I was born into a home of two faiths. My mom is a Christian, from America, and my dad is a Hindu, from India. Growing up, they both shared their faith in different ways. My mom would take us to church, and my dad would tell us Hindu stories and bless us in the name of his guru before bedtime. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realized how unusual that was.
I first visited India when I was five. My older sisters had already been, and my brother was too young to go, so my dad took me by myself to visit our family over there. Other than the wicked effects of jet lag on a five-year-old, plus a little Delhi belly, it was a magical trip. More than anything, I learned that despite language, location, and customs, these people were family as much as any other cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. I had ever met.
A New View
We returned when I was nine, this time with the whole family. On that trip, I saw the suffering, the inequality. There I was, a fourth grader on vacation to the other side of the world with my family, and I saw kids my own age, with my own skin and eyes and hair, sitting on the side of the road, often with deformities and disabilities, dirty and begging for money. I had no concept of beggar rings or the other layers of evil enslaving these children. I only knew that they looked enough like me and that I could not think of a good reason why my fate should be so different from theirs.
Sitting in a taxi, passing a beggar boy with a club foot who was sitting next to a rudimentary crutch, I asked my mom, "What can we do for these people?" And she answered, "There's nothing we can do." Her answer wasn't really as calloused as I thought it was in the moment. She explained something about how we didn't have enough money to make any meaningful difference in the lives of the impoverished people we were encountering. I was too young to really understand the systems that perpetuate these people's sufferings.
But that sat with me. It has become one of the driving questions in my life, whether or not anything can be done for those who seem so trapped in such an ugly station in life.
After college, I moved from my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, to Riverside, California for a job at a small church there. It was a poor fit, and that became obvious to both me and the church leadership quite quickly. After being let go from the staff, I started attending Sandals Church with my then-fiancee (now wife) Lindsey.
Lindsey grew up impoverished in a non-Christian home in Stockton, California with a single mother who abused alcohol and methamphetamine. She was rescued from that situation by a loving aunt, who cared for her through high school. Her abilities in water polo led her to a then small Baptist college in Riverside. During her first week at California Baptist University, she encountered Jesus and was saved.
Since she was not a Christian when she enrolled at CBU, Lindsey picked "the least Bible-sounding" religion class that she could take, "Intro to Global Studies." What she found instead, was that in the fledgling days of her faith, she was hit full force with God's love for the nations. By the time she was a senior, she was a global studies major, off to spend her final semester of college in India to work with missionaries in New Delhi.
Lindsey and I were introduced online through mutual friends in California, and we started dating when I visited Riverside to interview at the church I mentioned before. After my job change, we got married and made Sandals Church our home.
In the summer of 2008, I was pretty dejected. My first ministry hadn't gone well, and the economy was so bad in Riverside that I couldn't even get a job as a pizza delivery driver - no exaggeration.
I wondered what plan God had for me, and if he could use me.
A friend of ours was leading a trip to India with Sandals Church, and he kept bothering me to join the team. I didn't want to. I wanted to wallow as the solo member of my pity party for just a while longer, and being forced to think about people for whom God had given me a heart was disturbing those plans.
But, in the fall of 2008, I did go to Southeastern India with a team from Sandals Church, and God exploded my world. Having heard from the previous India team how difficult ministry was in Northern India, we assumed we would find a similar spiritual climate in Southern India.
Instead, we found people hungry to hear about Jesus.
One man and his family had all been having night terrors (often associated with demonic activity/idol worship) starting two years before we arrived. They had asked every shaman, guru, and elder they knew which of the 330 million gods they had offended, and no one could tell them. New rituals and prayers to these gods weren't lifting the living hell they experienced each night.
One day, a friend told them, "I don't know anything about this god, but I've heard there is power in the name of Jesus."
The man began praying in the name of Jesus, and the night terrors stopped that night. This was a year before our team arrived.
When two members of our team shared the gospel in this man's village, he and his family accepted Jesus as their Savior. They told the Sandals Church team, "You don't understand, we have been waiting to learn who this Jesus is!"
On that trip, we saw over 1,500 people give their lives to Jesus.
Last year, I started reading a book about race in the American church, and a thought dawned on me. I've held jobs at five different churches over the last 10 years, and at every one, I felt like I was crawling out of my own skin. It broke my heart to see thousands of Christians be ignorant of and indifferent to the billion people who shared my skin but not my salvation. Reading this book, I finally realized that no matter how many good things a church was doing, if they didn't care about the billion in India, or the billion who live next door to India, or even the other three billion lost people scattered around the globe, I could never truly feel at home there. It felt like a personal insult for any church that my wife and I called "ours" to not care about the billion people I consider "mine."
I can't describe, as I write this with tears in my eyes, how much it means to me that Sandals Church, in the middle of all the other wonderful things it’s doing, is committed to Bharat 100. It's like the moment in Selma where the white pastors/faith leaders descend on the town to march with Dr. King. It feels like salvation has showed up in the neighborhood. Luke Skywalker has picked up his lightsaber. The soldiers have stood and proclaimed, "I am Spartacus."
You might think that I'm exaggerating, but I assure you that I cannot be more genuine. This is the first time in nearly 32 years of church attendance that I have ever really felt like a church sees my people and cares about their eternal destiny.
Please, don't give up. Please, fight on. Please, keep doing what you're doing.