BANGKOK – He wept for them. His heart broke for them. He now feels called to serve them.
Chris McKean, a senior at Truett-McConnell Christian College in Cleveland, Ga., knows God has placed Sikhs on his heart.
McKean says he was heartbroken when he read about the Aug. 5 shooting in a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wis. The shooting left six Sikhs dead, plus the shooter, and four wounded.
“Many people in the Christian faith don’t know about Sikh people,” McKean says. “A year ago, I didn’t know who Sikhs were. I thought they were a branch of Islam.”
There are 25 million Sikhs globally. The majority live in India’s Punjab state, but there are large populations in Great Britain, Malaysia, Canada and the U.S.
There are roughly 700,000 Sikhs living in the U.S., according to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF). The largest populations live in California and New York.
“I’m praying God would use this event to open the eyes of the church,” McKean says. “[I’m praying] that the church would be awoken … to pray for them.”
McKean and 13 students majoring in world missions from Truett-McConnell recently visited Bangkok as part of their senior capstone to learn about what Sikhs believe. They spent time with International Mission Board (IMB) workers Bryan and Anne Evans,* whose ministry focuses on the people group.
Bryan, who is preparing to start doctoral studies in Sikhism, has spent hours reading and learning about the people and their culture; his passion is to see Sikhs come to know Christ as their Savior.
Growing up in New York, Bryan says his friends were two Sikh brothers. Every Saturday, the three would hang out and eat Punjabi food.
“From a young age, He’s [God] given me a heart for Sikh people,” Bryan says. “God’s put Sikhs in our lives. Our heart is to share with them.”
Photo by Kelvin Joseph
A Sikh man shows reverence for his scriptures following a service in Delhi, India. Sikh men are often confused with Muslims for their practice of wearing a turban and full beard. Sikhism originated in India about 500 years ago.
He was devastated and furious when he heard about the shootings in Wisconsin.
“This is not only heartbreaking but also embarrassing as an American,” he says. “I have many Sikh friends around the world. I appreciate the contribution of Sikhs to their communities around the world.”
Says Anne of their close Sikh friends in Asia, “They are really lovable people. They go out of their way to be friendly. They put other people before themselves.”
Bryan says he knows of Sikhs who were beaten after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, because they were mistaken for Muslims.
A Sikh tailor in Bangkok told Truett-McConnell students about one of his friends who was strip-searched in an airport because of his turban. The tailor says he’s been mistaken for being Muslim many times.
“Americans have a huge need to become educated in other religions,” Anne says.
Ninety-nine percent of men who wear turbans in the U.S. are Sikhs, SALDEF reports. Sikhs believe men and women shouldn’t cut their hair; the men cover theirs with a turban. Uncut hair is one of five physical symbols to which Sikhs adhere.
Before sending the Truett-McConnell students to meet Sikhs in Bangkok’s Little India, Bryan gave them a crash course in Sikhism and some pointers for how to share their faith. Though he has extensive knowledge about the people, Bryan says he enjoys sitting down with Sikhs, whether in a temple or on the street, and asking about their beliefs and sharing his.
“Knowing a little about them [Sikhs] makes a huge difference,” Bryan says, including taking the time to learn their greeting, “Sat Sri Akaal Ji.”
“When you can greet them, it really resonates with them,” he adds.
McKean and his fellow classmates spent a day on Bangkok’s streets, learning about Sikhism and sharing the gospel. One Sikh man committed his life to Christ.
McKean says the experience affirmed his call to missions and to work with Sikhs. He plans to spend the summer of 2013 ministering alongside the Evans.
Bryan says several pastors he partners with believe God is preparing the hearts of Sikhs, and this is a crucial time.
“Please pray for these amazing people during this difficult time,” he says.
Learn more about Sikhs and how to share the gospel with them at sikhoutreach.org. Download a free one-page prayer guide concerning Sikhs at http://southasianpeoples.imb.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Prayer4_SouthAsians_Sikhs.pdf and find related information at southasianpeoples.imb.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Caroline Anderson is an IMB writer living in Asia.)