Sadhu Sundhar Singh (born 1889) was an Indian evangelist, mystic, and convert to the Christian faith. He was raised a Sikh, and detested Christianity enough that he was burning the gospels at 16 years old. But Jesus appeared to him in a vision, and led him to repent and become a Christian. He was remarkably skilled at expressing the truths of the gospel in a way that made sense to Indians, and his missionary preaching in India, Tibet and Ceylon drew huge crowds. He disappeared while going on yet another missionary journey to Tibet, and his body was never found. Sadhu Sundhar Singh was confirmed as an Anglican, and is commemorated in the Anglican church's calendar of saints.
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is Prof Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Sadhu Sudhar Singh
Sadhu Sundhar Singh is commemorated in the Anglican church’s calendar on June 19. He was an Indian missionary, and a convert to Christianity from Sikhism. “Sadhu” is an Indian title which means “holy man”. Sudhar Singh was born in 1889 in a village called Rampur in Northern India. He initially was hostile to the Christian faith, until Christ appeared to him in a vision, during a time he was feeling suicidal. We will read an account of his miraculous conversion by Anglican priest, Father Jody Howard. This is an excerpt from a biographical essay about the saint on Father Jody’s wordpress blog.
Born to a Sikh family in 1889 in the village of Rampur in the Punjab region of northern India, Sundar evidently expressed an interest in religion from an early age. This trait was encouraged by his mother who undertook his religious instruction.2 Although the family faith was Sikhism, Sundar’s mother also exposed him to many Hindu holy men or sahdu’s and she read from the religious texts of Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. Additionally, she always insisted that Sundar say his prayers every morning before he ate. Later in life, Sundar often said that his mother made him a Sadhu but the Holy Spirit made him a Christian.3
Sundar’s gifts were recognized early on in the words of a Sikh priest who told Sundar’s father that his son was “not like the others. Either he will become a great man of God, or he will disgrace us all by going insane.”4 His mother died when he was 15 and Sundar descended into a deep depression, eventually turning violent towards his missionary teachers. Neither could he see a point to his daily religious practices:
Something is wrong. Why do the Shastaras no longer come alive before my eyes? Why does our holy book now seem so distant? Why do I return from the peace of yoga meditation to find my heart still burdened with unrest?5
Sundar’s anger only increased as he lashed out in frustration at his Christian teachers at the missionary school, even going so far as to rip apart and burn a Bible, an action which angered his father:
Are you insane? Why would you do such a thing? Is this the respect for sacred things you learned at your mother’s breast? Is this your thanks to those who teach you? You will not commit such blasphemy in my presence. As your father and head of this household, I command you to stop such insanity. There will be no more book burning here!6
If his father was angered by his blasphemy, then he was absolutely infuriated by what Sundar did next. Remaining restless and unable to find peace, Sundar arose at 3 am three days after burning the Gospel determined to have an answer to his unease. He planned to pray until 4:30 for a sign. If none was forthcoming, he was determined to lay his head on the railroad tracks close to his home and await the morning train. During his prayer time, Sundar experienced a vision, except that, rather than Krishna, Buddha or Siva as he had expected, it was Christ who appeared to him. Reports of exactly what Christ said to Sundar are somewhat varied, some say that Christ spoke to him in a manner reminiscent of Paul on the road to Damascus saying “How long are you going to persecute me? I died for thee. For thee I gave my life.”7 Alternatively, the message is said to have been:
“Sundar, how long will you mock me? I have come to save you because you have prayed to find the way of truth. Why then don’t you accept it?” It was then I saw the marks of blood on his hands and feet and knew that it was Yesu, the one proclaimed by the Christians.”8
After his vision, Sundar felt a great deal of guilt and shame for his denigration of Christianity something that became a powerful motivation in his faith and later mission. At first, Sundar’s father didn’t believe his son when he told him he wanted to become a Christian, understandably finding the pronouncement hard to believe when only a few days prior, his son had been burning the Christian scripture. Once it became clear that Sundar was not simply tired and shaken his father and family sought for nine months to change his mind, alternating between showing him examples of the wealth he could have by accepting his heritage, and highlighting the shame he would bring upon his family if he went through with such a conversion when he reached the legal age of 16.
After determining that Sundar wasn’t going to change his mind, his father reacted by casting him out, saying the appropriate formula of disinheritance; “We reject you forever and cast you from among us. You shall be no more my son. We shall know you no more. For us, you are as one who was never born. I have spoken.”9
Sundhar Singh was baptised in 1905 at the age of 16, and confirmed in 1907 by Bishop Lefroy of the Anglican Dioscese of Lahore. Sundhar Singh traveled all over India, and into Tibet and Nepal spreading the gospel. Bishop Lefroy had him enrolled in a seminary, but Sundhar Singh left after 8 months, feeling out of place. Sundhar Singh instead continued life as a traveling preacher. He was very successful in explaining the gospel in ways that made sense to Indians. He was very adamant that to be Christian did not mean giving up Indian culture – he did not adopt British dress or customs, as many Indian Christians did. He attracted crowds everywhere he went. He took the title of Sadhu, which in Indian religious understanding, meant an ascetic Holy Man.
Let us read from an account of a missionary journey he made to Ceylon, today known as Sri Lanka. This is from Sadhu Sundar Singh: called of God, a biography by Rebeecca J. Parker:
The preaching of Sadhu Sundhar Singh brought many to Christ. Even his father, who had disowned him for converting, became a Christian himself, and supported him in his missionary journeys.
Sadhu Sundhar Singh was also a mystic, and receiving visions of Christ and wrote about them frequently. Let us read his account of one of these visions:
A little child died of pneumonia, and a
party of angels came to conduct his soul to the world of spirits. I wish that his mother could have seen that wonderful sight, then, instead of weeping, she would have sung with joy, for the angels take care of the little ones with a care and love that no mother ever could show. I heard one of the angels say to another, " See how this child's mother weeps over this short and temporary separa- tion 1 In a very few years she will be happy again with her child." Then the angels took the child's soul to that beautiful and light- filled part of heaven, which is set apart for children, where they care for them and teach them in all heavenly wisdom, until gradu- ally the little ones become like the angels. After some time this child's mother also died, and her child, who had now become like the angels, came with other angels to welcome the soul of his mother. When he said to her, " Mother, do you not know me? I am your son Theodore ", the mother's heart was flooded with joy, and when they embraced one another their tears of joy fell like flowers. It was a touching sight! Then as they walked along together he kept on pointing out, and explaining to her, the things around them, and during the time appointed for her stay in the intermediate state, he remained with her, and when the period necessary for instruction in that world was completed he took her with him to the higher sphere where he himself dwelt. There, on all sides, were wonderful and joyous surroundings, and unnumbered souls of men were there, who in the world had borne all kinds of suffering for the sake of Christ, and in the end had been raised to this glorious place of honour. All around were matchless and exceedingly beautiful moun- tains, springs, and landscapes, and in the gardens was abundance of all kinds of sweet fruits and beautiful flowers. Everything that heart could desire was there. Then he said to his mother, " In the world, which is the dim reflection of this real world, our dear ones are grieving over us, but, tell me, is this death, or the real life for which every heart yearns? " The mother said, " Son, this is the true life. If I had known in the world the whole truth about heaven, I would never have grieved over your death. What a pity it is those in the world are so blind! In spite of the fact that Christ has explained quite clearly about this state of glory, and that the Gospels again and again tell of this eternal kingdom of the Father, yet, not only ignorant people, but many enlightened believers as well, still remain altogether unaware of its glory. May God grant that all may enter into the abiding joy of this place! "
Sadhu Sundhar Singh’s health was frail. Even in his 30’s, it seemed as if he would not be well enough to continue his punishing travel schedule preaching. In 1929 when he was around 40 years of age, he made a final missionary journey to Tibet, and disappeared. The Indian government declared him dead in 1933, but his body was never found. He is commemorated in the Anglican Church’s Calendar, with feast day on June 19
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"I am not worthy to follow in the steps of my Lord but, like Him, I want no home, no possessions. Like Him I will belong to the road, sharing the suffering of my people, eating with those who will give me shelter, and telling all men of the love of God."