was born into a Sikh family in the village of Rampur (Punjab state) in northern India. Sikhism, founded about 1500 AD, is a religion that teaches belief in one God and rejects the caste system; it had become one of the established religions in the area, standing apart from both Hinduism and Islam. Sundar Singh's mother took him to sit at the feet of a sadhu, an ascetic holy man, who lived in the jungle some miles away, while also sending him to Ewing Christian High School, Ludhiana, in order to learn English.
Singh was raised a member of the Sikh religion. Prior to his conversion, Sundar attended a primary school run by the American Presbyterian Mission where the New Testament was read daily as a "textbook." Sundar "refused to read the Bible at the daily lessons...To some extent the teaching of the Gospel on the love of God attracted me, but I still thought it was false."
In the midst of such confusion and while only fourteen years old, his mother died, and Sundar underwent a crisis of faith. His mother was a loving saintly woman and they were very close. In his anger, Sundar burned a copy of one of the Gospels in public.
"Although I believed that I had done a very good deed by burning the Bible, I felt unhappy," he said. Within three days Sundar Singh could bear his misery no longer. Late one night in December 1903, he rose from bed and prayed that God reveal himself to him if he really existed. Otherwise -- "I planned to throw myself in front of the train which passed by our house." For seven hours Sundar Singh prayed. "O God, if there is a God, reveal thyself to me tonight." The next train was due at five o'clock in the morning. The hours passed.
Sundar felt that his religious pursuits in Sikhism and the questioning of Christian and Hindu priests left him without ultimate meaning. Sundar resolved to kill himself by throwing himself upon a railroad track. That very night he had a vision of Jesus who opened Sundar's soul to the truth. Sundar announced to his father, Sher Singh, that henceforth he would follow Christ. His father denounced him, and his brother Rajender Singh attempted to poison him. Sundar's life was saved by the help of a nearby Christian community.
On his sixteenth birthday, he was publicly baptised as a Christian in the parish church in Simla, in the Himalayan foothills. Prior to this he had been staying at the Christian Leprosy Home at Sabathu, near Simla, serving the leprosy patients there.
In October 1906, he set out on his journey as a new Christian, wearing a turban and the yellow robe of a Hindu sadhu, an ascetic devoted to spiritual practice. Singh viewed himself as a sadhu, albeit one within Christianity rather than Hinduism, because he realized Christianity could not penetrate India unless it was in an Indian way.
"I am not worthy to follow in the steps of my Lord," he said, "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."
After returning to his home village, where he was given an unexpectedly warm welcome, Sundar Singh travelled northward through the Punjab, over the Bannihal Pass into Kashmir, and then back through Muslim Afghanistan and into the brigand-infested North-West Frontier and Baluchistan. He was referred to as "the apostle with the bleeding feet" by the Christian communities of the north. He suffered arrest and stoning for his beliefs, and experienced mystical encounters.
In 1908, he crossed the frontier of Tibet, where he was appalled by the living conditions. He was stoned as he bathed in cold water because it was believed that "holy men never washed."
In 1908 he went to Bombay, hoping to board a ship to visit Palestine but was refused a permit, and had to return to the north. On this trip he recognised a basic dilemma of the Christian mission to India. A brahmin had collapsed in a hot, crowded railway carriage and was offered water by the Anglo-Indian stationmaster. The brahmin could only accept it in his own drinking vessel. Sundar Singh realised that India would not readily convert to Western-style Christianity, although people had responded to his sadhu's robe.
In December 1909 Singh began training for the Christian ministry at the Anglican college in Lahore. According to his biographers, he did not form close relationships with fellow students, meeting them only at meal times and designated prayer sessions. He was ostracised for being "different".
Although Singh had been baptized by an Anglican priest, he was ignorant of the ecclesiastical culture and conventions of Anglicanism. His inability to adapt hindered him from fitting in with the routines of academic study. Much in the college course seemed irrelevant to the gospel as India needed to hear it. After eight months in the college, Singh left in July 1910.
It has been claimed by his biographers that Singh's withdrawal was due to stipulations laid down by Bishop Lefroy. As an ordained Anglican priest, Singh was told to discard his sadhu's robe and wear "respectable" European clerical dress, use formal Anglican worship, sing English hymns; and not preach outside his parish without permission. To not visit Tibet, however, seemed to him an unthinkable rejection of God's call.
According to Singh, in a town called Rasar he had been thrown into a dry well full of bones and rotting flesh and left to die, but three days later he was rescued. At these and at other times Singh was said to have been rescued by members of the "Sannyasi Mission"—secret disciples of Jesus wearing Hindu markings, whom he claimed to have found all over India.
The secret Sannyasi Mission is reputed to have numbered around 24,000 members across India. The origins of this brotherhood were reputed to be linked to one of the Magi at Christ's nativity and then the second century AD disciples of the apostle Thomas circulating in India. Nothing was heard of this evangelistic fellowship until William Carey began his missionary work in Serampore. The Maharishi of Kailas experienced ecstatic visions about the secret fellowship that he retold to Sundar Singh, and Singh himself built his spiritual life around visions.
Whether he won many continuing disciples on these hazardous Tibetan treks is not known. Singh did not keep written records and he was unaccompanied by any other Christian disciples who might have witnessed the events.
During his twenties, Sundar Singh's ministry widened greatly, and long before he was thirty, his name and picture were familiar all over the Christian world. He described a struggle with Satan to retain his humility, but people described him as always human, approachable and humble, with a sense of fun and a love of nature. This character, with his illustrations from ordinary life, gave his addresses great impact. Many people said, "He not only looks like Jesus, he talks like Jesus must have talked." His talks and his personal speech were informed by his habitual early morning meditation, especially on the gospels. In 1918 he made a long tour of South India and Ceylon, and the following year he was invited to Burma, Malaya, China and Japan.
Some of the stories from these tours were as strange as any of his Tibetan adventures. He claimed power over wild things. He claimed even to have power over disease and illness, though he never allowed his presumed healing gifts to be publicized.
For a long time Sundar Singh had wanted to visit Britain, and the opportunity came when his father, Sher Singh, came to tell him that he too had become a Christian and wished to give him the money for his fare to Britain. He visited the West twice, travelling to Britain, the United States and Australia in 1920, and to Europe again in 1922. He was welcomed by Christians of many traditions, and his words searched the hearts of people who now faced the aftermath of World War I and who seemed to evidence a shallow attitude to life. Singh was appalled by what he saw as the materialism, emptiness and irreligion he found everywhere, contrasting it with Asia's awareness of God, no matter how limited that might be. Once back in India he continued his ministry, though it was clear that he was getting more physically frail.
In 1923 Sundar Singh made the last of his regular summer visits to Tibet and came back exhausted. His preaching days were obviously over and, in the next years, in his own home or those of his friends in the Simla hills he gave himself to meditation, fellowship, and writing some of the things he had lived to preach.
In 1929, against all his friends' advice, Singh determined to make one last journey to Tibet. He was last seen on the 18th of April 1929 setting off on this journey. In April he reached Kalka, a small town below Simla, a prematurely aged figure in his yellow robe among pilgrims and holy men who were beginning their own trek to one of Hinduism's holy places some miles away. Where he went after that is unknown. Whether he died of exhaustion or reached the mountains remains a mystery. Some said that Singh was murdered and his body thrown into the river; another account says he was caught up into heaven with the angels.
In the early 1940s Bishop Dr. Augustine Peters, a native missionary of South India, sought out Sundar's brother Rajender Singh, led him to the Christian faith and baptized him in Punjab. Rajender referred to many miracles performed by Sundar Singh and people converted to Christ under his ministry.
Sadhu Sundar Singh is treasured by many as a formative figure in the development of the Christian church in India.
Propers for Sadhu Sundar Singh - Evangelist, Missionary and Mystic
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, we thank thee for thy servant Sadhu Sundar Singh, whom thou didst call to preach the Gospel to the people of India: Raise up, we pray thee, in this and every land, heralds and evangelists of thy kingdom, that thy Church may make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, and may increase with the increase of God; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle - Acts 1:1-9.
THE former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen: to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: and, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things. while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
The Gospel - St. Luke 10:1-9.
AFTER these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest. Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor pack, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: and heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.
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