Above: Punjab and Kashmir, 1945
Image Source: Hammond’s New Era Atlas of the World
Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor
SUNDAR SINGH (SEPTEMBER 3, 1889-1929)
Indian Christian Evangelist
Various books supply names for my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days. With Sundar Singh I begin to draw names from The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995), which lists his feast day as September 3.
Punjabi native Sundar Singh (1889-1929) came from a wealthy Sikh family. Young Sundar, who was familiar with Hindu and Muslim sacred texts, studied English and encountered the Bible at a Christian school in his hometown, Ludhiana. He was also close to his mother, who encouraged him to become a sadhu, a traditional Indian ascetic holy man. Her death when he was fourteen years old (1903) prompted an angry reaction against Christianity and set the stage for his conversion to it.
Sundar’s initial reaction was to strike out against Christianity. He, for example, threw stones at preachers, encouraged others to do so, tore a Bible apart, and burned another copy. The young man, in a suicidal mood, prayed for direction. He reported a vision (just one of many during his lifetime) in which Jesus appeared to him and said:
How much longer are you going to search for me? I have come to save you. You prayed for the right path. Why have you not followed it?
Our saint became a Christian. In reaction to this his family renounced and ostracized him. The date of Singh’s baptism at an Anglican church was his sixteenth birthday, September 3, 1905. During the following year he became a Sadhu Christian, living as a traditional Indian ascetic and blending Indian cultural practices with the Christian Gospel, for he understood that doing so made him a more effective evangelist within his milieu.
Thus our saint set the pattern he followed for most of the rest of his life. The period of December 1909-July 1910, when he studied at the St. John School of Theology, Lahore (an Anglican school), proved to be an exception to this rule. Much of the curriculum, he concluded, was irrelevant to the cultural context of the Indian Subcontinent. Singh traveled widely throughout India, preaching, suffering attacks, learning how many people God had put in place to deliver him, and reflecting Christ to those whom he met.
Our saint traveled beyond the subcontinent also. From 1918 to 1922 he traveled in Ceylon, Malaysia, Japan, China, the United States, Western Europe, Australia, and Palestine. Travels, both domestic and foreign, took a toll on his increasingly fragile health. Concerns regarding Singh’s health led to his decision to cease his usual summertime trip to Tibet in 1922. His final journey in Tibet began in April 1929. The last date, as far as anyone knows, that people saw him alive was April 18, 1929.
Our saint wrote eight books from 1922 to 1929:
- At the Master’s Feet (1922);
- Reality and Religion: Meditations on God, Man, and Nature (1924);
- The Search After Reality: Thoughts on Hinduism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, and Christianity (1925);
- Meditations on Various Aspects of Spiritual Life (1926);
- Visions of the Spiritual World (1926);
- With and Without Christ (1929);
- The Real Life (published in 1965); and
- The Real Pearl (published in 1965).
Sundar Singh glorified God in his cultural setting. May each of us do the same in ours.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 12, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B
THE FEAST OF ALFRED LEE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIUS I, BISHOP OF ROME
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN, SOCIAL ACTIVIST
Raise up among us, O Lord, prophets and teachers;
and when the Holy Spirit shall command us to separate any to the work to which you call them,
so that the senders and the sent alike may do your will,
and bide your time, and see your glory;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
–After The Book of Common Worship (1963, The Church of South India), page 66