Sundar Singh was born into a wealthy family in India in 1889. His mother trained him from birth to become a Sikh holy man, and by age seven he could quote by heart vast portions of Hindu holy books. Seeing his intelligence, his mother eventually sent him to a Presbyterian school for a one-year’s course in English. There Sundar, forced to read the New Testament, rebelled, his hot-blooded heart raging against his missionary teachers.
Being tall, good-looking, and muscular, he quickly became the leader of the anti-Christian students, on one ocasion burning a Bible page by page before them.
But Sundar’s white-hot emotions couldn’t absorb the tragic death of his mother, and he found himself at age fifteen overcome with despair. On Sunday night, December 17, 1904, he went to bed planning to commit suicide before breakfast. He rose according to plan at three a.m., took a ceremonial cold bath in keeping with Hindu custom, and prepared to cast himself in front of the five a.m. express train speeding by his house.
But as Sundar prayed, a light suddenly illumed the room, shining so brightly that he thought the house ablaze. A strong, serene figure seemed to appear in a vaporous white cloud and in perfect Hindustani spoke these words: “Why do you persecute me? Remember that I gave My life for you upon the cross.”
Sundar was instantly converted to Christ. When he later shared the news with his family, they were appalled, and failing to dissuade him, they tried to poison him. But Sundar, not to be denied, was baptized on his sixteenth birthday. He sought theological training, and soon put on the yellow robe and turban of a sadhu, a wandering holy man, to go forth preaching the gospel.
Through the mountain passes and over the rugged hills of northern India he journeyed, braving hardship and persecution. He was imprisoned. He was stoned. He was tortured. He was thrown into wells, naked, to die. His travels were so rigorous that he was called the “Apostle of the Bleeding Feet.”
The Indian Christian Sundar Singh once ventured into the forbidden land of Nepal on the borders of Tibet to preach Jesus. In a village there, as he distributed copies of Mark’s Gospel, one of his listeners ripped the Gospel apart and hurried to notify town officials. Sundar was promptly thrown into jail, but he used the time to witness to his fellow prisoners.
When the jailer forbade him from evangelizing, Sundar, sounding much like Peter, replied, “I must obey my Master and preach His gospel, regardless of threats and sufferings.”
The jailer ordered the prisoners not to listen, but they replied, “This man tells us how we can become better, which is what we need.”
Sundar was taken from the cell to a filthy cattle shed. The jailer stripped off his clothing, tied him down hand and foot, and threw upon him a swarm of leeches that had been collected from the jungle. The loathsome creatures latched onto his body and began sucking his blood. But, I lifted up my heart to God in prayer, and He sent such heavenly peace into my soul that I soon began to sing His praises.
After he had grown weak from loss of blood, the authorities released him and returned his clothes. Sundar was soon seen again in the center of town, preaching the gospel and telling the people, It is a joy to suffer for my Savior. In bearing my cross, I hope to direct men to His cross with its offer of peace and pardon. In the cross of Christ alone I will ever glory.
Yet his dark, shining eyes, full beard, and graceful poise reminded people of the Savior, and many believed he looked expressly like Jesus. Great crowds gathered to hear him, and his fame spread throughout the Orient, then around the world. In the years that followed, he preached in some of the greatest pulpits of Asia, Europe, and America. Biographies of him were written and stories about him printed. His face was known everywhere.
Then he disappeared. Being a missionary at heart, Sandu longed to take the gospel into the mysterious and forbidden land of Tibet. In April, 1929, spurning the advice of friends, he set out into the Himalayan foothills, heading upward and inward, disappearing from sight. He was never seen again.
“It is a joy,” he once said, “to suffer for my Savior. In bearing my cross, I hope to direct men to His cross. It was that cross that lifted me out of despair into the peace of God and in the cross of Christ alone I will ever glory.”