BAKTH SINGH: The Non-conformist who conformed to God’s Word
In remembrance of Bro. Bakth Singh Chabra (06.06.1903-17.09.2000), who established the Indigenous Churches of India, also known as Hebron Fellowship
When Bro Bakht Singh Chabra was invited in 1938 as a special speaker to the Tamil Methodist Church at Vepery, Madras, nobody had any inkling of what was in store ahead. Because of the hunger for God’s Word which they could not get in their own churches, people thronged to hear Bro Bakht Singh’s messages.
Ornately decorated church buildings, with increasing memberships, did nothing to inculcate the practice of love for the lost souls and spiritual upbringing. People were like orphans and 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.
So when Bro Bakht Singh stepped in, he was, actually, only filling up the void and spiritual bankruptcy created by emptiness in the hearts despite having full pews in traditional churches which conformed to denominational rules rather than Biblical commandments.
UNIQUE WORSHIP PATTERN
Bro. Bakht Singh’s concepts of laying stress on born-again experience followed by baptism and breaking of bread, based on Acts 2:42 to bring in the Divine Order of establishing churches took the existing churches by storm and the laity was instantly attracted to the truth.
Soon the non-denominational movement began in India and often people used to be confused because those who worshipped with Bro Bakht Singh didn’t identify themselves with any established episcopals.
One of the distinguishing features of assemblies/ churches founded through Bakht Singh’s ministry is the pattern of Sunday worship service. The worship lasting anything between 3-5 hours is divided into three main parts, viz worship, breaking of bread and exhortation.
The eucharist is celebrated every Sunday, in quite contrast to many denominations.
Born into an affluent Punjabi family, Bro Bakht Singh was educated in a mission high school in the Punjab. In his college days, he 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 testified with trembling emotion, was torn by him to pieces. He only preserved the leather cover for himself.
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 confessed 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 and made friends with rich and poor, high and low. In spite of all these pleasures he found himself unhappy.
ENCOUNTERS WITH GOD
In 1929 Bro Bakht Singh left for Canada on a holiday trip. For the first time he attended a “Divine Service” on board the ship. He found himself in the midst of two men both of whom knelt down for prayer.
Breaking his national and religious pride, he too knelt down and found great change coming over him and his whole body trembled as he felt a divine power entering him and great joy flooding his soul. The name of Jesus became sweet to him since that day.
The second encounter was in 1929 during his second visit to Canada. Bro Bakht Singh was a resident at YMCA building at Winnipeg and he asked a friend to lend him a Bible, who gave a New Testament into the same hands which had once torn the Bible to pieces.
While he began to read the Bible he sensed 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.
In his childhood days, Bro Bakht Singh had a recurring and frightening dream in which he saw himself climbing a high and steep hill with tremendous struggle and reach the top.
Then 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.”
In 1930, one day in America, Bro Bakht Singh recalls, as he was lying on the bed, suddenly he saw a map of India with a bright shining Cross in the centre, 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.
CONDITIONS TO SERVE LORD
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. Bro 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 organisation and
- Thirdly, never make his own programme, to which Bro Bakht Singh agreed.
Since that day the doors began to open and despite many attempts by human beings to shut their doors on Bro Bakht Singh’s face, God began to surely open new doors to him.
When he returned to India on April 6, 1933 at the port of Bombay it was the saddest moment of his life. His parents met him, only to be forsaken by them because he refused to keep his faith a secret.
Bro 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 with him. (Sikh’s headgear laid at a person’s feet implies that it demands that person’s respect and total submission to the authority). But Bro Bakht Singh declined.
Bro Bakht Singh’s work began in Mumbai (then 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 scorpions, throwing dust, pulling their hair and beating their chests, repenting and seeking forgiveness and having their lives transformed.
True to his commitment, Bro Bakht Singh totally depended on God’s will for all his travel plans and finance. He was 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 Bro Bakht Singh became an itinerant preacher touring Pakistan, India, Burma and Ceylon. There was an invitation from South India in 1938 and his first meeting was 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.
Next Bro Bakht Singh 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 all the stocks. It could be said about Bro 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.
Feeling threatened by Bro Bakht Singh’s preaching and seeing that people came in droves for his meetings, the church leaders and pastors of the then erstwhile Madras, passed the following resolution in 1941.
“We in the Indian Ministers’ Conference have met and passed a resolution never again to make any place available to this Punjabi preacher (Bakht Singh Chabra). Our objection is that he is not an ordained minister, and therefore had no right to baptise anyone.”
Little did the leaders of the age-old denominations know that this Punjabi preacher in fact did not need any human shelter. Or for that matter, they were not even aware that the man whom they had thrown out of their churches was selected by God himself and he didn’t need any human ordination to carry on the LORD’s work and build Christ-centred churches.
If people were mesmerised by Bro Bakht Singh’s preaching on Christ and Cross, it was because this man of God was completely in compliance with the word of God.
THE NEED FOR INDIGENOUS CHURCHES
People who attended Bro 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 A.J. Flack and Brother Raymond Golsworthy, who were given the responsibility to care for those who needed help.
Bro 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 co-workers to spend a whole night in prayer, (one unique practice of Bro Bakht Singh is every move was soaked in prayer) went to Pallavaram Hill, which lies beyond the Madras airport.
Centipedes, snakes, scorpions and other creeping cretins intruded 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 rented places, but one day Bro 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 the vision, there was a large isolated house with a very big compound, having a large central hall with extensive side rooms, verandahs and kitchens and out-houses. This was dedicated on 12th 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.
After the establishment of the sound scriptural principles in the churches at Madras and surrounding areas, the scene moved towards Hyderabad in Telengana (then known as Andhra Pradesh).
One lady, whose husband was admitted in the hospital at Madras, totally recovered when Bro Bakht Singh prayed for him. She invited him to come to Hyderabad in 1948. After nearly two years of prayer, he landed in Hyderabad 1950-51.
Since then Hyderabad began to be Bro Bakht Singh’s home. First a place was rented and named as “ELIM” and later the worship moved to an estate donated by Late.Bro.Appaji 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 more than 1000 assemblies all over India, 250 in Pakistan and few in America, Europe, Middle-east, Sri Lanka and Australia.
Bro 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.
GROWTH OF LOCAL CHURCH
Bro 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 take time off from their regular employment to join such campaigns.
Team members after arriving at a place rent a house, go in processional march at 6 am to every street with God’s message of love, distribute tracts and booklets, Bibles and then houses are visited. Sometimes one campaign used to reach almost 30 towns or more, and thus the work began to spread rapidly.
Bro Bakht Singh built places of worship to be built with simple bamboo or asbestos sheds for the main pandal. Saints sit on floor mats, native style. Many gifted fellow-workers compose their own hymns and psalms and set them to native lyrics.
He introduced Indian instruments of music to lead congregational singing. The meetings kept going on 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.
Bro Bakht Singh held 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 organised 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.
- Bro Bakht Singh 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. Twenty times in a day one could hear him say ‘shall we pray.’
- 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 Bro 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.
- 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.
- We need to learn much of his challenging faith, which has kept him steadfast and unmovable and abounding in the work of the Lord.
Bro Bakht Singh 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 (Bakht Singh 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.
Bro Bakht Singh was suffering from Parkinson’s since 1986 and survived for 97 years and slept in the Lord on September 17, 2000.
About 200,000 people from all over the Indian subcontinent, USA, Dubai, Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, attended his funeral on September 22, 2000.
* The memory of the righteous is a blessing. Proverbs 10:7
* I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7