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Woven Threads

How murderers, idol makers and outcasts are discovering the power of grace
By Brad Miller

The crowd surged towards the stage, arms outstretched. Reaching, grasping towards the speaker. Each extending an arm bound with red thread.

Young and old, men and women, and every shade of skin reaching to the stage. The speaker knelt, and one by one, grasped their hands. This was the moment. Eyes wide, smiles growing, they watched as the red threads around their wrists were cut, sliced through, and pulled free.

A woman gazed in wonder, a child laughed, a man stood silently, almost every form of awe and exultation was being showcased at this event.

Why was this so important? Why all the excitement?

These bands were sacred symbols of the Hindu caste system, and for these low-caste members, symbols of oppression and defeat. Cutting them is an act of open rebellion, and more importantly, a declaration of freedom.

DSC_3811As I sat perched on the stage, watching this unfold, chants of praise surrounding me, the chaos of liberation in front of me, all I could think was: this is Truthseekers. This is what it’s all about. Now I understand what they’re doing.

Little did I know, I had barely scratched the surface.

Now What?

It had been an entire week of events like that. I had ridden trains from one city to the next, taking crowded cars over unpaved roads from village to village. All to attend the rallies. Some big events in open tents and outdoor spaces, some crowded into tiny, poorly-ventilated cement rooms, each of them held for the sole purpose of declaring freedom.

At each of these events, I witnessed worship songs, speeches, testimonies, and footwashings. This last one is important. These are castes who have been declared untouchable. They have been told their whole lives they have no worth. To have their feet washed by Americans or people of similarly “higher” status is a powerful declaration of dignity.

The climax of each event is the invitation to the cord cutting, the invitation for people to come forward and destroy the symbol that binds them to the caste system. Seeing this, seeing shackles literally fall away, left me with a feeling of wonder.

After several more villages like this, I boarded a train and returned to Truthseekers’ headquarters in New Delhi. I’d only been here a week, but it felt like I had experienced the big-ticket item already. My biggest thought was, “Okay, now what?” What was left for me to see?

As it turns out, a lot.

Listening

At the New Delhi headquarters, visitors come in cycles. One day, it will be nearly empty, just the office staff doing paperwork and planning events. The next day, the tide will roll in and there will be a flood of visitors.

DSC_3866There may be activists from the South, or perhaps religious pilgrims who want to hear Truthseekers’ message. Representatives from rural villages, authors, politicians… You never know who is going to stop by.

It was the perfect opportunity for me to ask the question, “now what?” I could see how Truthseekers was opposing the caste system with rallies. Perhaps these visitors could give me a picture of how they were working against inequality elsewhere.

I started sitting down with people to ask about Truthseekers. But instead of hearing about the caste system, they told me something else entirely.

Charan Singh

I met Charan Singh in the Truthseekers office. Seated around a lunch table with the window open and sun shining, it felt strange to be discussing the dark and depressing world of India’s prison system.

Charan Singh works as a social worker in one of India’s largest jails. His job is to interview new prisoners, help identify and contact family members, and make it clear to the prisoners how long they will be in jail and why.

Charan told me about interviewing low-caste people and minorities who were thrown in prison for crimes they did not commit. Abandoned by their families and community, with little education and no money, their lives were truly devoid of hope.

Working in such a place, the darkness and despair consumed Charan Singh. He found himself without purpose or passion. Charan frowned as he described those times.

“I was in the dark. I had no object, no target of what to do.”

His life felt purposeless. Until he met Sunil Sardar, leader of Truthseekers.

Sunil’s advocacy for low castes had made him powerful enemies, and seven months ago he was thrown in jail. On his second day there, as per routine, Charan called him into his office for an interview and processing. But something amazing happened to Charan.

“When I [met] Father Sunil Sardar in the jail, my whole darkness disappeared.”

Charan described that, in an instant he suddenly felt lighter. More free. He didn’t know who Sunil was or where he came from, “but there was something on his face.”

Overcome by the Spirit, the Jailer got up from behind his desk, and fell at the feet of the prisoner. He touched Sunil’s feet in an unheard-of gesture of respect, and immediately noticed a change.

I asked Charan what kind of change. A thought? A sensation? Charan put down his tea. His eyes shone, he stuttered for a moment, searching for the words to describe his feeling in that instant, then a big grin passed over his face.

“I feel freshness, I feel that I’m in a different place, not in jail.”

If there was any doubt left in Charan’s mind, it vanished in a week. Charan had told Sunil that he was going to be held for 15-60 days. Sunil just smiled and said he would be out in six or seven.

Sunil made bail on the sixth, and was released on the seventh day.

A changed life and a miraculous release. At this point in the story, I wasn’t sure if I was interviewing a Truthseeker jailer from India, or a Roman jailer from the Bible. But Charan’s story wasn’t done yet.

Charan knew he had to visit this man and see this movement called Truthseekers. On the very first Sunday after Sunil’s release, Charan attended satsung, a type of worship and prayer service, at Truthseekers.

Seeing people from all walks of life there, unified in love, Charan knew his own life had to change. Although he entered satsung without purpose, he left with a new conviction, to “help the poor and downtrodden and neglected persons whose [families] have neglected them.”

Charan returned to jail a new man. He knew he couldn’t free the imprisoned, but he could give them a new future. He used his position to identify the most oppressed prisoners and those without family or education to help them when they got out.

DSC_3841For these prisoners, the lowest of the low, he started an in-jail school and training program.

“I have started a lot of vocational courses, [a] literacy program… and now I am enjoying my life and service.”

After hearing such an incredible story of life change I thought to myself, “Now I get it, now I understand.” I thought I finally had a grasp on what Truthseekers was about.

But it turns out my journey of discovery was just beginning.

Vijay Paswan

Vijay is from Bihar in northeastern India. Throughout India there are hundreds of different languages spoken, and Vijay speaks a dialect that only one other person in the New Delhi office speaks. Understandably, my first impressions of him were that of a quiet, soft-spoken man.

But when I had the chance to sit with an interpreter and hear his words for the first time, his eyes shone. He gestured excitedly. Everything about him was energetic, a man on fire.

Vijay Paswan began life as an idol maker, but not long after hearing the message of Truthseekers he stood in front of a crowd of 1800 people and challenged them to turn from idol worship and away from the system that enslaved them. He invited the people of India to accept Baliraja, Christ Jesus, the rescuer of the oppressed. He called on them to worship the One and Only Most High God who loves all and brings dignity to all.

In one voice, the crowd cried out,

“Jai Baliraja! Jai Mahadev!”
“Praise Christ! Praise the Most High God!”

This would be amazing enough. But it’s what happened next that sets Vijay apart.

DSC_3836In the middle of a wedding celebration, gunmen arrived. They knew Vijay was a guest, and they charged the crowd. Shots rang out as they fired into the air, screaming into the chaos that they had come to kill Vijay.

The crowd scattered in panic. In the ensuing chaos, Vijay was knocked down and badly injured his leg. He escaped with his life, but could no longer walk. Confined to a bed in a community largely without wheelchairs or accessibility, it appeared Vijay’s ministry was at an end.

But instead of harboring bitterness or anger toward his attackers, Vijay prayed for them. With all his heart, he forgave those that had crippled him.

His forgiveness extended beyond prayer. His friends came to his bedside, armed and ready to seek revenge on the gunmen. But Vijay would have none of it.

“I am a worker of Truthseekers and I follow the teachings of Yesuva Baliraja (Jesus Christ),” he told them. “His teaching is ‘forgive your enemies and love them’… I have forgiven them and God will do justice.”

Again and again his friends came, urging him, begging him, to take his rightful revenge. But again and again Vijay refused in the name of Jesus. Declaring simply that, “God will do justice.”

Just as Vijay spoke, justice was dealt when two of his attackers were beaten by an unrelated mob in another village. One was killed, the other hospitalized, and everyone in Vijay’s village was amazed.

I figured this was the end of the story. But Vijay wasn’t done yet.

After the attack Vijay was struggling to hobble on a cane, it appeared he would be crippled. But he made a bold announcement. “I will stand on my legs in the name of Yeshua Baliraja”

With the same boldness that helped him refuse to take vengeance, with the same clarity that trusted God would do justice, Vijay simply professed that God would do a miracle. Not that He might, not that He could, but that He would.

A prayer meeting was called, and the people of Vijay’s village prayed over him.
The very next day, Vijay stood on his own two legs. Completely healed in the name of Christ.

Questions

Hearing these stories, I wasn’t sure what to think. Every time I thought I knew what Truthseekers was about, suddenly something completely new and unexpected popped up.

Even more confusing, these stories were not simply about breaking the caste system. In fact, it felt more like that vast inequality was the setting of the stories, not the plot.

I was hearing about Jailers finding new purpose, about men so filled with love and so free from hate that they could truly forgive those that sought to kill them.

Truthseekers suddenly seemed a lot bigger than destroying the caste system. But if it wasn’t about fighting injustice, then what was it? What was the thread that tied all these stories together? Where was Truthseekers going?

These stories were all part of something big, but what was the common theme? What were they all a part of?

As it turned out, they were asking the same questions. The movement had gained so much momentum and support that they were looking to equip a new generation across India to pursue Truth.

But to do that they needed to sit down and compare notes; to gather stories of what has been happening across the nation and decide what to move towards next.

So they gathered Truthseeking leaders from all over India for the first meeting of a new program they’re calling Truth-bearers. The purpose? To come together as one and decide what they are going to pass on as their legacy.

I was going to sit in on this three day conference, and I couldn’t be more excited. I had asked, “what is Truthseekers about?” Now I would finally have my answer.

Unlikely Leaders

With representatives from across the country, the session began with everyone introducing themselves and telling a little bit of their story. I was suddenly struck with a riddle:

What do a Murder, a Communist, and a Mental Patient all have in common?

They’re all Truthseekers now.

As they described their former lives, I realized that I was not looking at some well-groomed religious or political elite. I was hearing from the most unlikely and illogical candidates for a movement based on equality.

As I heard what they had done, I was listening to the undiluted acts of God.

I was looking at the results of powerful transformations.

In a country where Communism is associated with violence, a Communist-turned-Truthseeker spoke ardently on the wisdom of non-opposition. She prefers to lead through listening to people and their concerns, channeling their natural passions and energies.

A murderer and an extortionist, once tied up in warring gangs, hated and feared by his community, spoke about forgiveness. He wants to spread the Word and the message that Christ forgives all, no matter who you are.

But still all this seemed disjointed to me. Disconnected. Without a common theme. They love God, they hate the caste system, they want freedom and empowerment… but it felt like something was missing. I knew I had only scratched the surface at Truthseekers, but what was underneath?

I wasn’t looking for a list of values, I wanted to find a single thread, one image of what Truthseekers was about.

I finally found it in the story of one young woman.

Dimple

It was one of my favorite moments in the New Delhi office. Everyone seated in a circle to receive communion at Truthseekers. Coconut milk for the blood, coconut meat for the body.

The coconut has deep spiritual significance in India. Using it as a symbol of Christ demonstrates His supremacy over all symbols. Breaking it is a reminder of His sacrifice, but also of the shattering of injustice. As the largest seed, the coconut also symbolizes that Christ is the greatest seed that can be planted in the hearts of men and women.

It was a beautiful ceremony, and afterwards the floor was open for anyone to speak about what they had been thinking or feeling, to share whatever God had put on their heart. Dimple looked around, waiting to make sure no one else was speaking, and then began her story.

Dimple and her family once worshiped idols and the many gods of Hinduism. On one particular festival, her caste was tasked with honoring a god through cooking.

Their task was to cook all day, slave in the kitchen over an elaborate and delicious meal, set it all out and arrange it beautifully in their homes… then leave.

Their god did not permit them to eat the food. Instead they set it out on the table and went to the temple for many hours. They would return home, starving, to a cold and tasteless feast. Only after the meal had lost all appeal were they permitted to eat it.

Dimple had spoken this part quietly, stumbling or hesitating over a few words as she worked to express her thoughts in English. But now her voice grew stronger.

She spoke about finding Christ, and discovering a God that loves all people – especially the least. Most miraculously of all, she discovered the gift of Communion.

“I had never met a God that not only let me have fresh food, but gave me Himself to eat.”

The room was silent.

And suddenly, I knew the connection.

Invitation

That picture, the God-given feast, the invitation to dine on Him, that is the common thread. That is the heart of Truthseekers, the core beneath the surface. It is the ultimate invitation; the offer to move from darkness to light, and from lies to Truth.

A prisoner inviting his jailer to move from hopelessness to purpose…

A victim forgiving his attackers and inviting his friends to move from hate to love…

A murder forgiven of his sins and inviting all to move from shame to peace…

Even the cord-cutting, each person invited to stand up and by their own power cast off the symbol of oppression and move to freedom…

And every Sunday a satsung. An open invitation to all to worship together, pray together, and eat together. Rich and poor, woman and man, old and young, across caste and creed.

Every member of Truthseekers has tasted Grace. Through Christ, they have found forgiveness and dignity and freedom and life without hate or oppression. They all have their own story, but this is their commonality: that they have found life and life in abundance.

It is a feast so good that the only response is to enjoy it and invite others to join. Everywhere Truthseekers goes, the caste system falls, chains are broken, and people are set free.

Seeing systems of injustice fall in my first week – being a part of cord cutting and footwashing rallies, it was easy to feel like that was the greatest accomplishment of Truthseekers. That the liberation I had witnessed was the apex of their work.

But at Truthseekers I’ve found that even more incredible than the system that falls, is the love that rises in its place. More amazing than the chains that are broken, are the bonds of friendship that are forged. And I’ve discovered one thing more exciting than people set free:

It’s what they do with that freedom.

Next Steps
    • GO: Do you want to see liberation firsthand and be part of a movement to empower the least of these? One of the greatest things you can do for Truthseekers is to visit India yourself and join in their footwashing teams. On your own, as a family, or as a community group there is no better way to serve and learn about the amazing revolution taking place in India. Tap here to find out more!
    • GIVE: Truthseekers is funding schools, translating the Bible, starting a discipleship program, performing footwashings, hosting conferences, housing travelers, and demonstrating hospitality wherever they go. Your financial support will be used to continue and expand these amazing projects.
    • FOLLOW: Connect with Truthseekers on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with events, needs, and prayer requests.
    • LEARN: Want to learn more about caste issues in India so you can spread the word? World Next Door can visit your church or community group and speak in much greater detail about the history and politics of caste, as well as what we can do right now to be part of the solution. Let us know if you want one of our team members to visit! info@worldnextdoor.org
    • VOLUNTEER: Do you have a talent in Business, Storytelling, website design, or agriculture? You may be surprised to hear how your gifts can be used to help spread freedom and dignity across India. Click here to get in touch with World Next Door to learn more.
    Next Steps