Rahil Patel was standing on the left side of the magnificent Hindu temple in Gujarat, India, that evening in 1991. He had made his way upstairs for corporate worship—along with more than 100 other men who were studying for the priesthood. But when he started to bow to the temple images, he couldn’t.
“My heart began to race,” he said. “And a silent voice whispered in my left ear: ‘Are you sure you’re in the right place? Have you made the right decision?’”
His mind protested: But I’m a chosen one. I’ve got a destiny. I’ve got a purpose. I’ve got such a great life ahead of me …
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Rahil grew up in the UK, his early childhood divided between Christianity at school and Hinduism at home.
“We had prayer times before school started and before lunch,” he said. “And before we went home we sang hymns, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved my teachers. I loved the way they looked after me.”
At home, an entire room was dedicated to a Hindu shrine. His mum would bow to the images in the shrine every morning and night. She would sing to them and offer them food. On weekends the family would go to the temple.
Rahil found the temple laborious. But as he entered his teens, his interests began to reverse, as tension grew at home. His parents had possessed great wealth in Kenya, but they lost their massive construction company due to political unrest during the 1960s. When they migrated to the UK, life was drastically different, and in time, they began to argue.
Rahil’s older brother, Raj, sought refuge at a cousin’s house, but Rahil began spending more and more time at the temple. He played football with his friends, did chores, made garlands for the idols, and often would just sit and pray before the images and memorise Hindu scriptures. When Guruji, the denomination’s guru, came to town, Rahil and his friends would join the massive crowds attending both morning and evening sermons and bowing before the spiritual leader.
“I believed he was god on earth,” Rahil said. “God spoke and lived through Guruji. If I wanted to get to heaven and not hell I must never upset him. He was the gateway.”
When the guru came in 1988, Rahil was asked to speak. At 16, he was the leader of youth activities.
“I gave a speech on an ancient Hindu scripture, and it was very natural for me,” Rahil said. “The crowd was ecstatic.”
When Rahil went to bow to Guruji, he received the ultimate blessing: “You would be a very good Hindu priest. Why don’t you become a priest?”
Rahil had been yearning to train for the priesthood.
“I was overwhelmed and overjoyed,” he wrote in his book, Found by Love: A Hindu Priest Encounters Jesus Christ. “If Guruji says I can be a swami, then nothing will prevent it, as that’s my calling. I’m designed and destined for this.”
So, against their parents’ wishes, Rahil and Raj both fled to India when Rahil was 19 to enter six years of rigorous training in the monastery. It was about a month into the training that he heard the whisper.
“But I was stuck because I had run away from home,” Rahil said, “So there was a lot of shame and guilt in going back. The guru had picked me out to be someone really special. So, my internal struggle started.”
From ages 20-24, Rahil travelled with the guru on two world tours—to South Africa, East Africa, Canada, Europe and the UK. He watched as Guruji spoke and interacted with the masses, and he gave speeches of his own. After training, he was sent to Mumbai, where he rebuilt the organisation’s youth program. All the while, he kept pushing down that whisper, trying to pretend he was happy.
The Hindu practices didn’t feel real to him. He didn’t seem to be making any progress in connecting with the true God who created the universe. Sometimes he felt like he was being brainwashed.
“Look,” Guruji said. “You need to stop thinking. You’re wearing the orange robe now; you’ve got to focus. Just think about me. You must not think of anything else.”
Rahil became sick. He had malaria five times in four years. He was continually on antibiotics, painkillers and antidepressants.
Again he confessed his inner struggles: “I really would like to go back home to my parents.”
“You are not going back to your parents,” Guruji said. “I’m going to place you in London, and you’re going to be in charge of developing the whole of Europe and Russia.”
Rahil traveled 70,000 to 90,000 miles a year, building temples in Portugal, France and Belgium. He developed congregations in 18 different countries and brought over 500 people to the Hindu religion. He met prime ministers, industrialists, presidents and ambassadors. He spoke at the United Nations and to chemical weapons inspectors.
And along the way, he started slipping into Christian churches.
“My head would just automatically turn in the direction of a church,” he said. “I would find a cross somewhere on a church building or a monument. I loved looking at the cross.”
At a small bookstore, he purchased a children’s Bible, and as he read the stories of Christ, he thought, What I’m doing as a priest is something I can’t wrap my brain around, but here is something that really resonates somewhere deep inside of me.
“I felt that God must be so much bigger than a statue in a temple,” Rahil says. “Much bigger than a guru.”
He began to talk about God in a different way in his speeches around the globe.
“I sort of quietly, covertly challenged the eastern doctrine,” he said. “Once in Orlando, I had to read a Hindu verse and narrate on it. I read the verse, then I gave a narration based upon my experience of how God should be, how He is much bigger than a statue in a temple. I got a standing ovation.”
In 2011, as Rahil traveled back to India for a visit with Guruji, he had an uneasy feeling. His new theology certainly had been reported to the guru by now. When he was ushered into Guruji’s presence, the atmosphere was hostile, and there were other priests in the room. Normally, they met alone.
“You’re not going back to London,” Guruji said. “You’re staying here, in the villages of India.”
For the first time, Rahil spoke against Guruji. “No. No way.” Then, in a resigned voice, he repeated publicly what he had told the guru in private. “Look, I don’t want to be a swami anymore. I want to go home.”
This time, Guruji didn’t argue. “Fine,” he said. “Leave and go wherever you want.” Three weeks later, as Rahil was walking to a railway station in the UK., on a Sunday morning, his head suddenly turned, and he saw a church down a quiet road. It was 11:15. He walked up to the church and went inside. Everyone greeted him with loving smiles.
“I walked through those doors, and as I did, the presence of God fell on me with this incredible peace, and this whisper in my left ear simply said, ‘You’re home.’ My heart was filled with joy.”
After the service, instead of exploring the city, he went back to his hotel room and sat down on the bed. For years, he had searched for peace through worshiping images in the temple.
“I was doing all of these things for a false god—the list was endless—but did the true God know me? Could I talk to Him? I was looking for a two-way relationship. The idols were silent.”
Rahil repented and prayed to receive Christ right there in his hotel room. He continued to go to church, and six months later he was baptised.
“There’s no striving now,” Rahil said. “No performing for God. But the process of coming out from religion and entering into a relationship has been very difficult.”
But God, along with the congregation at Holy Trinity Brompton Church, has shown him the way. And after spending a year writing his story, Rahil is now starting to travel again—this time to talk about the God who is bigger and more powerful than any other—the one true God.
You can also watch Rahil’s story in the film The Worth of a Soul here.