“You’re more Indian than I am.”
A misconception of many Indians who are not from Christian backgrounds is that to be Christian, one must be westernized and give up their Indian cultural roots. When I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord, I had the same misunderstanding.
I thought to follow Jesus, you go to a church wearing a white dress and a white hat: that's following Jesus. But that was very different from what I saw in the Bible. I had this misunderstanding that I could not follow my culture and felt afraid to follow it. And yet I really missed my culture. I told Jesus that I was sad but that I would follow Him no matter what, even if it means I'd have to give up my culture. I was willing to do that because I knew how much He had sacrificed for me, and how much He loved me. But there was a sadness that I could no longer be tied to my Indian roots. Going to church felt foreign but I wanted to grow with Jesus, so I went.
I talked to some fellow believers and went to the Yeshu Satsang, and I realized that the Bible doesn’t tell me to change my culture but within my culture to glorify Jesus. Yeshu Satsang was like going into a temple (the smell, sounds etc.) but there were no idols of other deities. We were worshiping Jesus, but culturally, it was totally Indian. It felt like something that I experienced growing up. It felt like I was going back home. They then showed me 1 Corinthians 8. When you're doing cultural things, are you doing it to honor God? Does it go against your conscience? And does it impede someone else from following Jesus? I realized there's so much more freedom than I thought we had.
I've seen how the misconception that Christianity is a western religion can create barriers and cause fear about the possibility of accepting Jesus as Savior or of following Him.
The fears are wide ranging: do I have to worship and dress like Westerners? Will I alienate my family and community? Can I have an Indian wedding or celebrate Indian holidays? To break this initial barrier I try to model what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might win some.” The result has been an Indian believer of Jesus, who maintains and is proud of their Indian culture, but loves Jesus.
People have become curious.
*Ray was surprised. He had been coming to Christian fellowships for a while, but in front of him was a volunteer who knew Indian history and culture and was a proud Indian. In his eyes, I was more Indian than other Indians, yet I was just as passionate about Jesus. For the first time, it hit him: it’s possible to be both! This intrigued him. He said, “I want to be like that." Since then, he started spending time with the India Friendship Team, learning about Jesus, and later on accepted Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.
*Hannah, introduced to various Christians and churches, heard about the IFI Diwali event. She came and, over the next year, created a friendship with us. Hannah said "I love what Jesus did on the cross. And I would love to accept that. But I don't want to lose my culture.”
I asked her “Have I given up my culture?”
She said “Oh, yeah! You didn't.”
We then talked a little bit about how every culture has things that go against the Bible or honor the Bible. It doesn't matter if you're American or Indian, or Chinese. So I accept the things in my culture that honor Jesus and I believe and follow Jesus as my only God, way to salvation and my teacher.
Within a week, she said “I want to accept Jesus as my Savior”.
Within a year, she said, “I want to follow Jesus and I want to live this life of being a Hindu, culturally, but following Jesus as my only Lord and Savior because he's awesome, and he's provided so much for me and I'm so grateful for him." After six months, she wanted to start her own Yeshu satsang online to invite friends and family from India.
I saw *Holly at the 2021 Indian Independence Day celebration. I felt drawn to pray for her. I didn’t see her after that until Christmas. She came over to a volunteer’s home where we were celebrating Christmas. We all had a really great time. When I met her, it definitely felt like she was someone who's very grounded in her Punjabi culture.
I saw her again for the Holi event. For Holi, I did a classical dance from my region of India showing how we celebrate Holi culturally. Then I gave a little talk about the cultural significance of Holi throughout India, and how, as somebody who follows Jesus, I celebrate the concept of good overcoming evil.
She brought up how she was amazed at all the different Indian regional dance styles I knew and how much I knew about Indian culture. I talked to her about the different dance forms that I've learned, and I still do in honor of Lord Jesus.
She said, "This is amazing. You are more Indian than I am. It's just you know so much about your culture and our culture that I don't even know."
It was an honor to hear that from her.
I'm really grateful that God (through various people, experiences and His Word) broke those barriers. He showed me the freedom I can have and that He wants me to abundantly enjoy in ways I hadn’t considered before. And He wants me to share Him and that abundant life with others.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the students involved