This post is the fifth in a multi-part series revealing the gifts Christians from other countries bring to our American campus communities and churches. This part focuses on the gifts South Asian Christians bear.
“I told these girls how much Jesus loved Mary Magdalene and elevated women’s status. God then led me to tell them how worthy they are in Jesus’ eyes and how much He loves each of us.” Writing to me after returning to Pakistan as a Ph.D. candidate and leader of her university campus ministry, Nabila (alias) continued, “God used me to guide all these young girls of self-awareness and worth. I felt so humbled by this,” she said..
I first met Nabila the year she came to Baltimore as a visiting scholar. She and South Asians like her show us how Christ brings holistic spiritual and embodied liberation. Many of Jesus’ faithful followers from the Indian subcontinent can help us rediscover Jesus’ longing to free us spiritually, his passion for loosening chains of injustice, and his power to break oppressive yokes.
Nabila’s home country of Pakistan, along with the broader Indian subcontinent (about one-fourth of the world’s population), consistently scores at the bottom of global rankings in human rights and gender equality. Women from the lower castes suffer disproportionately. India is home to more than 80 million Dalit women, formerly known as ‘untouchables,’ considered some of the most oppressed in the world.
After Nabila returned to Pakistan, she and I continued discussing Jesus and women. Nabila confided:
So many women around me—neighbors, relatives, etc.– live daily, enduring abuse from their spouses; it makes me sick and afraid of marriage. In our culture, the pain and disgrace of exposing that you are unhappy in a relationship is much more demeaning and painful than physical abuse. I feel very sad and helpless that ladies must choose between tolerating spousal abuse or enduring abuse from society. My heart cries for those who neither realize their worth nor think they deserve better.
With Easter approaching, Nabila sought freedom in Christ for the women at her university. God led her to share the story of Jesus’ post-resurrection encounter with Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene: Apostle To the Apostles
After Jesus delivered her from many demons, Mary of Magdala followed him everywhere, helping to support his mission. Jesus honored her loyalty and faith.
Mary was the first person Jesus revealed himself to as the resurrected Christ (see John 20:11-18). After choosing to see this grief-stricken woman first, Jesus commissioned her to proclaim the good news of his resurrection to the eleven apostles, even though society deemed women unreliable witnesses.
“Gossiping” About Jesus
Like Nabila, Nepalese women pick up Mary Magdalene’s mantle. They “gossip” about Jesus helping others escape oppressive caste and gender hierarchies to find freedom in Christ. Their teaching provides hope for those feeling trapped by fate.
Ghale, a Nepalese evangelist and business owner, says, “When I tell women, ‘You are so beautiful,’ they are shocked and want to know what beauty I see in them that their loved ones have never seen or acknowledged. It is then that they are ready to hear about the God who loves them unconditionally.”
Women initiate for the Gospel, says Manoj Pradhan, director of the leadership training department for Nepal Christian Fellowship. “God is raising women […] bringing them to the forefront, calling them into ministerial leadership roles.” Pradhan hopes that women will also be ordained as ministers while acknowledging that “it might take some time.”
Pastor Rick Warren, whose Saddleback Church was also expelled for having female Pastors, warned that a total ban on women as pastors would drive hundreds of Black churches from the denomination. “For hundreds of years, Black Baptist churches have been ordaining women […]. If this is true, the SBC is holding up a sign that says, ‘All Black churches look elsewhere.’”
Disengagement from the American church is reflected in the plummeting membership within the SBC and other evangelical denominations and churches. Today’s youth feel particularly disconnected. Sadly, some are exiting the church to search for Jesus and re-examine church teachings.
For Mahatma Gandhi, Christianity became “the religion of kings” as it moved westward during its first several hundred years. While rejecting Christianity, Gandhi became a remarkably Christlike man.
Drawn to the person of Christ and Christ’s teachings from his youth, Gandhi freely credited Jesus for his life principles of forgiveness, love for enemies, and returning evil with good. He chose Indian clothes worn by poor villagers to identify with them.
Many South Asians today show us a similarly authentic portrait of Jesus.
Jesus Brings Freedom
“Generation Next (Gen Next) in South Asia today seek ideals that will lead them to freedom. As the ‘connected generation,’ they make links across the classes and castes,” says Dr. Jacob Isaac, founder, and CEO of Kerygma, an organization based in India dedicated to permeating urban society with Christ-like values and serving needy young people. “This longing [for freedom] has led to large-scale conversions to Christianity in Nepal.”
Christians from the Indian subcontinent often understand their experience of God’s freedom as a responsibility. Like Jesus, they consistently engage the disenfranchised, those for whom God’s heart aches.
“I learned that Jesus loved people on the margins,” writes Simran (alias), a first-generation Hindu convert raised in California. “He [Jesus] drew near to those whom society considered to be the dirtiest, most broken, untouchable people. […] He wanted to involve me in sharing his love with others. […] I fell in love with the Jesus I met in Scripture and wanted to follow Him. […] I was filled with so much freedom, joy, and love.”
South Asian believers consistently show us Jesus elevating the downtrodden, poor, marginalized, and sick as he crosses boundaries and violates taboos in ways that subvert how society is ordered and stratified. Through them, we see Jesus’ magnetic appeal as a personal and social liberator, seeking to stretch our faith and radically transform our lives.
Resources To Consider
“Following Christ includes desiring multi-ethnicity and taking thoughtful steps to honor people from all cultures in the way we practice Christian community […] and how we relate to people who are ethnically different from us,” says Jasmine Obeyesekere Fernando, speaking from her thirty-year relationship with Sri-Lankan Fellowship of Christian University Students, and 20 years of ministry with InterVarsity. Jasmine shares her journey stewarding privilege and power in Sri Lanka, providing insights into what a Christ-centered multiethnic community looks like.
A one-volume commentary written and edited by over 90 South Asian Biblical scholars on all the books of the Bible. Strategically placed application articles are interspersed throughout the commentary, along with perspectives on biblical interpretation and matters of Christian faith and practice relevant to South Asians and Christians globally.
Previous Posts in this Series
 As in Pakistan and India, the traditionally patriarchal society in Nepal creates systematic barriers to gender equality, particularly among those in the lower castes. Though outlawed in 2001, caste discrimination is still widely practiced, particularly in rural Nepal.
 Among disaffiliated youth raised in religious homes, 69% say religion causes problems more than provides solutions. Barna researchers conclude that the church’s perceived absence of impact among 18-35 year-olds on issues of poverty and justice should be taken seriously.
 Fischer, Louis, Gandhi: His Life and Message for the World (Mentor/New American Library, 1954), p. 131.
 South Asia Bible Commentary (p. 1189). (Open Door Publications and Zondervan Academic, 2015), p. 1189.
About the author:
God has privileged Bill Nelson to represent Him among students and scholars gathered from over 50 nations at Johns Hopkins University over the past 25 years. Bill is an ordained minister through the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), having received his theological and ministry training at Dallas and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminaries. He and his wife Michele enjoy hiking in the mountains and other activities with friends and family, including their three grown children.