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Christward Movements in Contemporary India

Published Date: September 20, 2013

by Dr. Prabhu Singh, (2004, ThM; 2008, PhD)

They (Samaritans) came out of the town and made their way toward him (Christ).” (John 4:30)

Nearly 30 years ago, a high caste Jat Sikh was walking through a street in Punjab, his mind filled with anxiety regarding his younger son who was suffering from polio. He saw a person standing in the street corner, proclaiming the good news about Jesus Christ. He went up to him and enquired if his Jesus can heal his son. When the evangelist answered affirmatively, he hurried home and brought his young son and asked him to pray for him. The evangelist prayed and gave him a Bible. He returned home and began to read the bible diligently. Although his son was not fully healed as he had expected, the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament caught his attention. He resolved to make him his satguru (True Guru) and to follow him, whether his son was healed or not.

Over the next thirty years, he followed Jesus faithfully. He never participated in any church service but continued to read the Bible and pray to Jesus in his home. He shared about Jesus freely to his relatives and, also, baptized a few who believed in the gospel. In 2008, now an old man, he was admitted to a hospital with failing health. He was in his final stages and was surrounded by his children and family members. He prayed fervently for few hours, and then said: “Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner. Father, into your hands I commit my life.” Then he passed away.

These words and the way he died, made a profound impact upon his son, who was a wealthy, well-known medical doctor. He was the elder brother to the polio stricken young boy. While he had seen his father reading the bible all these years, he has not given much thought to Christianity as it is often viewed by many as a foreign religion, meant primarily for low castes. After his father’s death, he too avidly began to read the bible and his journey of transformation began.

Meanwhile, his paternal uncle (deceased father’s brother), nearly 80 years old, had, also, come to Christ. He had heard about Jesus from his brother, and became a believer. So, he invited a Christian worker (who is my friend and has been serving as a cross cultural witness for nearly 25 years in that region) to his home and asked to be baptized. After teaching him further, the worker invited him to come to his church but the elderly man refused. He pointed to a small tank, filled with water meant for the cows in his farm, and said ”Please, baptize me here in my home”.  He got into the tank, knelt down and was baptized. His wife was baptized, also.

Having heard this, the medical doctor got information from them regarding the Christian worker, and made a phone call with the request, “Padri Saab (Pastor), Will you baptize me as well?” After confessing and confirming his faith, he too was baptized. He is yet to formally join the church (as his wife has yet to make a commitment), and is being discipled by the Christian worker. In one of the recent Christian mela (celebratory gathering of believers), where I was invited to preach, he came on stage and shared his story. The story continues as the gospel is advancing rapidly along the family and social network, now touching the family of his polio-stricken younger brother as well.

There have been numerous movements to Christ in contemporary India. Friends Missionary Prayer Band, one of the largest indigenous mission agencies in India, claims more than 100,000 Sikhs have become followers of Christ in the last ten years through their ministry. Historian Frykenberg writes that nearly 1 million people from the Bhangi community (very marginalized community) have come to Christ over the last 25 years. I have been involved in a high caste Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu that has witnessed remarkable growth.

While “numbers” have to be treated with caution, it is obvious the Spirit is blowing across the land in fresh ways that challenge our neatly prepackaged “three point sermons” and “four spiritual laws”. Many of the adherents of these movements may not be moving towards “Christianity” or the “Church” as we know of, but they are undeniably moving towards Christ. However one may categorize these movements – insider, outsider, alongsider – the Spirit is bursting our denominational “wineskins” and conventional “methods” so that vibrant rivers of living water may flow through the parched land.


Dr. Singh preaching in Punjab

“Our Father in Heaven … May your kingdom come!” (Mathew 6:10)


Bio:  Dr.Prabhu Singh is a missiogical anthropologist with a PhD in Inter Cultural Studies from Asbury (2008). He is a professor for Anthropology and Missions in South Asia Institute for Advanced Christian Studies. He is, also, part of the Asbury Alumni Council and is the Chair for International Alumni.

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