October 7, 2012

Sikh pastor has a vision of transformation

His long, white hair is rolled into a bun on the top of his head. He stands in front of a mirror and begins to wrap his turban, putting one end of the forest-green fabric in his mouth as he slowly wraps the cloth taut around his head.

He’s pastor of a Baptist church and he wears a turban.

His name is Shamsher Singh* and he’s a former Sikh.

Singh pastors a church with more than 250 members in India’s Punjab state.

“This church is one of the fastest growing in all of Punjab,” Bryan Evans,* an IMB representative focusing on ministry to Sikhs, says.

“Last Sunday we had 300 people,” Singh says, gesturing out his window to the courtyard below. The church room was so packed, people overflowed into the courtyard.

His church services host a rainbow of turbans and salwar kameez, tunics and trousers worn by men and women in India.

His church is home to former Sikhs who’ve found truth in the Bible.

“We baptized six people last Sunday and 21 people last month,” Singh says. “They are hungry for the power of God.”

Three-fourths of the time, a Sikh comes to Christ it is because of a spiritual or physical need, Singh says.

That’s how he found Christ.

Highway to heaven

“My mother was so religious, my grandfather was religious, my brothers, they were also religious,” Singh says.

But there was “no happiness in our family, no mercy in our family, no grace of God in our family,” Singh says.

I thought that it was better to die. It is better to die, then the problem of my life will be solved.
Shamsher Singh,* pastor

He points to Evans’ 5-year-old son and says that at that age he wondered about the existence of God.

“Everybody is telling, ‘Yes, there is a God. Yes, there is a God,’ but I was always having questions how?” Singh says.

He found no answers in Sikhism.

As an adult, Singh lost several businesses. He spent hours in Sikh temples, known as gurdwaras, and in Hindu temples, searching for hope. Seven failed jobs later, Singh had had enough.

“I lost all money, my earning. I served in so many places, even in offices, in workshop, in bus transport, in driving, in taxi business, but I was not successful anywhere,” Singh says.

“I thought that it was better to die,” Singh says.

He went to the railway tracks to throw himself in front of an incoming train.

A man with white hair and a white beard appeared in front Singh at the railway station.

“He asked me, ‘Where are you going?’” Singh remembers. “I could not say anything.”

Just then, his daughter came and touched his feet, a sign of ultimate respect and humbleness.

“That person asked me, ‘Why? What sins has she done? Why is she touching your feet?’” Singh says. “Again, I could not reply.’”

The man in his vision told Singh to go home because this wasn’t his time.

“I felt peace, all anger was gone,” Singh says of his encounter with Jesus.

Now, he’s sharing the peace he found through Jesus with others.

Church starts

Singh felt the Lord leading him to start his own church. After several days of prayer and fasting, God told him to start a prayer time in their house.

On a busy Sunday, more than 300 people can crowd into the First Baptist Church facility, spilling into the courtyard.

Photo © 2012 IMB / Kelvin Joseph

“We asked what time, God said, Sunday at 11 a.m. [and] ... everyday, 8 a.m.,” Singh says. “For seven years, we prayed in our house, we prayed in different places. … God has promised me that you need not go anywhere, so many of my people will come meet you.”

Now, there isn’t a day that goes by that a Sikh man or woman doesn’t knock on his door with questions.

“They are searching in the wrong places,” Singh says. Many of the men and women aren’t finding the answers in the gurdwara.

Just yesterday, Singh says, a man committed his life to Christ in his courtyard.

Singh’s church keeps some elements of Sikh culture. Their worship service has Sikh traditional instruments, the tabla, a percussion instrument, and a harmonium.

Singh and his wife wake up every Sunday morning at 6 a.m. to prepare langar, the traditional Sikh meal served free in gurdwaras every day. Anyone can partake, whether Sikh or not.

Having langar at their church provides an avenue for outreach to non-believers.

Turbans and traditions

Singh’s turban and beard set him apart from most Baptist pastors.

Singh tells new believers they don’t have to cut their hair and remove their turbans.

So many believers wear turbans … If somebody asks, we tell them we are not changing any religion, we are changing out heart,
Shamsher Singh,* pastor

“This is our tradition, we should wear,” Singh says.

In Sikhism, there are five physical signs of faith. One of these signs is uncut hair. Turbans for men and long ponytails for women set them apart and give them identity.

He sees the turban as cultural identity and as an inroad to sharing the Gospel.

“If you cut your hair, people won’t believe he was a devout Sikh. But when they see his hair, they’ll see how devout he was,” Singh says.

Evans agrees. 

“It’s credibility,” Evans says.

Temples to churches

Sikh people are open to the Gospel, Singh says.

“Sikh people need Jesus, and Sikh people are in search of God, but they just need a little bit indication that this is the true way,” Singh says. “Whenever they come to Christ, they come in full faith. They will not slide back.”

A man dressed in the robes and turban walks a beat, providing a sense of rhythm and honor around the pool in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India.

Photo © 2012 IMB / Kelvin Joseph

Singh dreams that one day, this entire state will call Jesus Lord. Even though he lives near the holiest site for Sikhs, equivalent to Mecca for Muslims, Singh believes that with God, anything is possible.

“If we have a dream for this place to change from temples to churches, it is possible,” Singh says. “[God says] If you pray, if you believe, I will do it.”

He says he has a dream that one day, the Golden Temple will become a church.

“I know a lot of people, when they hear something like that, [they] think you’re crazy,” Evans says, adding that Singh’s dream encouraged him.

“As Christians we say we believe our God can do anything, that He is all powerful, and yet, when someone talks like that, we automatically dismiss them as being arrogant or perhaps a little crazy. It encouraged me. And it challenged me,” Evans continues.

“When we think big like that, it’s something that’s very clear — it can only be done by God.”