As South Asian Heritage Month approaches (18 July – 17 August), it is a great chance to connect with and honour our South Asian brothers and sisters. Engaging with South Asian communities around the church lets us build meaningful relationships, share the gospel, and witness God's love transforming lives. South Asian culture is very similar to that of the Bible, with the Middle East, especially Iran, having influence in South Asia.

Background

You may be wondering what South Asian Heritage Month is – in simple words, it is a celebration of those of who have South Asian roots. There are British-born South Asians, those who have come to work or study here over many years, those who came as refugees in the 70s when Idi Amin removed all South Asians from Uganda, and those who have come from Kenya, though the avenues can be a broad spectrum. 

I know some may want to be clear about what is considered South Asian’, so here is a quick breakdown of the nations and languages spoken. There are eight key South Asian nations: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, the Maldives and Bangladesh. Not to be confused with Southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia etc). The key languages spoken are Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu, Marathi and Bengali (there are many, many more!).

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Community

South Asian Heritage Month can also be an opportunity to reflect on cultural memories and experiences.

For example, growing up, our home was always open to anyone who wanted to come over and have a meal – my mum had a great heart for hospitality, in cooking and feeding others. During the summer, the Gujarati community of friends would get together, and in typical Gujarati style we would head for picnics packed with masala chapattis (tepla) often paired with a dry potato curry, salads, as well as the usual snacks and drinks. There was a real sense of community, fun and laughter. 

I love the way in which God expresses Himself through each of us, and when at its best, culture has commonalities across humankind such as generosity, hospitality, community, faith and so on – it is just how we express ourselves that can be different. For me, South Asian Heritage Month is not something I have really celebrated in the past, because I have felt it is a natural part of who I am. However, I realised that in walking the life of Christ, we can be accustomed to what is expected rather than who we are. It took me a few years to be able to accept my identity is first and foremost in Christ, and yet I can still celebrate that He chose me to be a British-born Indian woman. 

Open arms

There is opportunity to not only celebrate our brothers and sisters within the church but also those outside the church. What would it look like if the church invited communities for a meal, for them to share their stories? What if we created safe tables for people to gather, laugh, share, learn, and if people are open to it, to pray for people? If you do choose to do this, be culturally sensitive to what people may or may not eat based on their faith or culture.

Here are some ideas for celebrating in your church or community:

Sermon series: Dedicate a series of sermons throughout the month to explore themes that are relevant to South Asian culture, such as hospitality, family, community and spirituality. Invite guest speakers from the South Asian community to share their perspectives and experiences.

Cultural event: Encourage South Asians at church to perform traditional singing or dancing, which will help church members learn about and appreciate the rich cultural heritage of South Asia (after or during the church services). South Asian communities around the church can be invited.

South Asian worship: Integrate elements of your service to include prayer and worship in languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Farsi, Urdu, or Punjabi and think about intercultural worship.

Food: Enjoy South Asian food together on one of the Sundays during the heritage month or as many as you would like. A chicken or veg biryani always goes down well!

Cultural exchange: Share testimonies and connections to South Asian culture, whether through personal stories, family traditions, or travel experiences. This can create opportunities for dialogue and connection within the congregation.

Film screenings and discussions: Host screenings of films or documentaries that explore South Asian culture, history and contemporary issues. Follow up with discussions to reflect on the themes presented in the films and their relevance to the church community.

Prayer services: Arrange a prayer service aimed at discussing ministries within the South Asian community in the UK. Extend an invitation to an individual or an organisation who is actively engaged in such ministry to share their experiences.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the diversity of your kingdom. May your kingdom come, and your will be done. Show us how to celebrate and love one another as you have loved us. Give us opportunities to share your good news with the world by being an example of open arms and community. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.