For many years we have encouraged newcomers to live with a host Hindu family for their initial stay in India. We saw that this helps them dramatically and rapidly improve their understanding of the language and the culture. But I believe there is another side to this as well that we must look at closely and honestly.
By placing newcomers with Hindu families, we can also unknowingly put an expectation on the newcomer that it is their primary role and responsibility to witness to their host family and see their host family come to faith. Of course, it is our desire that this family come to know Jesus. But the newcomer shouldn’t feel that this is his or her priority. In fact in many instances we see that the host family is not open to the gospel, though they may be extremely friendly with their guests and even refer to them as family.
It’s true that many Hindu host families will welcome the newcomer in and call them ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’. The newcomer will feel that they are receiving some sort of special treatment and that they have somehow earned trust and a place of honor in the family. From this they may begin to think that the family is very close in coming to Jesus. They will begin to rely on the family more and focus all of their evangelism efforts on the host family neglecting others who may be more open and receptive. Instead of spending their time broadly sowing the gospel they spend a majority of their time in a relational connection with the host family. (This can happen not only with the host family but even possibly with another family that the newcomer grows close to.) At times, we have seen an unhealthy dependency form with the newcomers relying totally on the help of the host family. We have even seen host families giving religious and spiritual advice to the newcomers and instead of rising up in their faith and being salt and light for Christ these young people are actually blinded and come under the influence of spiritual direction from their host family. Many people are also not able to set up good boundaries between themselves and the host family and their peace, relationship with God and marriages can suffer as a result.
And when the time comes for a newcomer to leave or move on they may be surprised that they are no longer treated as ‘a son’ or ‘a daughter’ and are instead treated as renters and people to be taken advantage of. As one girl was preparing to leave she was surprised at the rude treatment she received. She was sad to be leaving them and she thought they would be sad when she told them as well. But she was shocked when their only response was, “Oh you are leaving? Then leave all your things here with us because you won’t need them.” They didn’t even show any sorrow that she was going away. She was surprised because they had called her their ‘daughter’. But truly if we pay more attention to the language we will see that every stranger is ‘brother’ (bhaiya) and every older woman ‘mother’ (mataji) so is it surprising that we should be included as family in that lose sense?
So, what is the solution? Should we cut ourselves off from Hindu community and live separately? Of course not, that will not bring us closer to our goal. Instead we need to live as salt and light, not coming under the influence of Hindu spirituality but influencing others with our faith in Christ. We also shouldn’t make reaching the host family our top priority or place it as an undue expectation on the shoulders of newcomers. Yes, it feels safe to be with a host family and spend time with them and that is ok. But the command of Christ is to be a witness to all, to search for the fertile soil and invest there, to sow the gospel broadly, and if needed – yes, even to shake the dust off our feet and move on to give others who have not yet heard an opportunity to respond. Ours is the much harder task of sowing broadly.
Newcomers will need specific instruction and oversight to encourage broader sowing even during the language learning process. They will need regular counseling, encouragement and prayer from mature leadership. They must not feel cut off or abandoned! They must continue to receive love and support by gathering regularly with a group of believers who can understand them and pour into their lives. These things should be balanced against their ministry and their involvement with a Hindu family to avoid unhealthy influence.
So, as we step out into Hindu homes with the Good News of Jesus let’s truly be salt and light. Let’s change the taste and atmosphere everywhere we go!