THIS IS THE FINAL PART IN THIS TOPIC.
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.
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 apparently 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 18 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 or he was caught in the cholera epidemic and his body thrown into the river along with deceased devotees; 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 baptised 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.
An eyewitness reported his experience with Sundar, “I encountered Sundar Singh as he was walking down a mountain trail to proclaim the Gospel to us. He then sat on top of a tree, wiped the sweat off his face and sang a hymn about the love of Jesus to us. The audience was not impressed by the song. One man came forward from the audience, pulled Sundar down from the tree and knocked him to the ground. Silently, Sundar got to his feet and began praying for these hostile people. He then told us about the love of Jesus who had died to redeem all sinners. Because of that I repented and so did the attacker.” That was not the only time when Sundar won souls for the Lord by adhering to Jesus’ instruction which says, “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.” (Matthew 5:39).
One day in Nepal, Sundar was ambushed by four robbers in the middle of a jungle. One of them brandished a sword. Meekly, Sundar bowed his head thinking that his life was about to end. This attitude surprised the perpetrators. Since he was penniless, they took his blanket away from him and let him go. But then, one of the robbers called him back and curiously asked his name. Sundar introduced himself, opened his Bible and started telling him the story of the rich man and Lazarus the poor. The robber said that the end of the rich man’s life was unpleasant and asked what would happen to himself. Sundar then told him about the Gospel and God’s forgiveness. The robber took Sundar home with him and repented.
In 1912 Sundar decided to imitate Jesus’ seclusion and fasting for 40 days even though his friends advised him against it. He failed to fast for 40 days because he became weak. However the experience strengthened his spirit. He could thus overcome all doubts, anger and impatience.
In the following years, he was often persecuted but he was also miraculously delivered by the Lord. In 1914, Sundar preached in Nepal, a country with a very strong root of Buddhism. In the town of Rasa, he was sentenced to death by a local Lama on the grounds of spreading a foreign religion. He was thrown into a dry well the top of which was then covered and locked from the outside. He was without food and drink, naked inside the well together with corpses of executed murderers. He stayed in the horrible well for 2 days until a stranger came and helped him out of the well. After relocking the well, the stranger left without saying anything. Not long after that, Sundar was recaptured and taken to the Lama. The Lama was very surprised since he had always kept the only key to the well with him. Realizing that Sundar was under the protection of a very powerful God, they became fearful of him and begged him to leave them.
In 1918, Sundar visited Madras where thousands of people gathered to listen to him preach. There Sundar focussed his preach on Jesus Christ the redeemer. He testified, “Jesus’ presence always brought astonishing peace to me no matter how bad the situations I was in. Whenever I was in a prison, he was always there for me. He transformed the jail into a heaven and the burdens became blessings. There are many Christians who do not feel His glorious presence as something real. Because for them Jesus only occurs in their minds and not in their hearts. Only when someone surrenders his heart to Jesus can he find Him.”
Sundar often used parables in his preachings. He once said, “One day after a long journey, I rested in front of a house. Suddenly a sparrow came towards me blown helplessly by a strong wind. From another direction, an eagle dived to catch the panicky sparrow. Threatened from different directions, the sparrow flew into my lap. By choice, it would not normally do that. However, the little bird was seeking for a refuge from a great danger. Likewise, the violent winds of suffering and trouble blow us into the Lord’s protective hands.”
Once, he was preaching in a public market when a fanatic from a different religion suddenly punched his right cheek. Calmly, Sundar turned his left cheek towards the assailant. The attacker left. But that night Sundar received a message from the attacker asking for forgiveness. On another occasion, Sundar told some harvesters about the parable of the weeds. They became annoyed and cursed him. One of them threw a stone at Sundar’s head. At that instant, the stone thrower was struck by such a painful headache that he had to lie down on the ground. Without hesitations, Sundar took over that man’s chore and helped them harvest the crops. They soon became friendly to him and invited him home. Their hearts were then open to the Gospel. The next day after Sundar left, they noticed that their harvest became more abundant.
Sundar manifested into his life the verse written in Mark 8:35 which says, “For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”
HEATHENS! WHO ARE HEATHENS?
He was quite independent of outward Church authority in all his religious life, thought, and work. He dropped out of a Christian seminary that he briefly attended. Neither did he attach much importance to public worship because in his experience the heart prays better in solitude than in a congregation. He was also highly displeased with what he found when he toured western nations that for centuries had the benefit of the Bible and whose central figure of worship was Jesus.
Sundar proclaimed almost prophetic denunciations upon Western Christianity, and laughed at the way the West looked down upon religious men of the East as mere “pagans” and “heathens.” “People call us heathens,” he said in a conversation with the Archbishop of Upsala. “Just fancy! My mother a heathen! If she were alive now she would certainly be a Christian. But even while she followed her ancestral faith she was so religious that the term ‘heathen’ makes me smile. She prayed to God, she served God, she loved God, far more warmly and deeply than many Christians.”
On another occasion, Sundar said, “I have seen many Christian women, but none of them came up to my mother.” And, conversing with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sundar said: “If I do not see my mother in heaven, I shall ask God to send me to hell so that I may be with her.” Sundar also made plain his view that, “There are many more people among us in India who lead a spiritual life than in the West, although they do not know or confess Christ. It is of course true that people who live in India worship idols; but here in England people worship themselves, and that is still worse. Idol-worshippers seek the truth, but people over here, so far as I can see, seek pleasure and comfort. The people of the West understand how to use electricity and how to fly in the air. The men of the East have sought the truth. Of the three Wise Men who went to Palestine to see Jesus not one was from the West.'”
He travelled India and Tibet, as well as the rest of the world, with the message that the modern interpretation of Jesus was sadly watered down. Sundar visited Tibet every summer. In 1929, he visited that country again and was never seen again.
Sundar’s Faith for All Mankind
Few Christians know that Sundar was not afraid to raise his voice in favor of “universalism.” He could never deny to all non-Christians the possibility of entering heaven. In 1925 Sundar wrote, “If the Divine spark in the soul cannot be destroyed, then we need despair of no sinner… Since God created men to have fellowship with Himself, they cannot for ever be separated from Him… After long wandering, and by devious paths, sinful man will at last return to Him in whose Image he was created; for this is his final destiny.”
In February, 1929, the year Sundar disappeared on his final missionary trip to Tibet, he was interviewed by several theology students in Calcutta, India, where he answered their questions:
(Question #1) What did the Sadhu think should be our attitude towards non-Christian religions? — The old habit of calling them ‘heathen’ should go. The worst ‘heathen’ were among us [Christians]…
(Question #2) Who were right, Christian Fundamentalists or Christian Liberals? — Both were wrong. The Fundamentalists were uncharitable to those who differed from them. That is, they were unchristian. The Liberals sometimes went to the extent of denying the divinity of Christ, which they had no business to do.
(Question #3) Did the Sadhu think there was eternal punishment? — There was punishment, but it was not eternal…Everyone after this life would be given a fair chance of making good, and attaining to the measure of fullness the soul was capable of. This might sometimes take ages.”