Sadhu Sundar Singh

Teacher, Evangelist

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Sadhu Sundar Singh
Teacher, Evangelist and Author

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Sundar Singh was born in the Punjab, India, in 1889 to well-to-do Sikh parents. His mother in particular was deeply religious and instilled in him a profound sense of devotion to God. She wanted him to become a sadhu or holy man. He was taught by Hindu teachers at first, and then attended the American Presbyterian mission school at Rampur. At that time he vehe-mently opposed Christianity as a western intrusion and burned a copy of the Bible. He could find no inner peace, however, until he encountered the living Christ in a vision in December 1904. His family tried to dissuade him from becoming a Christian, but he cut off his hair (one of the five symbols of the Sikh religion) and was baptised on his 16th birthday.

Sundar Singh decided to become a Christian sadhu. A sadhu is a Hindu monk who has re-nounced the worldly life; he decided to take this form to best reach his own people, with the gospel. A month after his baptism he began to travel around India as an evangelist, endeavouring to present Christianity in a cultural form that would be meaningful to the peoples of India. The burden of his message was that Christ by his death saved us from our sins. Sundar Singh committed himself to eat only if food were offered to him, and to sleep in a house only if invited to do so. Such an undertaking led to enormous hardship. He was confirmed in 1907, and in 1909 was sent to St John’s Divinity School in Lahore by Bishop Lefroy, with a view to training for the ordained ministry of the Anglican Church. He left after only 8 months. The expectation that he would minister only in Anglican churches was unacceptable to him, and he felt the theological study was too much about academic theology and not about the personal knowledge of Christ, which to him was the heart of his spirituality and the foundation of theological study, (I felt exactly the same way about it).

Despite the fact that preaching Christianity was forbidden in Tibet, Sundar Singh paid annual visits there for several years from 1912. He was thrown into a dry well in Tibet and on another occasion into prison in Nepal. In his desire to emulate Christ, he undertook a major fast in 1913, and in the course of it had another vision of the glorified Lord. He had a number of ec-static visions after that, from which he drew spiritual strength.

By 1917 he had become known even outside India. In 1918 he toured South India, Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, Japan and China. He visited England, America and Australia in 1920 and Europe in 1922. He made a considerable impression as a modern saint and mystic, above all by the serenity and radiance of his appearance. After 1922 his health deteriorated and he remained in India. He made use of a bungalow at Subathu, bought with money from his father and the royalties from the sale of his books, which were widely read at the time. He wrote 8 books and there are also 3 volumes of his work that have been compiled by others, The quotes at the bottom of our prayer pages today come from his first book, ‘At the Master's Feet.’

He had a strong desire to go back to Tibet, but after visits in 1919 and 1921 was unable to do so, He made a final effort in 1929. He was last seen in April of that year in Kalka, a small town below Simla. A prematurely aged figure in his yellow robe, among pilgrims and holy men, 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.

BORN: 3 September 1889, Ludhiana, Punjab, British India

DIED:April 1929, In the foothills of the Himalayas.