You don’t know anything.
This is the single most important mantra to keep in mind when you are walking alongside Hindus.
With every interaction, you start at zero. Every person is unique and has an individual story. What you learned from a previous interaction may have absolutely no application with the current person you are interacting with. Very little of what you’ve read, remembered, or experienced will be helpful.
You are always learning.
This is an uncomfortable position for many people, especially North American Christians. We want to have the answers, speak with authority, be prepared, and show that we’ve studied. When interacting with Hindus, you may be tempted to jump ahead and share a canned response that doesn’t apply to the situation.
There is always another category, a new story, or a nuance you are unaware of. There is always something that sets you back to zero. You will never reach the place where you can offer direct advice or speak with authority into your friend’s life. The alongsider must always be a learner and friend, never the guide.
So what can I do if I don’t know anything?
Many Hindus lead incredibly stressful lives. The stress of family and meeting expectations is extremely demanding. Most of the other people in the family and social circles are equally stressed and don’t have a lot of time to listen.
As an alongsider, simply listening to your friend share stories is extremely valuable. As you listen, ask questions keeping in mind that you don’t know anything and you aren’t making assumptions. Express empathy as best you can without trying to talk about yourself and your own experiences.
2. Encourage Virtues
As you listen to your Hindu friend, encourage and endorse values that you can celebrate in Hindu culture. If your friend ever asks for advice, stay inside these boundaries and don’t make a specific application. The following biblical values (among many others) will deeply resonate with your Hindu friends:
- Honor your father and mother
- Love one another
- Treat others as you would have them treat you
- Remain in the Lord and He will remain in you
3. Use the Language of Devotion
As you listen and encourage values, it is entirely appropriate and good to speak about your own devotion to Jesus. For example, “Through my own devotion to Jesus, I’ve learned that I can’t put a limit on the amount of forgiveness we give to others. When I find it hard to forgive someone in my own family, I have to rely on my devotion to him and ask for his strength.”
Nearly every Hindu you meet will appreciate your prayers for them. Prayers to any and every god are welcome, and Jesus is definitely acceptable. You can tell your friend that you and your family are praying to Jesus for him/her. Many people will be comfortable with an impromptu prayer as you listen to them, but they may also appreciate a specific time of prayer involving sitting on the floor and lighting a lamp.
As you interact with Hindus, remember that the alongsider is always a learner. There isn’t anything to master, only new information and experiences to adapt to. However, that doesn’t mean that you will never be a source of encouragement to your Hindu friends. Focus on what you can offer as a friend rather than what you can teach.