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Bakht Singh

Bakht Singh, an Apostle of India

The former Sikh who began a worldwide indigenous church-planting movement in India became a Christian while a student in Canada.

By John Lindner

Bakht Singh Chabra, one of the most influential Bible teachers and church planters in India, went to be with the Lord early Sunday morning, Indian time, September 17, 2000, at his home and headquarters in Hyderabad, India. He was 97.

One who never sought recognition or status for what he believed the Lord was calling him to do, Bakht Singh launched an indigenous church-planting movement in India that eventually saw more than 10,000 local churches planted throughout India, Pakistan and offshore Sri Lanka. The movement also spread to Australia and even to the United States.

Dr. J. Edwin Orr, British church historian, said, "Bakht Singh is an Indian equivalent of the greater Western evangelists, as skillful as Finney and as direct as Moody. He is a first-class Bible teacher of the order of Campbell Morgan or Graham Scroggie."

"I have never seen a man who has a greater knowledge and understanding of the Bible than Bakht Singh. All our Western preachers and teachers seem to be children before this great man of God," said Dr. Bob Finley, President of Christian Aid Mission, an agency that assisted Singh in the earlier days of his ministry. 

After visiting Bakht Singh and some of his churches, missionary statesman, author and teacher Norman Grubb commented, "In all my missionary experience I think these churches on their New Testament foundations are the nearest I have seen to a replica of the early church and a pattern for the birth and growth of the young churches in all the countries which we used to talk about as mission fields."

Singh was born on June 6, 1903, of well-to-do parents, Jawahar Mal Chabra and Lakshmi Bai, in the northern sector of Punjab that later became part of Pakistan. His parents were followers of the Sikh religion which is dominant in the Punjab region.

After graduating from the government college in Lahore (now in Pakistan), he went as a foreign student to England in 1926 and enrolled in the King's College in London to study mechanical engineering. While there he quit practicing his Sikh religion, but still kept the Sikh custom of not cutting his hair or beard.

In 1929 Singh went to Canada and studied agricultural engineering at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Local residents John and Edith Hayward befriended him and invited him to live with them. Devout Christians, they ended every supper by reading the Bible.

Singh's religious upbringing had taught him to oppose Christianity, and he once had torn a Bible apart with his bare hands. This time, however, when the Haywards gave him a New Testament, he took it to his room and read it. It was reading the New Testament that brought him to personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Singh returned to India in 1933 to preach the gospel and was met in Bombay by his mother and father. "We are the only ones who know you are a Christian," they said. "Please keep it a secret and you can read your Bible and go to church as much as you want."

"Can I live without breathing?" Singh replied. "I have given my whole life to Christ who died for me. I cannot follow Him secretly." "If you cannot keep the matter secret, then you cannot come home," his parents replied, and left him.

Singh began speaking as a fiery itinerant preacher and revivalist throughout India, that then included Pakistan, and gained a large following. He at first worked as an Anglican evangelist, and then later independently.

"Singh's role in the 1937 revival that swept the Martinbur United Presbyterian Church inaugurated one of the most notable movements in the history of the church in the Indian subcontinent," stated Dr. Jonathan Bonk in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions published by Simon & Schuster Macmillan in 1998.

"The early years of his ministry were marked by mighty miracles and wonders, including physical healings and great revivals. People fell to the ground crying out for God's mercy," said T.E. Koshy, Singh's biographer who also hosted Singh's American "Holy Convocations" in Syracuse, N.Y.

Singh eventually realized that the new wine required new wineskins. He obtained his vision for starting purely local assemblies patterned on New Testament principles after spending a night in prayer on a mountaintop in 1941.

He held his first "Holy Convocation," based on Leviticus 23, in Madras in 1941. After this convocations were held annually in Madras and Hyderabad in the South, and in Ahmadabad and Kalimpong in the North.

The one in Hyderabad was always the largest, drawing up to 25,000 participants. They would eat and sleep in huge tents, and meet under a large thatch pandal for hours-long prayer, praise and teaching meetings that began at dawn and ended late at night.

Workers for the meetings were not recruited. The care and feeding of guests was handled by volunteers. Expenses for the meetings were given by voluntary offerings; no appeals were issued.

Bakht Singh's messages were basically outlines of Scripture verses, "line upon line, precept upon precept" (Isaiah 28:10). Persons wanting to know how to do the work of the Lord would go to Hebron, his headquarters in Hyderabad. There they were taught the Scriptures daily and participated in daily chores and street preaching and witnessing. They would stay until they thought they had learned what they needed to know, and then leave to do God's work, returning when they wanted to.

Singh contracted Parkinson disease and was totally bedridden for the last ten years. One Indian couple dedicated themselves to caring for him round the clock.

Memorial services were held on Friday, September 22, 2000, in Hyderabad. According to David Burder, Christian Aid field staff member in Delhi, some 250,000 people attended and, holding their Bibles high, followed the van carrying the mortal remains to the common peoples cemetery. Altogether, from Monday through Friday, over 600,000 people paid their respects to the departed spiritual leader. One police officer remarked, This is the first time I have seen so large a procession so peaceful in all my service so far.

Though public services could not be held at the soccer stadium as originally planned because of opposition from the RSS, a nationalistic Hindu youth society, a member of the Andhra Pradesh State Legislature, who was also a member of the BJP, the pro-Hindu National Peoples Party now in power, came, knelt before the casket and stayed through the entire service. No foreigner was visible so as not to lend credence to the false rumor that Christianity is a foreign religion.


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