Kumar, a lifelong cyclist and dedicated missions worker, has spent nearly 40 years reaching out to the Hethne community, using his cycling prowess to raise funds and encouraging professionals to engage with the Hethne people — all while embracing challenges and heartwarming encounters.
For nearly 40 years, Kumar* has been flying the flag and blazing the trail for the Hethne community to know the love of Jesus. Based in Singapore with his family today, the lifelong cyclist is something of a fund-racer who has raised tens of thousands of dollars for missions work with OM through his long-distance races.
His heart that beats for the sport also beats and bleeds for the Hethne people, who number over a billion in South Asia and diaspora communities worldwide. Having served them for so many years, Kumar shared that he now concentrates on encouraging people, including professionals, engineers and medical missionaries, to reach out to the Hethne.
It is a grand mission that saw the 60-year-old travelling frequently to organise and speak at Hethne conferences and meetings all over the world prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns. But belying this globe-trotting career mission worker's great dreams for God are humble beginnings from South Asia and a lifetime of learning and sacrifice.
You're the fast guy
Born into a religious family, as a young man Kumar made the bold decision to follow Jesus in an environment where Jesus was little known. That choice might well have been due to the fact that he was no stranger to radical thinking. As a student, he was influenced by thinkers like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Kumar admitted that he was amazed that Jesus challenged the status quo of his time, "That was what attracted me — the uniqueness of Christ."
Not long after accepting Jesus in university in the 1980s, Kumar decided to live out the Great Commission beginning right where he was in his hometown as an "open-air preacher." But the affable young man had more than gospel passion burning in his heart — he also happened to have renown and influence.
"I was a well-known person in my hometown," explained Kumar, who was sponsored by a local government in South Asia in 1982 for a national bicycle expedition. All told, he cycled about 20,000km around the country, so he was always introduced as "Kumar the cyclist." People would say to him, "Oh, you're the guy — fast guy."
However, Kumar's love for adventure wasn't exclusive to the land, as he was also an avid swimmer.
"I used to do long-distance swimming, two to three hours in the deep sea. Nobody told me about sharks in those days!" he quipped. Little did he know then, however, that his adventure on the seas had only just begun.
Having already served in various roles, like driver and mechanic, in his ministry in his hometown, Kumar was about to put his mechanical background and penchant for hands-on industrial work to great use on board Doulos in 1987.
He would ultimately spend around four years aboard Doulos and return for a second tour in the 1990s before — in characteristically adventurous fashion — making the bold switch to academia.
With a wry smile, Kumar recounted giving away his beautiful, expensive toolbox filled with the best German and Swiss tools that had served him well through the years.
Relocating to Singapore, he slowly moved into academia by finishing his bachelor's degree. Kumar's Master of Divinity, Master of Theology and doctoral degrees would also later come through years of part-time studies.
"I never thought I would end up in the academic world," he reflected. "I'm really not an academic person. I'm quite surprised that my other side of the brain is working when I'm 60!"
Yet, while Kumar values the opportunities that credentials can bring, he is careful not to fall into the academic trap. One example is his insistence on staying away from highfalutin jargon when relating to the person he is sharing God's love with, choosing to share practical tips instead, such as not criticising their family and avoiding arguing with the culture.
For someone used to being beaten while preaching on the roadside and going without food when his team could not sell books for the mission in the early days, it might be surprising that Kumar looks back on those tough times fondly. Why? Because of the many precious memories that he made along the way.
For instance, a young man named Dara* turned up many years ago to hear Kumar speak at one of the seminars Kumar had organised, upset that Kumar had led Dara's parents away from their previous religion. Dara had come to the seminar a broken man, as his business failed, and he was greatly disappointed with life.
"Although Dara was not a Christian, he attended the seminar with many questions about the faith. God answered all his questions, one by one. Two days into the seminar, he surrendered himself to God.
"God truly works in wondrous and unfathomable ways!" shared Kumar.
Today, Dara is actively involved in the work of outreach; Kumar believes Dara has since brought more people to Jesus than his own ministry has over the last 20 years.
"I was totally unaware of the impact God had made on Dara. In fact, I was quite discouraged at that time, as only about 10 people attended the seminar. I am gladdened when I think how it could have left such an indelible impact on Dara's life that he turned to the Lord.
"Sometimes, God gives us only glimpses of how He partners us for His glory. He asks for our patience while He brings what seems to be our most futile efforts to fruition."
In another wonderful encounter, Kumar met a 15-year-old boy named Unni suffering from cancer. The meeting was unplanned, and the two could only have a 20-minute conversation at the time. Months later, Kumar learnt that Unni had succumbed to cancer, but not before deciding to believe in Jesus.
Moments like these continue to drive Kumar daily, who carries on the work by connecting with migrant workers living in Singapore through his warmth, love and trademark hearty laugh.
Blazing the trail
With his feet ever on the pedals, it does not seem like Kumar intends to slow down anytime soon. Before COVID-19, he embarked on a round-trip around Taiwan, armed with little more than a Sony pocket projector and a laptop, stopping to preach and teach along the way.
Ever the trailblazer, even after 40 years, Kumar's heart continues to burn fiercely for what the next face of twenty-first-century missions will look like.
"We need to think beyond traditional missions," he urged. "How can we impact the arts scene? How can we affect businesses? We need to challenge people — we need to do something to reach out to these people."