I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Shortly after, my family moved to England and settled in a leafy suburb near London.

My elder brother and I went to a good school. In Indian families like ours, education was a status symbol and an avenue toward long-term success. Although the school wasn’t Christian, we sang hymns every morning, prayed before lunch, and prayed again before leaving for home. Every Christmas I took part in the school’s Nativity play.

In the 1970s, Indian families who settled in the UK from East Africa had left a lot and lost a lot. But they didn’t want to lose their language and religion. To maintain their cultural identity, many families gathered at their local Hindu temple every weekend. I would meet almost everyone in the community over food, prayer, and worship.

At home, we had a whole room dedicated to the Hindu deities we believed in. Every morning, I went downstairs to pray there. Every evening, my family spent 30 minutes in front of the house shrine before dinner.

In my teens, my life changed radically. My parents were struggling to accept their way of life in the UK. There were constant arguments about status and wealth. These fights kept me in anxiety and fear.

I found solace and belonging in the temple, where I made friends and partook in activities like speechmaking, drama, and dance or simply cleaning, serving, and worshiping in front of images of various deities.

Our denomination had a guru, Guruji, who claimed to personify God himself. Whatever he said and did was regarded as divine. In 1988, when I was 16, he came to the London temple and watched me give a speech on ancient Hindu scripture.

Afterward, as I went to bow at Guruji’s feet, he said, “You have a great gift of speaking.” He invited me to become a swami, or Hindu priest, and join his movement. Immediately, my heart leapt, buoyed by a sudden rush of purpose and power.

At age 19, I left home for a monastery in northwest India. It housed 200 people from around the world. The training was intense. Every morning, we awoke at 4:30 for a cold-water bath. After meditating for an hour, we attended corporate worship. Then we carried out simple chores of cleaning or making garlands for the images. Later, we had classes on Hindu scriptures and other world religions, which lasted until late at night.

Those were exciting times. However, after my first month of training, an incident shook my foundations. I was upstairs in the temple, worshiping with the other priests. The bells were ringing, and the drums were beating. Just then, I distinctly heard a question whispered in my left ear: Have you made the right decision? Are you in the right place?

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This shocked me, and I struggled for the remainder of the worship time. I told myself it was “maya,” the evil force of delusion in Hinduism, trying to disrupt my destiny. Still, I began having many questions and doubts.

All around me, I saw swamis who had worshiped and studied for decades without experiencing any meaningful change in their lives. Why, I wondered, after all this fasting, reading, and meditating, were they still given to anger, jealousy, or spite? I didn’t feel like I was changing, either.

A few years later, I was ordained into the Hindu priesthood and began wearing the saffron robes of sacrifice. With my shaved head and holy appearance, I embarked on a pilgrimage to sacred Hindu sites across India. I bathed in the Ganges and other rivers invested with spiritual significance, hoping to cleanse my sins and gain a sense of renewal. But again, nothing in my inner nature changed.

In 1997, Guruji directed me to settle at the London temple and develop congregations across Europe. I launched temples in cities like Paris, Lisbon, and Antwerp, and they grew quickly. My speeches gained recognition, and Guruji was impressed with my work. Frequent travel made me feel like a high-powered corporate executive.

One time in Rome, though, I stumbled onto something so authentic that it made me question this life of fame and success. I was sitting in the Sistine Chapel underneath Michaelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgment. I was already blown away by the artistry of the church, but the depictions of Jesus were especially striking. Thus began a secret fascination with the person of Jesus. During my travels, my eyes would find the cross of Christ almost instinctively.

A very different God began to etch in my heart—a God with more beauty and depth than Guruji or the images I was worshiping. I didn’t know his name, but I knew he wasn’t the god I was preaching.

Top: Rahil Patel’s personal Bible. Bottom: Patel’s church in Oxford, England.
Image: Betty Zapata

Top: Rahil Patel’s personal Bible. Bottom: Patel’s church in Oxford, England.

By 2005, my public speeches had taken a slight theological turn. I still spoke from Hindu scriptures, but I began speaking of a “much broader god” who encompasses all of humanity. I still didn’t know who this god was. It was frustrating.

In 2006, I broadened my search for truth and satisfaction by studying several great Hindu philosophers. I dove into Yoga and breathing techniques. In desperation, I even searched Western self-help books. But my search had hit a brick wall.

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Meanwhile, all this spiritual unease was taking a toll on my physical health. By 2010, I was taking up to 40 tablets every day to treat various pains and disorders. That year I entered the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville for a 10-month stay. During weekends, I traveled to temples across America and continued to preach a “bigger” god.

After my recovery, I planned a visit to India to meet Guruji. But my doubts about his divinity intensified after a very senior swami informed me that the whole doctrine had been invented to bring structure to the movement. My heart sank further as I verified this claim with other leading figures.

Upon landing in Mumbai, I learned that Guruji was upset at my change in theology. He wanted to curtail my influence by sending me to remote villages in India. For the first time, I dared to resist, and a tense debate followed. Finally, with a deep sigh, I told Guruji I wanted to leave the priesthood.

Silence froze the room. After what felt like an eternity, Guruji exclaimed, “Fine! Go! Wherever you want to go, just go!”

I didn’t know where I would go, as my parents had moved away from London. A Hindu friend took me into his hotel in the city’s South Kensington neighborhood. Disappointed and hurt, I parked the whole idea of God and began searching for a job.

Weeks later, however, I was strolling down a road, lost in thought, when suddenly I saw a beautiful church. It was Sunday morning. As I entered the main door, God’s presence fell on me like a comforting blanket. At the same moment, I heard another unmistakable whisper saying, You are home.

I went upstairs and sat in a pew. I enjoyed the worship, and the sermon strangely made sense to me. I left the church with an excitement I couldn’t articulate. On that day, my heart said yes to Jesus, and I gave him my life.

I quickly realized, however, that I needed to undergo a lot of detox, both spiritually and emotionally. One of the hardest lessons early on was learning to rest in God’s love. As a Hindu priest, I had been accustomed to thinking I could only please God through spiritual effort. The transition from religion to relationship was very uncomfortable but beautifully rewarding.

By grace alone, I have come a long way in a short while. I am thankful that Jesus healed me from shame, guilt, resentment, and anger. Most of all, I am thankful that he kept knocking on the door of my heart, patiently, until it finally swung open.

Rahil Patel is the author of Found by Love: A Hindu Priest Encounters Jesus Christ. He is a speaker and tutor at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

[ This article is also available in español. ]

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