EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a package of stories on Sikhs. Read the others:
ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — In the wake of one of the greatest tragedies to hit the Sikh community in North America, Southern Baptists have an unprecedented opportunity to reach out to their Sikh neighbors with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, says Aslam Masih, North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) national coordinator for Muslim people groups and South Asians.
Masih’s comments come after a man entered a Sikh temple near Milwaukee on Sunday (Aug. 5) and killed seven people, including himself, turning the nation’s attention to a religion of more than 20 million people worldwide.
“We have an opportunity now to turn this very sad situation into a life-changing encounter with the Gospel for Sikhs throughout North America,” Masih said.
Masih estimated there are more than 1.1 million Sikhs on the continent. Many of those Sikhs are concentrated in major metropolitan areas like New York City, Vancouver, Toronto, Los Angeles and Chicago. Yet, Masih says, Southern Baptists have no churches specifically focused on reaching Sikhs with the Gospel. Masih expressed hope that through Send North America, Southern Baptists with a passion to reach Sikhs will partner together to start new works among them.
Send North America is NAMB’s church planting and evangelism strategy to penetrate lostness in 29 urban areas in North America. Through Send North America, NAMB is connecting church planters with partner churches and church planters with places that need new churches.
Founded in the Punjab province of South Asia in the 15th century, the Sikh religion represents the melding of devotional elements of Hinduism and the monotheism of Islam.
Masih said he has already seen ministry opportunities emerge this week. He mentioned one Sikh temple next door to an SBC church in Baltimore. On Monday, Masih talked with the pastor, who told him about his struggles to build a relationship with the neighboring temple.
Masih then, with the pastor still on the phone, called the temple’s priest and, in his own Punjabi language, expressed his sorrow over Sunday’s tragedy. He asked for the opportunity to bring local Southern Baptists — including members of the neighboring church — to visit the temple and to give the Sikh community a tour of an SBC church. He said the temple leadership enthusiastically agreed — and even volunteered to bring the food. Both sides will have an opportunity to share what they believe and Masih plans to share his own testimony. He also plans to leave them with a film on Jesus in their Punjabi language.
Masih noted that believers who feel led to reach out to Sikhs in their community should start by building bridges — much like what happened in Baltimore.
“When we start with us and what we believe, they’re not going to listen,” Masih said. “When you talk about them, they’ll listen. That’s how you build a bridge. Show an interest in their lives, and you’ll build a relational bridge.”
Masih said that the Trinity and Incarnation are two beliefs that will be real stumbling blocks to Sikhs as evangelicals share Christ with them. Sikhs take a very strong belief in the unity of God from Islam and often struggle with Christian explanations of the Trinity.
Sikhs also see God as more of an abstract principle that cannot be defined by a human incarnation and have trouble understanding the incarnate Jesus.
Masih encourages Christians not to argue theology with Sikhs. Ask a lot of questions. Find out what they believe. Greet them with their own traditional greeting (pronounced “Sat Sri Akal”), if you’d like. If you choose to visit their temple, follow their instructions and be good guests.
Instead of focusing on the differences between Christianity and Sikhism, be prepared to share your testimony and show them in your attitudes and actions how much God loves them, Masih said.
“The language of love is understood by all cultures,” he added.
For more about how you can get involved in reaching Sikhs near you — or elsewhere in the United States and Canada — through Send North America, visit namb.net/mobilize-me.
For more information on Sikhism, visit 4truth.net/Sikhism.
Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).