Sundara Rao: A Missionary Hero – by Coty Pinckney

Coty Pinckney is a TCTN national lead team member and the Senior Pastor of Desiring God Community Church (DGCC).  This post was originally found on DGCC’s website.

Who are Your Heroes?

Who are your heroes? Who sets an example that you want to follow?

One of my heroes is Sundara Rao. The father of Vijay Sastry (who visited DGCC two years ago), Sundara died in Hyderabad, India earlier this week. He was 58.

Sundara spoke little English. He had no higher education. But he was a man who did all to the glory of God. He was a man whose joy in Jesus was sparklingly evident. He was a man who out of that joy left all and followed Jesus – whatever the cost.

Born into a high-caste Hindu family, Sundara came to know Jesus as a 17-year-old, while seriously ill with typhoid. During weeks of illness, he prayed to god after god. He rejected the offer of a local pastor to come and pray for him. But after his condition continued to grow worse and worse, he relented. When the pastor came, Sundara was drifting in and out of consciousness; he only heard bits and pieces of the pastor’s words. But he prayed to this pastor’s God: “If you are the real god, save me, and I will give my life to you.”

God did save him, both physically and spiritually. Sundara then eagerly studied the Bible to learn of this God – and came to understand that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that any human can come before God. He embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior, and savored Him as his treasure.

But this devotion to Christ had a high cost. Sundara’s father told him he could not be a Christian. Sundara tried to honor his father – to express his devotion and love – but said that if he had to choose between his family and Jesus, he must choose Jesus. So Sundara was disowned and sent out with nothing.

After a period of discipleship and training, Sundara became a pastor. Several years later he went to the village of Ventrapragada to plant a church. He began by ministering practically to the lower castes, living in their section of the village. Those of higher caste were unhappy to see one of their own mingling with those of lower caste, and approached him, offering him a place to stay in their section of the village. Sundara declined, saying he would live with those he was serving. Later the same higher caste folks asked him to come and teach them about Jesus. Sundara declined to hold separate meetings, saying they were welcome to his meetings with the lower caste folks. Jesus, he said, broke down all those barriers of caste and race. None came – for about a decade. But as Sundara cared for the sick of all castes and persevered in showing the love of Jesus to all, eventually those of higher castes began to come. The church today includes men and women from all caste backgrounds. As one elderly, high-caste villager said, “When you’re a Hindu, caste is everything. When you’re a Christian, Jesus is everything.”

Serving predominantly poor people, Sundara and his family had little to live on. But God provided for their needs – through gifts and, when necessary, through Sundara’s work as a laborer in farmers’ fields. On such days, after hours and hours of backbreaking labor,  Sundara would come home, clean up, and go out to serve the poor and the sick, or to hold an evangelistic meeting.

From early days, Sundara invested in young men. Seeing the need for church planters and pastors all around him, he cast vision, offered training, and challenged personally many youth to take their faith seriously and to go out for the sake of the Name. Over the years, dozens of churches were planted from this small village church.

God eventually used Sundara’s son, Vijay, to multiply the church planting ministry into what is today Reach All Nations. I met Vijay in Minneapolis in early 2009, and first met his father that summer. I have since participated in several pastor’s conferences and church planter training sessions with them.

Two years ago, Sundara suffered a stroke that left him almost blind and partially paralyzed. Yet he fought back and was able to participate in preaching and training once again. Last month he suffered a major setback and had to be rushed to Hyderabad. He seemed to be on the mend until right before he died. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Sundara had finished his race. He kept the faith. He has received his crown.

Consider these Scriptural commands and exhortations in light of Sundara’s life:

Matthew 10:37-39 – “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 – “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Philippians 3:7-8 – “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

2 Timothy 4:6-8 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, Father God, for Sundara, Your servant. Thank you for giving me the privilege of seeing so many biblical truths lived out in Sundara’s life. Thank You for saving him, for providing for him, for spurring him on to serve you with all his heart. O Father, may the ministry of Reach All Nations continue to build on the foundation Sundara laid, glorifying Your Name more than ever among the peoples of India. And may that same spirit of selfless giving shine through me and all of us at DGCC. May we be similarly focused and devoted to You, loving one another, serving those around us faithfully, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives and with our words – that we might live for Christ, count all else as rubbish, and love His appearing. Amen.

By Coty Pinckney