When you have lived in a nation for 32 years, it has an effect on you. Roger & June Hedlund have all the vibrancy of those who are driving towards a high and worthy passion, and their passion is for the expansion of the Kingdom of God in India.
The Hedlunds are now based here in the States, but they continue to pursue their call to India as they live and walk among us at Trinity. Their work is tied-in deeply to the darkest aspects of India’s history, and their hope lies in joining bright, new transforming work that the Spirit of God is doing there now.
One of the most difficult things for Americans to understand about India and Hinduism is the caste system. It is the powerful, dark, moral imperative that drives the entire culture. Most of us have heard about the plight of the untouchables. They are the lowest members of the caste system. They are considered subhuman, and their misery is so extreme that they have attracted the attention of the world. They have also been the most responsive to the freeing, dignifying power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is another group that has suffered intensely under the oppressive power of caste that has gone largely unnoticed. They are called the shudras, or the Other Backward Castes (OBC). They are a step above the untouchables, and they have been the impoverished labor force of India for the last three to four thousand years. They make up 52% of the Indian population, which makes them 520 million people strong. (The population of America is a little over 300 million.)
Up until now, OBCs have been largely unresponsive to the gospel, “but my friends, times are a changin”! There is a new openness to the gospel among the OBCs and their leaders. Our own Roger and June are working with some of the most dynamic Christian leaders in the nation of India to reach them.
Roger tells a compelling story about one leader in the OBC who has found freedom through faith in our Savior. It all started when he went into a tea shop while on a bus trip. As he was drinking his chai, he was confronted by a group of upper caste men who were enraged that this OBC had the nerve to enter the shop. They demanded that he pay for the cup. He had defiled it when he touched it with his low caste lips. This OBC was a lawyer, and up to that point his education and profession had protected him from the treatment that his fellow caste members suffer on a daily basis. He was shocked. The argument intensified and started to get physical. In the midst of the scuffle, a dog came into the shop. It urinated all over the dishes. Nobody said a thing. They found the dog and the urine less offensive than this low caste human being! The dehumanizing effect of this horrible episode proved to be a catalyst for change. This courageous Indian is now part of a movement to bring spiritual freedom to the OBCs from thousands of years of oppression.
The inflammatory nature of these subjects in India is so intense that we can’t publish the name of this man here. There are millions in India who have a vested interest in keeping the caste system exactly how it is. When Roger says he would like to raise up a thousand prayer warriors for the leaders of this movement, he is talking about a real battle with a very present enemy. May we be faithful to join in this critical work of prayer!
There is another powerful ministry in India that has the potential to breakdown the high barriers of caste. Christian leaders in India have taken the model of Christ when he washed his disciple’s feet the night before he was arrested. They have begun to practice a ceremony where Indians of all castes wash each other’s feet to show dignity and honor in the name of Christ. In the process, men who qualify as upper caste wash the feet of low caste OBCs and untouchables in the name of Jesus. The impact is dramatic. This action has far more power than being merely symbolic. It is an action that breaks the spiritual chains of thousands of years of bondage and enslavement.
Roger has watched as low caste men adamantly refuse to allow their feet to be washed. In the core of their being, they still believe they are unworthy. When the leaders persevere and wash their feet anyway, the low caste men break down into sobs of weeping and tears. We can tell them the message of the gospel and explain that they have worth, but somehow, this action is what drives the point home. They have entered a whole new world. Actually, they have entered a whole new Kingdom.