God’s plan is to draw a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, including Hindus—one of the most difficult religious groups to reach with the Gospel, with 1.79 million living in the U.S. alone.
Even though this people group holds a worldview and belief system that is diametrically opposed the gospel, Hindus indeed can be saved by the same power of the Holy Spirit who worked salvation in our hearts as well. Jesus died for Hindus. And though Hinduism is dominated by gods and goddesses which are demonic in origin, love of God must compel believers to take the gospel to the Hindu people in America and around the world.
The question is, how? Here are some do’s and don’ts when reaching out to Indian Hindus.
Do: Begin With Relationship.
Take a long-term approach to evangelism by building a strong relationship built on trust.
Indian culture is based on community and relationships. Millennia of cultural indoctrination has made the relationship to one’s extended family, or jati, critical to one’s very existence. It is unrealistic to expect a Hindu to accept your message upon first hearing, and a Hindu who puts their trust in Christ may lose all relationships with their family. Take a long-term approach to evangelism by building a strong relationship built on trust. The relationship must be able to bear the weight of truth.
Do: Engage in Hospitality.
Hindus love to share meals with friends and highly value hospitality. One should be sure to watch for cleanliness rituals and follow the lead of his host. Feet and left hands are often considered unclean. And for those with a low spice tolerance, it is ok to ask about the level of heat before eating.
Christians should invite Hindus into their home but be careful to explain the rituals that accompany Western mealtimes. Explain why Christians often pray before taking a meal. Christians should remember that observant Hindus do not eat beef—the safest bet is to serve a vegetarian dish.
Don’t: Bring Up Topics Which Could Bring Shame.
Because Indian society is collectivistic, Hindus often shamed by things that would not be shameful to a Westerner. Avoid bringing up topics like Indian poverty or caste. Even if an Indian agrees with an American’s negative assessment of India, it could be shameful to hear it from an outsider. Emphasize the positives of Indian culture and civilization and avoid controversial political topics. A Hindu will not want to disagree with a new friend.
Do: Ask Questions About Indian Culture and Heritage.
One can learn much by what one’s Indian friend finds significant about his culture. It is good to be curious about Indian customs and religious practices. Good and thoughtful questions aren’t offensive; they show interest and care.
Don’t: Ask Questions That Require a Negative Answer.
Indians will not want to shame their host or friend by saying no to a request. In an honor-based culture, one may say yes to a request only to abandon the relationship out of shame if the request cannot be fulfilled.
If you invite an Indian friend to a church event, and he or she replies, ‘Good,’ you may think that your friend will be there. But if your friend does not really want to go, he or she will simply not show up and then will avoid you completely in the future. Instead try asking, “What are you doing on Sunday morning?” If your friend doesn’t have any plans, then say, “I would love to have you come and join us for our church service this Sunday or any Sunday you are free. Just let me know.” This gives your friend the option of deciding whether he or she wants to go and allows him or her and ‘out’ without actually having to say no.
How one phrases questions is important in allowing one’s friend to save face. This is critical in building a relationship with someone from a honor/shame culture.
Do: Include Your Indian Friends in Your Small or Large Group Gatherings.
People from collectivist cultures enjoy being around groups of people. Including them in one’s gatherings and inviting them to church in appropriate ways will allow them to enjoy the warmth of Christian community and make them more open to the gospel as they experience the body of Christ. Hindu understanding of sacred places may make them hesitant to come inside your church building, so inviting them to outdoor services or an in home gatherings may be an ideal first step.
Don’t: Joke About or Touch Their Gods.
Many Hindu customs are extremely foreign to Westerners. The images and stories of the gods and goddesses can come across as comical to Westerners. Even the common English colloquialism of killing a “sacred cow” could offend a devout Hindu. Christians should be sensitive to the spiritual hold that these customs and rituals have on their friend’s life and not make light of such things.
Do: Actively Learn About Their Religion.
Allow your friend to share his or her own personal beliefs and motivations. You might even consider visiting a temple, although this step isn’t for everyone and should be bathed in much prayer.
Hindu temples can seem highly unusual to Western onlookers, but a visit can be very informative and could create opportunities for follow-up conversations about the meanings of the rituals. Many temples will allow you to stand in the back and observe, but understand that you are entering a place of spiritual warfare. Be watchful, prayerful, and careful not to accidentally partake in idolatrous rituals.
Don’t: Assume Religious Terms Mean the Same Thing in Hinduism and Christianity.
Don’t assume anything. No religion is entirely monolithic; Hinduism, like other religions, has a diversity of schools of thought. Allow your friend to share his or her own personal beliefs and motivations.
Many Hindus use English terms such as Trinity, Creator, God, Lord, Savior, Sin, Christ, Scripture, Heaven, and Hell, but have very different meanings for them. Don’t argue with a Hindu over the meaning of the terms, but graciously and sincerely ask about the meaning of each.
Do: Engage Hindu Friends in Chronological Bible Study.
There is virtually no overlap between Hindu categories and Biblical teachings. A chronological Bible study will allow the Word of God to begin to challenge the worldview assumptions of Hinduism.
Spend adequate time exploring how God reveals himself in the Bible, his relationship with humanity and his dealings with the created world. Emphasize how humanity violated God’s Law, bringing shame into the relationship between man and God. Make clear that Jesus is not an avatar of God like Krishna, but is fully God, the second Person of the Trinity, come in the flesh. Don’t leave out the fact that Christ is creating a new people of faith composed of all types of peoples, classes, and cultures.
Don’t: Allow Them to Quickly Add Jesus to the Pantheon of Gods.
It is common for Hindus to accept Jesus in theory but to deny him his glory as the sole way to salvation. Hindus need to clearly understand Jesus’ exclusive lordship over a person’s life and that he will not share his glory with false gods (Isaiah 42:8).
Do: Expect Serious Spiritual Opposition.
Hinduism is rooted in demonic practices. Hindu gurus often display supernatural powers and knowledge. Christians can take comfort in the examples of Jesus and the apostles as they confronted the demonic forces of their day. The fight is not against flesh and blood, and the power that is in a believer through the Holy Spirit is more powerful than the forces of darkness. Christians can be confident in their evangelism but should not be surprised by serious opposition.
Do: Be Fervent in Prayer.
God saves Indian Hindus in the same way that he saves everyone else—through the miracle of new birth. No one was ever argued into salvation. God must do the saving.
Pray that God opens eyes and hearts to the truth of the gospel, and that your Indian and Hindu friends would have the courage to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior.
Scott Dunford is the Vice President of Mobilization and Communications for ABWE. Scott is a graduate from Northland International University, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Cornerstone University, and is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis on Missions. Previous ministries of Scott and wife, Tara, include pastoring in Michigan and a five-year missionary tenure with ABWE in East Asia.
Pillai, Rajendra K., Reaching the World in Our Own Backyard: A Guide to Building Relationships with People of Other Faiths and Cultures (Colorado Springs, CO: Water Brook Press, 2003), 104.
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