Bakht Singh (1902-2000)

Bakht Singh was born in Punjab (in what is now Pakistan) and raised as a Sikh. He graduated from Punjab University and studied engineering at King’s College, London. On a trip to Canada in 1928, he met a group of evangelical Christians, read through the New Testament several times, and was baptized on February 4, 1932. He returned to India in 1933, determined to be an evangelist, but with a clear understanding that he would not affiliate with any existing church organization. Among his first converts were his parents.

As he began his evangelical endeavors, first in northern India and then in Madras, his oratorical abilities were quickly recognized. From his evangelistic meetings, congregations began to form. As a result of his first major revival in Madras in 1941, he founded the first such church, Jehovah Shammah, which grew to include several thousand believers. After World War ii, he concentrated his work in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where he helped found 1,300 congregations. He also founded assemblies, as the congregations were called, in western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. He led the first American Holy Convocation in Syracuse, New York, in 1974 and returned annually for the next decade. Similar convocations were begun in Sarcelles, France, in 1977.

Bakht Singh was, like his contemporary in China, Watchman Nee, very much influenced by the Plymouth Brethren movement and particularly one of its leading spokespersons, Anthony Norris Groves, who advocated the development of new churches in new lands without the apparatus of foreign missionary control or even the need for ordained ministers. These ideas had originally been put to effective use in India by John Aurlappen. Singh also agreed with Watchman Nee that there should be only one Christian church in each city, where people from varied backgrounds and speaking different languages in a single Christian gathering could become an impressive demonstration of church unity.

In the assemblies raised up by Bakht Singh, Sunday worship would begin with an all-night prayer vigil. The morning service would begin with singing and last for several hours, punctuated by the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and up to three sermons. A meal would follow the service; then the congregation would go into the surrounding neighborhoods to conduct open-air evangelistic services.

Bakht Singh and some of his associates moved to Elim, Hyderabad, in 1950. They later established facilities to house the local ministry and train coworkers. This center, which Singh called Hebron, became the focal point for the fellowship of assemblies. Singh also led mass meetings, called holy convocations, for members and potential converts.

Bakht Singh taught a conservative evangelical faith and was a popular speaker for interdenominational evangelical missionary gatherings, especially the annual conferences held in Urbana, Illinois, by Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. He authored a number of books, many transcripts of his sermons and training messages, and articles in the movement’s periodical, the Hebron Messenger.

Bakht Singh died on September 17, 2000. His funeral brought hundreds of thousands of mourners to Hyderabad. The assemblies related to Bakht Singh’s work included more than 200,000 members at the beginning of the 21st century.

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