In October 2018, a couple of Punjabi friends invited me for lunch and introduced me to a Christian pastor from a Punjabi Sikh background (Sikh Background Believer – SBB). He shared how he came to faith in Jesus by reading the Bible from cover to cover. He decided to follow Jesus, got baptized, and enrolled in Bible college. Consequently, he was discipled and trained for evangelism and ministry. I was moved to pray intentionally and reach out to the Sikhs in my community, who had been globally dispersed.
I first encountered Sikh people as a child in the southern Philippines. Even in a young and remote town, I had Sikh classmates whose parents worked in the finance business. In 1970s Manila, I met many Sikhs in my university engineering courses. When my young family arrived in Canada in 1981, the first people we met at the airport were Punjabi Sikhs. Dr J.D. Payne writes about ‘the strangers next door’, including my Punjabi Sikh neighbours, who he lists as a large unreached people group in North America. On reflection, I can see how God, throughout my life, has been shaping my heart for the Sikh people.
In 1988, when the Filipino congregation I first pastored in Edmonton looked to purchase its first property, it chose the property of the Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha Society in west Edmonton. After two years of using the building, when the congregation decided to renovate it, deacons found, embedded between the dividing walls, the images of the ten ‘spiritual masters’ who contributed to the establishment of Sikhism. We discovered that the original owners had plans for the property to serve as a Gurdwara, and that they had intended those pictures to be a source of teaching and protection for their community. I did not know at the time that God had been providentially orchestrating for me to live and work among the Sikhs, one of the largest unreached and unengaged people groups in diaspora.
Sikhs are adherents of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in Punjab, India, in 1469, by Guru Nanak Dev.
Sikhs are adherents of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion founded in Punjab, India, in 1469, by Guru Nanak Dev. Today, Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion. It is estimated that there are 27 million followers of Sikhism in India and around the world. While most Sikhs are found in Punjab and other northern states of India, large numbers are in diaspora:
The Sikh centre of worship and social life is the Gurdwara. Gurdwaras are present in communities where there are large Sikh populations.
Unlike Hindus who are polytheistic, the Sikhs, like Christians, are monotheistic. Furthermore, like Christianity, Sikhism teaches that all humans are created equal and emphasizes a life of worship, discipline, and service. These commonalities provide bridges for discussion and relationship-building.
In recent years, there have been growing reports of Sikhs deciding to follow Jesus in India and in the diaspora communities. Two Sikhs who decided to follow Jesus Christ and then became prominent ministers of the gospel are Sadhu Sunder Singh and Bhakt Singh.
Furthermore, Sikhs are influential in every sphere of society. In Canada, for example, we have Sikhs represented at every level of government, and in every sector of the marketplace. For kingdom impact, where Sikhs are found, believers must engage them and lead them to the ‘ultimate Guru’, Jesus Christ. Friendship evangelism is a proven methodology and uses available evangelistic and discipleship tools. However, apologetics is also required to defend the Christian faith.
As I end my term as the Lausanne Movement’s Catalyst for Diasporas, I was recently overjoyed to witness the Movement’s embrace of the Sikhs, as demonstrated in the support for the first Lausanne Movement-sponsored Global Sikh Consultation (GSC).
At least 68 participants from ten countries participated in the consultation, held in Edmonton, Alberta in October 2019. They were welcomed to Edmonton by an organizing committee that included two Canadians of Indian heritage, as well as four Filipino-Canadians, and one Chinese-Canadian.
Although Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, with adherents widely dispersed globally, there is no Lausanne Movement Catalyst and, before the GSC, no global network among SBBs.
The GSC was convened for two key reasons:
Although Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, with adherents widely dispersed globally, there is no Lausanne Movement Catalyst and, before the GSC, no global network among SBBs. In the previous 45 years, Sikhism had only been briefly mentioned twice in Lausanne documents. As far as anyone could tell, there had never been a single Lausanne paper, article, or video focusing on the topic of Sikhism. So, this consultation was long overdue. Anecdotal reports are heard about God’s movement among the Punjabi Sikhs at home and abroad. If this report is true, the global church must be summoned to pray and help resource these new believers in Christ.
Some SBBs say that the Sikh gurus borrowed part of their moral and ethical teaching from the Holy Bible. After over 500 years, the ‘seeds’ planted in the lives of these people are now germinating and some are bearing fruit. If this observation is correct, the Christians need to accelerate seed sowing, discipleship, planting of local congregations, and developing leadership among SBBs.
These factors alone warranted a special consultation.
The tangible results include the adoption of The Edmonton Appeal, the formation of the Lausanne Sikh Working Group (LSWG), and the designation of every 12 November a Global Day of Prayer for the Sikhs. Moreover, a new evangelistic resource, Have You Heard, is developing a Sikh version.
Many participants commented enthusiastically about the GSC. Some said they were challenged and moved by seeing the passion and dedication shown by Filipinos and Chinese working so hard to reach Sikh people. They were also encouraged to know that many faithful workers in the vineyard were reaching out to Sikh friends around the globe. As a result, they committed to strategize and implement ministries among Sikhs, mobilizing Christians and local churches to reach out and disciple them.
Others said they valued the connection with like-minded people and the chance to pray together for the Lord to send laborers into the harvest so that the Kingdom of God will grow among the Sikhs. They were blessed to be in a place where there were gathered together so many people reaching out to the Sikhs and to be worshiping Jesus with so many of them from around the globe.
The GSC was an answer to prayer for many, giving them a fresh motivation to stay focused on the Sikhs.
The GSC was an answer to prayer for many, giving them a fresh motivation to stay focused on the Sikhs. One was so encouraged to see God’s work among the Sikhs, especially in Africa and Philippines, that they determined to build a network of international ministries working among the Sikhs. Others felt they had learned much from other participants about the challenges and opportunities for engaging with the Sikhs.
One leader said that as a result of the consultation, his ministry had taken six new initiatives: designating Thursday as day of prayer for Sikhs; arranging special prayers on Sikh festival days; developing gospel literature for Sikhs in the Punjabi language and in Devnagari (Hindi) script; working on training modules to reach Sikhs; encouraging SBBs; and empowering women of Sikh background.
The GSC was indeed a successful event, but it had faced serious challenges, from which important lessons emerge:
I wonder now about the significance of the images of the ten Sikh Gurus, uncovered between the dividing walls of the Filipino church building that they had purchased from the Sikh society. What did the Apostle Paul mean when he wrote to the Ephesians: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?’ (Eph. 6:12).
God has orchestrated the planting of the ‘seed’ in the hearts of many Sikhs in India and those scattered outside their homeland.
The consultation’s ‘invitation to prayer’ for the Sikh people would be a good starting point in seeking to engage with Sikhs in friendship evangelism:
God has orchestrated the planting of the ‘seed’ in the hearts of many Sikhs in India and those scattered outside their homeland. We must be courageous and persistent in our ministry to the 27 million Sikhs, adherents of the world’s fifth-largest religion. The global church must open its doors, extending hospitality and friendship. The Lausanne Movement is committed to mobilizing ‘the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world’. Let us support the LSWG in prayers and in practical ways, helping this young movement become a catalyst of ideas, raising influencers for global missions.
Sadiri ‘Joy’ Tira (DMiss, Western Seminary; DMin, Reformed Theological Seminary) is Coordinator for the Lausanne North American Diaspora Strategy Group. He also serves as Missiology Specialist at the Jaffray Centre for Global Initiatives at Ambrose University and Seminary (AUS), Calgary, AB, Canada; he is on the Advisory Council of Gospel-Life.net at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, USA, and on the Board of Directors for SIM (Canada) and MoveIn International. Joy contributes to Gospel Life, a resource of the Billy Graham Center (http://www.Gospel-Life.net/) and to ‘The Exchange with Ed Stetzer’ (https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/) of Christianity Today.