THE PRIMARY GOAL of this book is to help build a strong Christian community of Asian Indians in North America. This goal is based on the principle that godly experiences and visions of committed Christians transcend cultural and other boundaries. The book contains contributions from authors in diverse fields all of whom share the same biblical values. Their articles are focused on equipping pastors, youth leaders, and families to build a generation of mature believers for the kingdom of God.
This chapter presents a framework for understanding the struggles faced by the first and second generation Indian Christian immigrants. Some methods used for achieving it are, Reviewing the socio-cultural context of American society, Analyzing the thoughts of Indian youths based on the results of a youth survey and reviewing the major concerns of parents in raising children. This is followed by a biblical perspective on the reason for our struggles, survival and victory -- that we are strangers in this foreign land. Finally, this chapter presents an overview of each of the subsequent chapters in this book.
The revised edition also focuses on how the perceptions and the problems of the youth have changed over the past ten years since the initial publication. Excerpts from a marriage survey and other findings are used to compare and analyze these changes.
We are living in one of the most civilized countries in the world. Yet our children do not have a safe environment here. Increasingly, teenagers are victims of abuse, discrimination, gang violence, AIDS, and suicide and now most importantly the free danger zone of the internet. Christian values have been removed from the school system, family life, and the mainstream of society. Children are being persuaded, intimidated and coerced to accept post-modern, materialistic, and humanistic philosophies and cultures that have failed in the past and do not offer any new answers for the future. Societies profess and teach the concept of relative morality everywhere. As a result, children grow up with little idea of right and wrong. They live in a society that has grown coarse and desensitized to the value of human life and basic civility. How has it come to this? It begins with an ideology that questions the biblical truth of obedience to God, parents, and authorities. Emphases on personal discipline, fear of God, and respect for parents and authorities are considered too extreme for developing kids. It is reasoned that behaviorally and culturally, children are incapable of self-control.
Indian Teenagers Speak Out
Although Indian children are not afflicted on as large a scale as the general population, there are exceptions. During my discussions with Indian teenagers in the USA I have observed the negative effects of peer pressure. Although early adolescence has long been characterized as a time of uncertainty, changing social norms and values and the liberal education system have added to the confusion. Activities that were once found among the ‘unchurched’ people -- drinking, premarital sex, drugs, homosexuality and suicide -- now tempt our children as well.
Consider the results of a teenage survey conducted in 1995 (see Appendix A, Tables 1-11). This survey was undertaken to discern what Indian Pentecostal teens think about their spiritual and social experiences, standards and practices. It was conducted with the assumption that reliable, up-to-date data is needed for pastors, youth leaders, and counselors if they are to minister effectively to today’s youth.1 Data were collected from 182 youth which includes participants of the Pentecostal Conference of North American Keralites, the annual camp meeting of Pentecostal Youth Fellowship of America, New York, and youth attending Indian Pentecostal Churches in major US cities.1
Table 1 indicates that those surveyed attended church activities with a high degree of regularity. Two-third of the teens stated they are satisfied with various church activities.
Table 1. Indian Pentecostal Teenagers and Church
Local Church Yes No
Attend Indian/Keralite Church 86% 14%*
Satisfied with church environment 67% 33%
Actively participate in church activities 78% 22%
Attend Sunday School regularly 86% 14%
* Attend other church including White, Black & Hispanic
Even though the participants expressed their satisfaction with the church activities, 33 percentage of the young people said they were dissatisfied with the current church environment. The reasons for their dissatisfaction include:
? They believe that the church is not having a positive influence on them.
? They do not feel free to go to Pastors/leaders with their problems.
? They are discontent with the adults in the church; especially with adult failure to live up to the truths they profess to believe.
Seminars and discussions amongst Indian Christians regarding spiritual and cultural issues frequently blame the second generation for loosening the traditional and cultural value systems that the first generation considered as essential for victorious Christian life. . The second generation has been considered immature and not ready to take on spiritual responsibilities. Indian Christian youth are largely invisible in planning and leadership activities of the church. Yet the first and second generation immigrant youth are the fastest growing segment of the Indian Pentecostal Community in the United States.
Table 2 indicates that 58 percent of the Indian teens are comfortable and content with their families. However, 42 percent of the teenagers had problems with their parents. They felt that their parents were overly concerned about them and the parents did not trust them. Two-third of the teens never shared personal problems with their parents.
Table 2. Parent-Child Relationship
Parent-Child Relationship Yes Sometimes No
Satisfied with family environment 64% 7% 29%
Parents help in difficult situations 42% 36% 22%
Parents encourage practicing their cultural values 63% 35% 2%
Daily family prayer 75% - 25%
Parent-child conflict 42% - 58%
Many Indian parents do know that their kids are in danger. They know that drugs, liberal education, suicide, violence, and homosexuality are all taking their toll, but they do not comprehend what has gone wrong or know what to do about it. If our children do not get proper guidance, leadership, and spiritual support, they will not grow up to be whole, balanced adults. Instead, they will become victims of a New World disorder.
The overwhelming majority of Indian parents across the United States believe that raising children today is harder than it was for their own parents, and their biggest worry for their children today is “School/College.”2 When asked to name what they consider the “biggest single negative influence on your child,” 41 percent - pointed to “peer pressure,” rather than violence, drugs, or economic problems.- (see Appendix A, Tables 11-17).
We are Strangers in this World
The ultimate goal of this book is to awaken Indian immigrants, particularly the Christians in Canada and the United States, that we are aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11) whether we live in America or in India. We know that we are set apart from this world to God and to proclaim the gospel to His glory and praise. Our new status in Christ sets us apart from the people of this world, and we become aliens in this world. We now live in a country to which we do not belong and our true citizenship is with Christ in heaven (Hebrews 11:9). we must abstain from the world’s evil pleasures that seek to destroy our souls, because we are foreigners on this earth We hold the goods of this world loosely, as materials which have no lasting value since they are of no consequence in the city to which we belong. Thus we do not value the things the world lusts after, which only lead to sin -- the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
America is not our home. Yes, we are pilgrims, wanderers, and strangers in this foreign land. The Bible says that Abraham stood in the Promised Land and said, “I am a stranger and an alien residing among you” (Genesis 23.4). By this he confessed that he sought another homeland. When we look up to heaven we will get a glimpse of that far off place. We are now brought near by faith, allowed to try out the new home ahead of time as it were, in which the curse has been repealed, sorrow is gone, neither sin nor temptation enter in, and fellowship with the brethren and with Christ is satisfying and sweet.
In his account of the Pilgrims’ way of life, William Bradford, Governor of the first Pilgrim plantation and community in Plymouth, Massachusetts, wrote: “They knew that they were pilgrims and strangers here below, and looked not much on these things, but lifted their eyes up to Heaven, their dearest country, where God has prepared for them a city.”3 Unlike modern Christians, the Pilgrims had everything going against them from an earthly standpoint. Landing in Plymouth during the winter of 1620, the Pilgrims endured hunger and deprivation; half of them died. Who would have thought their struggling colony would ever survive? Yet against all odds the Pilgrims had one thing that really mattered: an unswerving conviction that their real home and citizenship were in heaven, where, as the Book of Hebrews puts it, God has prepared for them a city with foundations. That was their focus, their hope, and their motivation. When the Pilgrims gathered with Native Americans after that first harvest of 1621, they were not simply expressing gratitude to God for material blessings. By lifting “up their eyes to Heaven,” the Pilgrims were reaffirming a worldview that acknowledged the transient nature of life. They were confirming their status as pilgrims in a strange land.
The Puritans also began their journey of life with a similar comprehensive worldview. They believed that God had created society as a unified whole: the church and the state, the private and the public, the secular and the sacred. As a result, the Puritans were concerned with building an entire culture that would glorify God. They also knew that the task of culture building requires long-term commitment. So they focused on nurturing godly families through whom their worldview would be shared through the generations. Consider Jonathan Edwards, the Congregational pastor, scholar, and leader of the First Great Awakening. Elizabeth Dodds, in her book about Jonathan Edwards entitled Marriage to a Difficult Man, describes the remarkable legacy that he and his wife Sarah left to American society.4 The Edwardses reared 11 children, and by 1900 the family had 1,400 descendants.
Like the Pilgrims and Puritans, we need to embrace a comprehensive Christian worldview that is not built on the fleeting but on the eternal. We need to put a high priority on nurturing godly families. We ought to challenge our children to pursue callings that deeply influence the culture -- all for the glory of God. As Christian parents we need to make sure we are passing on our Christian beliefs and heritage to our children. Modern America used to resemble Jerusalem, but it is becoming increasingly like Athens. Why is it that with so many Christians we have so little impact? Why cannot culture, American, Indian, or any other, provide an inviolable basis for protecting our families and churches? Unless we owe our allegiance to God, we cannot stand against moral degradation and tyranny.
Organization of the Book
This book is divided into three main sections. The first section, Chapter 2, focuses on the growth of the Indian Pentecostal community and its churches in North America. The second section, Chapters 3 through 8, contains articles on issues relevant to Indian families, with a special emphasis on youth. This includes discussions on issues such as the parent-child relationship, and spiritual and cultural conflicts of the second generation. The final section, Chapters 9 through 13, contains articles focused on ministry and leadership.
The second chapter, “The Indian Pentecostal Community: the Past and the Present” by Dr. Sam Mathew provides a detailed account of the growth of Indian Pentecostal churches and para-church organizations in the US and Canada. Survey results on the number of Indian Pentecostal churches by state and year are included in this chapter. The author contends that Pentecostals are the fastest growing group among Indian immigrants, although there is no authentic comparable data to substantiate the claim.
The third chapter, titled “The First Generation: Struggles and Survival” by Dr. Samuel Mathai, contends that God in His sovereignty has brought the Indian Pentecostals to America. Although some may see this as a consequence of mere economic opportunity, the author feels differently. He believes it is through divine appointment that they are here for the purpose of worshipping and serving God. The first generation of Keralites faces several struggles for survival -- spiritual, social, cultural, familial, and linguistic. But the two challenges that this author emphasizes are: the process of into American culture, and the challenge of living in harmony with their second generation children who are being assimilated into the American society. The solution is neither a complete resistance to the new (dominant) culture and full embracing of their own from India, or a disdain of personal culture and full acceptance of the dominant culture. Instead, it is important to adopt a balanced, biblical view of culture that will help Indian families to live harmoniously in spite of the new cultural demands and generational conflicts.
Chapter four, “The Second Generation: Spiritual and Cultural Conflicts” by Ashish Raichur, argues that as the number of Indian immigrants continues to grow, the second generation increasingly encounters a pervasive tension between the native values encouraged by their parents and the views expressed in their immediate world. This chapter focuses on two very important realms of conflict -- the spiritual and the cultural. Spiritual issues such as alternate beliefs, the Americanized gospel, the godless religion and the ‘doyourownthing’ lifestyle are addressed. Also considered are cultural and social issues such as the pressure of the “in-crowd,” dating, and marriage. Finally a prophetic word is presented on the strategic role and future of the second generation in God’s agenda.
In chapter five, “The Second Generation: Struggles and Survival” Dr. C. Thomas Luiskutty gives another perspective on the struggles faced by the second generation of Indian Pentecostals living in North America. The survival of the community depends on how well these issues are addressed by its people. Spiritual values are of eternal significance and cannot be compromised. Values originating from cultural background, although very important to certain segments of the community, may have to be adapted. Identification and prioritization of values, communication among the various elements of the community, and determination to follow biblical commands with the guidance of the Holy Spirit will assist the youth in their endeavor to minimize their struggles.
Chapter six, “Youth in Transition” by Sam Ninan, argues that there needs to be a distinction between ages, cultures, backgrounds, and preferences of second generation Indians who came to America, American-born Indians and Indian-born Naturalized Americans. Each group views themselves differently. Churches, associations, and youth groups exclusively catering to the Indian community, play a vital role in addressing the post-modern morality of relativism, tolerance and secularism. The challenges to living a successful Christian life are numerous, whether in high school, college, or in the work world. The second and third generation will also see their influence grow in the secular world, especially in politics. Understanding this transition requires facing the truth about issues of importance such as racism and marriage, and maintaining fellowship groups at all levels of life.
In chapter seven, “Stresses Facing Indian Families: Role of biblical Counseling,” Dr. George Kurian indicates that the Indian community is presently at the threshold of a cultural transition, the impact of which is most keenly felt at the level of the traditional family unit. Within the context of such a rapidly changing society, there are many potential threats to the stability of traditional family systems and inter-personal relationships. This article addresses four such areas of major conflicts relevant to the Indian community: Identity conflict, Managing losses, Parent-child relationships, and the Attitude toward mental health. Given the apparent lack of effective support systems within the Indian community, the article presents Christian professional counseling as a viable tool toward building strong families within the Indian Community.
The eighth chapter, “Christian Parenting in America: An Immigrant’s Perspective” by Dr. John Wessly, contends that the greatest challenge Indian Immigrants from strong Christian backgrounds face in the United States is uninformed parenting. Indian parents fail to realize that our children are subject to extremely liberal views from the school system, media, and their peers. He shares his own experiences in raising children in the United States. He believes that the first and foremost factor in bringing up children as Christians is a prayerful life.
The ninth chapter, “Ministering to Young People of Indian Origin” by Dr. Thomson K. Mathew, begins with a sociological description of the Indian immigrant youth. Youth minis¬try is examined from a pastoral perspective, giving special attention to the importance of young people’s faith develop¬ment. The significance of training in evangelism as a part of youth ministry is emphasized. The chapter concludes with a look at youth ministry as discipling. .
Chapter ten, “Multicultural Ministry: A Challenge to the Indian Christian Community” by Rev. Stephen Samuel, presents biblical and theological support for multicultural ministry through a survey of pertinent Old and New Testament passages. Rev. Samuel emphasizes the Scriptural evidence that multicultural ministry is God’s continuing intention for the contemporary church. The author reiterates that for members of the Indian Christian Community, being Christian should be more important than being Indian, although Indian culture must be considered a tool of outreach in the hands of a Sovereign God. The author offers two elements that facilitate effectiveness in multicultural ministry: biblical preaching that speaks to universal needs, and selective learning and adaptation from the dominant culture.
In the eleventh chapter, “Discipleship and Leadership in Indian Pentecostal Churches” (Late) Dr. John Daniel discusses issues regarding leadership and discipleship in the Indian Pentecostal community living in North America. The lack of properly trained leadership and the apathy of laity in Christian ministry are two real issues facing the community. These problems need to be addressed properly. Understanding the meaning of discipleship is the first step in this direction. The leadership needs to be trained to lead the community with an understanding of the society they live in. The laity needs to be trained to become effective disciple-makers.
Chapter twelve, “Praise and Worship in the Indian Pentecostal Community” by Philip Thomas, provides an introduction to various aspects of praise and worship primarily through music and song amongst churches in the Indian community. The goal of the chapter is to provide information for church and youth leaders to establish and build up a strong worship ministry in their own church. Some specific guidelines for multi-cultural ministry are also presented.
Chapter thirteen, “A Call for Unity and Love” by Dr. Tom John presents the view that unity and love are two pivotal words in the Christian context to express the essence of Christianity. Love is the foundation of Christianity, while unity is the wall that guards against deteriora¬tion or disintegration. The sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross reconciled man to God, consequently establishing unity and love between them. Therefore, all Christians must strive to know the essence of love as described in the Scriptures and follow them to bring unity and love among them. Nothing less than the same precept governs the achievement of unity and love within the Indian Christian Community in the United States of America.
The major purpose of this book is to discuss what is known about the first and second generation Indians and to identify issues that warrant further examination. Several themes emerge from the forthcoming chapters, including the value of looking at immigrant children in the context of their families; the importance of understanding future concerns in the area of parent-child relationships, marriage, worship, and leadership. Although the individual would appear to be the most logical area in which change can take place, the family and church are seen as components in which change is not only feasible but potentially have great significance in the improved adaptive functioning of the second and third generation Indians who are in transition.
The degree of benefit of this book depends largely on the extent to which the reader willingly reappraises his or her ministry with young people and adjusts that ministry in light of the experiences and recommendations contained herein. The authors hope that this book will help identify some of the most important issues faced by the Indian Pentecostal community, offer constructive recommendations to bridge the gap between the first and second generations, and equip pastors and youth leaders for effective ministry.
1.Data from “Indian Pentecostal Teenagers” survey, conducted by Thomas Idiculla for Agape Family Ministries International, 1996.
2.Data from “Indian Pentecostal Parents” Survey, conducted by Thomas Idiculla for Agape Family Ministries International, 1997.
3.William Bradford, (1588-1657). The history of Plymouth Colony, a modern English version. By Harold Paget, (New York: for the Classics Club by W. J. Black, 1948).
4.Elisabeth D. Dodds, Marriage to a difficult man; the "uncommon union" of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971).