March 1, 2017

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This past Saturday was painful. I received a message from a relative in India containing a recording of Sunayana Dumala, the wife of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot and killed on Feb. 22, 2017 allegedly by Adam W. Purinton, who yelled at Kuchibhotla and his friend, "Get out of my country.”

It was also painful to read in the press that the father of Kuchibhotla's friend and co-worker Alok Madasani, who was also shot, said: "I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the United States in the present circumstances."

When I was growing up in India, it was a dream of most parents to send their children to the United States. Countless numbers of Indians were touched by the food given by the U.S. government and other agencies during the hunger crisis in the 1960s.

We watched with excitement the first Americans landing on the moon, and heard with hope the “I Have a Dream” speech. People in India cried when President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin King Luther, Jr. were assassinated.

As an Indian who is now a proud U.S. citizen, it hurts me, as it does many others, when innocent people are killed because of their skin color, accent, religion, or immigration status. I am saddened and sickened by the fear and xenophobic behavior rising inside and outside the United States.

What should our Christian response be to incidents like this one that are happening not only in the U.S., but in other parts of the world as well? What does it mean for us as baptized Christians, particularly today as we receive ashes on our foreheads and begin our Lenten discipline? 

It is my hope and prayer that we engage in reflection on our own Christian baptisms, and ask the question: What can I do when I hear of a hate crime or when a colleague, friend, or relative makes hateful statements?

Contemplating this, my attention was drawn to a conversation one of the great missionaries of the last century, Dr. E. Stanley Jones, had with Mahatma Gandhi when they met nearly one hundred years ago. 

Jones asked Gandhi how Christianity could become naturalized, a part of the national life, contributing more fully to the national spirit? Gandhi suggested four things:

"(1) All Christians, Missionaries and all, must live more like Jesus Christ. (2) You should practise your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. (3) You should emphasise the love side of Christianity more, for love is central in Christianity. (4) You must study more sympathetically the non-Christian religions to find the good in them and to have a more sympathetic approach to them."

(Stephen A. Graham, The Life and Works of E. Stanley Jones: Extraordinary Man, Extraordinary Mission. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005, p. 141)

It is my hope and prayer that we take Gandhi's advice seriously and ask prayerful questions as a part of this Lenten season and beyond.

  • How would it look and what difference would it make in our communities, nation, and world if all of us lived more like Jesus? How different would our churches be?
  • How different would our churches be if everyone was involved in a deeper study of the Bible and the traditions and history of Christianity? What would it be like if we knew how to be prophets, sages, priests, teachers, moreover – missionaries, evangelists, and apostles within our own settings?
  • How is genuine Christian love different from the love that's portrayed in theaters? Can we make an honest attempt to share this love every day during the Lenten season and beyond?
  • How would we and our churches be changed if we interacted with people of other faiths living in our communities? Suppose we invited them to potluck suppers or hosted conversations in our churches or their temples, synagogues,mosques, or gurdwaras to get to know them better. After all, they, too, are children of God. 

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in a turbulent world where every Christian witness makes a difference. May I share with you the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, who lived in Nazi Germany and expressed regret about Germans' silence in the face of persecution in this now famous confession:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — 
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

(United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.)

The names Sunayana Dumala and Srinivas Kuchibhotla may be unfamiliar to us, but we live in a world where every day we hear stories like theirs. As we traverse in this modern-day wilderness and face our own temptations, may God grant us direction, and the strength, courage, and discernment to explore what our Christian baptism challenges us to do in this life.

May we also remember this verse from the gospel passage for this first Sunday of Lent, "Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him." (Matthew 4:11)

Yes, many times you or I may be the lone voice standing up for those who are oppressed or marginalized, but if we remain faithful to our Christian calling, God's angels will come and wait on us. May we be bold enough in those moments to do what we are called to do.

In Christ's love,

Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar



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Transformed by the Holy Spirit, united in trust,
we will boldly proclaim Christ to the world.