Today’s guest is Suraj, and I met Suraj at the Bishop’s training event, which you have heard about before, because I meet really great people at the Bishop’s training event. So this is the 2019 one. And Suraj got up on stage and talked about his ministry at the university and I was really impressed. And so I chased around afterwards and found him at his stall and said, Can you come on my podcast? And he said, Yes. So you’re very welcome, Suraj.
Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Excellent. Firstly, where do you come from? Because your accent is not Caucasian-Australian like mine.
Yeah. I’m originally from Nepal. So it’s been four years. Nearly four years since I came to Australia.
Wow, your English is impeccable.
Okay. So we usually start by asking how you became a Christian.
Yeah. I became a Christian and the age of 10. I was born into a Hindu family, my dad, my brother and my mom, they were not Christian. They were Hindus. There used to be a church next door in my in my hometown in Nepal. So every Saturday, I used to see little children go to church have fun, dance, play games, do activities and craft, stuff like that. And I wanted to go and see and be a part of that little group. And Saturdays are our public holiday in Nepal not Sunday. So every Saturday morning I used to see these children having fun. And I went to the church and the pastor of the church or the leader of the church was quite reluctant to invite me to the church because he was intimidated by my dad. Because my dad is a really loud Hindu extremist. He can be quite antagonistic towards Christians. But yeah, he wasn’t super interested. He just said if you come to church, your dad will come and he will mess up. So.
I mean that is a risk, isn’t it?
Yeah, that was a risk. And I was just 10 years old. Yeah. And anyway, I went behind the church to see through the window. And what’s going on inside the church. Yeah. And every Saturday morning I had to go behind the church and see through that. But yeah. In Nepal church was like a little shed. Yeah. A couple of windows. Yeah. And then after I did that for a couple of months and seeing my you know, having seen my passion to know about from the Bible or about the community or Christian community, the pastor said to me yeah, yeah. You can come to church, I’ll let you in and I’ll talk to you dad and let’s see what happens. So yeah, after that I went to the church and every time I went to church my dad would chuck my, you know, meal or lunch in the bin every time I went to church and that was like punishment.
But that didn’t stop me from going to church. Yeah, that’s how I became a Christian and it was going well. And when I was 17 years old and my dad said to me, hey, Suraj I have noticed, you have been, you know, going to church for a long time. Today you have to make a decision. Either stay home. If you wanna stay home in my home, you’ll have to stop going to church. Or if you keep going to church, then I’ll kick you out of my house. So it was a big decision for me to make, you know, and I come from a collectivistic culture where family’s very important and you don’t make decisions by yourself. And, you know, in my culture leaving the house at the age of 17 is very abnormal. It’s never heard of. So and I, left home and I started living with my sister and her husband because my sister was married then to a pastor and she had a little boy and I lived with her family.
So she she was obviously older than you and she was a Christian.
My eldest sister and ever since I moved away from my house and then she’s my spiritual mentor. You know, she taught me, mentored me to help me grow in Christian faith.
So I feel a bit sorry for your father.
But he’s relenting now. He’s softening. So this is a really good.
So we’ll keep praying for him. If you have time in your prayers, pray for Suraj’s family.
Thank you so much.
I mean, that’s a really huge decision to make at such a young age. It’s amazing.
So what brought you to Tasmania?
Yeah, I came to Tasmania to marry my wife. Her name is Jemima and she’s from Tasmania. Well, she was born in Western Australia, but she moved down to Tassie.
To a better place. Where did you meet her?
In Nepal in 2013. We met in Nepal. And we liked each other. We decided to get engaged and we got engaged in Nepal. And I wanted to come first and see the culture, the Western culture and before, you know, before our wedding. But anyway, I was going to marry her anyway. But I just wanted to come and see the culture here. Yeah. In 2016, I came to Tasmania.
Fantastic. What was Jemima doing in Nepal?
It’s a long story. She went to Nepal to help the little children there. We have orphans and orphanages and children’s homes. And they she she went to Nepal to help the children.
As a Christian outreach thing. Just a short-term thing?
Watch out people. Go on short term missions. Your life might change.
Actually, I’m so in favour of everyone going on short term missions in a in a sensible way. Yeah, well, you know, not I’m not into voluntourism at all, but but it’s so important for us Westerners to go out and see that the world is different to how it is here.
It opens your eyes actually. Yeah. It just, you get to see something different. Wow. Yeah, that’s amazing.
So the school that my husband teaches at often does short term missions to Fiji or Vanuatu, places like that. And we say to the kids, ‘your your holidays are going to be wrecked from here on in because you can’t just treat it like a hotel resort when you know what life is like behind the scenes’. I just think it’s very important. Big, big in favour of that. Okay. So you’re in Tasmania, what do you do as a job?
I’m a teaching assistant at Springfield Gardens Primary School in West Moonah and I mainly work with students whose language was English as a second language. It’s called EAL English as an additional language with those children. Yeah. I work there.
Oh, that’s fantastic. So you and you’d have some idea of where they’re coming from and how hard it is.
Yeah, most of them are a refugee or migrants and refugees. Yeah. And then the little children don’t have good English. So I help them in learning English.
Are any from Nepal?
They’re from, you know, some from Nepal or India and China, Korea and from the South African countries as well. Yeah, Ethiopia.
So it’s not like you know their first language at all, but you just helped them.
Oh, that’s fantastic. How does your faith show in that?
Yeah. So I’m really good with the little children. And I just tell them a story about Nepal and a little bit about Christian faith as well. And I’m not allowed to do that at school. You are not allowed to enforce a religious view. Yes. And so, yeah, I should be. I’m sensible towards that.
But you can tell them about your story.
Oh that’s fantastic. So you’re also working at the uni. With the Subbies?
Yeah, Subbies ministry.
Can you tell us a bit about that?
Subbies is an evangelistic ministry to reach out to the students from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka from the subcontinent now with the gospel of Jesus. The good news of Jesus.
So what do you do?
We have food, fun, friends and faith and also festival. So we. Yeah. That’s our motto. To bring them in to Subbies and then our main vision is to make disciples of all nations.
And you talked at the Bishop’s training event about cultural differences and about people, that whole ‘white Jesus’ issue that we seem to have.
So we have students from the, mainly from the Hindu backgrounds and Muslim and Buddhist backgrounds, and so we have to be very sensitive when we share the gospel. When we approach with the gospel. So you are very sensitive and you don’t wanna be offensive towards their religious system. Yeah.
Was it you who was saying that that often people feel like if they if they become Christians, that they have to completely change their culture and become, you know, like white people?
In the subcontinent, Christianity is viewed or Christianity is considered as a Western religion. And Jesus is like English speaking white western God. That’s how they view Christianity and Jesus.
It’s not true, by the way. Just in case you were wondering.
It’s not true, but that’s how they view it.
And then if you ask them, do you want to become a Christian, they hear, do you want to become a Westerner? Or do you do you want to become a foreigner? That’s what they hear. And yeah. So that’s why at Subbies, the main thing we’re doing is providing them the Bibles in their own language. So that they get to hear about Jesus in their own language, in their heart language. And that dispels that myth, you know, that Jesus is merely a white English-speaking God.
Yeah. So you would you would say it’s absolutely vital to have the Bible in your own language?
Yeah. That makes a huge difference in their life as well.
And do you in the Subbies do you try and create a pocket of culture that’s similar to the home culture?
Yeah. That’s why we have festivals as well. We are we celebrate Nepali New Year or Tamil in New Year and Bangladeshi New Year, Sri Lankan New Year, or we try to celebrate Diwali, that sort of thing to to just attract them to Subbies. And they come and they get to meet the person of Jesus..
Has it been a success? I guess its success is like if one person came to the Lord. But you know, what sort of response have you had?
We started this ministry Subbies ministry in 2017 and throughout the year 2017 we were able to read the Bible with more than hundred non-Christian students and one person became a Christian. He accepted Jesus. That was in 2017. And in 2018 and 19 in two years, we were able to read the Bible around 300 non-Christian students. And a fifty of those students are attending local churches like not regularly, but on and off. But four of them are really, you know, genuinely and deeply they’re investigating Christianity or exploring Christian faith.
So that’s even though they have a they haven’t made a decision to follow Jesus yet, but actually that’s a that’s a fruit.
That’s so exciting. It really is. How many people are there in this Subbies ministry team?
We have a team of around twelve leaders and most of them except me, everyone who is there, everyone of them are volunteers. They help me with the ministry here.
And they’re all from the subcontinent as well?
Seven from Tasmania. And we also have student leaders as well.
Yeah, it’s fantastic. It’s so exciting to hear things like that going on, you know?
And most of the people don’t know about it. And it’s happening in our back yard.
It’s why I want to get the word out. People need to know about this.
So, yes, I think this interview won’t go out until the beginning of next year. We’re recording at the end of twenty nineteen but we won’t it won’t be on the list until beginning of 2020. But you’ll be just heading into another year.
Yes. Yeah, yeah.
Where do you get the Bibles from?
We order online from the, from those countries. Yeah. And we’ve got them here.
We have Bibles in eleven major subcontinental languages. Can I tell them now?
Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Malayalam, Gujarati, Kannada, Nepali, Urdu, Bengali and Sinhalese eleven major subcontinental languages. We have Bibles in those languages.
It’s fantastic. And when I went and looked at them at the Bishop’s training event, some of them read from left to right.
Yeah, that’s Urdu. Yeah, that’s. Yeah.
So some from right to left. So Urdu is the one that reads from right to left. Backwards. Not backwards. Right to left rather than left to right. It’s a good thing. Cool.
OK. So is there anything else you wanted to share about?
Yeah, at Subbies, we as I already mentioned that we celebrate festivals as well. And when we celebrated Diwali at Subbies. That was the largest group we ever had. Ever since we started Subbies, we had about 85 people come together. And the topic was Diwali or Festival of Lights. And our message was, Jesus Christ is the light of the world. And that was that was a huge success. And, you know, out of 85, 75 people were non-Christians. They had most of them had never heard of Jesus before. That was really so, so good to see them, you know, hearing the gospel in their own language, in their heart language. Yeah, that’s absolutely amazing.
I guess it that’s the thing. It’s like. Yes, going overseas is a very good idea. But at the same time, God is bringing people who’ve never heard about Jesus to our backyard. We can reach out to them.
And also, you know, Subbies is one of the largest ministries in Australia that is reaching out to the subcontinental students. One of the largest, I should say. And then and that’s all because of God’s mercy, you know, God’s grace, we have been able to do this. And our vision is to make that make them disciples of all nations. And that’s how we can make disciples of Jesus. And there used to be a time people, missionaries from America or from the Western countries I know send to those countries like subcontinent. Or Asia. But now these great nations are coming to Tasmania and Australia. And I think we should be able we should be ready to share the gospel with them. And they and they are the best missionaries we can send because they know the language, they know the culture and they have passports and there is no visa problem when they apply. And just they’ll be a good fit there. And I know the main thing, they know the culture and language and. Yeah.
So they’re not going back saying, hey, you need to become Western and white Christian. They’re going back saying, Jesus is for all nations.
Yeah, absolutely. So subbies is not just UTAS here? Is it at several universities around the nation?
No, actually it is just here in Tasmania. Often Tasmania is overlooked. But actually, we have great ministry going on in Tasmania.
And last, last year or last semester, we had an AFES staff from from Victoria I think coming down to Tasmania to see our ministry before they started their ministry there. And that was a big blessing.
So can I put details about you in the show notes? If somebody wants to start a Subbies.
Yes absolutely. And I want to extend my network and with the, you know, people, individual or churches around Tasmania, all of Australia. So, yeah, you can. Thank you.
Fantastic. OK. So when do you feel close to God?
In the morning. Every morning, I pray. For about forty five minutes. Something like that. So that that time is so special for me. Just sometimes you don’t have prayer matters to pray for. There’s so many prayer matters, but. Just sitting there in his presence. And yeah, I feel so close to God at that time. And also when I read the Bible, sometimes there are verses in the Bible. You often read it, but you don’t feel close. But sometimes you’re like oh I had never thought about that before. That’s quite interesting.
Yeah, it’s like God speaking directly to you from what you read.
And what’s one thing about God or Christianity you wish everyone knew?
I was actually pondering on this question I think it depends on who you ask. If you ask anyone from the subcontinent, because there are so many gods in Hinduism and you know multi-million gods are there. And if you ask them, so they think, as I already mentioned, that they think Christianity is a Western religion. And I wish people from the subcontinent knew that Jesus is the only way. And but in the Australian context, I I wish people people knew that God never gives up on people. He loves them the way they are.
Yeah, that’s interesting. So in the first point there, one of the problems,I think with Hinduism and Christianity is that people just tend to add God or Jesus as one of the many, many gods. How do you go about convincing people that he’s different to all of that huge display of gods?
It’s really tricky. You got to be very careful about, you know, mindful about what what do you say and how they’re receiving Jesus. So if you ask them, Jesus is God and Son of God? And they’re like, yeah, yeah, that’s fine. Yeah. I like Jesus. I like Jesus. But actually, when it comes to absolute truth, Jesus is the only way. And there they are like, hang on. I don’t quite agree with this because we have already multi-million gods. And why do I need Jesus? And so I think the Holy Spirit will give you the spirit of discernment to know where they are at in their faith. So they are happy to accept Jesus as one of the gods. But so we have to tell them. Actually no, Jesus is the only way. Yeah. So it’s yeah. It’s, it can be quite confronting for them.
Yeah. I mean even in terms of the different religions that you know that Hinduism and then Islam and then whatever is there’s so many different worldviews there that you’re dealing with just amongst the people of the subcontinent.
And yeah, it’s it’s not easy but God is there to help us.
And then I’m interested in your second point, because I think you’ve come over from Nepal. You’ve seen our culture. And this is what you feel like we’re missing.
Yeah. And because there are so many questions people have, you know, everywhere. But the most common question here is, you know, if God was there, then why is there suffering? That sort of question. And you get to get to see and get to hear and, yeah, actually, I don’t have the answer, but I think people, I wish people knew the power of God’s love. I know it sounds cliche when I say I wish people knew God’s love. But actually, I wish they actually knew, you know, the power of God’s love.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing that Suraj.
That’s my pleasure. Yeah. Anything else you wanna know?
I can’t think of any more questions. You have any more that you wanted to share?
I’d like to share about the ministry centre. Is that okay?
At Subbies, most of the sense we have from the Hindu background and we come from a collectivistic culture and so I have never seen at Subbies one student come to Subbies. They always bring their friends. That’s really interesting. And in bringing them to Subbies, we have we only do half of the work. We want to do 100 percent, but actually they bring their friends. And that’s really that shows that that shows that they know they have the ownership of Subbies. Then they feel Subbies belongs to them or that they belong to Subbies.
Yeah, that’s really great. I think we could learn a lot from collectivist culture.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s when one of the things and when you ask them, you know, if you ask them do you wanna become a Christian? The main thing is ‘I want to become a Christian. I like Jesus. But actually, what would my parents think about it if I you know, if they knew me going to church that, that’d be a big, big shame on the on the community. On the family.’ And they don’t want to make that decision. It’s very different actually. But here you when you are 18 you can do whatever you want. I mean I’m I’m 18, I’m old enough to make a decision for myself. But in Nepal or in the subcontinent …
Yeah, my family first. Or my society. My community first.
Yes. But over here we’re all incredibly lonely and isolated and, you know, dying alone because we don’t have that family and community that we need. So there are there are good things and bad things on both sides.
Yeah, yeah. And I like one of the good things. One of the things of individualistic culture. Actually, you make you get to make decisions for yourself and to follow Jesus. And that’s very personal. That’s the kind of relationship God wants from us, not about you know, forget about your mom and dad because I, I left home.
Yeah, so there is, yeah, that definitely has to happen.
And I also I also can encourage people those who want to. Those who are in the same situation I was in. If they if they want to follow Jesus, but they’re not quite sure how. I think I can, because I have got that experience. I can encourage them. And I had to go through the same situation. But you can see how God has helped me.
Yeah, absolutely. You’ve been put in exactly the right place.
Yeah. I think so, thank you.
Was Subbies your idea?
Dr Sam Gough and I, I don’t know if you know him.
Yeah, I do.
Sam wanted to start the Subbies ministry, but he wasn’t quite sure how. And he was collecting information from people and trying to catch up with people with ideas. And I got to know him and, yeah. And we prayed together. We shared our vision together and we started this.
The right person at the right time.
Thanks so much.
That’s alright, thank you so much for having me.