded--and stifling--bus terminal. The people scattered and some went for help. A man rushed back with a glass of cold water for the holy man knowing that he was likely suffering from some type of heat exhaustion. The life giving water was offered to the man but he pushed it away ferociously because it was not in his personal drinking vessel. The crowd understood that the man was trying to maintain his distinctness and so a boy ran to the home of the man and found his vessel. When he arrived, they filled it with cold water and the holy man drank quickly from his vessel and was strengthened and revived. In these startling moments, Sundar became painfully aware of a lesson hidden behind the circumstances: the people of India were like the man who would accept water only in the way he was familiar with--they would only accept a story of faith in the guise of an Indian man and not with the appearance of Western thought or teaching. It made everything make more sense as to how effective his life had been and why God had called him to live such a peculiar life--perhaps even why God had called him from those train tracks so many years previous.

Sundar was raised by a Sikh woman who wanted him to receive both an excellent education and excellent spiritual mentoring. So, she took him to the local Sadhu--an ascetic Indian holy man--to be mentored in the faith of his people and took him to a western school so he might learn English and other subjects. This school was a Christian mission and so he began to learn some of the faith as he advanced in his studies. But, then, tragedy struck when he was fourteen and his mother died unexpectedly. This shock led him to reject the faith of the Christians who spoke of a loving God who cared for the people of the world. He openly rejected their faith and mocked their converts. He brought his friends together so that they could watch him burn a bible page by page in defiance of the faith he so eagerly resisted in his rage. His rage did not ease his suffering and so he found himself laying on railroad tracks and screaming at the heavens: "If there is a God, then show yourself! If you're real, come to me or I will lay here and let the next train run over me and end it all." Sundar waited for quite a while and nothing happened and so he resolved to die when the train came shortly after dawn. As dawn was breaking, he had a vision where God spoke to him and called him to serve as a missionary to his own people.

He ran home, he woke his father and shared the story of his own conversion. His father was outraged and demanded that he renounce the absurd moment and vision. When Sundar refused, his father schedule a great party--but this party was a farewell ceremony and after the meal, Sundar was expelled from his home and disowned by his widowed father. As he walked away from his only family, his stomach began to hurt and he realized that he had been poisoned by his own father. He struggled to keep going and was eventually crawling due to the pain. Yet, he was taken in by a local Christian family and nursed back to health. He was baptized in the community and became a servant of God in the leper community nearby.

Eventually, he took upon himself the Indian garb of the Sadhu and began an itinerant ministry of mission work to the Indian people. In his yellow robe and turban, he began speaking to people who would otherwise ignore and reject the faith he offered. He spoke of Jesus--the man whom God had become in this world--and one important Gospel message that God loves us and desires to be with us. In other words, Sundar brought water to the people of India in a vessel they recognized and preferred. He would travel to Tibet--to minister to the Buddhists there--andthroughout India on foot because of the calling to share the faith with his people.

He received some formal education but not much. He was occasionally sponsored by various ministries and ecclesial organizations but they never defined his identity. Instead, he kept pursuing the redemption of a people he cared for by offering the message that God's love was furious and unrelenting and that there was hope for life in the words and stories of the Christian faith. In 1929, he endeavored to make one last journey to Tibet--the visits had started very painfully but had gotten better each time he visited--and so he set off through the mountains. He never arrived and his body was never found. It is possible that he was murdered by bandits or that he died of exhaustion but one thing is for certain: Sundar went places and talked to people that other Christians did not have access to. Sundar was called by God to reach those he loved even if they rejected and abandoned him.

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