SAM WAS JUST THREE YEARS OLD when his parents immigrated to the USA about fifteen years ago. Sam and his sister Asha, just a year younger, were raised in one of the middle-class townships of New York. Sam is a freshman in a well-known university and Asha will be graduating from high school shortly. Their parents have spent much of their time these fifteen years working their way up the social and economic ladder. Starting with almost nothing they worked long hours and made great sacrifices to have what they do today. Their dream of providing a comfortable home, a good education and happiness for their children seems to have been fulfilled. All except for one thing, deep within they sense a vast chasm developing between them and their children. There seems to be a void, an unexplainable emptiness, a missing link, so much so that it is almost impossible for them to connect heart-to-heart with their own offspring. Sam and Asha seem to be living in a world that is so different from theirs. It was something they feared all along and now what they feared had come upon them. They had secretly hoped that their children would continue in the traditions and values of their homeland. In fact, time and time again they had attempted to mold their children according to the image of the “typical Indian way.” But this often resulted in outbursts and heated arguments. They felt hurt. They considered their children ungrateful for all that they as parents had done for them. Sam and Asha, on the other hand, felt that their parents were intruding into their personal lives. They wished their parents would only understand and see things from their perspective. Being Christians, the parents had hoped that the local Indian church would help the children to maintain not only their faith, but also their social and cultural heritage. Perhaps this was too much to expect from a fledgling congregation. The struggles they faced were not uncommon among the other families they met at church. In fact some seemed to have it worse. And the local church seemed to have no answer either for the parents or Sam and Asha.
Does the church have an answer to the problems inherent in a scenario such as this? Most assuredly, yes! In this chapter we try to examine, in a succinct manner, the problems and issues facing second generation Indian Christians, specifically teens and young-adults, and present Scriptural solutions to these problems. Why does the Second Generation go through a time of intense tension and conflict? What are their struggles, spiritually and culturally speaking? What are the core needs that arise in these struggles? What can parents and the local church do to meet those needs? And what is the destiny and the future of the Second Generation in the Kingdom of God?
Reasons For Conflict
We can identify at least four areas - the home, the self, the world and the church - that influence a young person’s life and directly or indirectly cause conflict. While these are not areas that should necessarily cause conflict, because of the way things are, they nevertheless result in a certain amount of tension.
1. Tension at home
While the home is to be a place of comfort and security, where godly discipline is nurtured and strong character is built, very often it becomes a place of disharmony, discord and the springboard for a rebellious adolescent. Why does this happen? The reasons are:
Missing parents - In a report published in Parade Magazine, a teenager is quoted as saying, “I think the greatest threat to kids today is poor morals, and a lot has to do with parents. I see friends whose parents don’t have time for them or who don’t set a good example.”1 In most immigrants’ homes both parents work and may never spend quality time with their children. If young people do not find the leadership, guidance and care they need at home they will be forced to look elsewhere.
Lack of parent-children communication - In the Indian community, as the children grow up, so does the gulf in the parent-child relationship. It is very rare that an Indian parent communicates at a level where real, intimate and personal issues can be discussed. On the contrary shouldn’t the parents and children become “good friends” with the passage of time?
Financial pressures - Most recent immigrants will have to go through a process of establishing themselves financially. These are times where financial resources are limited and this calls for much prudence in this area. If the parents or the young people do not learn to live within their means and avoid extravagant spending, problems are sure to surface.
Parents unwilling to change - While it is true that parents raised in India still hold Indian values and customs, what young people would like to see is their parents expressing an interest and an appreciation in the things that are important to them.
Parents enforcing native culture - It is important for the Second Generation to know their roots and be informed about their Indian heritage. However, it is unfair for parents to unduly enforce cultural issues, especially those that conflict with what prevails here in America.
2. Tensions Within
The process of change in any area of life brings with it, to one degree or another, some amount of conflict and tension. Stepping into adolescence and then into being a young-adult is no different. As adults we may have a condescending view of the problems and struggles of the Second Generation. However, we must never forget that we went through a similar process of trying to understand our feelings our needs, our purpose, and ourselves. Our struggles may not have been so apparent, since we were in a different social environment that prided the keeping of personal issues as "dark secrets." We must not forget that during this time we ourselves struggled with issues such as our sexuality, romantic feelings for the opposite sex, perhaps indecisiveness concerning future career, etc. These are the same issues that affect today’s youth (why should it be any different?). In his book Coming of Age in New Jersey, Michael Moffat quotes a 21 year old college senior as saying: “I am a 21 year old male, slightly past his prime, and I guess I would have to admit that sex is very much on my mind . . . If I studied in my classes in half the time that I spend day-dreaming, fantasizing, reminiscing about that stuff called sex, I would undoubtedly be on the dean’s list.” While this “stuff called sex” can be a major issue for the young person, there are a host of other areas that they may have to resolve, such as self-identity, self-esteem, friendships, romantic feelings, career choices, personal finances, choice of role-models, issues of faith and personal beliefs, etc. Parents, Christian leaders, Christian adults and the local church need to rally around the Second Generation to provide positive answers for them during this time.
3. Tension in the World
The Western culture is our environment. Even though within the confines of our home we may do things the "Indian way," once we step out of it we are essentially stepping into a different world. Consider the kind of world our young people step into everyday, where they spend most of their time. Take the public school for instance. We know that lack of discipline is one of the biggest problems in public schools in America. Along with this is gang activity, which has become a part of the culture in many schools. Further, most schools and colleges in America are a place where young people from all different social, racial and cultural groups interact on a regular basis. At times, actually living in such a setting can be distressing and uncomfortable. Consider the pressures that our young people face caught in the midst of a predominantly materialistic society. They are under pressure to keep up with others in terms of the affluence they display. The age we live in is an age of experimentation. We want to touch, taste, see, hear and smell, before we arrive at a conclusion. And in such an age, we have the lures of drugs, loose morals, and the like. Young people are under constant pressure to “experience things for themselves” and not take someone else’s word for it. What’s worse is that each of these issues are not faced just when they step out of the home, but the TV brings these ideas into our living rooms. In general teenagers in America spend between 7.5 to 9 hours a day watching TV or listening to the radio, as reported in a survey published in Parade Magazine 2. Their minds are being programmed to think the Western way!
4. A Powerless Church
A fourth area, which is supposed to bring stability and peace, but in most cases brings disillusionment and emptiness instead, is the local Indian church. The local Indian church in America, in many cases, has failed to provide spiritual support to the Second Generation. Often the church has become a place for social gathering and a forum for cultural expression with only a tinge of spirituality. There is nothing wrong with social and cultural activity, but spiritual matters must have priority! Why has the local Indian church failed? I would say there are four reasons:
Still living in the past - It is commendable that the first generation had the foresight and initiative to establish Indian congregations in a foreign land. However, much of what goes on within the congregations has not changed. We are still holding on to the traditions handed down by our forefathers, while the Holy Spirit of God has breathed fresh moves upon the earth so many times in the interim. Spiritually we are not up with the times. God’s people need a word for this hour, a word that addresses present issues and challenges.
Empty leaders with empty hearts and empty hands - Without being sacrilegious, we must mention that the powerlessness we see in the Indian church is linked to the powerlessness of many of its leaders. If the pastors and Christian leaders will pray and seek God earnestly, being full of the Word and the Spirit, then they will surely impart this to the congregation. Leaders without hearts of compassion for people and without God’s anointing on their hands for the work they are doing only create a weak church that is incapable of meeting the needs of the people.
Personality, power and cultural struggles - It is a shameful thing to state, yet it is true that there is much division and strife within and among the churches. Why is it that local churches keep splitting apart? Why is it that local Indian churches do not cooperate with one another? Why is it that the Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam congregations cannot come together, at least a few times a year for mutual strength and encouragement? We are wasting so much of our energy on things that do not matter and neglecting the needs of the people, especially those of the Second Generation.
A need for godly examples - This is an area where the Indian church is so deficient. Where are godly men and women whose lives can be examples to the Second Generation? If our young people cannot find their role-models and mentors within the church, then they will surely have to look outside!
We now consider briefly some of the dangers or conflicts relating to the spiritual life of the Second Generation. While some of these may not be apparent immediately, time will reveal that these dangers were indeed real, and some of the Indian young people may find themselves as casualties. The apostle Paul told young Timothy, “O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge - by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith . . .” (1 Timothy 6:20, 21). There is much “idle chatter,” philosophies and ideas that young people are exposed to. If the Second Generation does not guard against these, they will fall an easy prey. Here are just three of the philosophies we have to safeguard against:
The Americanized gospel - The Americanized gospel is a gospel that places more emphasis on material wealth, success and gain than on eternal matters of the human heart. It is a message that emphasizes comfort and ease and does not mention the cost of discipleship, of holiness or the call for sacrifice. It applauds those who “make it big” in earthly achievements but does not equally commend those who are willing to “count all things as loss” for the gospels’ sake. There is nothing wrong with material well being, since the Lord does prosper His people. However, this is not the focus of our faith.
The godless religion - It is increasingly popular for one to have a set of beliefs or a philosophy of life without actually submitting to a living Creator-God. It is a religion of man-made principles and codes of conduct without a Deity.
I am my own god - This is the core of the New Age philosophy that is marketed very subtly through a variety of mediums including music and books. Here self is god and whatever self pleases, self will do. Self dictates and directs its own destiny. The Second Generation is confronted with these and many other similar issues. Will they be able to stand and maintain the faith of their fathers?
What are the struggles that confront the Indian teenager and the young-adult in this society? Being more intimately involved with the American lifestyle, Sam and Asha and many others like them will face issues and dilemmas that their parents may have never encountered. Let us list some of them:
Join the gang - Survey results indicate that as a close second to drugs, peer pressure is the worst influence on today’s youth. You’ve got to be like them if you want to be with them. If you cannot be like them then you suffer the risk of being ‘excommunicated’ in one fashion or another. Under such situations the Indian youth is pressurized to conform.
A lost morality - We do not need to reiterate the moral permissiveness that pervades this society. Michael Moffat makes this comment: “For many of the young Americans . . ., sexual fun and sexual satisfaction were at the heart of contemporary adolescent notions of fun - and hence, because these same adolescents were in college, sex was at the heart of contemporary notions of college life. Undergraduates in the 1980s, not surprisingly for anyone in touch with the wider culture, had more real freedom to be physically sexual than college students had had in earlier American generations; and many of them apparently exercised this freedom with some enthusiasm, or at least they tried to do so.”
Dating - While dating may be foreign to the traditional Indian social structure, it is a very important part of the American society. The Second Generation youth struggles with this issue. Parents may see it as a taboo, while the young person sees it as a part of his social life. Should the Second Generation youth be allowed/encouraged to date? If we say ‘yes’, then can we instruct them with proper guidelines for dating and trust them in this? If we say ‘no’, then will we be able to provide a suitable alternative?
Marriage - A closely related issue is that of marriage. This is another area where the Second Generation will face struggles. Will marriages continue to be arranged by the parents as it is in India? Should they be? Will first generation parents accept marriages that transcend racial distinctions? Today people generally marry at a later age (mid to late 20s). Will first generation parents understand and allow for this?
Careers - Traditional Indian wisdom recognizes primarily two career paths - the doctor and the engineer. Given the diversity of opportunities here, will Indian parents provide the Second Generation the support they need to find a career that may not necessarily meet the popular traditional expectation but is personally fulfilling?
The Needs of the Second Generation
While an exhaustive list can be prepared identifying very specifically the needs of the Second Generation, we believe that all of them can essentially be related to three main areas. We have already considered these before in the light of the way things are. But let us consider these three areas again, in the light of what they should be.
Godly Home - What first generation parents need to provide to the Second generation is a home where faith and a righteous character can be forged. The Scriptures lay the responsibility of teaching and training the children on the parents. “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7). Parents can do this only when they themselves are walking in a living relationship with the Lord. It is in a godly home that one can instill in a child or a young-adult lasting values and disciplines that will endure the conflicts and temptations which are sure to come. Parents should seek to build close relationships with their children. It is through such godly relationships that wisdom is conveyed - wisdom that will protect, preserve and deliver the young man or woman. Godly homes cannot be built without effort. But the sacrifices made to accomplish this will surely have their reward.
A Dynamic Church - It takes a dynamic local church to raise a local body that is vibrant and effective for the kingdom of God. It is time we got rid of the things that cause powerlessness and lay a hold of those things that produce power. The church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The local church therefore should provide the means for its members to be established in the truth. The local church must provide answers to the issues that confront the Second-Generation youth. Michael Moffat who did an extensive study of undergraduate college life at Rutgers University made these comments following written feedback from students on the subject of sex: “The first things these papers tell us is that, sexually speaking, their undergraduate writers were the products of many influences besides college, let alone of Rutgers in particular. Perhaps one-third of the student writers mentioned the distinctive impact of college and college friends on their sexual developments. And about a third mentioned parental values and religious upbringing. But, on the evidence of these papers, the major influence on the sexualities of these undergraduates was contemporary American popular culture. The direct sources of the students’ sexual ideas were located almost entirely in mass consumer culture: the late-adolescent/young-adult exemplars displayed in movies, popular music, advertising, and on Television ; Dr. Ruth and sex manuals; Playboy, Penthouse, Cosmopolitan, Playgirl, etc..”3 This is terrible and the church needs to arise to the occasion. Instead of being taught about sex, relationships, etc. by the world, young people should be taught these things at home by godly parents, and in the local church.
Examples to Follow - Young people need godly men and women whose lives they see as examples to pattern themselves after. We need to provide and make room for such men and women. Very often the prevailing leadership in a local church, out of insecurity, may not allow the advancement of genuine, maturing men and women whom God desires to set up as examples in a congregation. This needs to change.
The Second Generation - Our Link to the Future
The Second Generation is our link to the future. What we give to them, we are giving to the generations yet to come, and in essence giving to our own future. We must take action before it is too late and a whole generation is lost. In doing so we are not only investing in a generation of people, but we will be fulfilling the original purpose of God with which He brought us to this land of opportunity. God allowed us to come here, to this land of immigrants, with a master purpose. It may well be the same reason for which He has brought in immigrants from many other nations to this land. God has a strategic plan for the Second Generation.
The Second Generation - Their Strategic Role
In the mind of God, the gathering together of peoples from (almost) all nations in a land called America has a reason much deeper than that of people migrating to a better place for opportunity and comfort. The Indian Christian community and therefore the Indian second generation has a strategic role to play. In the book of Acts God gathered together people from many nations at the time of the first great outpouring of His Holy Spirit. The purpose of the first Pentecost was to take the gospel in the power of the Spirit to the ends of the earth. And God timed the outpouring of His Spirit and the furthering of the gospel to be in sync with the gathering together of many nations for an event that was the feast of Pentecost. In a similar way, people from many nations are being gathered together in this land, at such a time as this, with a divine purpose. God is sending forth men and women full of His Word and full of His Spirit to the nations from this land.
The Second Generation will be called upon to play at least two important roles in this work of God. First, God will use the Second Generation to minister across racial and cultural barriers. This will happen both in the country and across the world as our young people begin to travel to different nations. Next, the Second Generation will be called upon to provide for and be involved in gathering the harvest in our homeland of India. As in every work of God, there will be those who participate and there will be those who remain as mere spectators. We must do our part to raise up a godly generation that will have God’s vision for the hour and respond to God’s heart cry.
1. Dianne Hales, "How Teenagers See Things." Parade Magazine, August 18, 1996: 4. (A report of a survey of American Youth commissioned by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Washington, D.C.).
3. Michael Moffat, Coming of Age in New Jersey, College and American Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991).