As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. — 1 John 2:27
All about Sundar Singh (1889 – ca. 1929)
Sadhu Sundar Singh was born on September 3, 1889 into a rich Sikh family in Punjab. His mother was a pious woman who had a strong influence in his life. Her prayer was that her youngest son, Sundar, would renounce the world and become a Sadhu (or saintly wise man). She nurtured Sundar Singh in the Sikh and Hindu holy books. Her death when Sundar was only fourteen dealt her son a severe blow. He desperately searched for peace and began reading all sorts of religious books and practicing Yoga. His father put him in a Christian mission school in his village where Sundar developed a profound hatred for Christians. He went to the extent of tearing up a Bible and burning it into pieces.
Lost In despair, Sundar resolved to commit suicide if he failed to get a revelation of the living God. Early in the morning on Dec 18, 1904, he begged God to show him the way of salvation and determined to end his life on the railway track if his prayers were unanswered. At half past four a bright light shone in his room and he had a vision of Jesus. Sundar heard Christ speaking to him, “How long will you persecute me? I died for you, I gave my life for you.” Sundar Singh fell down in worship and surrendered his life to Christ.
This vision forever convinced him that he had seen the true God and it sustained him during the coming persecution. When he cut his long hair to renounce his religion, it was considered as a shame on the whole Sikh community and an unforgivable disobedience. His family poisoned the food he ate and sent him out of the house. He was miraculously saved by the grace of God and timely treatment given by nearby Christian villagers.
Thirty-three days after his baptism at sixteen years old, Sundar Singh began his life as a Christian sadhu. He was distressed to see the Indian church inculcating Western culture, imitating its customs, and failing to present the gospel in Indian terms. Sundar Singh knew that a life of a sadhu was the best way to present the gospel message of Christ to Indians. His yellow robe won him admission into many villages and people listened to him. He wandered barefoot, without any possessions except his thin linen garment, a blanket and a New Testament in Urdu. He preached the Gospel in villages near his home, then he traveled through Punjab to Afghanistan and Kashmir, lands where Christian mission work had hardly begun.
On his travels, Sundar Singh met Samuel Stokes, a wealthy American who came to India to work with lepers and briefly formed and travelled with a Franciscan Friary. Sundar joined with him for some time in ministry. He learned from him the ideals of Francis of Assisi; his life as a preaching friar inspired him.
Sundar Singh was always convinced that the water of life should be offered in the Indian cup. His short stint to equip himself with theological training at St. John’s Divinity College in Lahore in 1909 was largely unfruitful. Sundar considered that religious knowledge of the highest kind is acquired not by intellectual study but by direct contact with Christ. He even surrendered his preaching license from the Anglican church because he did not want to be constrained by a diocese. His call was to be a free agent without holding any office and to take the message of Jesus Christ to all churches and people of all faiths.
Tibet had always been a closed land for Christian missionaries as it was a strong Buddhist nation. Sundar Singh had a special burden for ministry in Tibet. It became his mission field and between 1908-1920 he reportedly made up to twenty risky trips to the country. In spite of stubborn opposition from the Lamas, his message was received in the important town of Tashigang. After returning from a trip to Tibet in 1912 he claimed to have met a guru connected to a Sanyasi (mendicant) Mission who were a secret Christian brotherhood numbering around 24,000. Some detractors loudly criticized what they said was a fantasy.
By 1918 Singh’s fame had spread far and wide and he was flooded with offers to preach all over South India. Thousands of people flocked to his meetings to hear him. He went to Ceylon to conduct powerful meetings six weeks. He was greatly disturbed by the caste system prevailing in these regions and condemned it severely. His ministry extended to Burma, Malaya, Penang, Singapore, China and Japan.
Sundar Singh had the joy of leading his father to Christ in the year 1919. His father sponsored him for his first journey to Europe. Sundar Singh was eager to find out the truth of the accusation that Christianity in the West had lost its splendor. He set off on a tour to England in January, 1920. He stayed in England for three months and went to America and Australia. He addressed huge gatherings everywhere to crowds of all denominations. Sundar Singh found the West to be indifferent to spiritual values and materialistic in their world view. While some people criticized him for his frank judgments, many were challenged and converted by his preaching.
Sundar Singh made a second trip to Europe and visited Palestine to satisfy his long cherished dream of seeing the Holy Land. He preached in most of the European countries to big audiences. It is indeed noteworthy to see an Indian presenting the message of the gospel to the Western world. However, Sundar Singh was disillusioned by the nominal Christianity and immorality of large sections of people in Europe. The Sadhu preferred the hardships of Tibet to the adulation of the Christian countries of the Western world.
Sadhu Sundar Singh experienced numerous miracles in his life which saved him from grave dangers. Once when he was in Tibet in a place called Risar, he was arrested for preaching a foreign religion and cast into a dry well outside the village. The well-pit was foul with rotten bodies and the top cover was locked. For two nights he trapped with little hope of survival. But the third night he saw the cover open and rope being let down and he was pulled up. The Sadhu was convinced that it was an angel of the Lord who helped him. Similarly, he experienced divine help many times when he was beaten up and persecuted.
Sundar Singh also experienced spiritual visions. He was in constant communion with Christ. He received ecstatic gifts from God when he saw visions as frequently as eight to ten times a month which lasted an hour or two. They were not in a dream state and the Sadhu was conscious of what was happening. His spiritual eyes were opened to see the glory of the heavenly sphere and walk there with Christ and converse with angels and spirits. This resulted in severe criticism and he was even called as an impostor and his imaginations as product of a diseased mind. But those who knew the Sadhu personally and witnessed his spiritual life never doubted his sincerity.
In 1923, Sundar Singh bought his own house in Subathu where he rested for almost three years because of heart attacks, trouble with eyesight, ulcers and several other complications which confined him to his home. The busy tours abroad and constant travel and preaching engagements took their toll on him. The Sadhu started contributing to articles in magazine and also writing his own books which amounted to seven thin volumes written in Urdu and translated into English with the assistance of his friends. The bulk of his writings contained messages he received through visions. His writings were influential and touched the lives of many people.
The Sadhu had a burning desire in his heart to visit Tibet again. He was strongly advised not to do so because of his ill health. When he attempted to go to Tibet in 1927, he suffered a severe hemorrhage of the stomach and had to be brought back. In April 1929, at the age of 39, Sundar determined to make another attempt to reach Tibet. He left instructions about his will and bid farewell to his friends. It was his last journey to Tibet and he was never to be seen again. Anxious friends made the efforts to trace him but to no avail. His death added one more mystery to a life which few people completely understood. We remember him on this day, although no one knows when he died.
- The Indian Seer lost God in Nature; the Christian mystic, on the other hand, finds God in Nature. The Hindu mystic believes that God and Nature are one and the same; the Christian mystic knows that there must be a Creator to account for the universe.
- One day after a long journey, I rested in front of a house. Suddenly a sparrow came towards me blown helplessly by a strong wind. From another direction, an eagle dived to catch the panicky sparrow. Threatened from different directions, the sparrow flew into my lap. By choice, it would not normally do that. However, the little bird was seeking for a refuge from a great danger. Likewise, the violent winds of suffering and trouble blow us into the Lord’s protective hands.
- Should I worship Him from fear of hell, may I be cast into it. Should I serve Him from desire of gaining heaven, may He keep me out. But should I worship Him from love alone, He reveals Himself to me, that my whole heart may be filled with His love and presence
- From my many years experience I can unhesitatingly say that the cross bears those who bear the cross.
- “In a Tibetan village I noticed a crowd of people standing under a burning tree and looking up into the branches. I came near and discovered in the branches a bird which was anxiously flying round a nest full of young ones. The mother bird wanted to save her little ones, but she could not. When the fire reached the nest the people waited breathlessly to see what she would do. No one could climb the tree, no one could help her. Now she could easily have saved her own life by flight, but instead of fleeing she sat down on the nest, covering the little ones carefully with her wings. The fire seized her and burnt her to ashes. She showed her love to her little ones by giving her life for them. If then, this little insignificant creature had such love, how much more must our Heavenly Father love His children, the Creator love His creatures!”
- Biography by Phyllis Thompson
- Nine minutes of reading with nice music.
- A Ken Anderson (1917-2006) film from 1969. (Liam Neeson’s first role was as “Evangelist” in Anderson’s Pilgrim’s Progress. )
What do we do with this?
Sundar Singh is still misunderstood. Westerners have combed his writings for flaws and syncretism. He may have veered toward Swedenborgian ideas and back. He may have turned the gospel in Hindu and Buddhist directions. He has been called a Universalist. He was an evangelist in Sadhu clothing. You’ll have to decide what orthodoxy means to you. Singh was less interested in orthodoxy than in getting the gospel to Indians, who knew more about Western culture than they did about Jesus.
What is your evangelism like? Do you have a strategy (or just a criticism about the strategies of others)?
Ask God for a vision of his presence and a call that is worth giving your life to completely.