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May 22, 2018

Who are Our Neighbors from India?

By Linda Bergquist

Recently I ordered take-out food from a Muslim Chinese restaurant (Uyghur) at an Indian shopping center, and discovered that the manager was Indian. I expressed interest and asked where he was from in India. “Andhra Pradesh,” he responded. Andhra Pradesh, in southeastern India, is one of India’s 29 states. From just a little research, I knew that Telugu is the primary ethnic group and language of his state, so I asked if he was Telugu. He was so happy that I had even heard of his people that he gave me his business card and told me that any time I visited a restaurant in one of this chain of Muslim Chinese restaurants to show his card and they would give me something free. Immediate connection! 

The Languages of Asian Indians

In 2016, the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau began recording several additional languages spoken in India, which now includes Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Punjabi, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, and Hindi. Around 43,000 Hindi, 23,000 Telugu, and 15,000 Tamil speakers live in Santa Clara County, California (Silicon Valley). (can we imbed where it says American Community Survey with this link, please? Queens, New York is home to 65,000 Bengali and 23,000 Punjabi speakers. There are 268,000 Hindi speakers in Canada and over 128,000 Punjabi speakers. 

Despite the rapid immigration rate, most people living in the United States and Canada have heard of only a few Indian languages, and when they meet a person from India, have no idea how to even consider that in a country of 1,354 billion, there are so many languages, religions, and cultures. Many mistakenly identify people wearing orange turbans as Muslim (they are Sikh), and we assume all Indians speak foreign languages. (English is the second most spoken language in India.) For the sake of the gospel, maybe it is time we learn more about the Indians that live all around us in North America. 

Indian Peoples and Their Religions

Four major world religions were founded on the Indian subcontinent: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Approximately 80% of India is Hindu, and the second most populous religion is Islam (14.4%). The remaining number includes Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and people of other indigenous faiths. 

One way to discover pockets of Asian Indians in North America is to visit their temples and mosques. Often, Indian communities exist close to these places. Websites like zabihah.com will point you to halal Indian restaurants, often owned by Muslim Indians.  One of the largest Punjabi Sikh populations in the world lives in British Columbia, mostly in Vancouver and Surrey. There are Jain Centers and temples in around 20 U.S. cities. 

Sometimes, strategies for reaching the unreached in our communities major on overall lostness and can overlook groups of newcomers who have no experience with the Christian faith. For example, Harris County, Texas, was 26% evangelical, according to the last ARDA report. Yet, its county seat, Houston, is home to more Sikh places of worship (gurdwaras) than any other city in the U.S. 

H1B Visa Holders

For at least the last 10 years, the largest number of H1B temporary specialty work visa holders have been from India. It is easy to discover which U.S. companies request the most workers and in which top cities they are located. For 2018, see 2018 Top 100 H1B Visa Sponsor or 2018 Top H1B Visa Sponsors by Work City. Many of the companies in the U.S. that request and receive the largest number of these H1B workers are either headquartered in India, have bases in India, or have Indian founders or CEOs. 

In the places where these offices are located, the South Asian population is soaring. Currently, 37% of all H1B visa holders work at just 20 U.S. companies, many of these in cities with sizable Indian communities. Maybe your church would like to welcome new arrivals from India by arranging with businesses to gift them with welcome packages and an orientation to their new homes?

International Students

Half of the international students in the U.S. are from China or India. In the 2016-17 academic year, 186,267 students from India were studying in the U.S. That number dropped in the 2017-18 school year because of new immigration concerns, but the numbers rose in Canada, where over 100,000 Indian students were enrolled in colleges and universities in 2017. 

Many of these students enroll in STEM courses at a post graduate level. Some will stay in the U.S. and Canada after graduation, and others return to their countries of origins. How can you and your church reach out to International students who are often longing to be invited into our homes and into our lives?

Engaging Indians with the Gospel

I have seen churches incorporate Asian Indians into their fellowships various ways. First, some Indians are already Christians when they immigrate to North America. They are already seeking fellowship and will attend multiethnic churches where they feel accepted. Sometimes, even those who are not Christians will attend these churches, if invited, and are intrigued by the successful large church experience. 

Second, Indian Christians gather together to start either new churches or new worship services in existing churches. In addition, some Indian Christians form small Indian style home groups. Stylistically they remain comfortable in Indian like worship experiences. Why Indians? Because India is by far the most complicated and least reached nation in the world, and in North America, there is a now a great opportunity to share the love of Christ with them.


Linda Bergquist

Linda Bergquist is a church planting catalyst, teacher, mentor and author who has been living and working in the SF Bay Area for 22 years. She works among many ethnic groups, and has a special interest in least reached people groups. Bergquist is an advocate of all kinds of churches and church planting methodologies. She has coauthored three books: City Shaped Churches, Church Turned Inside Out and The Wholehearted Church Planter, and is the author of the Exponential series e-book The Great Commission and the Rest of Creation.


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