Unique Qualities of Major People Groups: South Asian Indians

Generalizations are dangerous in describing a nation with more than 1 billion people, especially when that nation has such striking variety from state to state. Yet one generalization seems to hold-

India is a land of strong culture.

Indians are strongly committed to various traditions of…

  • Diet
  • Dress
  • Family structure

For example, many Indian parents are keenly interested in arranging the marriage of their children to ensure that they marry the “right” person.

As you develop ministry to Indian students, we especially urge you to take time to learn about Indian culture.  By all means, avoid criticizing aspects of that culture that are different from your own way of life.

  • Be respectful of their opinions. Ministering to Indian students may mean working with Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians (nominal or born-again). But no matter what religious background is represented, it is safe to assume that Indians are proud of their heritage. They are much likelier to be receptive to your message if they feel you are also respectful of their opinions.
  • Pursue dialogue. To an Indian, especially a Hindu, culture and religion are intertwined in many ways. Thus, if a Hindu feels you are trying to “convert” him, he may feel you are rejecting his entire way of life and family background.  In short, “dialogue” will open more doors to Indian students than will “preaching.”
  • Be careful in your terminology. Those working with Muslims or Hindus must have a clear idea about “local church” and “conversion.” These words have been used by Hindus and Muslims to define people who have betrayed their culture and adopted a foreign one. Our real goal is not to bring these people into our local church. Rather, we want to introduce them to Jesus and disciple those who desire to follow Him. Similarly, our goal is not to “convert” them in a cultural or sociological way. We must allow Jesus to change their hearts and then their lives in the way He wants.

Hinduism

No one can precisely define the practice of Hinduism, since it is a religion that makes possible the worship of a variety of gods and varying emphasis on each.  Hindus have about 330 million gods and goddesses.  It is safe to say that little spiritual security is offered in Hinduism; rather, the gaping unknown called “reincarnation” awaits the believer at death. Given this uncertainty, look for opportunities to share the grace of God and the assurance of salvation that believers can find through Jesus’ death on the cross. But again, share these concepts within a warm and accepting dialogue with your Indian friend.  Make sure you listen to his or her views as intently as you present your own.

Here are three suggestions for mobilizing believers from India to serve as spiritual leaders:

1. The biggest single area of consideration is the degree of differences-or even “division”-among Indians of various states. Language and cultural differences are striking. The resulting feelings can range from a pleasant rivalry among neighboring states to a significant level of disrespect.  When appointing leaders in your movement, be careful to focus on individuals who have strong Great Commission hearts for all peoples (Acts 1:8; Revelation 5:9-10.)

2. Study God’s Word and brainstorm with your emerging Indian leaders on how to practice evangelism by dialogue.

  • Such an approach does not preclude you from sharing the simple and profound truths of the gospel through a tool like the Four Spiritual Laws or Knowing God Personally, but it does mean you must listen to other views. The goal must never be to have the last word.  Be patient and allow the Lord to work at His pace for each person.
  • For many, religion is more of an experience than an intellectual issue. Offering to pray for your friend’s particular need may be more effective than presenting an argument from apologetics.

3. Conferences provide an opportunity for Indian Christians from campuses throughout America to strengthen each other while receiving training in the basics of ministry.  Because so many Indians are Sikhs, Muslims and especially Hindus, you will probably not have a large group of Indian Christians on your campus-at least not at the beginning.  As a result, conferences offer a strategic opportunity for your friends to be encouraged by like-minded Indian Christians.