Vijay Menon tells of becoming a Christian from a Hindu background
Kerala is the smallest, most beautiful state in India, yet, in area, it is bigger than Britain.
I was born there in a very devout Hindu family. As far as I can remember, I always loved God, believed in God and was willing to serve him in whatever capacity. I always prayed to him and asked his guidance before any major decision in my life.
Christianity’s triple offence
If anyone had come to me then and said that I would be reading the Bible and following Jesus, I would have panicked and given any contribution to a Hindu temple to stop me from becoming an untouchable and to rescue me from becoming a Christian, such was my ignorance about Jesus.
Christianity was offensive to me because of Christians, the cross and the cost, in that order.
First, I was ignorant of the fact that children of Christians are not automatically Christians and that they have to make up their own minds to follow Jesus and be added into the family of God, by God himself, before they become real Christians. So I was looking at nominal Christians and saying to myself, ‘In no way am I going to be one of them!’
Second, I looked at the large, tall statue of the crucifix outside the Catholic College at the university in Kerala and I felt sorry for the poor bloke hanging up there. I had the revelation of someone being crucified, but no one interpreted to me that he died for me, in my place, so that God could forgive me, even me, a bad Hindu, and still be the just God. If someone had explained to me that he suffered all that in order to take the punishment I deserve, I would have immediately bowed down to him, worshipped him and been willing to do whatever he wanted me to do. My question was: How is a mere man hanging dead on a cross going to solve the problems of the world? To me that was ignorant idolatry — worse than Hindus.
The third offensive thing about Christianity was the cost. For a Hindu to become an untouchable, it was unthinkable. Not only me, but the whole family would be down-graded unless they threw me out of my home and refused to let me come back.
I did my engineering studies in India and worked my way to England to be better qualified, to then go back to India for a better job. I was ten years at sea, rising from Junior to Chief Engineer and then I got married. So I had to leave the sea to gain my extra first class engineer’s qualification at Newcastle to take up the prime job of Senior Engineer Surveyor with Lloyds Register in London at their head office in 1961. I became a member of the British Nuclear Energy Society and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, a Chartered Engineer, and also a fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineers. I have worked in London ever since.
Following the crowd
It was in March 1965, when I was doing a spot of shopping in my lunch break, that I happened to walk along Bishopsgate at 1.00 pm, right in the centre of the City of London. To my surprise I saw hundreds of city gents in their pinstripe suits, bowler hats (you don’t see a bowler hat in London now!) and ‘stiff upper lips’ all rushing through a cubby hole at Great St. Helen’s. I followed them out of curiosity and landed up in a big packed hall with hundreds of men, some even sitting on the concrete steps. They ushered me in and all I could see in the corner was a big table with sandwiches, fruits, cakes and delicious food. So I sat down, wedged between the city gents, wondering ‘what next?’ Then I realised that I was in a church and I panicked! You wouldn’t have seen me dead in a church; but I couldn’t get out and had to sit down and suffer for half an hour! Can you imagine over 500 people coming to a church in five minutes, managing directors, brokers, underwriters, bank managers, solicitors, accountants, clerks, engineers and others. Men and women listening to a 20-minute talk from the Bible and then lunch.
Jesus died for me
I sat down and heard for the first time that Jesus died for me, the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, those who go to church and those who don’t, so that I may know God today and all I had to do was to come to him and receive it as a free gift. It is not what I can do for God that is important, but what God has done for me.
I knew, if I had died on that night as a Hindu, I would have to face God as my judge, ending in reincarnation. A chink of light gave me the hope that I could avoid all that. I didn’t have to sit for a final exam with God (I hated exams and have nightmares about them sometimes). I can get a pass mark now and avoid my final! So I prayed then and there, ‘I will have a try’ — I didn’t know any Christian prayers.
Sitting behind me
So I went back to my office and asked my Australian colleague how I can get one of his religious books to know all about Jesus. To my surprise I found out that he went to St. Helen’s Church every Tuesday. He had been sitting behind me at work and praying for me for two years and he didn’t have the guts enough to ask me to go with him. I am glad he didn’t ask me, because if he had asked me that would have been the end of the story, because Hindus don’t go to church. He gave me a Bible with a bookmark in John’s Gospel, advising me to read it from there. I am glad he did, because if I had started from the beginning I would have soon given up.
It took me a long time to fully understand the gospel, but, as an engineer, I was curious, so what I understood I accepted, but what I didn’t I waited for an explanation and prayed. After 42 years I am still learning, but I am following Jesus today because real Christianity is true, and Jesus has never let me down once, even though I have had to go through some tough times, including suspected cancer of my spine.
If I was not 100% convinced that Jesus lived, died, rose again from the dead and that he is fully God and will one day come again to destroy all evil and establish his Kingdom, I would have given up Christianity a long time ago. Everyone is free to find out. If it is true we can accept it, if not, we must reject it. But, for me, to be threatened with death is to be threatened with heaven. As a Hindu I knew about God, but, as I now follow Jesus, I know God personally. You may fool everybody else, but you cannot fool yourself. I know God as my Saviour, Friend and Master.
This article first appeared in Men of this age, produced by Christian Vision for Men, and is used with permission of the author.