The gleaming white of the Sri Venkateswara Temple rose majestically
on top of the hill as we approached it one Sunday afternoon last spring. The
exquisite architecture reflected intricate Indian design. Tall green trees
formed a beautiful backdrop on the canvas of the landscape as we drove up to
it. Scores of cars were parked right out to the street and throngs of people
were either leaving or entering the temple. We drove around the temple and saw
the priests performing their duties in front of the holy fire and blessing
people by putting a red mark on their foreheads.
This could have been a scene right out of any town or village in
India. Only this was suburban Pittsburgh. And I was with the pastor of the
church where I had just preached that morning.
Speak the truth in love: one Hindu's story
By Mitali Perkins
"So you think I'm going to hell?" I asked flippantly. I was shocked to see
tears fill my friend's eyes. "The Bible says nobody comes to the Father but
through Jesus," he said, his voice unsteady.
I didn't like his answer. How dare Christians think they had exclusive
access to God? We Hindus prided ourselves on tolerance. But I had to respect
his commitment to the Bible. We were discussing eating disorders, for example,
when he mentioned a universal hunger for forgiveness. Intrigued, I wanted to
know more, and he told the story of the Prodigal Son.
"What's your dream job?" I asked another time.
He was 'called' to love the unlovely, he said.
"Who's calling you to do that?" I asked.
"My teacher," he answered, and read an excerpt from the Sermon on the
"Your guru sounds more Indian than American," I teased.
But it took more than just biblical knowledge to save me. When my friend
answered my 'tough' questions truthfully, I glimpsed Jesus' love for me in his
eyes. It was that love I was desperately searching for as I began reading the
New Testament on my own--a love that changed my life and my eternal
Mitali Perkins is a freelance writer who maintains a
website called "The Fire Escape: Books For and About Young
The changing face of North AmericaWe are slowly
realizing that our neighborhoods, communities and workplaces are changing. Were
waking up to the fact that we now have new kinds of neighborsthey look
different, they speak a different language, they eat different kinds of food
and speak with a foreign accent. We know they arent Christians, because they
worship other gods.
North America has always been a land of immigrants, but now we have a new
wave of people coming from countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East adding
to the growing religious diversity in North America. We dont have to go
overseas to meet someone from another culture. Each one of us can now be a
missionary in our own communities.
Its still a shock to many Christians that Christianity is the fastest
declining religion in the United States. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of
Americans who call themselves Christian fell from 86 percent to 77 percent of
the population, according to Pamela Paul in One Nation Under God?
During this time, Hinduism has emerged as one of the fastest growing
religions in America. The number of Asian-Indians, most of whom are Hindu, has
doubled every 10 years since 1980 to reach a record 1.7 million in 2000.
USA Today reported that there are currently 1.3 million Hindus in the
The Pluralism Project of Harvard University (www.pluralism.org) lists more
than 700 Hindu temples in the United States, many built in the last 10 years.
Many more are in the construction stage.
Catch Gods heartbeatRevelation 7:9 says After
this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could
count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the
throne and in front of the Lamb.
What a glorious picture! People from all over the world, in fact from every
nation, will be praising God. If His heart beats for people from every nation
and if Jesus died for all nations, then how can we keep the Great News of the
gospel to ourselves, especially now that they live next door?
Reaching Asian-IndiansWe can effectively reach
Asian-Indians by knowing a little about their culture, beliefs and practices.
First and foremost, we need to learn as much as possible about Hinduism. There
are a number of books about this faith including HinduismA Very Short
Introduction, an objective survey of Hindu beliefs, culture and scripture
by Kim Knott. For a belief comparison chart, visit www.namb.net/evangelism/iev/belief_bulletins.
We need to keep some cultural pointers in mind. Asian-Indians born in the
U.S. are more Americanized, so the pointers apply more to the majority who are
An example of one of the more than 700 Hindu temples in
How to greet an Asian-IndianHandshakes are common,
although men should wait for a woman to offer her hand first. A common form of
greeting in India is to put the palms together, put them at chest level, bow
slightly and say Namaste (pronounced Na-mus-tay). It is customary to
use titles (such as Dr., Prof., Mr., Mrs., etc.) along with the last name of
the person, and friends usually go by their first names.
Speak Hindi!A strong and immediate bridge can be
built with your Indian friend if you know just a few phrases in Hindi. The fact
that you took the trouble and made an attempt will mean a lot, and you will
develop a rapport almost immediately. Although hundreds of languages and
dialects are used in India, most Indians can speak English and/or Hindi. Here
are some common phrases you can use when addressing an Asian- Indian:
NoNah or Nuh-hee
Good morning/afternoon/evening/ nightNamaste
How are you?Aap kaise ho? (ahp kai-say ho?)
I am fineMein thik hoon (may theek hoo)
Thank youDhanyabad (dhan-yah-bahd) or
Interacting with an Asian-IndianThe Indian culture is
highly collectivist. This means that most Indians will consider their
acceptance of the gospel in light of how it will impact their families and
friends. There is also a strong possibility of being rejected by family members
if a person changes his or her religion. Chances are you will not get an
immediate response. Be prepared to walk with and support your Indian friend if
he or she wrestles spiritually.
Safe topics of conversation include Indian culture and heritage. Cricket and
soccer (they call it football) are among the most popular sports.
Most Indians are either Hindus or Muslims. Keep in mind that Hindus dont eat
beef, and Muslims dont eat pork. Most Hindus are vegetarians. Also, since most
leather products are made out of cowhide, any gift items made of leather would
be inappropriate for Hindus.
You might see a child bowing and touching his or her parents feet. This is
an age-old practice of showing respect to elders.
Keep in mind that Indian food tends to be spicy and hot (yes, they love
curry!). If invited to an Indian home, it is appropriate to find out if a
particular dish will seem hot to your tastebuds. You might even try to take a
little and taste it before taking more. Also, you will find your Indian host or
hostess will ask you several times to have more food even after you say you
have had enough. Do not take offense, as this is a common Indian custom to make
sure the guest is truly satisfied.
Most Indians eat with their hands, although this is not as common among
Indians in the United States.
Hospitality is highly prized in Indian culture. Hindus consider it a
spiritually rewarding experience to entertain guests.
As Indians come from a collectivist society and yearn for community, many
will be open to coming to church if it means being a part of a community where
people are genuinely concerned about each other. You might start by inviting
them to less-threatening events outside of a Sunday church service.
Sensitive issuesAs is the case with people from most
other countries, avoid discussions on politics. If your Indian friend initiates
a conversation on politics, do more listening than talking.
Dont touch or lean on any idols of gods and goddesses you might see at an
Indian friends house.
Dont put your feet on top of books or magazines. Indians (especially Hindus)
revere printed literature as a source of wisdom. To deliberately mishandle them
is to dishonor wisdom. Letting your feet touch the Bible or flinging it around
is a sure way to turn off an Indianthe thinking will go this way: If Christians
dont respect their own scriptures, then their faith must not mean much to
Avoid questions that may have a no for an answer. Indians generally hate
Dont criticize your Indian friend in front of others, as this will cause him
or her to be humiliated and lose face.
Do not get into conversations about personal issues.
Avoid arguments. Concentrate on proclaiming the gospel, not on winning an
argument (people rarely come to Christ as a result of an argument!). If you
feel the conversation is becoming argumentative, drop the subject and continue
Dont make fun of the fact that Hindus consider the cow a sacred animal.
Avoid discussions on the India-Pakistan conflict.
Dont talk about poverty in India.
Most Asian-Indians yearn for community. Coming from a collectivist society,
they have a tough time adjusting to the American individualistic culture. This
is where Christians can step in, and the church can become the community they
One thing that turns off many Asian-Indians is when Christians in this
country just share the gospel but are not interested in them in any other way.
So if they say no to the gospel, the same Christian friends and acquaintances
disappear from their lives. Christian Asian-Indians who used to be Hindus say
the most convincing argument for following Christ came through the love
Christians showed toward them.
So the next time you come across curry-lovers, take a second look. Jesus
died for them, and by your sharing the gospel, they could well be standing next
to you on that day when we all will be praising the Lamb.
Rajendra Pillai, a curry-lover originally from Calcutta, India, speaks
on cross-cultural issues across the continent. He lives in Damascus,
Portions of this article were adapted from his book Reaching the World
in Our Own Backyard (WaterBrook-August 2003) which provides pointers on
reaching people from 50 nations plus Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and followers
of other religions.
Sharing Your Faith with a Hindu by Madasamy Thirumalai
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC