Ok, so last week in Seattle at the Revolution conference I came into contact with Sunil Sardar of Truth Seekers Int'l I was not prepared for this encounter . . . or was I?
For years I have been absolutely captivated by the writings of E. Stanley Jones, missionary to India in the 1930's and 40's. His teaching on the Kingdom of God were profound and revolutionary and it shaped my beliefs. Just a short time with Sunil built several more stories on that foundation. Because of Sunil's relationship with Jason and Brooke Evans, we were able to have dinner with him after he spoke. It was all I could do to not begin weeping at the table. Somehow his words and presence were piercing my soul. There was a fire in the man's eyes that only comes from a road of suffering.
I have much more to say, but instead I'm going to paste an interview with Sunil from Off the Map to give you a taste. Let me know what you think:
What were you doing prior to starting the Truth Seekers Society?
We spent 10 years in church planting work in Maharashtra (central India). Our ministry was called Din Bandhu which means "Friend of the Poor". Several hundred churches were planted representing 40 different caste groups who had no church before. My brother is now leading this work, and it continues to flourish.
A social reformer named Phule founded Truth Seekers in the early 19th Century, tell us about him? What did he do that was different from other reformers in India’s history?
This country worships idols. They also worship heroes. I was looking for a model which would be safe for any caste group to be able to worship Jesus Christ without having the baggage of organized religion. Phule is that role model. He was salt and light and pointed the way to Christ for this nation. He found Christ in this culture and pointed towards him which was residing in the name of Bali Raja (the King who sacrificed), Yeshuwant (victor over death), and Yeshua (Jesus). He never became part of organized religion, but followed Christ throughout his life along with his family, and modeled His example and stood boldly with Christians and missionaries in their times of persecution. He also clearly identified the enemy of the Gospel, which still resides in this country... the false religion of Brahminism which has its roots in discrimination from birth to death. The religion of Brahminism perpetuates and glorifies lying, cheating, and adultery.
Why not simply go out and "preach the gospel" and forget all the social activism stuff? Other preachers stay away from those kinds of activities?
The gospel is the person of Jesus Christ. You cannot exclude any part of human life...the Gospel transcends all areas...social, political, economical, educational, etc and spiritual. If someone is a follower of Christ, he has to stand for the poor, oppressed, widows, orphans, and those who have no voice of their own. That is the model Jesus gave us.
Christian leaders who separate the sacred from the secular do not understand. They are looking for an excuse to stay away from a 'dirty job' in the name of holiness and piety. They also are afraid of the risk involved in living this kind of lifestyle. They fear the unknown, and it is safer to surround yourself with people like yourself, other believers. They are afraid of the exploration of unknown territory because they don't have all the answers. They want to look like they know, and in addition, this kind of lifestyle is not taught in the seminaries. It has to be lived. Jesus is the most creative, risk taking Redeemer, so I believe Christians should be the most creative people on earth...even in their presentation of the Gospel. He has made us free so that we can enjoy freedom in creativity.
Who are the Dalits? Do they remind you of any groups in the states?
The Dalits of India are the Untouchables or Outcastes of society; they are not even worthy (according to Brahmin scripture) to be a part of the human society. In fact, they are lower than the animals. I guess we could equate them with blacks who were enslaved before the Civil War, or perhaps Mexican immigrants who come only as laborers. People who are absolutely discriminated against by society...people enslaved by addictions.
Who are the Brahmins? Which socio-economic group in the states do they most closely resemble?
Brahmins are self proclaimed priests of the nation. They are upper caste and upper class. Everyone else (according to their scriptures) exists to serve them. One can become Brahmin only after 84 million life cycles. They are the most proud people on the face of the earth. They call themselves 'god on earth' (bhudeo). It reminds me of the white supremacist groups in the States. Or perhaps the white upper class Republican evangelicals who have the mindset that they know and have all the answers.
Tell us a little about Ambedkar and why the Dalits identify more closely with him than they do with Gandhi?
Ambedkar is one among them; Gandhi is not. Ambedkar fought for their rights and exposed the cause of their slavery and publicly renounced Brahminical Hinduism. The way he lived his life reflected what he spoke. He walked his talk. Gandhi gave a false name to Dalits which was Harijan (children of god), but never said which god. Gandhi asked them to rebel against those who literally supported them. He never identified their enemy. He turned British and missionaries (who were their friends) into their enemies. He sided and glorified the very religion (Brahminism) that made them Dalits.
You practice what I call "deep contextualization", you literally "inject" yourself into complex sociological settings (similar to how a virus works) and then wait and watch to see where you end up relationally and influentially. How did you learn how to do this? Who taught you? What prompted you to stop "watching from the sidelines" and dive into the game of connecting?
Great analogy! I can't claim any instruction but the Holy Spirit's leading. Often, it took me a longer time than it should have to obey because I was scared of 'Big Brother' meaning the Christian world who often accused me of synchronization, which wasn't the case at all. It is redeeming what is already present in the life and culture of this nation. Don Richardson's book, Eternity in Their Hearts, had a great influence on my thinking. Actually, we view it as we are simply meeting Christ where He has already been and continues to be. He is inviting us there; that makes the work so much easier. We are not converting people; Christ is converting us every day. My journey began and I became a Truth seeker when I met Christ. Since that day, no day is boring.
I met a Sikh man at the Ravidas street celebration you took me to. This man had become a Christian through associating with Truth Seekers. He told me that it took him 3 years to become "spiritualized", meaning become a follower of Jesus. What is the process he went through to become "spiritualized"?
Mr. Than Singh Josh became a follower of Christ before he actually knew it. He was culturally a Sikh (learner or disciple). Spiritually, he was an atheist. Politically, he was a socialist. He started coming to our Truthseekers fellowship meetings. Then he started speaking about Jesus as a social reformer. Then he started praying to Him and the Lord answered him. Then, he started praying for others in Jesus' name, and Lord answered those prayers too. Now, many friends are interested when they used to make fun of him. It was the Word, the fellowship of Truthseekers, and answered prayers that brought him into a clearer understanding of following Christ. But he tells me now, that his father told him before dying that if Christians would have come first in his life, he would have become a Christian. Instead, Sikhs came so he had a chance to renounce his caste in this way, so he did. He was a farmer and a hardworking man. Maybe he is in heaven....who knows? But his father's words also had a hand in his conversion.
Why did you tell him to remain a Sikh after committing his life to Christ? Can you think of any "dynamic equivalents" of how this process would look in the States? In other words - In our stateside approach to "getting people saved" are we too linear, too uptight and if so what would it look like if we did it the Truth Seekers way?
The term Sikh means 'learner or disciple' never to become a guru which is your downfall. It’s easy enough to equate that with becoming a humble follower of Jesus Christ. Your turban doesn't matter to Jesus...He is after our hearts. So, culturally to remain a Sikh in his own community is to his advantage and he becomes salt and light to his world and people. This is what Jesus asks of us.
My best advice for the equivalent of this approach in the States is not to have your own agenda for 'getting people into church' and don't have any model other than Christ to follow. No matter what, don't give up on people. Be there for them whatever that means and love them anyway whether or not they become Christian as we understand that term. Don't have any program to make people Christians, but have open homes, open lives, open communion, open discussions. Pray unashamedly to Jesus and boldly ask Him to reveal Himself as you go.