THE RISE OF INDIGENEOUS CHURCHES IN INDIA:
THE MISSION OF BROTHER BAKHT SINGH

By Brother D PAUL GIDEON

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This paper deals with the rise of a Mission in India viz. Indigenous Churches. The word mission
could be even said as a movement. God used a man who courageously went about the Bible way in
establishing the work of God in India. The man is BAKHT SINGH CHABRA drawn from a Sikh
Community, regenerated, called and commissioned by God. Before I could present the study on the
rise of the Indigenous Churches, it is appropriate to know the history of the man behind this
movement.
THE LIFE AND HISTORY OF BROTHER BAKHT SINGH:
Firsthand material for the life of Brother Bakht Singh is not easy to discover, for though he left an
ineffaceable memory with many people, he wrote little about himself. He published few books
dealing with the spiritual life, but hardly ever kept a journal or diary of his wanderings. For accounts
of his adventures one must turn to two books, Daniel Smith’s Bakht Singh of India, A Prophet of
God and RR Rajamani’s Monsoon Daybreak, which were published much against his wishes, and
also to the illustrations he used in his sermons and addresses.
History of Indian Christianity has something unique when it comes to the choice of men. Before
Brother Bakht Singh were two outstanding persons from the same community. One is Kartar Singh,
who for his faith and profession was sewed inside a wet yak-skin and thrown in the scorching sun, and
he was contracted to death. He died as a martyr for his faith in Tibet. His life and mission is little
known. The other well know to most of us is Sadhu Sunder Singh, whose mission began in the year
1903 and ended in 1929. His vision was purely missionary and evangelization. The Sadhu traveled
all over India and the world and his habit was to visit once every year to Tibet. His last journey to
Tibet was in 1929 much against the advice of doctors and well-wishers. He left and never came
back. It was at this time God had sought for a man and found in Bakht Singh in the same
year. (remember the year 1929).
Family: Bakht Singh Chabra was born in the year 1903 in the Punjab. His family history reveals of
his father who was a businessman of moderate wealth, a religious mother, six brothers (BS is eldest)
and a sister. One of his brothers Sri Chand Chabra happens to be the former Mayor of Delhi, and a
close associate of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Education: Bakht Singh was educated in a mission high school in the Punjab. In his college days
Bakht Singh showed extreme bitterness towards Christianity and derided the Bible he had never
read. A beautiful Bible was presented to him after his examinations, which he publicly testifies with
trembling emotion, how in those days he tore the Bible to pieces and kept only the leather cover for
himself. ( I personally am a witness of this confession which he made with a penitent tone every
time.) In September 1926 he persuaded his father to send him to England to enter the London
Engineering College for a course in Mechanical Engineering with special emphasis on
Agriculture. After solemnly promising his devout mother that he would not change his Sikh religion,
he was allowed to go. He confesses that very soon he fell into the vices of Western world, denounced
all practices of Sikh ceremonials, shaved his beard off, began to indulge in all earthly pleasures and
amusement, social functions, making friends with rich and poor, high and low, wearing expensive
clothes, acquired much education and traveled all over Europe and England to museums, art galleries,
and picture palaces. In spite of all these pleasures he found himself unhappy.
First encounter: In 1929 he left for Canada on a holiday trip. For the first time when he attended a
“Divine Service” on board ship he found himself in the midst of two men, both knelt down for
prayer. Breaking his national and religious pride, he too knelt down and found great change coming
into him and his whole body trembling and could feel a divine power entering him and great joy
flooding his soul. The Name of Jesus became sweet to him since that day.
Second encounter: In 1929 during his second visit to Canada, he was a resident at YMCA building
at Winnipeg, he asked a friend to lend him a Bible, who gave his New Testament to the same hands
which had once torn the Bible to pieces. While he began to read the Bible he sensed that Someone
standing and speaking by his side to him saying “Verily Verily I say unto thee.” He found his hidden
life uncovered and shame covered his face and in tears he cried out for God’s forgiveness and
cleansing. He heard a Voice saying, “This is my body broken for you, this is my blood shed for the
remission of your sins.” At this point his whole life was transformed and filled with great joy and
peace. This occurred on December 16th, 1929.
THE VISION:
First Vision: In his childhood days Bakht Singh had a recurring and frightening dream. In the dream
he saw himself climbing a high and steep hill with tremendous struggle and reach the top, and
somebody would come and hurl him down to fall on sharp points of rocks bruising his ribs. He would
cry in pain in the dream and in the end would find himself lying on a soft silk cushions giving him
sweet rest. After a few years when the same dream came, the second time, a Voice said, “This is your
testimony.”
Second Vision: In 1930, one day in America, Bakht Singh recalls, as he was lying on the bed,
suddenly he saw a map of India with a bright shining Cross in the center, and heard a voice saying “If
you want to serve me you have to lay down your life at the Cross.” Little did he realize that a great
work was awaiting him.
Call and Commitment: In 1932, after his baptism in Vancouver, Canada, he had plans to return to
India as an Engineer and establish an agricultural colony and give the proceeds to missionary
work. But God said “I do not want your money, I want you.” It was on April 4th, 1932 at 2.30
a.m. Brother Bakht Singh gave up his life in total surrender. The Lord gave three conditions for him
to follow: Firstly, he should withdraw all his claims of his property in the Punjab, and never tell any
man of his needs; Secondly, never join any organization and thirdly, never make his own program, to
which Brother Bakht Singh agreed. Since that day door began to open.
Faith tested: In 1933, one day Brother Bakht Singh heard the Lord saying “I want you to leave for
India on the February 6.” He informed his friends, who arranged a farewell gathering on the 4th. The
day before on hearing that he had no money they cancelled the farewell meeting. After a couple of
days he received sufficient funds for the passage and traveled as scheduled.
THE MISSION:
Miracles, healing and mass conversion always are the beginning for any movement. And so was with
Brother Bakht Singh. When he returned to India on April 6, 1933 at the port of Bombay it was the
saddest moment of his life. He was met by his parents, only to be forsaken by them, who did not want
to take him home, because he refused to keep his faith a secret. Brother Bakht Singh’s answer was
“how long can I survive keeping my nose and mouth closed.” His father made a last appeal by
putting his turban at his feet and pleaded him, (Sikh’s headgear laid at a person’s feet, implies it
demands that person’s respect and total submission to the authority) but Brother Bakht Singh
declined. And so the WORK BEGAN in Mumbai (Bombay). His home was the street; his food was
a cup of tea, which would be his breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. He used to meet people and share
his experiences and those who heard him their lives were transformed. His sister invited him to
Karachi and when she came to know that he changed his faith, he was asked to leave the house. So
the WORK BEGAN in Karachi. The Public Park became his home. Soon his work began to increase
as peoples of all races, castes and classes were receiving this faith through his witness. There were
invitations from many places to preach. In 1936 the revival began in Punjab, Pathankot, Sialkot,
Martinpur and several other cities in North India. And further spread to cities like Poona, Kedgaon,
Indore, Mhow, Jhansi and Agra. During his meetings it is said that people who came under deep
conviction were seen falling to the ground as though bitten by a scorpion, throwing dust, pulling their
hair and beating their chests, repenting and seeking forgiveness and having their lives transformed.
Miracles: It is recorded; one evening he saw a mother with a child crying very bitterly, when
enquired she said there is no milk and all the shops are closed, as it was too late. When he prayed,
there was a voice asking him to go in a particular direction. As he went, he met a person by name Dr
Oliver who asked him if he would like to have some milk, as there was a good quantity in the
hospital. He prayed for a cup of milk but received a gallon. The next morning one lady came to him
crying that she was hungry and had nothing to eat. As he prayed, there was a voice telling him to go
in a certain direction, he found a tent to his surprise with so much food more than enough to meet the
lady’s need.
Healing: It has also been recorded, in one of the meetings a leprous man covered with blankets sat in
a corner of the church with two great sores in his leg. After the meeting he requested Brother Bakht
Singh to pray and instantaneously his infirmity was cured. I remember my own aunt suffering from
lung cancer. She was virtually rejected from home because of foul smell emanating from her. She
almost decided to commit suicide. But when she heard of Brother Bakht Singh’s meeting she went to
him for prayer, instantly she was cured of her sickness. Brother Bakht Singh never publicly
announced of healing in his meetings although he had the gift of healing. It is said that he prayed so
this gift may be taken away from him, because he believed healing of the soul was more important
than healing of the body. However, the people used to throng, to have him pray after every meeting
standing in long queues.
ESTABLISHMENT OF INDIGENOUS CHURCHES:
True to his commitment, Brother Bakht Singh totally depended on God’s will for all his travel plans
and finance. He will be always on his knees with the Word of God to receive his orders from above
for every move and every decision. It is recorded that never did he even whisper for any of his own
or the Church’s need nor did he ever entertain any kind of advertisement for his meetings. As the
hunger for God’s Word grew he was being invited to neighbouring countries as well. Very soon he
became an itinerant preacher touring Pakistan, India, Burma and Ceylon.
A new beginning: For the first time there was an invitation from South India in 1938 by the one-toone
band and the first meeting held at the Tamil Methodist Church at Vepery, Madras. He stressed
the importance of the Bible as the Word of God. At the beginning of every meeting all present were
invited to display their Bibles by raising them above their heads and to feel ashamed if they had not
brought one. Hundreds of Bibles were sold out in the various languages in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and
English. It is said that people in Madras began to read the Bible as never before and were asked to
carry it wherever they go. Yes Brother Bakht Singh preached the Bible and expounded from the
Scriptures the way of Salvation through Jesus Christ as he himself found it. As a result, many each
night gave their lives and obtained New Birth. Next he preached in Park Town Memorial Hall,
followed by CMS Tucker Church, St Andrews Church and various other churches, where there used
to be huge gatherings. At this time the demand for Bibles were so great that the Tamil Bibles in the
Society’s Sales Depot were sold out without any stocks left. It could be said about Brother Bakht
Singh that he taught the Indian people to love not only the Bible but also the God of the Bible. He
feared no man and spoke out courageously as the Lord had commissioned him. He spoke straightly to
the pastors and missionaries. Some appreciated, others found it difficult to take. Nevertheless
whenever or wherever he preached people flocked around him. Meetings would sometimes last until
10.00 p.m. or 11.00 p.m. with three hour-long sermons. Through his faithful preaching hundreds and
thousands found new life in Jesus Christ. The wind of God was blowing and Joy was flowing in
Madras as the people passed through the streets with singing.
Revival Praying: For the first time an all-night prayer was announced at the end of the weeklong
retreat. About one hundred and twenty gathered to pray. It was a unique thing never heard of
before. It is said insistent, persevering and travailing prayers always follow every revival. Before he
returned to Punjab Brother Bakht Singh preacher on “PRAYER”, which triggered a wave of prayer
meetings and prayer groups all over Madras and thus the revival of prayer continued to burn fervently
for two years. During these periods only public meetings were held.
Traditional pattern: People were thronging to hear Brother Bakht Singh at his meetings because of
the hunger for God’s Word, which they could not get in their own churches. They felt like little
orphans and like sheep without shepherd going here and there seeking spiritual food. There was a
dearth of preachers as the local churches had only a traditional pattern of one-hour-service on
Sundays, and governed by set guidelines which do not meet the spiritual needs of the
congregation. They were more concerned about decorating their beautiful church buildings and go to
any extent to increase membership, than the practice of love for the lost souls and their spiritual
upbringing. Such was the sad conditions of the churches, which were unfitted for the care of new
converts. It was to such spiritual bankruptcy and traditional practices that Brother Bakht Singh was
called upon to bring in the Divine Order of establishing churches built on scriptural principles. In the
year 1941 the doors were closed to Brother Bakht Singh in Madras to preach in the churches. The
church leaders and pastors passed the following resolution. I quote “We in the Indian Ministers’
Conference have met and passed a resolution never again to make any place available to this Punjabi
preacher. Our objection is that he is not an ordained minister, and therefore had no right to baptize
anyone.” Unquote.
The need for Indigenous Churches: People who attended Brother Bakht Singh’s meetings were
literally excommunicated. During this time a few godly and experienced men were by his side viz.
Brother RR Rajamani, and Brother RP Dorairaj (blood brothers), Brother George Rajaratnam, Brother
Moses Dawn and also two Englishmen, Brother AJ Flack and Brother Raymond Golsworthy, who
were given the responsibility to care for those who needed help. Brother Bakht Singh was burdened
to take a new direction regarding the follow-up work, went to Coonoor for spending two months in
prayer to seek God’s plan for the future. He was at the height of his ministry at this time with 400
hundred invitations to attend from India and abroad and was unable to decide where to go. There was
a Macedonian Call from Madras, which he resisted, and one night he fell on his face and said, “Lord I
promise to pay any price even though I get no more invitations to speak, but I want to be in Thy
Will.” Like a flash a Voice came “Behold I make a covenant, and I will do marvels.” After this
commitment he received several scripture passages by revelation for building the church according to
the heavenly pattern on scriptural principles.
The birth of the local Church: In obedience to God’s call he went to Madras and gathered his coworkers
to spend a whole night in prayer, (one unique practice of Brother Bakht Singh is every move
was soaked in prayer) went to Pallavaram Hill, which lies beyond the Madras airport. Centipedes,
snakes, scorpions and other creatures were alive to intrude for a while and quietly dispersed to keep
the prayer session undisturbed till 6.00 a.m. in the morning. The problem arose when one of the
group members requested for baptism, which again after prayer was arranged the following Sunday at
the foot of the Hill. Sixteen men and women confessed and testified in baptism their union with
Christ, before wives, husbands, friends, relatives and enemies as witnesses. Then in prayer by laying
on of hands over each one’s head, showing oneness in Christ with every child of God in His whole
Body worldwide, and with everyone joining in worship and breaking of bread. That was a significant
day in Madras, for on that day the “Assembly” we now know of came to birth. So far the gatherings
were in small hired houses, but one day Brother Bakht Singh told about a vision of a house and
grounds spacious enough for the tasks ahead of them and also said it would be available for rent for
two years and then will be freely available. True to it, there was a large isolated house with a very big
compound, having a large central hall with extensive side rooms, verandahs and kitchens and outhouses.
This was dedicated on 12 July 1941 under the name Jehovah-Shammah meaning “The Lord
is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). Being a city congregation there were people of various
languages. Numbers began to increase steadily and some young people dedicated their lives for
whole time service leaving their profession and families. Every need was being met materially and
spiritually. The doors were open for anyone to walk-in to seek counsel and guidance for any matter in
any part of the day or night. People coming from various castes, creed and race were all under one
roof as a family.
The growth of the local Church: Brother Bakht Singh is an apostle in the sense that he is a founder
of churches. Much of the churches started by him were born out of travail of an evangelistic
campaign. It is an invasion of a town or city sent by divine inspiration after much prayer. Scores of
volunteers seek time off from their regular employment to join such campaigns. One of them happens
to be my father, who in one of the campaigns surrendered for whole time service and returned only to
submit his resignation from his post as Canteen Manager, Indian Air Force. Since then he is still “in
service” going from place to place preaching and teaching wherever sent. He is 86 years old and still
going strong. Team members when they arrive at a place they rent a house, go in processional march
at 6.00 a.m. to every street with God’s message of love, distribute tracts and booklets, bibles and then
houses are visited. More open-air work is done in late afternoon, and then all is set for the big
evangelistic meeting at night. Many souls are saved and the doors begin to open for a New Testament
assembly (church) in such areas. Sometimes one campaign used to reach almost 30 towns or more,
and thus the work began to spread rapidly. Indigenous, Yes! The churches are indigenous in its real
sense. Brother Bakht Singh’s heart always throbs with passion for the establishment of a strong
church in his own land without any outside influence. He built church structures with simple bamboo
or asbestos sheds for the main pandal, he sat his people on floor mats, native style, he had gifted
fellow-workers compose their own hymns and psalms and set them to native lyrics, he brought in
Indian instruments of music to lead congregational singing; he kept meetings going for long hours; he
taught believers to give and not to beg; he showed them how to seek guidance about every matter
direct from the Lord. Thus lifting the believers into a realm far above the cold dead things of
religious formality.
After the establishment of the sound scriptural principles in the churches at Madras and surrounding
areas, the scene moved towards Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. One lady, whose husband was
admitted in the hospital at Madras, totally recovered when Brother Bakht Singh prayed for him. She
invited him to come to Hyderabad in 1948. After nearly two years of prayer, Brother Bakht Singh
landed in Hyderabad 1950-51. Since then Hyderabad began to be his home. First a place was rented
and named it as “ELIM” and later moved to a donated estate and that was named “HEBRON.” Soon
the work began to grow and spread into wider areas and far away lands from here. Missionaries were
sent to America, Europe, Middle-East and Australia. Today it is estimated at 1000 assemblies all over
India, 250 in Pakistan and few in America, Europe, Middle-east, Sri Lanka and Australia.
Brother Bakht Singh had anointed elders both in Madras and Hyderabad to have oversight of all these
local churches called as assemblies. And deacons for administrative and domestic needs. Normally
the local churches choose responsible brethren to run the assembly, and wherever help is required
God’s Servants (pastors) are sent to assist them.
Vacation Bible School: In the early 1960’s a Jewish-American missionary lady Blanche Sarah
Abbis, married to GG Abbiss, an Englishman both from the World Evangelical Crusade Mission,
joined with Brother Bakht Singh in his work. They were instrumental in introducing the Vacation
Bible School, a way of training children, preparing a five-year course material for the students. These
are being used even today in almost 50 different centers all over the India each year. In Hyderabad
alone about 1100-1200 children are gathering to study these course lessons. It is said these courses
have produced some fine young men and women who have totally dedicated for the service and are
being used in various assemblies now.
Holy Convocations: Brother Bakht Singh holds Holy Convocations once a year where all are invited
to participate. It is a weeklong meetings, containing morning and evening sessions of Bible study
with separate sessions for youth, children. People come from all over the country to participate and
enjoy the fellowship of one another. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are provided for all for the entire
week. No fee is charged, no registration fee is taken. It is all organized by faith and freewill
offerings. Sometimes the crowd would be around 15,000 to 20,000. This is one of the means that
believers from all over the country come to know each other.
PRINCIPLES GOVERNING THE CHURCHES:
For Brother Bakht Singh, the word ‘church’ means God’s people among whom God dwells, (a living
organism) according to Exodus 25: 1-9.
1. There is no membership to the churches. All who obtained New Birth have the right to take
part in the activities of the churches.
2. The Bible is the constitution of the church. There is no separate set of rules for any
crises. Able servants of God clarify all matters through the help of the scriptures.
3. Baptism has a four-fold testimony. To testify
1. a) Before God the Father, that a believer has now a clear conscience and is His
child (I Peter 3:21)
2. b) Before the Devil, that he has left his service (Colossians 2:12)
3. c) Before the World, that he is crucified to it (Romans 6:3)
4. d) Before the Church, that he has become a living member of it (I Corinthians
12:13)
The Meaning of the church: In the book of Ephesians he shows seven names for God’s people:
1. Church: People who are called out from the World.
2. Body of Christ: The same life flows through every member.
3. One New Man: All human and national differences forgotten.
4. Family: All enjoy the divine love of heavenly Father.
5. God’s Building: As lively stones being built together.
6. God’s Temple: God dwells in the midst of God’s people who worship Him.
7. The Bride of Christ: Living for Christ as a Chaste Virgin
The foundational doctrine of the church: Brother Bakht Singh points out from Acts 2:42 four
truths which are necessary for a strong spiritual lives of the believers, which he compares with four
anchors to the ship which weathered the storm in
Acts 27:29. “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread
and prayers.
1. 1. Apostles doctrine: Believers fed and nourished by pure Word of God.
2. 2. Fellowship: Believers meet as often as possible to exchange and share what they
receive from the Lord.
3. 3. Breaking of Bread: Believers remember the Lord’s death and the Lord’s coming.
4. Prayers: Believers learning to depend on the Lord through prayer for all their needs.
Worship Service: Brother Bakht Singh calls this as the Lord’s Day. Sometimes the service lasts for
four to five hours or even more. Let’s have a glance at what takes place on any one Sunday.
1. The elders meet for prayer before the service and the Lord’s anointed messenger is made
known for the day.
2. After the opening songs of praise, a message on the meaning of worship to remind believers
to give the Lord the worship worthy of His great Name. Then any brother and sister
constrained to do so was then free to lift his voice, clearly and audibly in his own language
based on the experience with the Lord to praise, thank and worship the Lord.
3. After the worship, a message of solemn and stern warning to refrain taking part in the Lord’s
Table. Brother Bakht Singh always was insisting on living a holy and separated life. There
are some occasions where if someone has offended his brother, they immediately seek
forgiveness and set right and take part in breaking of bread.
4. After all had partaken in the Lord’s Table, there would be a prayer in some detail for the
Church around the world, including for sick and any special requests.
5. Then the gifted Lord’s messenger expounds the Word of God according to the spiritual needs
of the congregation.
6. In conclusion, people’s offering was accepted as an act of public worship. No subscriptions
are taken nor appeals made for money. It is a willing offering, giving of tithes (which
Brother Bakht Singh teaches of contributing 10% and more, even 40 or 50% of monthly
income).
7. The service ends with gospel witness (open air preaching) in the neighborhood areas
followed by a love feast sitting down together to eat a communal meal, overcoming former
caste or social distinction.
8. Again in the evening, new contacts are invited to the gospel meeting. Thus the whole
environment is filled with joy and holiness surrounded by God’s presence.
Some unique characters of Brother Bakht Singh:
1. He was a great and outstanding man of prayer. He prays for a small need of his to the great
and complex problems he faces in the church. It is said most of the problems are solved
through prayer. A few testify sometimes when it demands heavy responsibilities to
discharge, he never sleeps for several nights, and one could see him on his knees seeking
divine counsel. Twenty times in a day one could hear him say ‘shall we pray.’
2. He was a man available to all classes at all times. His heart was always to the needs of the
people. In the 1970s he was on his way to catch a flight to Madras, and just at the gate he
saw a man requesting rather pleading to come home to pray for his child who was taken
ill. He made a detour, prayed and proceeded to the airport only to find the flight had left. He
was undisturbed but his associates were ferociously charging him with folly and
negligence. As he was praying, an announcement was heard that the flight to Madras was
landing. The flight returned and Brother Bakht Singh boarded. The fact is, a rich lady forgot
her wedding ring in the washroom, and pleaded the pilot that she would pay whatever costs
to return.
3. He had a unique memory so much so that he was able to recognize people by their names
from places like to Kashmir to Kanyakumari and abroad as well.
4. We need to learn much of his challenging faith, which has kept him steadfast and unmovable
and abounding in the work of the Lord.
Brother Bakht Singh was suffering from Parkinson’s since 1986 and survived for 97 years and slept in
the Lord on September 16, 2000. About 200,000 people from all over the Indian subcontinent, USA,
Dubai, Australia, Pakistan, Srilanka and Nepal, attended his funeral held on September 22, 2000.
Selected bibliography:
Sadhu Sunder Singh: Cyril J Davey, Bakht Singh of India, Prophet of God: Daniel Smith, Monsoon
Daybreak: RR Rajamani, The Day of Thy Power: ed. Edwin Samuel, The Dina Thoot (Tamil
Newspaper): Madras edn. July 13, 1994, The Return of God’s Glory: Bakht Singh, How I got Joy
Unspeakable and full of glory: Bakht Singh.