General view of the sunset in the mountains of Central Asia. Photo by Adam Hagy.

On a journey with the Father

Raised as a Hindu, Karun experienced freedom in Christ and today shares the good news with Muslims, who are also bound by their religious identity.

Karun’s* journey with Jesus has taken him from an Indian Tamil Hindu temple in Apartheid South Africa to a Muslim mosque in Central Asia, from doing drugs and dealing with depression, to sharing his story of freedom with others. Today, as an OM leader in Central Asia, he has applied his cultural value of community to his relationships, regularly welcoming other leaders, co-workers and local friends to sit around his family’s kitchen table. “Where we come from, as Indians, everything happens around food. It’s a very important part of our journey. Having a cup of tea, breaking bread with people, it’s everything. Everything like this is done at the table, just like what Jesus said,” he explained.

Alongside relationships, religion was also a strong part of Karun’s culture. Growing up, he wanted to be just like his father—a Hindu priest and production manager for a large company, who was greatly respected in the community. To follow in his father’s footsteps, Karun participated in as many Hindu festivals and rituals as possible, carrying trays of coconuts and fruit and other offerings to his father inside the temple and then returning the trays to their owners outside.

“I wanted to help people — because that’s what I saw it as — and so I started on this journey to serve even more with my father and the temple.”

Around the age of 13, Karun re-evaluated his efforts. “I felt like this whole journey was going nowhere…Nothing I was aiming to accomplish spiritually was happening.”

Religion and morality were deeply ingrained in Karun’s community, but violence and double standards dominated the streets. “In terms of spirituality, everybody wanted to be religious…but in reality, it was just a mask,” he explained.

The turning point

Lacking fulfilment in his own religious pursuits, Karun started to smoke, do drugs and get involved with gangs throughout his high school years. During that time, he lost two close friends. Realising he was headed for the same outcome, he sat down on his bed on day and said: “God, if You can hear me, help me.”

It was a prayer he still remembers verbatim, different than the usual Hindu petitions where an individual god is mentioned by name.

The next day, one of his neighbours in the multi-religious community where he lived, invited him to a Christian youth group. Karun and his friends went, intending to disrupt the gathering; instead, the joy and satisfaction evident in the lives of the young Jesus followers there captivated him. A few weeks later, he joined the group for a camp, packing drugs and alcohol alongside his other overnight essentials.

At that camp, he heard a voice summon him to the main event hall, saying, “I want to meet with you.” When Karun followed that prompting, he found himself kneeling in the front of the room, tearfully responding: “Yes, Lord.”

That day Karun committed to following Jesus, and God immediately delivered him from his drug addiction, though he continued to smoke for a long time afterwards. He expected pushback from his family and tightknit religious community, but, surprisingly, Karun said his father supported his decision.

Upon reflection, Karun realised that throughout his childhood, his father had welcomed diverse input, engaging in lengthy conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses or members of the Apostolic Church down the hill from his house. In fact, Karun’s father had even sent him to a Christian Sunday school for a season. When Karun ran home the first day after hearing the speaker denounce Hindu idols, his father made him go back to the church to learn the morals being taught there.

Even with early exposure to other religions, Karun said one of the main barriers to the gospel in his Hindu community is the same one that exists amongst Muslims in Central Asia, where he’s lived for over two decades: identity. “You feel like if you give up your religion, you’re giving up on your people,” he shared.

Still the freedom Karun found in Christ was stronger than his fears about losing his culture. “I was trapped,” he explained. “And I prayed a lot. I did a lot of rituals, but it wasn’t setting me free. And then Jesus comes along, and He says, ‘I can do this for you.’

Karun began to build community with other Indian Jesus followers in South Africa, and he visited OM’s ship, Doulos, when it docked at a nearby port. Inspired by the young people on board serving Jesus, Karun applied to join, and, a few months later, started OM’s missions training programme in South Africa as preparation. He credits that time as the true beginning of his discipleship journey. “A lot of who I was in Christ came out, a lot of deliverance, the offloading of baggage, understanding who Father [God] is and His heart for me and His mission all happened during that period,” he said. “I see the value of coming into OM and being discipled in OM and then growing from there.”

Coming from a deeply segregated society in Apartheid South Africa, Karun was stunned by the international make-up of OM’s training programme. “In the beginning, it was quite a culture shock for me,” he described. Experiencing a multi-national community following Christ and wrestling with his own prejudices helped lay the foundation for the future God had planned — not on the seas but across Central Asia.

God uses every experience

During Karun’s early days in Central Asia, he met many young men who were addicted to drugs. “It was amazing to tell them what Father had done in my life and the transformation that happened,” he shared. Joyfully, he witnessed one of his friends decide to follow Jesus.

Later, another young man who was training to become an Islamic teacher visited Karun every day for three months. “We would sit and talk about the Bible. I would talk about following Jesus. We would talk about his training as a Muslim. I would talk about my background of being a Hindu,” Karun recalled.

“I know more about the Bible than you do,” the man told Karun shortly before he left.

“I’m glad you do,” Karun replied. “But it’s not about knowing the Bible. It’s about having a relationship with Jesus and what that means.”

Six months later, the man returned and knocked on Karun’s door. When he opened it, the man hugged him and said: “I’m part of the family.”

In Central Asia, Karun also served amongst a marginalised people group, with whom he could share his own experiences of segregation in South Africa.

Recently, OM in Central Asia started its second REACH programme — including many of the same components that Karun learned during his own discipleship in South Africa, and, like he experienced, participants from different countries with historical and current conflicts have been challenged to create unity and reconciliation through God’s Word.

Throughout Karun’s life, his experiences have not gone to waste. “The Father uses every part of your journey, not just one,” he emphasised.

He hopes to impart that lesson to those around him — whether Hindus, Muslims or others who have not experienced the difference Jesus makes. “To journey well is to share everything: the highs, the lows…, and to show them that this is how Christ impacts us in all those different situations. Even though it’s difficult, I still have hope, and I have a Father that I can run to,” he explained.

For Hindus in particular, Jesus may be one picture on the wall — lost amongst the myriad of gods they worship. But bringing Him into every moment, and praying for them in Jesus’ name, puts the focus back on Him. “Sharing the gospel is not just empty words spoken to people, but it’s all about your lifestyle, it’s all about community, it’s all about the relationship,” Karun said. “Our journey with Jesus is more than just religion.”

Pray for believers to understand who they are in Jesus and the impact they can make in least-reached communities by not only sharing words but also sharing their lives. Pray for Karun and his wife to stay connected to God and follow His guidance in their leadership roles. Pray for the new generation of Central Asian believers being challenged to step into missions and embrace their role in sharing the gospel with those who have never heard or experienced Christ’s love lived out.

*name changed

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