(Published 2003, Adventist Review)
Raging against the caste system, Mahatma Gandhi said “I do not want to be reborn. But if I have to be reborn, I should be born an untouchable, so that I may share their sorrows, sufferings, and the affronts leveled at them, in order that I may endeavor to free myself and them from that miserable condition.”
Since Gandhi, the crusaders have been many but the battle is yet to be won. Feeding on human prejudice the caste system thrives–One out of six Hindus today continue to be considered untouchable. Objectively one may say that without the caste system Hinduism stands on shaky ground. Built on the principle that all men are created unequal, Hinduism teaches that the sole purpose of living is to be reborn into a higher human form, to climb up the caste system at every rebirth.
From the moment a child is born into a low caste, he is taught that he is a lesser human form. From that moment, he accepts his fate and lives on the periphery of society.
Set apart from the rest, the “lesser ones” have evolved to be distinctly different. And the man sitting in the far corner of the church was certainly different. He had traveled on foot for a day and then by bus for 16 hours just to find our church pastor, A. M. Puri. And he had a story to tell.
His home is among others like himself, in abject poverty, in a remote area without electricity, running water or even a telephone. Resigned to their fate, complacent in being the leftovers of humanity, they live apart from the rest of Nepal. The commonalities of their low caste keep them together—their looks and mannerisms, their food and language, their culture and customs, their feelings of inferiority and lack of education.
One day came a stranger. Blinded to the trademarks of their caste, he visited with them and told them stories of Jesus. He returned many more times with more stories. And then just as strangely as he appeared in their lives, he left one day and never returned.
Illiterate and without a clue, they did not know where to find another to tell them the remaining stories about Jesus. Did the true God have someone without prejudice for them? Over a year went by when they heard from someone who heard from another who heard from someone else that there was a pastor in Banepa—A. M. Puri—who was not only without prejudice but who had also lived among the low caste a long time ago.
As our visitor begged Puri to come teach his people, Puri’s own life began to make sense. More than 20 years earlier he worked with this particular caste of people. A college graduate, he could not understand why he was being sent to a serve an illiterate people. But he went anyway. He learned their language, composed Christian lyrics to fit their folk tunes, studied their strange rituals and even developed a customized Bible Study to fit their life and culture. Then two years later he was posted to another area and never had a chance to use his material again.
Now he could see the connection!
Our visitor returned to his village and Puri followed a few weeks later with a representative from the Nepal SDA Field. What a surprise awaited them! In a 15-mile radius, there were six communities, totaling about 350 people—all of them eager to learn more about Jesus, all of them wanting to be baptized! Among them was Manoj, one of only two educated members of the community. Manoj has completed 10th grade and dreams of going to college, studying theology, and returning to disciple his people. Even if the whole community pooled in their resources, it wouldn’t be enough. But what’s a college education compared to the stigma they are overcoming through Jesus!
Puri will be making several more long journeys to prepare them for baptism. And one day very soon, we will witness the largest Adventist baptism in this Hindu country. It will be a baptism of great significance–not just because of the numbers but because it will be a momentous day when these lesser ones are made heirs of God’s kingdom.