Rupen Das, author of The God That the Poor Seek, explains the rationale behind his new book and shares some of the experiences that informed its development.
My writings have always had a context. They are rarely mere academic explorations of an interesting topic. They emerge out of my own struggles to understand the world we live in and what it means to follow Christ in such a world. My latest book The God that the Poor Seek: Conversion, Context and the World of the Vulnerable is the result of one such journey.
The issue of poverty and a concern for the poor has been a part of my personal spiritual journey for a long time. As a young adult, as my faith deepened, I was involved with ministries that focused almost exclusively on the eternal dimensions of life and ignored the realities of living in a broken world. The question that haunted me was whether God was really concerned for the poor, the injustices that enslaved the marginalized, and the violence and conflicts that destroyed lives and societies. Study, research, conversations, life experiences, and reflection over decades culminated in the publication of Compassion and the Mission of God: Revealing the Invisible Kingdom and Strangers in the Kingdom: Refugees, Migrants and the Stateless (both published by Langham). The question that I asked and tried to answer was, why does God care for the poor, the marginalized, and the displaced?
Having gotten a glimpse of how God feels about human beings, I often wondered what the poor, the victims of human trafficking and abuse, and the refugees think about God. I often find myself reacting with anger at the injustices I see, realizing that this is not the way God intended this world to be. However, because of my position of privilege, I have not been able to see the world through the eyes of those who are victims of evil. I do not understand why they would even turn to a God who seemingly has betrayed them and ignored their destitution and desperation.
There doesn’t seem to be a standard template and process that God uses
As these questions continued to play in the background, in my work I would often hear the poor talk about their faith. Their ability to survive in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges was something that I have admired. It seemed to me that their resilience is rooted in a worldview expressed through their faith and spirituality that is very different than mine. Listening to their life experiences and the simplicity of their faith pushed me beyond my safe and comfortable religious traditions and practices to seek the reality of God through Jesus Christ, who is known as Immanuel, in my daily life and challenges.
Listening to the stories of the poor, especially those from non-Christian backgrounds opened for me a Pandora’s box of trying to understand how God works in the lives of people to reconcile and restore them to himself. There doesn’t seem to be a standard template and process that God uses. It raised questions about the God that the poor seek and why they would seek God. It is these questions that led to the genesis of this book.
Recent research has shown that the poor tend to be more religious than the nonpoor
While much has been written about poverty and how to respond to their physical and social needs, what has been missing in both the literature on the spirituality of the poor and in missional practice is an understanding of how and why the poor choose to worship Jesus Christ. What do the poor themselves have to say as to what attracts them to Christ and the gospel? A growing number of Majority World and Western missiologists are writing about how conversion in different cultural and religious contexts may vary from the standardized approaches used by Western mission agencies. Recent research has shown that the poor tend to be more religious than the nonpoor. However, there is very little empirical research on how the poor in the Majority World encounter Christ as articulated by the poor themselves.
The research in this book records the spiritual journeys to Christ of Hindu slum dwellers in Bangalore, India, and Syrian Muslim refugees in Lebanon. It then uses the literature on spiritual conversion and contextualization as a framework to analyze and understand the stories. What emerges are experiences of conversion that have deep roots in church history and are attested to in the breadth of literature on conversion and contextualization.
To understand how and why the poor choose to follow Christ is critical in knowing what the gospel, the good news, does mean to them. They respond to the good news of Jesus Christ for reasons that are very different than what many western Evangelicals think the gospel is about. If this is understood, it will also enable Christian development practitioners to design effective, holistic community development programs that don’t just try and tack on a standardized verbal gospel presentation as part of their relief or development interventions and then presume that gospel they shared has been understood.
My hope is that the research and findings in this book will enable many poor to encounter the living God revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.