The Ways of God in My Hindu Family
One of Eight Siblings
For generations my Indian family had followed the Hindu religion. Our home in Singapore had a special room adorned with statues of Hindu gods. I never really wondered why there were so many; I just accepted that there were. My family would go to the holy room twice a day to pray, and on Fridays we would go for prayers at the temples. On Fridays and Tuesdays, we’d eat no meat, only lentils and beans. And on Hindu holidays, we’d celebrate.
Besides being Indian and Hindu, our family was also typically Asian. The thinking was: Do well in school— and the money will come in. Study hard and you’ll become a doctor, an engineer, a teacher. During exam times in school, we’d go to the temple more frequently. Instead of studying more, we’d seek the favor of the gods more. Dad brought the money in for our family of eight children—six boys and two girls. Mom ran the home. If I had to buy a book, I’d go to Mom. If I needed to make a decision, I wouldn’t go to Dad, I’d go to Mom.
A Secret Shared
One day Raj, my elder brother who is two years older than I, told me a secret he had kept for two years—he believed in Jesus Christ. This upset me and I threatened to tell Mom. Then Raj asked if he might tell me about Christ. Curious, and admiring my older brother, I listened. Raj told me things like, there’s a God out there that loves me, that he died for me, and that he has the best interest in his heart for me. And…if I’d believe in Christ, I’d go to heaven. He said something about “sin,” too. These were ideas I had never heard of. But there was something attractive about them—something tantalizing about the whole thing.
From the time I heard these words from Raj, my life was set on a different path. There was Hinduism (which I continued to practice for several years) but now there was this other guy—Jesus. I wanted to check him out. In Hinduism it would be easy to add one more god.
Mom threatened to break my leg if I went to church, and at age 13 that was something I didn’t want to happen. Raj gave me a Living Bible, a translation that was just right for me—easy to read. At home, I would have my regular history book, and then I’d have my Bible hidden inside. I read all the easy-to-follow stories in the Bible. Anything that was difficult to understand I just skipped and kept going. During this time there was nobody monitoring me. It was just me, God, and the Bible…and Hinduism was over there.
By the time I was 16 or 17, I was leaning more toward Christ. The Bible was appealing. I liked what I was reading. It made sense. About this same time the Navigators (Navs), a Christian organization that emphasizes Bible study and scripture memory, came to Singapore. Raj connected with the Navs, and the Navs offered Bible studies any day of the week, not just on Sunday. For Mom, church was something that happened on Sunday—at a church building. So it was no big deal for her that Raj and I went out on Thursday evenings. She had no idea we were going to a Bible study.
In Singapore, after high school, young men have to do two years of military training. While living in the camp, doing Bible studies in the evenings, I came to know Christ more fully. John 14:6 was the verse that became the turning point for me. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” I realized I needed only Jesus…not Hindu gods and Jesus.
By this time Mom knew that I had come to know Christ, and that several of my other brothers had also prayed to receive Jesus and put their faith in God—mainly a result of Raj. He lived out his faith before those of us who were younger. Mom leaned on him, and he was the one who helped the rest of us achieve good grades in school. A plus point for him was that he was the most brilliant child in the family. Along with brilliance came the feeling my parents had that he was going to make it big and would bring in lots of money. That meant he sort of got a pass when it came to being allowed to go to church. But for the rest of us, Mom was determined to keep us in the Hindu fold. She feared what she saw happening to her children. She went to the Hindu and Buddhist priests to ask their help to get her children back. In desperation she visited a Bomoh—a person who connects with spirits—and pleaded for his help in getting her children back from what she considered the white man’s god. Nothing worked.
The Witness of Serving
After all of us finished our military training, as adults, Mom could not tell us we couldn’t go to church. Slowly, one by one, Mom’s children, who had always been a source of pride, did not go to the temple with her any more. People asked, “Where’s your family?” Her identity as a Hindu with her Indian culture was being threatened. It was like she felt all alone. At this time , God also began to get our attention.
In our home, the custom on Sundays was that Mom and our two sisters would wash the whole house and cook a huge meal for the entire family. Mom was a perfectionist and a great cook, so much so that other Indian women came to her to learn how to make special dishes. She and my sisters worked very hard to put the tastiest food on the table. And we guys, the six of us, would eat first, then sleep in the nice afternoon sun, get up at about 4:00 o’clock for tea time—which again was prepared by Mom and my sisters—before going out to play soccer.
God began to speak to us about how we as His followers were to serve, especially our own family. So we agreed the right thing to do was not to go to church, but instead to help Mom and my sisters with the Sunday meal. We got on our knees and scrubbed the floor, insisted that Mom and my sisters sit and eat with us… and then we did the dishes. Mom was impressed. She said, “Oh, I like this. Who is teaching you all this?”
About once a month Mom would have 30 or 40 people in our home for a Hindu prayer meeting. Mom was working so hard serving 40 meals, preparing the banana leaves, cooking the curry and rice, setting up the tables, cleaning up the whole place. Again God showed us that we could serve. He didn’t ask us to worship the Hindu gods—just to serve. Mom liked what she saw. She really fell in love with the changed lives she saw in all of us.
When my older sister turned 30 and had received no proposals for marriage, Mom thought my sister had absolutely no future. Suitors would come, but when they found out that half the family were believers and the other half were Hindu, they would come back later and say they didn’t want the arrangement. Mom was angry about this and cried a lot about her daughters’ future. Then my sister became a believer, and God brought into our lives a wonderful young man who was just one year older than my sister, who had become a believer from a Hindu background, and was an elder in a church. We brought him to Mom and Dad and they approved my sister’s marriage. At her wedding, she received both Mom and Dad’s blessing.
Ways of Honor
One aspect of witnessing to our parents was just our life. The other one, for Mom, was every once in a while, she would say in a very coarse way, “So, you say Jesus is the way, is that what you’re saying?” We knew she was asking for a conversation. Of course she was using the power and authority as a mother, and we were older at that time and we were able to deal with that kind of approach. We’d say, “Yes, Mom,” and then we’d talk about it. In just natural conversation we dropped information about Jesus.
Once we faced an issue that was critical for our testimony before our parents. Mom had made a vow to carry a Hindu statue in a particular festival for seven years—and my youngest brother was to carry it. The first three years my brother wasn’t a believer, but during the fourth year, he came to know Christ. So what was he to do? Mom was very concerned because she was going to lose face. So we all talked about it and decided my brother should carry the statue as my Mom had promised. We knew the Bible teaches to honor your father and mother, and we acknowledged these festivals were part of our Indian culture. We had Indian Hindu parents, and God had put us in this Indian family. It was a sovereign thing. We were Indian. We enjoyed Indian food. We ate with our hands. It was cultural. So, we honored our Mom, and our brother completed the seven years.
Working Out Her Salvation
Dad actually came to know Christ first, and then it was Mom. For her it was a journey. And it was a beautiful journey. She liked what she saw every time in her children who followed Christ. So the natural thing was belief. A turning point for her was the year she spent in the U.S. living with my youngest brother. It was a hard year for her, but one she really needed. In Singapore she had a big network of friends. Being a warm, friendly person who loved to cook and invite people over, she was known by lots of people. The year in the States gave her time to ponder all she had witnessed and heard and experienced. She spent the year reading her Tamil Bible and seeking God in prayer. She had to figure out how to deal with being a believer in Christ when she got back to Singapore. It was a window of time that she needed.
Her first step of faith was wrapping up her Hindu statues and putting them in the cupboard—out of sight, she said. Then four years later, she asked us to help her throw them away. Before she died a stroke in 2006, I had the joy of visiting her in Singapore. One day as I took Mom out in her wheelchair for a stroll in the park, two Indian ladies began waving at us from a distance. So we went over, and one lady looked at me and said, “You must be a son.” Then she said something I will always cherish, “Your mother always encourages us to study the scriptures. Every time we have Bible study, your mom is the one to call everyone and say we need to come.” How happy I was to know that as a follower of Jesus, Mom had developed a community among believers that she could identify with—a community within her Indian culture that was like her, that she could be comfortable with.
God places us in families, not just physical families but also in families of faith. All my brothers except one and both my sisters are in this family of faith. The brother who is not yet a Christian says a lot of good things about Jesus, but he is still on the journey. For all of us, the ways of God put us on a journey. And the journey is always beautiful.