Every once in a while, someone emerges from the vastness of our global-historical mosaic that stands out as one who really followed Jesus. One such person was Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889-1933?). Here are a few thoughts about the devout follower of Jesus inspired from reading his biography by Phyllis Thompson. Raised in both Sikh and Hindu spiritual practices, Sundar Singh was very hostile towards Christianity to the point of destroying a Bible. While still a teenager, on the verge of suicide, Sundar called on a sign from God. He describes the experience:
I remained till about half past four praying and waiting and expecting to see Krishna or Buddha, or some other Avatar of the Hindu religion; they appeared not, but a light was shining in the room. I opened the door to see where it came from, but all was dark outside. I returned inside, and the light increased in intensity and took the form of a globe of light above the ground, and in this light there appeared, not the form I expected, but the living Christ whom I had counted as dead. To all eternity I shall never forget his glorious and loving face, nor the few words which he spoke. ‘Why do you persecute me? See, I have died on the cross for you and for the whole world.’ These words were burned into my heart as by lightning, and I fell on the ground before him. My heart was filled with inexpressible joy and peace, and my whole life was entirely changed. (Sundar Singh, as quoted in Thompson, Sadhu Sundar Singh, 18)
The changes in his life were immediate and the repercussions were also immediate. Sundar was disowned by his family and community. After eventually finishing his schooling, Sundar took on the life of a Sadhu (holy man) traveling barefoot from village to village teaching about the way of Jesus. He chose not to ask for money or support, but relied on the grace of God through local villagers as he went along.
He knew, true son of India that he was, that in the saffron robe of the sadhu doors would be open to him that would otherwise be closed. He would not be qualified to preach in the churches but, clad in the robe of one who was known to have taken the path of renunciation, he could reach the villagers, the common people, even the high-caste women secluded in their zenanas. (Thompson, Sadhu Sundar Singh, 42)
He possessed a passion to proclaim Jesus to those who had never heard about him. This passion took him to the heart of Hindu India, to what is now Pakistan among Muslims, to the Buddhists of Tibet. Hunger was his constant companion and the travails of the Himalayas were ever-present. He was scorned, persecuted and even left for dead. While some of these events certainly scared Sundar deeply, he always clung to the deep joy of Jesus in his life.
Sundar was thoroughly Indian in thinking and culture. When he devoted himself to Jesus, he became immersed in the Scriptures. He avoided the westernization that characterized many Indian Christians. The institutions of Christianity did not know what to do with Sundar, yet there was a recognition that this man understood what it meant to follow Jesus in his own cultural context.
He was not perfect, nor did he pretend to be. But how is that there are a few people that really seem to capture what devotion to Jesus looks like? What is it about the rest of us that is holding us back? What are we holding on to?