Sundar Singh (1889-1929?) was born into a Sikh family in Rampur, Ktaania, Ludhiana (Punjab state), Northern India. Common in this part of India, Sikhs differ from Hindus in that they believe there is only one God and they don’t accept Hindu’s caste system.
The fifth largest religion in the world, Sikhs are often confused with Muslims because the men traditionally wear turbans.
Though Sundar’s mother desired her son to be a Sadhu or Sikh holy man and sent her son to a guru to be trained as a Sadhu, she also wanted her son to learn English and sent him to a Christian school.
After his mother died, Sundar, then 14, became very angry and began to take out his frustration on Christians. He not only mocked them but once in a fit of anger burnt a Bible page by page in front of his friends.
His anger and frustration boiled over and he contemplated suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. After praying that the “true God” would reveal Himself, Jesus appeared to Sundar in a vision in the middle of the night.
At first he thought someone was shining a light into his room, but it was this appearance that caused Sundar to become a Christian much to the horror of his father and other family members who immediately denounced Sundar.
Unfazed, he was water baptized on his 16th birthday.
There was one incident that happened while he was traveling by train that profoundly affected Sundar’s approach to ministry. A Brahmin had collapsed from heat exhaustion. When the Christian station master offered the man water, he refused and would only accept it from his own container.
Sundar realized then to reach India with the Gospel he needed to embrace the culture where he could.
Paul spoke of a similar idea in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, when the apostle said he became a Jew to save Jews and became Greeks (people without the law) to save the Greeks. Paul went so far as to have Timothy circumcised in order for him to be accepted by the Jews (Acts 16:3).
In what would be a controversial decision, Sundar took on the appearance of a Sadhu, an India holy man, who traditionally wear a turban and yellow/orange saffron robe. Members of this group normally renounce material possessions and travel as religious teachers. Often when becoming a Sadhu, a person has a funeral service which they attend to renounce their old way of life.
Though appearing as a Sadhu, Sundar preached Jesus Christ.
He briefly attended an Anglican Bible college in Lahore but because he was unwilling to take on their more Western approach to Christianity, Sundar found it difficult to fit in and eventually left. In particular the school asked Sundar to discard his Sadhu garb and wear the traditional Anglican clerical robe.
He also came in contact with members of a Christian sect of Sannyasi Mission a group with reportedly 24,000 members. Though outwardly they looked Hindu, they had accepted Christ. This group traces their roots back to the Apostle Thomas who according to tradition took the Gospel to India. William Carey (1761-1834), a famous missionary to India, was the first person to report their existence.
For several years Sundar preached the Gospel in India wearing the traditional Sadhu robe. People referred to him as the “Apostle of the Bleeding Feet” because he always walked barefoot and regularly had blood blisters.
His appearance as a Sadhu didn’t completely go without incident. There was one instance of locals stoning Sundar while he was washing at a stream — the reason — Sadhus never bathe.
In 1908, he started making trips into the Himalayas of Nepal and Tibet. It is generally believed that he was the first person to take the gospel into those two countries. On April 18, 1929 at the age of 36 he made what would be his final journey into Tibet. He left and was never heard from again.
The last report we have of Sundar is that he was walking with another group of Sadhu who were on their way to visit a shrine.
No one knows what happened. Rumors circulated that a group of men killed Sundar and tossed his body in a river. Others wondered if he died from natural causes as he was weak and sick when he left. Some believe God may have taken Sundar similar to Elijah and Enoch.
In his diary, Sundar wrote:
“It is easy to die for Christ. It is hard to live for Him. Dying takes only a few minutes-or at worst and hour or two — but to live for Christ means to die daily to myself.”