This summer, we are participating in 30 Days of Prayer for the nations. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing stories from men and women in our church family who have actively invested in making Jesus known across the nations.
THE UK: THE GOSPEL REACHES TO INDIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES IN LONDON
A member of their family had just passed. I was visiting their home for the Satsang, which is a time of singing in Gujarati and Hindi. They were doing this to remember their loved one who was no longer with them. The lyrics were unknown and the mood was sullen. I joined them on the floor. Incense and flour covered a picture of the departed husband and father. Awkwardness and uncertainty both enveloped me as I was the only non-Indian (from South Asia) member present. So, I simply sat in the circle tapping the tambourines to their bhajans. Then, I was asked to sing. Me? We had sung bhajans to Prabu Isu (Jesus) at church every Sunday but the lyrics and tunes to any of those songs escaped me. The only song I could think of was Amazing Grace. In my reluctance, nerves, and fear; I sang about Jesus saving a sinner like me and bringing me to this place. This was a home which had generationally prayed to their multitude of gods for good life, success, and a higher status. This surreal moment of the family welcoming me in only happened because I had been doing life with them. I saw their daughter and son at kids club each week, I had knocked on their door and been invited in for chapatis (food), chai, and dhal. Even greater, the church I was working with there had been building relationships with this family and community for years before I ever landed. This meant as a white, American, outsider I was kindly invited into this intimate moment.
Hi, my name is Danielle Martinelli and I’m a member at the Summit. In 2013, I ventured to a London I never knew existed. The London I stepped into for two years was not one of high tea, crumpets or posh British accents, but instead full of saris, curry, and gurdwaras. After college graduation, I felt directed by God to go back to the UK to work with an Indian culturally contextualized church plant. This church aimed to live out the gospel in a way I had never seen before. The pastor there continually reminded me that when reaching out to these Hindi immigrants, one has to belong before belief. I even walked by a temple every day to get to the church building. Jesus was another god they were fine to put on their shelf with the other gods who they hoped could bring good fortune. But to say Jesus was the only God they followed and then to be baptized was like “spitting on the grave of their ancestors”. In our conversations, I was told they thought well of Christianity, but then when one of their own said yes to Christ, so often it was followed with rejection from the whole community. In accepting the hope, love, truth, and grace of Jesus; the startling reality is that it could and often meant losing their community. As immigrants and refugees, they would likely feel they were losing community that provided comfort and security in a foreign country.
I came to doubt and wrestle with this question. Had I ever made such a choice? Was Christ worth it to ask them to do this? In this wrestling, I saw it was not about me. Christ had already come to save, I was not asking them to do something that Jesus had not already done by leaving His own throne and sacrificing everything. In seeing others come to faith amidst this foreknown sacrifice, I was humbled. I saw the weight, but the true freedom that came when a close Hindu friend saw the truth in the gospel and could let go of the endless cycle of good deeds that were so weighty and turn to Christ.
During my time in London I learned that the church was so important in order to show they had a family, a tangible place they belonged to if they chose Christ. Forming these relationships was paramount to seeing the gospel in action through a long-term perspective. Saying goodbye to these friendships hurt as I ventured back to America. I was hoping but uncertain if and when I would return to the mission field. However, seeing an example of a continual pursuit to love your neighbor with a long-term kingdom-of-God perspective has been instrumental to how I make decisions and live a life that is not cultural Christianity. Rather I am living by daily faith with, of course, my own mistakes and sin mixed in; yet with a covering of God’s amazing grace.
Would you pray for Indian immigrants and refugees in the UK? Here are three ways you can:
- Pray for the church in the UK to grow and for the workers to find strength, persistence, and encouragement in their endeavors to share the good and hope-filled news of Christ.
- Pray for the growing tension against refugees and immigrants that has been intensified due to Brexit.
- Pray for leadership from locals, especially British Indian Christians to start leading the church
Danielle spent two years working with Indian immigrants in London. She is currently attending Denver Seminary and is active in reaching and working with refugee and immigrant communities in both Europe and Denver.