This is the day that … Sadhu Sundar Singh, “The Apostle of the Bleeding Feet”, was born to a well-to-do family in Rampur, Northern India, in 1889.
Sundar was born into a devout Sikh family, a strict religious brotherhood within Hinduism, and as a youngster he memorised the Bagawadgita, mastered the Vedas and read the Koran. His parents sent him to a Christian school because it was closer than the government school three miles away, and the education received was excellent.
He was also influenced by Sadhus who taught Yoga. His mother told him not to be selfish and materialistic like his brothers but to be a Sadhu, one who devotes his life to religion and lives on charity.
Thus Sundar grew to teenage years with a strange aversion to Christianity … he “hated the Christian teachers, their school, their Scriptures and their Jesus” (The Yellow Robe, by Cyril Davey, page 25). He threw stones at the Christian preachers and encouraged his friends to do the same, and he also tore a New Testament to pieces before his school friends and burned it in the school courtyard, when he was but 14 years of age. Then came his vision of the Risen Christ a few days later, and the “Damascus Road” experience. It was 17-18 December, 1904.
Sundar woke at 3am and was in despair. His Hindu religious devotion had left him empty and he contemplated suicide. He asked God to show him the right way. Then a bright light appeared and he saw Jesus, who said to him, “Why have you not followed me?” He did so immediately and felt great joy.
He cut off his long hair, a mark of Sikhdom. When he told his father he had become a Christian “his father’s wrath was dreadful to see”. He was cast out of the family and poisoned! Found by an Indian Christian, Rev. P. Uppal, Sundar was nursed back to health. He was baptised on 3 September, 1905 – his 16th birthday.
He then dedicated himself as a Christian Sadhu, wearing a yellow robe and wandering without any means of support. This way he knew he could reach his people who accepted such holy men.
In 1910 he studied for ministry in the Anglican Church until he found out that upon ordination he would be expected to stay in one diocese. He left and began an itinerant preaching ministry that took him around India and even into Tibet.
The years that followed were filled with incredible suffering and hardship. He travelled all over North India, despite heat and cold, plague, malaria, cholera, facing death more than a dozen times.
Curious tales abound: patting a leopard as if it were a dog; being miraculously delivered from a well, the top of which had been locked; the meeting with the 300 year-old hermit who “told Sundar Christ’s coming was imminent” (Sadhu Sundar Singh, by J. Lynch Watson, page 66).
Sundar’s books don’t always reveal the evangelical image given in the Moody Press biography by Cyril Davey. He was a student of Swedenborg’s writings … and he speaks of “those in hell who will ultimately be brought to Heaven …” due to the intercession of the departed saints. On the other hand he speaks of the sacrifice of Christ “by which we are saved from sin and its consequences”.
He tells the pilgrim bathing in the ‘sacred’ Ganges that “I have already bathed by faith in the blood of Christ and by His grace have been saved …” (With and Without Christ, by S.S. Singh, page 32).
Sundar preached in Madras and Ceylon, travelling all over India and Ceylon, then internationally from 1918 – 1922. He visited Malaya, Japan, China, Western Europe, Australia and Israel.
In 1920 the Sadhu visited Australia – unheralded. And three weeks “of hurriedly arranged meetings gave to thousands the memory of a Presence” (Story of Sadhu Sundar Singh, by Harold Short, page 7).
In 1922 he was happy to be back in his beloved India. The tour of Western lands had distressed him.
Each year he made a trip into Tibet, and it was in 1929 that he set out once again to preach in the forbidden land.
And there the story finishes … he was last seen leaving the little town of Kalka … and never seen again.
One biographer pays the following tribute to this remarkable servant of Christ – “Coming from the presence of Sundar Singh, men forget themselves, they forget him – but they think of Christ!” (The Sadhu, by Streeter and Appasamy, page xv).
What better tribute could be offered?
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.