I was brought up a Hindu in a small town in southern India. I believed in and worshiped idols, and I sought the favors of gods and spirits through animal sacrifices, sorcery, divination, and witchcraft.
My parents came from a middle caste of agriculturists; they devoted their time and money to Hindu gods and goddesses. They would also occasionally visit the Darga (Muslim shrines) to obtain physical or mental healing, and they always showed great respect and deference to the Brahman priests in our own temples.
Some people from my caste living in other villages and towns had embraced Christianity. Now, we believed that every religion had some truth to offer so embracing another religion wasnt a problem. However, it was shameful and degrading to become a Christian, especially because so many people from lower castes had placed their faith in Jesus Christ. We thought they had become Christians through some type of compulsion or inducement.
As a child, I felt that the Christians with whom I came into contact were more interested in each other than in us. Even so, when I was in the fifth grade, as I was helping my father in his vegetable store, a simple-looking lady offered me a storybook in my own language. I accepted it with my fathers permission; it happened to be Lukes gospel.
I read it with great enthusiasm, and I instantaneously admired the authority, majesty, and compassion of the man Jesus. It took many years for me to come to seek the Lord Jesus Christ with all my heart, and then to speak boldly of His love for us all. As an educated person, it also took time for me to shed my feeling of shame in being a Christian.
The name of Jesus is alive. Thousands like me are hearing of Him, and many are beginning to admit that He is gracious, caring, mighty, and worthy of worship. The Holy Spirit stirs desire in the hearts of the people He has created, and these stirrings in the hearts of Hindus need to be nourished. It is my hope and prayer that this book will serve the function of helping us to become co-laborers with the Spirit in His ministry of saving souls.* * *
Indias population passed the one billion mark in 2001, and in about five to eight years it will surpass China as the worlds most populous nation. The Indian Census Office states that 82 percent of the people in India are Hindus; in other words, there are already more than 820 million Hindus in India. Add to this the millions of native Hindus in Nepal (the only country that declares itself to be a Hindu nation), Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and some Indonesian islands, as well as the overseas Indian populationsthe Hindu Diaspora (dispersion or scattering of people)in Malaysia, Singapore, the West Indies, South Africa, other African nations, Britain, the Fiji Islands, Mauritius, the Reunion Islands, and recent immigrants to Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
The influence Hindus have over people of other faiths and traditions, especially secularized Christians, rationalists, academics, politicians, and professionals, continues to grow. Hinduism is the third-largest religion in the world, with about 900 million people professing their loyalty. (Christianity is the largest, with 1.973 billion followers, and Islam is second, with 1.27 billion.)
Increase of Hindu Presence in the United States
The last three decades have seen tremendous growth in the presence of Hindus in the United States. Most metropolitan cities have Hindu temples, and Hindu centers are found everywhere. Yoga has come into the mainstream of medical practice and into the day-to-day regimen of meditation and exercise. It is estimated that 1.4 million people of Indian origin live in the United States; of these, more than 85 percent (1.2 million) are Hindus.
In the United States, Hindus are earning a reputation as a skilled community, seeking higher education and employment in high-tech sectors; a recent news report appearing in major papers around the country said that of the estimated 1.4 million Indians now in the United States, some 400,000nearly a third!hold such positions. The report also said that skilled Indian professionals are immigrating into the United States at a rate of more than fifty thousand a year.
Mission Work in India
While India in general, and the Hindu religion in particular, have remained mysterious to the Christian church for centuries, no other religion or nation has received so much focused attention or resources from missionaries via the church than the Hindu religion and the Indian subcontinent. Indian Christians believe that the apostle Thomas preached the gospel in India and was martyred there. The Indian Church does have an unbroken recorded history of at least one thousand years, and India has witnessed some spectacular mass movements to Christ; however, at the end of the twentieth century, the Indian government estimated the number of Christians in India at only about thirty million, or 3 percent.
Slow Church Growth
Missionaries and other evangelists have always noted the laborious growth of the church in India, in spite of favorable conditions for conversion in the past. This observation provoked the Jesuit missionary Abbé Dubois, who labored for Christ for nearly thirty years and brought thousands into the Catholic fold in southern India, to declare in 1815 that the time for the Hindus to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had already passed, and that they would rather turn to secular atheism than to God.
In the second half of the twentieth century, it looked as if even ever-optimistic, prayerful Christians had lost their hope for a change of heart among the Hindus. At the end of World War II, the Western church began turning its attention more toward the countries of the Iron Curtain, and more recently toward Islamic nations. In other words, the geopolitical attention of the body of Christ shifted from the former British colonies to the countries under direct communist rule and Islamic fundamentalism. Meanwhile, Hindu missionaries took advantage of the estrangement between younger generations and the Christian church and firmly established themselves by offering alternative approaches to spirituality. Because there were no great efforts at checkmating the spread of animism and pantheism, Hinduism became an influential force in Western thinking and ways of life.
The Purpose of Sharing Your Faith With a Hindu
My intent in writing this book is to help Christians in the United States and Europe to share their faith with Hindus who live in their neighborhoods, as well as those with whom they come in contact in everyday social settings or workplaces.
To present the gospel of Jesus Christ to someone only requires a willingness to obey and follow the call of the Holy Spirit. If we allow ourselves to be a willing tool, He will show us how to converse with our Hindu neighbors and help them come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In the process, we must learn some of the major theological constructs of Hinduism in order to answer the genuine concerns and interests of our Hindu friends. Notions of karma, samsara, the Hindu stages of life, ideas or ways of salvation, attitudes toward other religions and faiths, trends in modern Hinduism, yoga, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and other disciplines, objections to the exclusive claim of the divinity of Christ, and socio-cultural concerns of accepting Jesus will all be raised by them. We should respond to these questions sincerely and in simple terms that they can relate to and understand.
Conversion of the heart is never brought about by facts and arguments. True conversion is accomplished by the ministry of the Holy Spirit and not by any human being or human books, including this one. Firmly believing in the work of the Spirit, we will benefit by a non-technical presentation of the concepts of the Christian faith.
This book focuses on the personal steps that an average Western Christian can take to help her Hindu neighbor to come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and through this process, also reach the Hindus of India. These steps will be different for different groups of Hindus, although the basic preparation on our part, namely, fasting and prayer, as well as trust in and dependence on the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, are the same for all groups.
Sharing Your Faith With a Hindu by Madasamy Thirumalai
Copyright © 2002, Madasamy Thirumalair
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.