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Sikhs reached by contextualizing Gospel

DELHI, India (BP)–Within the large halls of the gurdwara, the congregation stands or sits together with heads covered and feet bare. Their hands are folded in prayer. They face the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scriptures, and listen as one member recites the congregational prayers. Every so often, they murmur together in Punjabi “Waheguru,” or “Wonderful lord.”

“The Guru Granth Sahib is kept in the center on a raised area,” explained Irene Wayne*, the Southern Baptist strategy coordinator for the Jatt Sikh people group in India. “There is a canopy over it, and someone waves a feathered fan over it to keep flies from falling on it and ‘contaminating’ it.”

At the end of the prayers, each member of the congregation bows with his head touching the floor in reverence to the Guru Granth Sahib. The service ends with the words of the common Sikh greeting, “Sat Sri Akal,” which means, “god is truth.”

To the followers of Sikhism, religion is all about the search for truth. Sikhs believe in one god and that he is the supreme creator and embodiment of truth. To reach god, Sikhs believe a person must live a life of intense devotion and self-discipline.

Guru Nanak Dev founded Sikhism in the 15th century. Sikhs revere Guru Nanak, as well as the nine gurus who followed him. They treat the gurus’ writings, compiled in a book that Sikhs consider the final and “living guru,” as their sacred scripture. They call these texts the Guru Granth Sahib.

Devout Sikhs will devote part of each day to reciting portions from the Guru Granth Sahib.

“There are set portions of the Sikh scriptures that can be read, and each has to be read in full at one time,” Wayne said. “They are kind of like chapters. Some are longer than others.”

Sikhs also have special scripture readings on the eve of a significant event in hopes that the Guru Granth Sahib will bless the occasion.

For a Sikh, Christianity is a foreign religion and Christ is a foreign guru (teacher). Indian Christians working among the Sikhs, especially the Jatt Sikhs, are beginning to see how much of a barrier this is to reaching them with the Gospel.

Historically, Sikhs who have accepted the Gospel have relinquished much of their culture to join the “Christian” culture.

“Many are completely ‘Christianized’ and don’t look any different from most Christians,” Wayne said. “Unfortunately, this is a barrier to the Jatts.”

In an effort to reach the Sikh culture for Christ, some Indian Christians have begun conducting church services in the style of a Sikh worship service. These services meet in believer’s homes and have all of the characteristics of a church but also have a culturally contextualized style. The congregation sits with a leader and discusses portions of Scripture.

“Some people are now using the satsang style of worship and trying to contextualize more so that they can maintain their culture while forsaking the false beliefs,” Wayne said. “Satsang style uses music similar to the Sikh singing. The leader would likely sit rather than stand, and some people are using contextualized terms like ‘Sat Guru’ (True Teacher) for Jesus.”

Satsang, which literally means “true company,” is a congregationally led worship. Often one teacher will sit and read a passage from the Bible, and the congregation will meditate on it and discuss it.

In this way, Sikh-background Christians can match their style of worship to the culture to which they are accustomed, while remaining devoted to following and sharing Christ.
*Name changed for security purposes. Kari Wynn is a writer stationed in south Asia. For more information about the Jatt Sikhs of India, visit www.go2southasia.org/peoples/p_jatt_sikh.html.

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  • Kari Wynn*