Paul Biswas for Christ…
Born a Hindu…
In an Islamic Nation…
KARMA VERSUS GRACE
“Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me” (Psalm 66:16).
I was born in a Hindu higher Caste, Kshatriya (the warrior and the upper middle class involved in the politics and government) family in the Southern part of present Bangladesh in 1952. But, I was born again in 1973. This is my story which I want to share with you.
My family was very Orthodox and from my boyhood I was strictly instructed to keep my family tradition and social status. While I was in the elementary school, I was instructed by my grandfather to follow my daily religious duty. Since then, I began to read the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita and all other Hindu Scriptures under the mentorship of my grandfather. I came to know that man’s salvation depends upon KARMA (cause and effect, deed or action). Salvation is to be earned by doing good works. As nobody can do perfect works in his/her one birth, eventually everybody has to go through Samsara (the binding cycle of births). It’s like being given a penalty. Ultimately one day human souls will be merged into Brahman (god the creator) which they call MOKSHA (Salvation).
In the process of cyclic rebirth there is no guarantee of becoming human flesh every time. There is a possibility of becoming birds or any kind of animal. It depends upon one’s Karma. A fear grew up in my mind that in this process of cyclic rebirth I might become some kind of animal in my next birth. I had a question in my heart: after how many reincarnations would I be saved? I asked my grandfather and other Hindu scholars but nobody could give me a satisfactory answer. I began to ask myself the question: even prisoners know about their time of imprisonment. But, the number of times I would have to go through cyclic rebirth was quite uncertain to me. Almost every year I used to visit the famous Hindu Shrines in different parts of India with my grandparents. Wherever I went, I talked to many Hindu Scholars about the cyclic rebirth and about the assurance of time for salvation (moksha). I had no problem going through cyclic rebirth, but I wanted to have assurance that after how many times of rebirth my soul would be merged into Brahma (god the creator).
Until today, the Caste system is strictly practiced in my family. I grew up within this system. Day by day I used to see the practice in my family that the lower caste people in my own Hindu society could not enter into the inner court of our house. They had their separate meeting place and they were treated as untouchable. It made me sad. But I had no way to protest against this. I came to know from my grandfather that I was destined to be born in a higher caste and the whole system was divinely instituted. I began to question in my mind that if Brahman was the creator of all human beings, then what kind of creator was he that he made this kind of discrimination. Though I was born in a higher caste Hindu family which is next to the Brahmin (the priestly class), it was hard for me to adjust to this cruel system. I used to have good conversation with my grandfather about different religions and their world view.
One day I asked him about Christianity. But, he gave me a strange definition that I will never forget. According to him the Christians are more unclean people because they eat both pork and beef. His definition was mainly based on dietary restrictions. Christianity is a foreign religion of untouchable people. They are even considered more untouchable than the lower-caste Hindu people.
In the year 1971, during our liberation war, I went to India with my family as a refugee. We were at the refugee camp. Day after day I used to see the Christians from different charity organizations serving the destitute people in the refugee camp. I was very much impressed by their dedication, their love for the people. I befriended some of them. One day one of the members of the Christian Medical team told me that because they were saved by the grace of God that’s why they were doing good works. They were doing good works not to earn salvation. Their God is the God of love and His love was manifested in the person of Jesus. The man further added that Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and this teaching of Jesus had led them to serve all mankind, no matter what caste or religion. This idea changed my total understanding about God and His personality.
After we were liberated, in January 1972, we all came back to my country. We lost much of our property and many of us Bangladeshis lost our lives. It was a great genocide. One day I was wandering on the road in my hometown. Suddenly I came across a name plate and on that name plate it was written, “World Missionary Evangelism.” With great curiosity I went inside and finally I was able to meet with the director of the organization. The man hugged me and his word was very attractive to me, “God loves you and I love you”.
I had a nice conversation with him and during our conversation sometimes we had arguments. But the man was so patient with me and tried his best to answer my questions. I had several sessions with him and finally he shared with me about Jesus. It was the first time I heard about Christ and the man added that it was not Christianity but Christ could answer my Questions.
He gave me a copy of the New Testament (Gedeon translation in Bengali) and suggested to read it very carefully at least for fifty times. With great interest I began to read the New Testament. I had to hide the New Testament under my pillows and even during the dead of night I used to read it. It was a quite small size book to me compared to all the sacred books of my Hindu religion.
Within two months I could finish it, but I was advised to read the whole book at least fifty times. But after reading twenty times my eyes were open. One day I was reading the book of Romans and it was Romans 6:23 that spoke to my heart. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. “From this particular verse I came to know that the eternal life is a free gift. It was not necessary for me to do any hard work. Simply, I had to receive the gift. It was the turning point of my life. As a Hindu, to me eternal life was to merge into Brahman and I had to earn it through cyclic rebirth which is a long process and waiting many years. The Bengali Bible answered my question: “… now is the day of Salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). I was looking for that answer. I read again the gospel of John and I came to the conclusion that the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ was absolutely perfect and Jesus paid the penalty of my sin through His atoning death on the cross. Soon I discovered that I was a sinner and my good works could not wash me clean. I was convinced that I myself could not pay the penalty of my sin through my good Karma no matter how many times I would be reincarnated. Jesus did on behalf of me once for all. Doing good works could not give me any certainty. I repented for my sin and surrendered myself to Jesus. It was July 20, 1973 I received Jesus as my Lord and savior. It was the most joyful day in my life. I became like a new born baby. I was saved by grace not by Karma.
My Spiritual Journey:
I got real joy and peace in my heart because Jesus gave me a full guarantee of eternal life.
My fear was gone. After one month I began to share this new experience with my family members. At first they thought that I was crazy. I was so overwhelmed with God’s grace. But as I shared about Jesus and challenged them with all His promises, they discovered that I had become a Christian. Soon I was summoned by my father but I boldly answered all of his questions. He warned me the cost of becoming a Christian, but I was ready for that. I was the eldest among my brothers and sisters. For the next few months I had to go through persecution-even sometimes physical torture-and finally my father disowned me and kicked me out of the house. It was the hardest part of my life. No Christian dared to give me shelter. I was even denied baptism many times by the pastor of the Baptist Church in my hometown because he was scared of my father, who held great influence in our town. Finally I was able to be baptized and openly declare my faith in Jesus Christ. Almost five years I continuously received all kinds of threats from my family members. My father became more furious when I officially changed my family name. Before becoming a Christian my family name was Vishnu (preserver), who is one of the thre major gods of Hindu pantheon. My family was proud of having such a great surname after this god Vishnu.
There are two reasons I changed my family name from Vishnu to Biswas. First, according to the Hindu scriptures, Vishnu had nine incarnations (avatars) in the past, but people are still waiting for one more incarnation or avatar. I had a question in my mind that if these nine incarnations of Vishnu would be perfect then why people are still waiting for another avatar (incarnation). Through my study of the Hindu scriptures, none of these incarnations could claim to be perfect, fully God and fully man. I was convinced through the reading of the Gospel of John that incarnation of God in Jesus Christ was perfect. Secondly, the Bible says, “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8). So, I changed my family name officially from Vishnu to Biswas. In my Bengali language Biswas means Faith. After that my father officially disowned me and kicked out me from his house.
Within a month I was baptized at a local Baptist Church altough the Pastor of the Church denied many times to baptize me because he was scared of my father’s influence in the town. Finally I was baptized. Following six years I had to go through hardship which I was not used to. Many times my life was in danger because there was continuous threat from my family. My Hindu friends used to mock at me. But, my Lord Jesus protected me every time, making me lie down in green pastures. After eight years my father came to me while I was pastoring a local Baptist Church in my home town and we were reconciled. Since then I have been allowed to go to my father’s house to visit my mom, brothers and sisters. But during every visit I did not receive any good treatment. My mother even could not hug me because to them I was an outcast. To this day my whole family is in darkness. They are trying their best to do good Karma without having any guarantee of their day of salvation.
I was saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ not by my good works. For the last thirty three years I have been sharing this story with others who don’t know about this saving Grace of God and I will continue to do that until the end of my life. It is my prayer for those who are trying their best to achieve salvation through their good KARMA that they will know about the saving GRACE OF GOD.
My Call to the Ministry:
I received God’s call to serve Him in full time while I was at the Bible College in 1776. While reading the book of Isaiah, God spoke to my heart through His word Isaiah 6: 8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And I said, here am I; send me!”
I felt the genuine call of the Lord and I committed my life to be His humble servant. I did not know where to go. But the Lord was preparing the situation for me. After completion of two years at Bible College the Lord told me to go to my home town which I did not expect. I was planning to go to another place.
I joined the Baptist Church in my home town where I was baptized and started to assist the pastor. I found my wife Elizabeth in that Church and we were married in 1974. After couple of months I got an invitation from our Baptist Association to join as an outreach worker and Church planter. After three years I was called by my local Church again to be their pastor. I was so excited to be in my home town because I would have more opportunity to share the Gospel and my experience with the Lord with my own people. That was the begining of my journey in the ministry of the Lord. I was ordained in 1977 by the local Church and the Association. Since then I am in the ministry and have been trying to serve the Lord faithfully.
In 1982 I went to Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary together with my wife and two kids to do my further Theological study. I completed M.DIV and returned back to my country in 1986. In 1991, I started the indigenous mission work and Cell Church movement in Bangladesh by founding Gospel Outreach Fellowship to reach out many unreached people groups among tribes in south eastern part of Bangladesh. We were able to plant 13 Churches among Khyang and Khumi tribes and trained people among them who are carrying out the ministry now in their own areas.
After serving the Lord in my country for more than 24 years as a pastor, evangelist, church planter, Bible college teacher, writer and translator I came to USA in 2001 to do my post graduation study (Th.M) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. While at Gordon-Conwell, God showed me a vision to reach out my own Bengali ethnic group from South Asia who are the most unreached people group here in USA. It took nine months for me to respond God’s call. Finally I was convinced and started the outreach, Church planting work with the support of Greater Boston Baptist Association and my local Church Cambridgeport Baptist Church in 2003. Since then my wife and I have been trying to reach out Bengali Muslims and Hindus in Greater Boston area. More than six thousand Bengalis are living in this area and there was no church. By God’s grace we were able to plant the first Bengali Church in New England which is the second Southern Baptist Church in USA and I am pastoring Boston Bangla Church (BBC).
Source:”Testimony of Former Hindu”, from the website of “Baptist Convention of New England”
Accessed from the link: http://www.bcne.net/evangelism/inter-faith-evangelism/testimony-of-former-hindu-323.html
Accessed on October 4th 2008