Bitter over the death of his mother, Sundar Singh blamed God. The fourteen-year-old boy became vicious toward his Christian teachers. He threw filth on them, mocked their Scriptures, and interrupted classes. Then he made the ultimate gesture of scorn. He bought a Bible from the Christians. Outside his house he built a fire and page by page tore up the Scripture and burnt it.
"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.
A Dramatic Conversion
Suddenly the room filled with a glow. A man appeared before him. Sundar Singh heard a voice say, "How long will you deny me? I died for you; I have given my life for you." He saw the man's hands, pierced by nails. This could only be Christ. In that moment of recognition, the boy who had burnt the Bible became a man who would endure anything for the Christ taught in it. He knew Christ as the Savior of the world and fell to his knees with a wonderful sense of peace. To meet Christ was only the beginning for Sundar Singh. He was a Sikh. Sikhs had endured terrible persecutions in their early history. As a consequence they were fiercely loyal to their faith and to each other. Conversion to Christianity was considered treachery. Now every effort was made to woo or coerce Sundar Singh back to his ancestral faith.
Whatever It Took to Reclaim Him!
His father pleaded. An uncle opened his cellar full of treasures and said they were all Sundar's if only he would return to Sikhism. A cousin with connections at court introduced him to the prince, who appealed to the boy's patriotism. His own brother spread lies about him. The gang he had led hurled muck at him. He was made to feel that his actions endangered others. Because of him the mission was attacked. Christians were denied service at the stores and driven into exile. A boy who followed Sundar Singh was poisoned to death. Sundar's father alternately pleaded with tears and raged with fury. Thinking marriage would change the boy's attitude, Mr. Singh ordered the fourteen year old to marry. Although parental commands are law among the Sikhs, Sundar Singh refused in Christ's name.
Finally Sundar Singh realized he must break with his people. He cut off the hair he had worn long like every Sikh man. Then he heard the words of outcasting spoken over him. "We reject you forever. . . . I declare you are no more worthy to be called our son. . . . We shall forget you as if you had never been born. You will leave this house with nothing but the clothes you wear on your back. . . ." Hours later he experienced wrenching pain in his gut. His family had poisoned his last meal. He staggered to a mission hospital. The missionary-medic was able to save the young man's life. Sundar now had a decision to make. Conventional Indian churches were willing to grant him a pulpit, but their rules were foreign to his spirit. Indeed, he felt that a key reason the gospel was not accepted in India was because it came in a garb foreign to Indians. He decided to don the yellow robe of India's holy men. Unlike them, he would not let dirt accumulate on his body or torture his body with ascetic practices. Dressed in his thin yellow robe, Sundar Singh took to the road. Wherever he went he preached the gospel of Christ. Sometimes he was blessed, sometimes cursed. He visited his own village and many of the gang members listened to him with curiosity and interest. A few became Christians. Sundar Singh was still a very young man. Already he had endured far more than most mature Christians ever experience. And his sufferings had only begun.
Into Forbidden Lands
The mountains of Tibet called to him. In those remote regions were souls starved for the word of God. Buddhist monks exerted tremendous power over the nation. They wanted no part of the Christianity which might rob them of income and influence. Sundar Singh determined to enter the forbidden land with the gospel of Christ. Before his death he would travel into Tibet about twenty times.
How Did He Escape?
In 1912 in the Tibetan village of Lazar, he was beaten and thrown to die in a pit filled with rotting bodies. His arm was broken; the pit was sealed above him, and only the Grand Lama had the key. The stench was unbearable. Three nights later, Sundar heard the grate open. A shadowy figure lowered a rope and pulled him out. Next morning he boldly showed himself again, preaching in the streets. The Grand Lama seized him. Furious questions followed. Who had helped him? Who had stolen the key? He pulled the key ring from under his robe. But the key to the pit was still on it. Terrified, he freed Sundar Singh, expelling him from town.
One time, Sundar was left bound to die in the forest of Nepal. Secret Christians came to his rescue. Another time, when he sang of Christ in prison, he was bound in stocks and hurled into the jungle to die. Again secret Christians came at night and released him, speaking to him for long hours of the faith they shared. Men who knew him said he was more like Christ than any other man they had known. He himself said, "A Christian is one who has fallen in love with Christ." Later -- and amazingly -- his father became a Christian. To make amends for his former actions, he paid for Sundar's passage to the West to preach. Sundar visited Europe, England and America. What he found here upset him deeply. Shocked by Western materialism, Sundar Singh paraphrased Christ's words: "Come unto me all ye that are heavily laden with gold, and I will give you rest." The Sadhu was glad to return even to Tibet after his experience in the West. Worn down, he no longer possessed the strength and will power of former years. For months he was very sick. In 1929, before he had fully recovered, he climbed again to Tibet. He never returned. Nothing was ever heard from him again.
Jesus Was the Water of Life to Sundar
In Sundar's words: "Christ is my savior. He is my life. He is everything to me in heaven and earth. Once while traveling in a sandy region I was tired and thirsty. Standing on the top of a mound I looked for water. The sight of a lake at a distance brought joy to me, for now I hoped to quench my thirst. I walked toward it for a long time, but I could never reach it. Afterwards I found out it was a mirage, only a mere appearance of water caused by the refracted rays of the sun. In reality there was none. In a like manner I was moving about the world in search of the water of life. The things of this world -- wealth, position, honor and luxury -- looked like a lake by drinking of whose waters I hoped to quench my spiritual thirst. But I could never find a drop of water to quench the thirst of my heart. I was dying of thirst. When my spiritual eyes were opened I saw the rivers of living water flowing from his pierced side. I drank of it and was satisfied. Thirst was no more."
Another Sikh, Another Singh
Another Sikh who became an internationally known Christian was Bakht Singh. Born to wealthy parents in 1903, Bakht Singh was converted in 1929 (the same year Sundar disappeared) while studying in Manitoba. Knowing that his parents (like Sundar Singh's) would not accept his conversion, he returned to India with great trepidation. His fears were well-grounded. His wife left him. His parents and relatives rejected him. Despite suffering from a speech impediment, Bakht Singh became an evangelist. He spent hours a day on his knees studying the Scripture. He carried the Bible wherever he went and urged converts to read it daily. His sermons quoted extensively from Scripture. Revival followed wherever he went, but he was unsatisfied. Converts were not receiving the follow up they needed. What should he do? After a night praying on a mountain, he determined he must form a new kind of congregation for Indian believers, a congregation based on New Testament principles. He started over 500 of these local assemblies in his lifetime. Thousands of these Christian brethren gather each year in designated cities to hold Christian festivals which Bakht Singh established. They march singing and holding aloft Scripture banners. Bakht Singh helped make Indian Christians independent, the very thing Sundar Singh had wanted to do.
Remember Corrie Ten Boom, Heroine of the WWII Story The Hiding Place?
As a teenager, Corrie so badly wanted to hear Sundar Singh when he visited Europe that she came to his conference with a blanket, prepared to sleep in a field. It was not necessary. A kind student found room for her. So Corrie listened with awe as Sundar told how he had met Christ. Disturbed that as a Christian she had never seen a vision of Christ or performed miracles, she asked the Sadhu why. Sundar responded that she was the real miracle. He believed in Christ only after seeing Him. She, on the other hand, had merely heard and believed. He quoted to her Christ's words, "Blessed are those who have not seen but believed."