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Different faith, different culture

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POSTED January 11, 2014 12:21 a.m.

Working as a barista, I have made it my goal to leave a positive impression if possible on every coffee-loving customer that comes my way in hopes of being a blessing to them. But recently the tables were turned and I found myself on the receiving end of blessing from one of my customers.

His name is Bhajan Bhinder, owner of Biba Insurance in Lathrop (near Go Bananas).

I had seen Bhinder a few times in passing as he typically arrived at Café Aroma in Manteca just about the time my shift ended.  I always noticed him, not so much because of his full salt & pepper beard or the turban he wears upon his head but because he has kind eyes that seem to sparkle when he looks at you and says hello.

Initially, when our paths crossed, the words between us were pleasant but few — a cordial greeting between two strangers heading separate ways.  But then one day Bhinder happened to show up a little earlier than normal which gave us an opportunity to strike up a conversation.

He expressed interest in sharing something at a future Open Mic Night which naturally struck my curiosity. I asked him what it was that he wanted to share.   

Possibly because he struck me as a reflective type of person, I assumed his answer would be something along the lines of wanting to share a poem he had written about the beauty of nature.   I was wrong!

In a most humble voice Bhinder began to explain his desire to bring awareness to others about the crimes against humanity and to discuss the need for religious freedom for the people of India and elsewhere.  He longed to educate people on the necessity of taking action in liberating those who are being oppressed.  He also hoped to share a bit about how life had changed for him and others since 9/11.

I was completely taken aback.  This was definitely not at all what I expected him to say.  He wanted to share issues, real issues, heavy issues—Issues that I suddenly realized I knew little about.

 It’s not that I am oblivious to such problems in the world, but listening to Bhinder express his knowledge of the problems and his desire to be part of the solution caused me to evaluate just how tiny my personal bubble is that I live in.

 As a Christian, I have used the gift of writing as a tool reach others spiritually for many years.  And while it has been effective, something about Bhinder’s gentle determination to make a greater difference in this big world caused me to see how a certain measure of complacency had subtly slipped into my life, narrowing my focus.  Simply said, because of my introspective nature, I have zeroed in on primarily on the things that concern, well…me. 

 Over the next few weeks, Bhinder opened up about many things.  He shared about his faith as a Sikh, the love and respect he has found in the majority of people he has met, as well as the discrimination he has experienced simply because he wears a turban, which sadly has been associated with terrorists after 9/11.   Bhinder also shared with me his role as the Director of  OFMI, Organization for Minorities of India . An organization geared toward bringing truth and understanding politically, socially, economically and spiritually to fellow human beings.  A group determined to be the voice for the unheard.

Bhinder, who is now becoming known as an intellectual pioneer of the modern human rights movement, along with other OFMI advisors dedicate their time and energy on illuminating truth on various issues such as crimes against humanity, the abuse of women in India, and the struggles to protect minority rights as defined in the recent House of Representative Bill 417, which demands protection of Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Moolnivasi people in India.  

In the midst of explaining the vast amount of work to be done through OFMI Bhinder made mention of needing to hire office help. This triggered a question that I was curious about.  I could see that the work OFMI was doing was imperative but I wondered…

As a primarily Sikh organization, would being a Christian be a conflict of interest in working at OFMI?

I voiced my question and his reply was something I won’t soon forget.

“Not all. Perhaps in working together [Sikh and Christian] we can learn from each other and apply what we learn to our own faith.”

His response caused me to reflect deeply.  As a believer in Christ, I surround myself with like-minded people who help hold me accountable and cause me to grow in my faith.  This is vital to my spiritual life, yet Bhinder had a point, we can learn from each other.  Our cultures and faiths may be different from one another but helping others in need, shining light on truth, and being the voice for the unheard is universal.

Without realizing it, my new Sikh friend showed me the common goal which John 13:34 speaks of, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you.” I realized I needed to put feet to faith and get more involved.

While I am not called to do everything, I am called to do something.  Whether it is to witness through my writing more boldly, contact my congressmen in support of human rights or get to know someone from a different culture and faith and lend a helping hand.  Whatever it is, it’s time to take action.

While do hope I continue to bless my friend Bhinder as his barista, by opening up his world to me, I am challenged to a make a difference as well and I am blessed.

 To learn more about OFMI or to apply p/t office position with OFMI, contact Bhajan Bhinder at

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