During his 1920 tour of Europe, the Indian convert to Christianity Sundar Singh (1889-1929?) was proclaimed a living "Apostle and a Saint." As one Oxford scholar put it, "we feel from knowing him, we understand [St. Francis and St. Paul] better."

Such praise and adulation, however, were only faint echoes of the devotion Sundar Singh had inspired in India, where he had wandered robed in the style of a sadhu (ascetic "holy man") preaching Christ for 15 years. His Indian admirers proclaimed "How like Christ he is!" wherever he went. This likeness, they asserted, reflected a deep, mystical union: "It is no sin to call Sundar Singh 'Swami' [i.e., Lord] for Christ himself dwells in him."

What was it about Sundar Singh that inspired many Indian and European Christians? Like Paul, he claimed that his conversion came through a vision of Christ and that he traveled to the "third heaven" in ecstasy. Like Francis, he imitated Christ's life of poverty, wandering, and preaching. And like Christ himself, he taught in parables and suffered persecution.

Yet in the Indian context that shaped Sundar Singh's Christianity, all these aspects of exemplary Christian religious life had strong parallels in Indian traditions. The sadhu or "holy man" renounces worldly life in seeking ultimate "salvation." In this way, Sundar Singh sought to demonstrate that Christian faith and Indian religious culture had much more in common than the Christianity brought by foreign missionaries seemed to allow. Indian Christians understood and appreciated this, and by the 1920s, many European Christians began to agree.

Seeking the hidden God

One of Sundar Singh's parables about longing for God, reminiscent of Christ's teaching, is characteristic of him:

"A woman hid herself ...

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