India is home to one billion people, most of whom are Hindu. And until the conversion of her great-grandfather, a Hindu priest who built two temples, to Christianity, Pauline James Sundar’s family would have shared its country’s religious heritage.
“My great-grandfather saw the Lord in a dream,” Pauline says. “He saw all the Hindu idols being taken into the earth and on top of them stood a cross. That day he ran to a pastor and asked about the vision. The pastor shared the gospel and that’s how he came to know the Lord. We have a story to tell. We just didn’t become Christians. The Lord found us in our Hindu family.”
In a country where Christianity is “a religion for low-caste people,” Pauline’s great-grandfather did more than change his belief system.
“He changed his name,” Pauline says, “which in India is a big thing. You wouldn’t change your name because your name is according to your caste. If you change your name, you’ve changed everything—your friends, your family, where you belong. His children saw the faith he had and they chose to be in ministry. I want to carry the faith that he had and share it with others in India.”
How she came to that decision began on a medical missions trip. At an early age Pauline wanted to become a missionary and work with tribal communities. As she advanced in her education, she sought ways to do that. She earned a bachelor’s degree in botany and a master’s degree in microbiology, with the hope of doing research that would ultimately impact the health and lives of those in tribal areas.
But then she went to a hospital to oversee medical research, and the experience changed the course of her life. At the hospital Pauline watched as some of the doctors translated the Bible into the local language, and having picked it up quickly, she decided she would like to do that kind of work. She applied to Dallas Seminary.
She went from making 300 rupees, or about seven dollars, and being slated as one of eight students in all of India to be granted entrance into one of the toughest doctoral programs, to getting a scholarship and coming to DTS. And here she not only learned something about the American church, but also a little about love.
“I just love the culture here. Everybody’s excited about new things, adventure. They have a heart for poor people. They want to help. But,” she adds, “I feel that instead of spending so much money on two-week missions trips, the church should equip smaller churches in Third World countries; then they would be making a long-term investment.” Secondly, she believes the American church needs to address how it racially divides itself into “Indian churches, Chinese churches, black churches, white churches.”
“Even though we have these caste differences in India, we don’t have churches like that,” she says. “I’m shocked that everybody’s separate [here]. Nobody’s intentionally doing this, but somebody from another culture who sees it for the first time, just sees it. Someone has to be quick to say, ‘We’re not going to wait any longer’ and talk about it louder and clearer. Everybody needs to think about it and pray about it.”
On the side of the Indian church she says that the church is divided primarily along Anglican and Pentecostal lines.
“In between there’s not a balance of good evangelical churches in India,” Pauline says. “Some people who have graduated from DTS are trying, but they don’t have a mainline church alongside them to help. We have to be doing something because there are just two extremes.”
This is the situation that Pauline will face when she returns to India—the extremes of two churches, with the government increasingly pressuring and persecuting new believers. But she is optimistic, especially in light of her marriage to Eric Montgomery, who will also graduate from DTS.
“When I came to the United States, I came as a single woman. In India there’s so much going on—you’ve got to be working. You’ve got to be in the ministry. I thought family life wasn’t suitable for that kind of ministry. But when Eric came along and the Lord put us together, it seems like the ministry is going to be even more equipped. I want to see how we can be a team,” she says. “I can’t wait for us to get there and just minister together.”
And when times get tough, she says, she will remember the professors at Dallas Seminary.
“When they teach, they teach from their hearts,” she says. “If I am ever discouraged, I will think of my professors who could have been somewhere else and earned so much money. But they are true to their calling. Their lives will be a challenge and an encouragement to me.”
The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to
glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders
for the proclamation of His Word and the
building up of the body of Christ worldwide.