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Condolences to Our Sikh Neighbors

a burning candle

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the shooting in a Wisconsin Sikh Gurdwara (temple) last Sunday. Since the local West Michigan Sikh Gurdwara sits right in front of the Ada Bible Church Cascade Campus, some have asked me what our response has been. So I want to share a few things here.

When I heard about the shooting, my wife and I happened to catch the very end of the local news broadcast. The first thing I saw was the sign in front of the gurdwara by our church, which I drive by all the time. At first, I thought the shooting happened there, which was horrifying. I was looking at our own neighbors on TV. When I realized the shooting happened in Wisconsin, I was relieved but wondered if our neighbors still feel safe. The Sikh faith is a very small minority in the US and in the Grand Rapids area, so it would be natural for them to feel threatened.

My first impulse was to make sure they knew —if they didn’t already—that the thousands of people who worship in their backyard are their friends. We grieve with them.

Others felt the same way, so yesterday afternoon a few of us took flowers to the gurdwara, and we met their priest, Baljeet Singh. We expressed our sorrow for what happened and asked how it is affecting his congregation. He said it has been hard, but they have been encouraged by many in the community. He was very kind and invited us to attend their prayer vigil happening later that night.

One of the things that struck me about Baljeet was that he’s about my age with children about the same age as mine. Seeing his young boys running around and knowing his dedication to religious leadership, I knew I have plenty in common with him. We also learned he is quite a musician. He recently recorded an album of traditional Indian Sikh music at Abbey Road Studios in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying him. Needless to say, he has quiet a voice. (Listen to him leading worship here.)

Last night, then, several of us (elders, staff, and a few ABC attenders) went to the prayer vigil to express our condolences. The service was fascinating. I was impressed with their hospitality and their openness. Cameras were present throughout the service, and they welcomed everyone from any faith. The only thing they asked was that we respect two traditions they hold dear—that when we enter the gurdwara we take off our shoes and cover our heads (signs of respect).

Baljeet led the congregation with music, singing, and prayer. At one point, he paused to express their perspective on the shooting. He shared that in the Sikh faith, they believe God is in everything and in everyone. Therefore, God is in everything that happens as well. He said, “So we don’t complain. We accept it.” As tragic as the shooting was, he said the Sikh faith has no room for retaliation or hatred even toward the shooter—someone they prayed for as well.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I obviously have different beliefs, but I share their desire to respond in a peaceful way. They are good neighbors, and we pray God will bring them comfort.

I share this here to encourage us all to show our support and care for the “other” around us. Showing people that you care about them does not imply you agree with their beliefs. One of the first things that came to mind when I learned about the shooting was how God called his people to come together and show kindness and love to outsiders just as much as they do to each other (Leviticus 19.34). Jesus did that in the ultimate way by giving up his life for us while we were “outsiders” in order to draw us near to him (Ephesians 2.11-18). As Jeff Manion, our Senior Teaching Pastor, often says hospitality is very close to the heart of Christ.

What can you do to show love and hospitality to the people around you—especially those who are different?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nathaniel Lloyd #

    I haven’t been out to the Ada campus in a while, so I had forgotten the Sikh temple is there. Thank you for sharing this experience. That is quite a way to experience someone else’s religion – at a time when religious experience is intense and immediate. Religion is an important part of how we, as a people/culture, deal with death and tragedy and it’s what draws us together.

    As you said you were able to experience their way while still understanding and maintaining your understanding of Jesus and his love for us. I think that’s a great connection to make – that in all situations we keep our faith and let it guide us.

    A situation where we can show love and hospitality among those who are different would be at a funeral of a family member beyond our immediate surrounding. We might have to go out and attend such an event and just be there for others who are grieving while experiencing it in our own way. The service may not even be in a church – or if it is, maybe something which barely invokes God or Jesus at all. The key, I believe, is to respect the deceased’s beliefs first and foremost, then also be there for the extended family, but at the end of the day maintain that balance within ourselves.

    All of which you eloquently stated above, but a different, perhaps more common experience of it, I guess!

    August 10, 2012
  2. I am glad you took the opportunity and reached out promptly. Leadership led the way. This is a good testimony for Christ.

    September 9, 2012

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