What Indian Weddings Have Taught Me

(Editor’s Note:  In just one month, the Rethinking Forum will happen in Dallas, TX from July 14th through 16th. The theme for this year’s gathering is “Ways I’ve Changed As An Alongsider”. New this year, we are hosting a dedicated day on July 13th for people who serve Indian international students. Come to interact with many others who are passionate about these topics and to learn from leading practitioners. To learn more and to register, click here. Both in-person and digital registrations are available.)

What Indian Weddings Have Taught Me About Hindu Families

One could say that if you haven’t attended an Indian wedding, you have not fully lived.

Indian weddings, especially within Hindu families, are full of vibrant colors, elaborate customs, giant crowds, and delicious foods.

I have been blessed to attend dozens of Hindu weddings, including several weddings for international student friends that I have met in North America and for whom I have traveled to India for.  I am about 10 years older than the average Indian international student, so I typically relate to these students as an older peer.  At the wedding, as an American, I am easily identified as an outsider by my Hindu friends’ Indian community and that I am a guest of the family.

A typical Hindu wedding will have 3-5 days of ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations. Close family and friends will attend all the events, while the larger guest list (sometimes numbering into the thousands) will mostly attend the main wedding ceremony and reception.

How Relationships Grow During Wedding Week

As I have reflected on my experiences as a guest across many amazing Indian weddings, I have observed that my relationships with my friend’s Hindu family often follow a similar pattern.

Day 1 – Initial introductions. Everyone wants to know who you are, where you are from, and why you are at the wedding. You are trying your very best to learn the names and familial connections of all the relatives (which can be a lot!)

In the United States, when many of us think of family we picture a nuclear family of parents and children in a single household. That is family for us. But family for many Hindu people includes dozens, even hundreds, of people. Family networks include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even third and fourth cousins. The size of family networks in India can be very large!

Day 2 – After spending time eating meals, drinking chai, and attending functions, the relationships start to deepen. If you are willing to listen, the Hindu family members will start teaching you important things about themselves. This is when they start sharing about their jati community, political affiliations, and spiritual beliefs. If you listen and ask good questions, they will love to share about their unique community.

Day 3 – Hopefully by now the family has observed you being a safe and honorable person. The relational depth opens to trust, and now the family members are beginning to be more interested in you. You’ve displayed some knowledge of (or curiosity in) their culture, demonstrated honor through valuing their customs, and tried using some of their language. This is when they begin to ask you deeper, more meaningful questions which can lead to fun and fruitful conversations, including about spiritual topics. At this point there might be chances for you to share your beliefs and how you experience God in your life.

Day 4 – By now you are probably in a food coma, but hopefully the dancing helps make room for the next lavish buffet. There are often a couple of special uncles or aunties who have taken you under their wings to take care of you and explain what is happening during the wedding festivities. Your Hindu friend’s family may even begin to treat you like one of their own.  They might lovingly call you “son” or “daughter”, or jokingly encourage you to change your last name to their last name. This is a special time when you have been accepted and welcomed by the family as a loved outsider.

Over the course of a Hindu wedding week, I often experience this relational progression of love and acceptance. I start as a stranger and outsider to all but my international student friend. Over the course of several days the Hindu family shows me generous hospitality as a guest, and I work to deepen the relationships. By learning, asking good questions, and making efforts to honor their culture, over the course of a few days I often gain the privilege of being welcomed and received as a trusted guest.  It is a true blessing.

Two Lessons I’ve Learned From Hindu Weddings

Along with this relational progression I’ve repeatedly experienced at weddings, two lessons stand out to me.

First, for those who embrace learning from a posture of humility, an Indian family will tell you everything you need to know about how to share Lord Jesus with them. If we listen, spend quality time together, and ask good questions, we can learn how to talk about Lord Jesus in a way that makes sense in their culture and will be Good News for that specific community.

Second, family relationships are so important for our Hindu friends. Jesus, Moses, and the Apostle Paul all commanded us to honor our fathers and mothers and to love our families well. As we come alongside Hindu friends and their families, we too should consider how to help our Hindu friends love their families well. The family must be a priority. We should aim to serve and bless the family well. We must be careful to avoid bringing harm to the family or threaten to break any relationships. The complex interconnectedness of a Hindu family is a beautiful thing that God has created. As an Alongsider, it’s an honor to be invited into the community of a Hindu family.

As an Alongsider, it takes effort and patience to build trusted relationships, but it is worth it. It is in these intimate spaces of deep relationship that the Lord can work in wonderful ways. I’ve learned that the deeper the relationship, the more meaningful the conversation you get to have as you come alongside your Hindu friends and their families.

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