The youngest of four, Seelan Govender (South Africa) grew up with his family in Phoenix, South Africa. Many elements of Seelan’s childhood were moulded by the largely Indian township, created during Apartheid, and his family’s Hindu beliefs. “We understood our culture and our community values. Although everyone was Indian, there was a mix of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths, but we all simply lived together as a community, we didn’t know anything different,” Seelan explained.
“We were a devout Hindu family,” he added. “We would follow all the traditions, religious prayers and different feasts. We had an idol at home and would go regularly to our local temple to offer sacrifices. My father was seen as a leader during certain feasts in the temple and, according to our traditions, was a man of great faith.”
But it wasn’t until Seelan personally encountered Jesus that he knew in whom he could put his faith. Through his sister’s invitation, 14-year-old Seelan started attending church. To him it didn’t feel different to the Hindu religion, until one day a man prayed for him. “Something happened in my life that I couldn’t quite articulate. I felt something within me,” said Seelan. “Given that Hindus believe there are millions of gods, having one more wasn’t an issue. My parents allowed me to go to church, but still expected me to join the Hindu prayers.”
Another key person in Seelan’s faith journey was Bobby, his pastor’s brother. He said, “I didn’t think anyone would notice me at church, but Bobby saw me and saw my potential. He explained who Jesus was, what He was doing in the world, His word, how to treat others and what our role is in society. Then Bobby began to invite me when he was visiting families in need. That had quite a significant impact on my life because Bobby exemplified what he talked about. I read about Jesus in God’s Word, and I believed it, but more than my belief was my experience of Jesus through people, like Bobby, and seeing the tremendous heart they have for others because of their love for Jesus.”
“When I came to know Jesus, there was persecution within my family. My uncle blamed me, point blank with his finger in my face, for my parents’ separation,” Seelan explained “People said following Jesus was the best decision I could make and that my life was going to change, and yet when I looked around me, I wasn’t seeing positive changes. But it was part of the journey of how the Lord showed me He was present despite my circumstances. Living in an honour and shame community, it was ingrained in me what my lot in life was. But boldness came when I accepted Jesus, not because of myself or where I came from, but because of who God is and who He created me to be.”
Accepting the invitation
Despite all the challenges in Seelan’s life, keeping his faith to himself wasn’t an option. “Unbeknownst to me, Bobby had always been discipling me towards God’s heart for the marginalised,” he said. “The invitation to join Jesus on the mission field and help other people to understand they’re created in His image was powerful. It was a difficult decision as I was meant to support my mother. But God spoke to me through Acts 16:31, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.’ (New Living Translation) So, I trusted God and I went to Mozambique.”
During Seelan’s two years there, one of OM’s previous ships, Doulos, visited and a team stayed with him at the Bible college. “They were from all over the world,” he explained. “But what was most impactful was the way they interacted with one another, loved God and served the people around them. I visited the ship with them and that’s when it was burnt into my heart to join OM’s Ship Ministry for two years.”
Upon Seelan’s return from Mozambique, he could see God’s promise for his family was coming to pass. He said, “My mother came to know Jesus and my parents miraculously reconciled. My father also apologised for the pain he had caused. The Sunday I was being commissioned to join Doulos, my father came to church for the first time and didn’t stop going from that day on. Slowly, the rest of my family started to follow Jesus. We started to see our extended family respond to Jesus because of our own radically changed lives.”
Made in His image
Seelan still carries with him the strong values of community, respect and generosity, which were instilled in him through his Hindu upbringing. “I believe that all cultures are created by God,” Seelan shared. “They have been marred and broken by sin and idolatry, but the sense of community, family and caring for others that is deeply embedded within Hindu life, is God’s design and God’s heart. When I read scripture, the ‘you’ is nearly always plural, and I see that cultures are a community of God’s people and God on a journey together.”
Encouraging Jesus followers to connect with neighbours from other faith backgrounds, Seelan suggests starting by seeing others as God sees them. He said, “I often say, ‘We don’t start from Genesis three; we start from Genesis one.’ For me, it’s a long process of relationship, love, authenticity, perseverance and care, all to point to the reason we live the way we do because we are all created in the image of our Father.”
“That’s why I’m involved in missions,” Seelan said. “This idea that God is making broken things new, beautifully restoring them to His image. He invites me to join this work, and daily, I say yes to His invitation.”
Join us in praying for our Hindu neighbours: Pray that Jesus followers will live out Kingdom values amongst others as signposts to the King. Pray for boldness and protection for Jesus followers living out and sharing their faith in Hindu-majority countries. Pray for healing and restoration to be brought to families and relationships, ultimately pointing to God our healer.