In a recent meeting for Christian celibates held in Northants, UK, Pete Walsma spoke of how he, as a young man, had been deeply moved by the following incident from the life of Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889 – 1929) and felt God say that the Sadhu’s powerful anointing was linked with his gift of celibacy. Needless to say, in time Pete himself chose to be a committed celibate.
It was a beautiful night. The stars were shining brightly; a light wind rustled the leaves of the trees. For a few moments I watched the silent figure of the Sadhu. Then my eyes were attracted by something moving on his right. An animal was coming towards him. As I got nearer I saw it was a leopard. Choked with fear, I stood motionless near the window, unable to call. Just then the Sadhu turned his face towards the animal and help out his hand. As though it had been a dog, the leopard lay down and stretched out its head to be stroked.
It was a strange unbelievable scene, and I can never forget it. A short time afterwards the Sadhu returned and was soon asleep, but I lay awake wondering what gave that man such power over wild animals. ‘Sundar Singh’ by A.J. Appasamy.
Sadhu Sundar Singh was born in 1889 in northern India. He was the youngest child of a wealthy aristocratic Sikh family and, as a boy, his mother taught him from the Sikh and Hindu scriptures. From an early age Sundar Singh was possessed with a desperate desire to find God although, when encountering Christian missionaries, he reacted sharply against their message.
At fifteen, Sundar Singh faced a deep crisis. He said goodbye to his father, planning to kill himself on a nearby railway track – such was his intense desire to find God in the afterlife. Then, in his small room, he begged God to reveal Himself before the train came. Suddenly a great light and a cloud appeared, and within it he saw the face of Jesus. “Why do you persecute me?” Jesus said. “Remember that I gave My life for you upon the Cross.” Sundar Singh fell down and worshipped. From now on he would follow Christ.
Pressured by his family to renounce his new faith, Sundar Singh left home and was baptized in an English church. However, from the beginning he determined not to adopt western Christianity but to be a Sadhu in true Indian style. (A Sadhu is a Hindu who forsakes all the pleasures of this life and devotes himself fully to his religion.)
A month after his baptism, Sundar Singh donned the yellow linen robe that celibate Indian Sadhus wore and set out to preach the gospel, carrying nothing but a New Testament. From now on he would have no permanent home and no income.”I am not worthy to follow in the steps of my Lord,” he said, “but like Him, I want no home, no possessions. Like Him I will belong to the road, sharing the suffering of my people, eating with those who will give me shelter, and telling all people of the love of God.’
Of his celibate lifestyle Sundar Singh said, “My real marriage is with Christ. I do not say that marriage is not good for others. But if I am already bound to Christ, how can I marry another?”
Sadhu Sundar Singh wandered around India and onto Afghanistan and Kashmir preaching the gospel. Like the Franciscans of old, he cared for the sick and dying. Sundar Singh later went on to visit many countries including Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, Japan, and China and eventually England and America. Sometimes he expressed his sadness at the way the Christian message had got watered down in the countries thought to be the guardians of Christianity.
Often persecuted, sometimes imprisoned, even receiving the sentence of death and enduring the hardness of the bitter Himalayan weather, Sundar Singh preached Christ everywhere he went.
In April 1929, Sundar Singh set off once more for Tibet despite ill-health; he was never seen again. How he died is a mystery. Yet, his legacy remains, not only in his native India but in the worldwide church, where he is regarded as one of the supreme examples in modern times of someone who has embraced a radical Christian lifestyle under-girded by a commitment to celibacy.