I come from a country named India, which is between one-third and one-half the size of the United States of America, about the land mass on the east side of the Mississippi river. The estimated population of the country is around 1 billion, and it is a crowded place. The country has been fed by three civilizations: Aryans in the North, Mongolians in the North-East and Dravidians (who came from Australia) in the South. The society is agriculturally oriented, and 80% of the country’s population lives in its villages. The staple food of the southern part of the country is rice, while it is wheat in the northern part. I was brought up in the fifth largest city in India, Hyderabad, which has an estimated population of around 4 million. The literacy rate of the country is around 57%, and some of the people do not know even how to sign their names. Contrary to the Chinese, whose main language of communication and instruction is Chinese, the medium of instruction in most schools is English in India.
There are seventeen officially recognized mainstream languages and over 200 other languages that people use. There are over 2000 dialects prevalent which further compounds the problem of communication. It is generally safe to say that one who knows English can get by without many hurdles. India is secular (as per its constitution) when it comes to its religious traditions: 82% of the population adhere to Hinduism, 11% to Islam, 2% each to Buddhism, Sikhism and Christianity and a number adhere to other beliefs constituting a very small minority. The Christian population in India is around 21 million of which 18 million are Roman Catholics. Christians are severely persecuted for their faith in scattered parts of the country. Some of the Hindu fundamentalist groups have vowed to eradicate the name of Jesus Christ from the country.
I am the eldest son of the three, brought up in a bourgeois Orthodox Hindu Family. My dad was the sole earning member in the family, and my mother was a homemaker. There was barely enough for us to get by. My dad was an alcoholic and a chain smoker. To add to our grief, he gambled his income away in horse races and the like. He was very short-tempered, and there was absolutely no respect for him, even though my mother did tolerate his behavior. I was not doing well at school until the sixth grade, and my dad got concerned. He started looking out for me, and that gave an impetus for me to do well; and within a couple of years, I was at the top of the class. My parents always homed in on the point that an individual could survive only through having an education. Being the eldest, I had to set an example for my younger brothers to emulate, and they hated every aspect of it, for they could not match up! Getting into engineering or medical school is only through fierce competitive written exams, and it is virtually a privilege to study in a government-sponsored school.
I believed in what my parents believed, as it was handed to them through the traditions of their fathers. I worshipped the idols, the trees, the sun, the moon gods and the like, diurnally. I was taught that God manifested Himself in His creation; and hence it was appropriate for one to worship the creation, for He was present in it. All the heavenly planets, including the stars, had some significance, and they had to be worshipped, if one cared to be successful in life. It was a religion of penance — Be good and do good. This religion was inherited, and I never questioned what I believed – after all, my parents could not be off the mark. The order of worship incorporated giving reverence to the mother first, father second, teacher (guru) third and finally God. God took the last place, for it is the mother who gives birth, father who guides, teacher who teaches the way of truth and of the Lord, and then the Lord gets our attention. If the Lord and the teacher appear at the same time, it was required for the sakshya (disciple) to bow down before the teacher first, before paying homage to God.
Hinduism teaches that there is One God (Brahman – “Great Soul”) and that there are a number of ways that one can use to reach God. It believes that all of the ways lead to the truth. It advocates Bhakti Marga (The way of devotion), Gnana Marga (The way of knowledge), and the Dharma Marga (The way of righteousness – doing good) to attain salvation from the cycle of life. The way of transcendental meditation – succinctly stated, “The New Age Movement” uses Yoga as it’s primary focus. It believes in reincarnation and states that one has to excel in one’s good works over bad works to attain a better life in the next one to come upon the earth. The course of the next life on the earth is determined by one’s karma (either good over bad, or bad over good). If one has good karma, then the next life would be better than the present one. If one has bad karma, then the next life would be degenerated to a lower level – probably be born as an animal or a bird, if not a rotten human beggar. Vimukti (Salvation) from this cycle of life is through one of the above mentioned ways by which you seek the Lord diligently. Some forsake their families and go to the mountains and live like hermits, seeking God in the wilderness for the rest of their lives. For those who love this worldly life and are ignorant, there is no redemption from this vicious cycle of reincarnation. If you are lucky, you may get out in ten lives (one more than the cat!!!). To sum it up, Hinduism at its core is a works religion and beliefs are very flexible, so that one can adapt to whatever one chooses. As to salvation, it is what man does, and there is absolutely no participation of God.
I hated all the habits that my dad possessed, and I made a promise to myself that I would be a better parent to my offspring when they come in due time. I was very self-centered, haughty in appearance and attitude. I could never take no for an answer, and could never think of being the second best, with the urge to being the winner all the time. I offered sacrifices (not animal) to idols, trees, planets etc., to appease them and to win favors for my rather greedy living. I was not sincere in what I did. In other words, I was the master of my own destiny. As we brothers grew out of adolescence, we began to reason with our dad about his habits and stressed to him the importance of our education. He saw merit in our ideas and abstained from drinking, smoking and gambling for a while, and his attitude towards us, his children, improved. He has since started all these things again to a very limited extent. He has committed his life to idol and sun worship since then, encouraging us to follow in his footsteps.
After competing with nearly 100,000 students to get into an engineering school (of which only 1000 make it), I worked hard to get into the mechanical engineering program in a very prestigious government school for my undergraduate curriculum in 1985. The idea of the New Age movement appealed to me, that it would make me a better person in the world. It promised a better life, filled with meaning, while in the world it was a humdrum existence. Seeking God through transcendental meditation (TM) excited my being, and I was taught by disciples of a guru Parmahamsa Yogananda, who was dead in 1952, way before I came to be in this world. I was supposed to be meeting with God during the hours of transcendental meditations. I would see flashes of lightning and bright lights and some times just utter darkness. I would get an eerie sensation of my soul leaving my body, while it floated the heavens. TM teaches that one will be able to tap into 90% of the brain that remains unused in the lifetime of one’s being and recognize that one is a part of the Eternal Consciousness. One dangerous aspect of TM is addiction. Once you get into it, it is difficult to get out, though not impossible. As long as I was involved in meditation, it made me feel good; and the moment I came out of it, I felt miserable each time. The outside world began to lose its meaning as long as I was involved in it. The New Age movement, in contradiction to Hinduism, even though it is a part of it, emphasized the importance of the teacher to be above parents and above God Himself. I did not experience any of these feelings for any sustained period of time. Not wanting to be left out, I would concoct stories to prove to my friends that I was better than they were. I did not want to be ridiculed and labeled not spiritual, for much was at stake. About 25% of the Americans were a recognized part of the New Age movement in 1988. This number has been growing steadily in the last few years. The emptiness in my soul was driving me crazy, for I longed to know the Creator of this Universe, for Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 “that He (speaking of God) has set eternity in their hearts.” I persisted in this dream world for five whole years before the Lord Jesus Christ encountered my thirsty soul.
After finishing my undergraduate program, I worked for an year. My classmates who had proceeded to the United States for higher studies prompted me to apply to various schools, so as to pursue my higher education and then to seek a better life out there. I applied to eight schools and was accepted at seven. I chose to go to Kansas State University, in Manhattan, Kansas to do my master’s program in industrial engineering. When I went to apply for the student visa in Madras, India, I was rejected, for the lady who was interviewing me (behind a bullet-proof glass) was not convinced that I was going to come back after I finished my studies. My friend who had gone with me to the embassy for the student visa, who was also rejected for the same reasons, told me that he was going to try one more time the very next day. Please keep this in mind: if you get rejected twice, you cannot apply for the student visa for the next two years. I was not willing to take such a chance, but he prevailed over my stubbornness. We left for the embassy at 2:30 in the morning on July 17, 1990. There were already twelve students in front of us. Within the next fifteen minutes, the crowd grew to more than 200. The embassy opened at 7:30 am, and we proceeded to reapply. My friend, who was before me, was told by the one examining his documents to come back and pick up his visa at 4:30 in the afternoon. I was utterly amazed, for this was the same guy they had rejected yesterday, and I became very nervous. I had never stammered before, and I was too dumbfounded. I was next in line, and the man examined my documents to see if they were in order and proceeded to ask a few questions of me which I stuttered to answer. He asked me to come back at 4:30 to pick up the visa. I was so exhilarated at the whole scenario, that I ran out of the embassy, lest they should change their mind about it. When we came back to pick our visas at 4:30, they asked us to go to the interview room, for they realized that we were rejected candidates. We waited for thirty minutes and we could see the same lady who had interviewed us the day before sitting behind the glass. It seemed like thirty years. Finally, a lady called and gave us our visas without any questions. We sighed a huge relief! The only thought that crossed my mind, at that point in time, was that Americans were a bunch of hypocrites. The Lord would show me how erroneous I was in my assessment at a later point in time, when He pointed out to me that it was His grace that brought me into this country and that I did not make it on my merits. I ended up at Kansas State University on August 16, 1990. Four months later, I transferred to Texas A & M University in Bryan-College Station, Texas. Eight months later, after having a disagreement with my advisor, I moved to Clemson University to pursue my master’s program in mechanical engineering in September of 1991.
I applied for the Clemson Area International Friendship program, which enabled international students to meet with resident American families and become conversant with their culture and traditions. This was a forum through which cross-cultural relationships could be fostered and nourished. This would also enable the international student to adapt to his / her new surroundings. I and my roommates were assigned a couple in Anderson (they were in the process of moving from Seneca to Anderson), Cheryl and Andy Solvig. We were told that this couple would be contacting us within the next couple of weeks. Two weeks, and there was no response from these people, and so I ventured to call the Student Coordinator, Becky Powell, and the Host Family Coordinator, Ruth Canupp, to inquire as to why we were not contacted. They called us back after a couple of days and said to us that we will be contacted by the couple in the next week or so. Two months had passed and nothing was established. This couple, we assumed, were just not serious about their commitment. I was really frustrated with this whole program and was planning to give a piece of my mind to Becky and to Ruth. On November 1, 1991, the day that I was intending to call these two ladies, Ruth called me in my laboratory and asked me as to what I was doing that evening. She invited me to go eat dinner with her at a restaurant. Ruth and Ted came and picked me up, and we went to eat at a Chinese restaurant with another Indian student, Rajat Charan. At a later point in time, God would reveal to me that Ruth and Ted were His chosen vessels from the beginning for me to come to know the Lord and that He knew what He was doing.
Ruth invited me to go to her church, First Baptist in Westminster SC, on December 1, 1991 (it was Ted’s birthday). This was the first time that I had ever stepped into a Protestant church. Church to me was just another place for meditation. Being involved in the New Age movement, it did not bother me, for Christ was indeed one of the gods that I worshipped as part of the TM. The Sunday school teacher, Audrey Smith, was very excited that I had come to church, and I could not understand her. There were at least 10 American students in my class, and not one spoke. I can understand their apprehensiveness, for I was too feeling apprehensive in a like manner. It felt odd to be in a Caucasian class. A few weeks later, I was given a Bible to read and was asked to read the Gospel of John, for I was going to the church on a regular basis.
I had read a lot of the ‘so-called’ Hindu Scriptures, for my mother used to translate the teachings of Upanishads and the Vedas from Sanskrit into Tamil (my mother tongue) and explain to us the mysteries with great illustrations. I wanted to know what the God of the Bible had to say about Himself. So I started reading from the first book, Genesis. There were interesting stories in Genesis and Exodus. The book of Leviticus began to drag a little bit and the book of Numbers was the final straw. The same stuff was repeated over and over again without exception in relation to the twelve tribes of Israel. It could be likened to a record player gone bad, when it begins to repeat the same things over and over again. I could not decipher that such a God could be so redundant. I dropped the book like a hot potato.
The people from my Sunday School and the church in general, especially Ruth, began to witness to me about their faith in Christ as the only way to salvation. I was flabbergasted, that they would even dare to communicate that I was a sinner and need of God’s grace. I became very cynical, and began to explain that there was a world much bigger than the United States of America, with diverse cultures, traditions, religions etc., and that it was ludicrous on the part of one to believe that Christ was the only way, truth and the life. It was my understanding at that point in time, that all religions lead to the same God, for we all believe in One God. To clarify my point of view, I used the mountain as an illustration. To climb to the top of the mountain, not everyone uses the same route. So also, (God is sitting upon the top of this mountain), different people use different routes (ways, methods) to get to this same God. We call one route (method or way) Hinduism, an other Islam, an other Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism etc. Since no one who witnessed to me did know how to answer this question, while knowing that illustration was faulty at its core, I always had my way. They persevered in communicating the same message to me. Yet there was not one to point out to me, (which the Lord revealed to me at a later point in time), how this illustration fails.
When summer of 1992 drew near, I was bankrupt, having exhausted all my funds. There was no more money for school or for living. I was in debt to the tune of $15,000 to my friends and to various credit card companies. Ruth and Ted helped me financially through this time, though I was no relation to them, to help pay some of my outstanding bills. They volunteered to help me find a job during the summer. This was the first time that God humbled me. I had a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and yet could manage only a job as a trash picking laborer in a construction company. I began to repay some of the loans that I had taken and was hoping that I would be in the clear in about 18 months. The job lasted six months and I was laid off in December of that same year. During that summer, I began with a new fervor to read the Bible from the beginning and I went through the first hurdle in Numbers and hit the next spot in 1 Chronicles, and yet I persisted on. During September, while working at the construction company, an African – American man asked me if I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, to which I answered ‘yes.’ I do not know even to this day why I answered in the affirmative even though I had not come to believe in Him as my Savior. I had grown a tremendous respect for His name and came to regard the Lord Jesus Christ as a Good Teacher. This troubled me day in and day out. When I was laid off, life came to a standstill. I did not plan to save money for the future, and honestly I was left with $8 in the bank. I was too ashamed to ask for help, for I was not responsible in my stewardship of the resources that God had granted me.
I survived on noodles for a month or so and was depending upon some of my friends who would invite me to come and eat dinner with them. I could not live in this manner any longer. I decided to end my life, hoping that my parents would be able to collect the money from the insurance and pay my bank loan (I was not aware at that point of time, that the insurance companies did not pay any amount in case of a suicide). As I pondered as to what I had done with my life, I had failed myself (in not accomplishing for which I had come to this country), my friends from whom I had taken large loans and more importantly my family, who had put so much hope on me that I would do well. This led me to the conviction that life was not worth living anymore since I would only be a burden and would not have contributed in any positive manner. As I stood on the bridge of Lake Hartwell on one evening, as the sun was peering down the western sky in January 1993, I did not have the guts to jump over the bridge. I was well aware that if I jumped, I would not come out alive, because I did not know how to swim and the water near the bridge was over a hundred feet deep. Even if I had realized that it was a mistake after I had jumped into the lake, it would have not helped me to come to the shore, and I surely would have drowned.
Like a bolt from the blue, I heard a voice saying to me, “Naveen, go home, for I have better things in store for you.” I am sure this is not the first time that the Lord had spoken to me, but definitely it was the first time that I was all ears. Having nothing else to hold on to, I went back to the apartment pondering upon the promise that had been made to me. Two weeks later, I was offered a job at Dynacast Seneca (presently called SPM – Seneca) as a product machine operator on January 27, 1993 on the third shift. This meant that I had the whole day to myself.
During the month of February, as I was reading through the book of Romans, I came to the verse “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” in 3:23 and was certainly aghast. The word ‘all’ seemed misleading and I thought that it was probable that someone might have made a mistake by incorporating it in that verse. I did not believe people like Mahatma Gandhi, Ramakrishna Parmahamsa, Shirdi Sai Baba, Guru Nanak Singh, to name a few, could have sinned, for they led very pure lives and gave themselves to the service of the people and to the nation. I was flustered to read that “the wages of sin was death, but the gift of eternal life was through the Lord Jesus Christ” in Romans 6:23. As I reflected upon the very words of Jesus “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” in John 14:6, I asked myself how it is possible for so many people to go astray. That was indeed a very bold statement, and I somehow felt deep within my heart that it was true. The way of salvation that Paul proclaims in Romans 10:9-10, 13 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God had raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart, you believe unto righteousness and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation . . . . For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” confused me all the more, for I did not truly understand the meaning thereof. The problem was further confounded, when Paul writing to the Ephesians in 2:8-9 states “For by grace are ye saved and this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God and not of works, lest any man should boast.”
It was at this time that Ted shared with me his testimony as to how he came to know the Lord. Why he did at such at a time, I do not know. At the age of 29 years, after coming back from the Second World War, he walked down the aisle of a Baptist church when the invitation was given at the end of the preaching hour. The pastor asked him a few questions such as “Do you want to be baptized? Do you want to join the church? Do you want to become an active participant in the Sunday School program? Would you be faithful in your giving and attendance in this congregational body?” To all the above, Ted answered yes, and he was baptized the very next week. One day, when Ted was reading through the same passages that I have quoted above, he was in a real dilemma. He questioned his “Christianity” and was at odds for not having asked the Lord for the forgiveness of his sins and then turning to Him in faith. The Lord opened his eyes to His marvelous truth and Ted came to receive pardon for his iniquities and was saved by the Eternal God. Ted shared this testimony about three times with me in a matter of seven days.
God used Ted’s testimony to break my heart and made me realize that I was a lost sinner who was in need of His forgiveness. I went on my knees and pleaded for His mercy and forgiveness.
The Lord gloriously saved me that very day in February 1993 and granted His transcending peace to rest upon my heart. I asked God, “If You indeed are Who You claim to be, what about my brothers and parents?” He pointed to Luke 14:26-27 “If any man does not hate his mother, father, brothers, sisters, children and even his own self, he cannot be My disciple. If any man does not take up his cross and follow Me, he cannot be my disciple.” I was scared to share what the Lord had done in my life with anyone, including Ruth and Ted. Another reason that I did not share was of the fear of being rejected by the congregation at First Baptist in Westminster SC. The church was totally Caucasian, and I did not want to be left out, for I had come to love a lot of people in that church. I continued to study His word with great fervor and learned the importance of prayer and fellowship with other believers, even though they did not know that I was one of them. After three weeks or so, God placed a call upon my heart to leave everything and follow Him. I was scared and I did not make much sense out of it. I called upon the pastor, Rev. John Compton Jr., and asked him if he could answer a few questions that were bothering me and if he had fifteen minutes to spare. He set the time at 1:00 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon in March 1993, and I made it to his study with some apprehension not knowing as to how he would respond. I began to share with him as to what the Lord had been doing in my life since the time I had come to this country to pursue higher education in the field of mechanical engineering. His countenance was one of amazement, as God began to open ‘windows of vision’ of how He had worked in unusual circumstances in my life, even as I was relating to the pastor. I could not believe what I was seeing and what I was saying. The God who my heart longed after was there by my side all the time, and I had failed to recognize His presence and His work in my life. I did not share all my fears with him that day and asked him to pray that the Lord would open the doors to lead me where He would want me to be. However, the pastor gave me an invitation to join the church if I chose to do so. I thanked him for the gracious opportunity and for his prayers concerning the Lord’s will for my life. When I left his study, it was nearly 5:30 p.m. that afternoon. The very next day, I looked into some of the catalogues of seminaries, though I was not very serious about it. I picked out Erskine Theological Seminary, for our Minister of Education and Music, Rev. Timothy L. Bowen, was a graduate of that seminary and decided to call them. I never followed through on that, but Ruth had called for an application from that seminary in my name, and I received an application a few days later.
I prayed about the decision and joined the church the next Sunday. I informed Ruth and Ted about my decision to join the church beforehand, though I suspect that they knew all along. It had snowed the previous day, and yet there was a strong crowd on that Lord’s day. A lot of the people came forward with tears in their eyes and welcomed me into their family as one of their own. I had never such an outpouring of God’s love anywhere before. I came to realize only after a few months later that these people were praying in one accord for my salvation and that they had sacrificed their sleep a part of the night to pray for me. My heart was overwhelmed with deep gratitude and joy for having found a home with my brothers and sisters in the Lord. In that day I had received a hundred times as many brothers and sisters in the Lord, fulfilling His promise to me in John 10:10 ” I have come that they may have life and have life abundantly” and in Mark 10:29-30 ” ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields– and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.’ ” I did not pursue the calling which God had placed on my heart and reasoned with my own self, saying that it was my whimsical idea, recognizing how important the salvation of the Lord really was and the great need of proclaiming His salvation to the lost world.
The next six months were to set the stage for what was to follow in my Christian walk with the Lord in His Spirit. I devoted myself diligently to the study and meditation on His holy word, communicating with the Lord in prayer and in fellowship with other believers to worship and adore the Lord Jesus. The Lord opened my heart to understand His Word in the light of His truth and grace. I learned to pray publicly and yet had not shared my testimony with any congregation, though I did talk to a few friends of mine about the salvation of the Lord Jesus. I did not let my parents know that I had become a Christian, for I was afraid of being excommunicated and ostracized from the family. Being the eldest son, I had betrayed the family and its traditions to embrace and serve the One True and Living God. However, I did inform my parents that I was going to church on a very regular basis and they assumed that I was trying to conform to the western society while being here. I was beginning to enjoy life out here and looked forward to the good life that was in store for me in this country in the future. I had stayed here for three years and I liked it here and wanted to spend the rest of my life out here.
Towards the end of September in 1993, the Lord burdened my heart one more time, asking me to leave everything behind and surrender my life to His calling. I began to reason with God and tried to bargain that if He would wait for a few more months, then I would get my green card and then I would follow Him. I cried to Him and there was no answer. I struggled with Him for five whole days and my days were miserable. I could not sleep, could not eat properly, lost interest in Bible study, could not pray, lost interest in work, etc. I even pointed out reasons that I did not have the money to pay for the tuition, which was a staggering $2,000 per semester. I did not have any form of transportation except for a used motorcycle in a dilapidated condition. If I heeded the Lord’s calling, I would not have a place to stay; and being a student full-time in the seminary meant I would not be able to even have a full-time job. I, a puny character, was challenging God to take care of the situation, for I had no avenue, since I was still on the verge of paying my debts both in India and in the United States. I have often wondered looking at this incident retrospectively if God was smiling at me, as He says in Jeremiah 32:27 “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for Me?” Nevertheless, I conceded to His will and the day I posted the application to the seminary in September of 1993, God’s sheer and transcendent peace rested upon my heart and I knew it was the Lord’s will for my life. Fifteen days later, I received a letter from the seminary stating that I had received a full tuition scholarship for the 90-hour Master of Divinity program. The pastor’s wife, Mrs. Anne Compton, graciously gave her old car, a 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass (it still runs, by the grace of the Lord), as a gift. Ruth and Ted told me that I could stay and eat at their house without cost. God had now taken care of three of the four hindrances that I had pointed out. I went to the Quality Manager in Dynacast and informed him of the Lord’s calling upon my life and asked him if I would be able to work there (for there are no part-time employees in that company). He told me that he would have to ask the General Manager and abide by his decision. One month passed and there was no answer from him yet. I dared to ask him if I would be allowed to work part-time, and he said, ‘Yes!’ I could not believe my ears, for the Good Lord had taken care of my every need, even before I had started taking classes at the seminary.
I joined the seminary in January of 1994 and was very apprehensive about the whole program, for theological education is a whole different arena. The transition took its toll on me, for it is was very vexing, as if one was going from the concrete to the abstract. I had to develop, by the grace of God, a whole different attitude to theological learning, for the concepts were mind-boggling to say the least. I was contemplating whether the Lord intended for me to be in the seminary in the first place. It was at this time, that Dr. Merwyn Johnson and few other seminarians who asserted to me, that “this too shall pass.” It was their encouragement at that moment which has kept me going strong even to this day. It was in the summer of that year, after taking two classes in the Hebrew language, that I went with the youth group to Ridgecrest Conference Center in Asheville. During that week, the Spirit of the Lord convicted me of my need to write to my parents concerning the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So far, I had only told them that I was going to the church with Ruth and Ted. They were unaware, even though they might have suspected, that I was a sinner saved by grace.
I began to elucidate in a warm and courteous letter, as to what they meant to me and how they nurtured me in a culture in which they themselves were brought up. I wrote to them concerning the desire of my heart to know the Lord of all creation and how in that aspiration I had ventured, in vain, to various traditions which promised me that I would find God. I wrote to them, how the Lord, whom I was seeking, sought me and saved me. I wrote to them, how I came to understand His grace and His providence for my life and the calling that He had placed upon my life to follow Him and also, how the Lord came to fulfill every need to prepare me for His service. By the time, I was finished writing, it took me eight days and ten pages.
To read that letter click on the following link, Naveen’s Letter To His Parents
I mailed the letter the first of August in 1994 to them. I called my parents after ten days, so as to allow enough time for the letter to reach them, and spoke to them. They were very heartbroken and my mother in tears, asked me to pack my bags, forget the seminary and come home. She told me that I was misinformed, deceived by the people into following something that was not true. My dad stated that it was okay for me “to do as the Romans do while one is in Rome,” implying that once I moved out of this country and went back to India, I could return to my former way of life. I had to respond to my dad and indicate to him, that it is one thing to do as the Romans do when they are in Rome and to be a Roman no matter where in the world you were thereby emphasizing my conversion to Christianity was not merely cultural but an ongoing reality. It was not conformity to the western fad of living. My brother, Ganesh was aghast and asked of me as to why I was intent to force another heart attack / stroke in my mother’s life. The conversation did not end in a peaceful manner, and even some of my Hindu and Muslim friends were opposed to my conversion. It has been a hard road since then, and I pray for them diurnally, asking the Gracious Lord to intervene in their lives.
My mother had suffered a heart stroke when my brother, Ganesh, informed his intention of marrying his girlfriend of eight years, who was of a different caste (Kshatriya) than my parents, who were Brahmins (a step higher than the Kshatriya) in 1992. She was hospitalized as a result of this stroke for the left side of her body was completely paralyzed, and she later came to know that a part of her brain had suffered permanent damage. She had to be carried to the wedding ceremony of my brother, for she was unable to walk. My mother did not talk to this girl (Navneeta) for over 6 months, while living in the same house. Such prejudice is prevalent in that society, though people will not openly declare it. The Shudras (the lowest caste – 3 notches below the Brahmin) were being saved by the glorious Hand of the Lord as they turned to the Compassionate One, and Christianity has always been treated as a low-caste man’s religion in India, by most Hindu believers. My mother had recovered from the paralysis after 1½ years, though not completely. That resulted in a remark from Ganesh, stating that he was responsible for her paralysis on her left side, and he asked me if I was trying to kill her by paralyzing her on the right side.
They saw God’s salvation of my life as a betrayal of their faith. They thought that I was trying to shirk the responsibility of the eldest son of taking care of my parents. Yes, I had responded in faith (which again was given to me), but it was God Who had saved me. Luke 14:26-27 became a reality in my life. I sincerely did not know how to deal with these people, torn between my love for the Lord Jesus and my love for my parents. They could not understand as to how I could love them and still do something contrary to them and to their beliefs. I have since been praying that much more fervently, desiring that the Lord would graciously intervene in their lives, for Scripture reveals to us in Psalms 37:4 “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
In November of 1994, I was really overwhelmed by the amount of work at the seminary that I had to do, due to which I was spending eight to ten hours each day just writing papers for the various classes. The amount of time that I was spending studying the Bible was about ten minutes and another five minutes devoted to prayer life. My social life was non-existent. The Lord began to deal with me and asked me as to where my priorities lay? I was really ashamed of myself, and in the effort to do well at school, I was sacrificing my precious time with the Lord. I committed to the Lord at that time, that I would spend at least two hours each day, come what may, and started studying the Bible from Genesis to Revelation every 3 months.
The Lord has since then blessed me in such marvelous ways that I had more time at my hands than I ever did before. He has given me a tremendous hunger to know His Word, and I am thankful for His grace that continues to uphold me, even in difficult times. He has brought to remembrance a number of things that He has taught me when I was perplexed by difficult questions posed by my friends who tested to see if the faith I professed was real. It was about this time that the Lord showed me how the illustration of the mountain failed. If all paths lead to the same God, with Whom there is no shadow of turning (in simpler terms – He does not change), then the paths ought to be harmonious with each other, i.e., one path cannot contradict another. However, it is very easy for one to see that each path contradicts the other and hence that illustration fails. Moreover, if we could make it to the top of the mountain by ourselves, why do we need God? For salvation does not depend upon what man does, but what God has accomplished through His Blessed Son Jesus Christ.
Then came January of 1995, when I was short of funds in regards to paying the insurance on my car and for the purchase of books for the following semester. I was out of work, due to the company closing for about two weeks, and hence there were no paychecks to supplement the costs that were ahead. With five days left to pay for the car insurance and not knowing how to resolve the predicament that I was in, I committed this matter into the hands of the Lord according to the promise that He makes in Psalms 55:22 “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” Amazingly enough, at that very moment, a transcending peace rested upon my heart, and I knew the Lord was going to take care of this matter. The third day, someone had deposited about $500 in my bank account, a church sent me a check for $300 and another church sent me a check for $135, and by the time the loose change added up, it totaled more than $1,100 in less than five days. The Lord blessed my life more and beyond my need. Such a Generous and Gracious God that I do serve.
More and more of these instances have crept in my life, and the Lord has been faithful in every circumstance, reminding me of Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you,” and of Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” I have often wondered about His goodness to me and I am convinced that He cares for each and every one in the same manner, for there is no favoritism with Him. I thank Him for the life that He has bestowed upon me and continues to encourage me in my walk with Him. He has bolstered me to be a strong witness for Him and continues to uphold me, inspite of my inherent weaknesses. I have had my struggles with Him and have often questioned where my life was headed, for He was silent for a long time for, you see, the Lord works in His own time.
Through these times, Ruth and Ted have been very gracious in putting up with my infirmities, and the heartaches that they endured on account of me cannot be described in words. I am so thankful for their prayerful support and understanding. I am also thankful to some of the precious brothers and sisters in the seminary who enabled me to keep my focus on the things that were important and to maintain my priorities. The Lord granted me a number of opportunities to bear witness to Him and to His work in my life to which I have been faithful. I have been called to preach / teach the word of God in a number of churches, and I am grateful for all these marvelous experiences as He continues to equip me in the work that He has for me.
I had been praying to the Lord Jesus for 2 ½ years to show me the way where He would minister through me. The Lord asked me to wait upon Him, and it was really frustrating for I was nearing the end of my preparation at Erskine Seminary. On March 24, 1996 (Friday), while I was in the New Testament II class taught by Dr. John Blumenstein, the Lord spoke to me through His word – specifically, the Epistle to the Philippians and said to me to follow Him to a place where they have had not had the best which I interpreted to mean that He was calling me to go to India. Only later He would show me how wrong I was in that interpretation. I was very apprehensive of that call, for one, I am not even going to have my own family to support me in the God given ministry. Moreover, I know only a handful of Christians, (Indians – not the “wahoo” ones), the ones who had come to this country for a visit during the past two years. I was sincerely desiring in my heart that He would ask me to stay in the United States and minister as His servant; but I have committed to the Lord that I would do His bidding.
I called home on the following Sunday, to share the good news that I was finally coming home and for good for the Lord wanted me to do so. I did not get to share that with them, for Ganesh informed me that my mother was hospitalized because of congestive heart failure and probably needing a coronary bypass surgery. See the irony of God, the day He calls me to go back as His minister was the very day my mother ends up in the hospital. They were contacting a number of doctors to ascertain her present heart condition, and nothing really came to any avail for a week or so. They came to know that three arteries of her heart were completely blocked and that they needed to conduct the surgery at once. They tried a few hospitals and came to realize that this surgery was above and beyond their means. My dad had decided to sell the only apartment that was in his name, so that he could provide for the surgery. As an act of desperation my dad asked me if I would be to contribute $ 6000 to $ 7000 for the surgery and the medication that would ensue, which could thwart his plans of selling the apartment. At that time, I had only $ 50 in my bank account. In case if he had to sell the apartment, where would he and mother stay?
I cried to the Lord and laid this matter before His throne of grace. I had asked a few people to pray concerning this situation and many of them responded with their prayers and financial support. I am so thankful to Dr. William Kuykendall (my Old Testament and Hebrew Professor) and to Myong Paik (my Korean sister and seminarian in the Lord) and to Timothy A. Erskine (not the founder of the Seminary, only a precious brother and a fellow seminarian in the Lord) for their diligent prayers and for their precious financial support and concern for my mother. There were a number of others both at the First Baptist Church at Westminster SC and at Erskine Theological Seminary who assured me that the Lord would take care of this matter.
Within six weeks, the church and the Seminary collected $ 3,500 each to pay for mother’s surgery and all I could say was, “Thank you, Lord, for Your faithfulness,” as He reminded me of Joshua 1:5, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I sent the money immediately to India, and they were able to pay the cardiologist, Dr. Prasad, before the surgery. The surgery took longer than expected, and mother was having breathing problems following the surgery and had to be put on the respirator. I could not sleep on the night that she had her surgery and the night following the surgery, because she had breathing problems, and prayed for her recovery. She was out of the Intensive Care Center within a matter of days and was discharged from the hospital 9 days prior to her scheduled departure, and in that itself the Hand of the Lord was upon her.
The Lord has been really gracious upon her life, and maybe this will lay the foundation for her to recognize that the Lord Jesus is very real and not only her but the whole family. During this time, I was not able to concentrate on my studies, and the professors were very gracious in helping me out and giving me extensions to finish my class work. I still have a long way to go, but “He is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He has granted me to grow in the grace and knowledge of His dear Son, my Savior through these incredible situations where He enables me to rely upon Him alone. These are only a few instances that have been written down, and God will add many such chapters in the days to come.
The LORD in His time sent me a very godly woman by the name of Trena and confirmed in both our hearts that He had chosen one for the other. The meeting with Trena was truly a God-ordained event. We were married in February 1998 after which we moved to SC to pastor a church. When I was pastoring Warrenton church, He indicated to me that this was the place He wanted me to serve. He would confirm His call that I was in the right place where He wanted me to be because I was still under the impression that I was going to be called back to go to India as His servant to preach and teach the blessed gospel of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ. While we were in SC, the LORD blessed our household with the gift of a beautiful daughter, who was named Rachel in Sept 1999. We moved to Iowa at the LORD’s bidding at the end of 1999 and this is where we have been since. We both are waiting on the LORD for an open door wherein we can proclaim the gospel of the Blessed LORD Jesus Christ with all boldness. We would covet the prayers Of God’s people during this time of transition.
This transition would last about two years during which time He would indeed lead us through some very difficult situations to teach us concerning how to be dependent upon Him for our every need. It has been a difficult passage but we are thankful for bringing us through it to remind us that He is faithful and He knows what He is doing through our lives for His honor and glory. When we found out that Trena was pregnant with our second child in January 2001, we were elated. The pregnancy progressed without much incident this time around (unlike with her pregnancy with Rachel wherein she was dehydrated a couple of times and ended up in the hospital). On July 17, 2002, on a routine checkup, during an ultrasound the sonographer got concerned and sent us back to the doctor. The doctor then scheduled for us to do a level 2 diagnostic ultrasound concerning the heart of the child in Trena’s womb the very next day, July 18th. After 3.5 hours of testing and going through three different level 2 diagnostic, Dr. Mahone, the attending physician, informed us that Mary had a condition called the Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. We had no idea what this entailed or meant. We were then scheduled to meet with doctors in Iowa City at the University of Iowa Hospital on July 19th since the hospitals in Des Moines were ill-equipped to deal with the baby’s heart condition which required immediate open heart surgery.
Our trip then to Iowa City was made on the following day, July 19, 2001 wherein we waited an entire day trying to meet with the different physicians to get an understanding of what this heart condition meant and what were the consequences of having such a heart condition. By about 5pm that evening it was informed that this condition was pretty serious and that it needed immediate attention. We could not meet with the neonatologist or with the pediatric cardiac surgeon on that day and it was scheduled for us to meet with them on the following Tuesday July 24, 2001. At that point, we met with the OB-Gyn who was going to spearhead the delivery and they indicated to us that they were planning to induce Trena on July 31, 2001 and our presence was requested there at 6 a.m. on that day at the University of Iowa Hospitals at Iowa City, IA (about 125 miles from where we were living in Norwalk, IA (suburb of Des Moines). We met with the Neonatologist that afternoon and then with the Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon who did a level 2 ultrasound and indicated that the child’s heart condition was pretty serious but now we were in good hands.
We proceeded to travel to Iowa City the afternoon before and spent the night at Trena’s sister’s place. The next morning we got to the hospital early in the morning and they got her hooked up at about 8:00 a.m. The child was born at 1:16 p.m. weighing 5 lbs. 12.5 oz and 17.5 inches long. We had waited to find out what God had blessed us with and found out that the child was a girl and Rachel that day became her big sister. We named her Mary Vishalam after her two grandmothers. She was immediately taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and it was nearly 3.5 hours before we were allowed to go and see her. By this time Mary was hooked up to a IV drip, called prostaglandin, to keep her blood vessel (PDA – patent ductus arteriorus) which connects the Aorta to the Pulmonary Artery open so that she could have some oxygenated blood flow through her body. This medication was put in place until such time she could be operated upon. The very next day, August 1st, they had to put her on a nitrogen controlled environment so that they could monitor her level of oxygen intake. Mary looked peaceful and calm on the outside while on the inside she was battling for every breath to survive on her own. She was then moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) on Friday afternoon.
On August 06, 2001 she was taken to the operating room at 8:00 a.m. and we did not hear any news until 5:00 p.m. that the doctors were still working with her in the operating room. Finally we got word that she was not doing too well and our pastor from First Baptist Church in Norwalk, IA, who was with us, started the prayer chain and within an hour or so, her heart was functioning as it should be and the surgeon was confounded, but we knew it was God at work hearing the cries of His children and responding to them.
Mary finally got out of the recuperating room at 7:30 p.m. and the surgeon met us and explained to us that she was not out of the woods yet. They had lost her on the table, but she was given CPR and brought back within a couple of minutes. She had about 15 tubes coming out of her and with an open chest wherein one could see her little heart beating. We stayed around until 12:00 a.m. in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) before calling it a night and retired to a Ronald MacDonald House a couple of blocks from the hospital. At 4:15 a.m. Trena called the PICU and was informed that Mary had a rough time but by now she had been stabilized with medication. At 5:00 a.m. the phone rang and the PICU nurse informed that the intensivists had started CPR and told us to come right away. We made it there within 10 minutes and the doctors were furiously working on her trying to revive her. After 15 minutes or so, the surgeon (who had spent the night at the hospital) pulled us aside and informed us that they had been giving her CPR for over 25 minutes and it was difficult to ascertain the brain damage that she had already suffered. He gave us two option, one to stop CPR or the other to put her on EKMO Machine (Electro-Kardio Membrance Oxygenator — in layman terms.. heart lung bypass machine). We asked for 5 minutes and we went out to pray. We cried to our God and asked Him to grant us wisdom concerning the life of this child and what decision to make. He made it clear to us that He wanted us to let her go into His hands. This was the most difficult decision we ever had to make. We went back to the PICU and informed them to stop the CPR but the doctors asked us to give them five more minutes since they had injected her with some medication and allow them time to work through it. After our second insistence they finally quit CPR and we let Mary into His loving hands as He had commanded us. We held the lifeless body of our child in our hands at 7 days old as it grew colder and colder with each passing moment. There was a smile on Mary’s face as if saying, “Daddy, Mommy, I beat you to Jesus.”
To check our second gift from the LORD, please click on the following link, Mary Vishalam’s Webpage
We would learn a very difficult lesson through this struggle of losing Mary. God would indeed teach us that He does not put upon us anymore than we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). He also reminded us to Cast our every burden upon Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). He promised to sustain us by His grace through every difficult situation (Psalm 55:22; 2 Corinthians 12:9). Finally, He would teach us that He is working in all things for our good to us who love Him and are called in accordance to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He reveals through His Son in John 13:7, “What I do now you do not understand, but you will understand hereafter.” He is Sovereign and we are thankful He has kept Mary from suffering further upon this earth. His love was made manifest to draw us closer to Him as He met our every single need through Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:19).
God would then proceed to provide for all our financial needs to meet Mary’s hospital and funeral bills. We not only were in shock but God would bring us into a midst a number of people who had lost loved ones. He granted to us an opportunity to share with that community of people how God had shown Himself faithful even as He says in His word in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He that calleth you, He also will do it.” About six weeks following Mary’s passing we were contacted by a Baptist Church in IL. Over the course of the next three months, God would set into motion to bring the church and our family together. He opened the door with an unanimous vote (the first one among the 12they have had since it constituted in 1952) to be called as their pastor, which in itself was an act of God, and we started at the end of December. The LORD has been blessing our ministry even as we had sought to put Him first in our lives and orient our priorities unto His Own. The LORD further confirmed our calling to this place when He allowed us to find a house to buy within 2 days during Thanksgiving weekend of 2001. God’s grace is always sufficient for all our needs for He sees our needs and sends an answer to it before we even become aware of it.
In February of 2002, when my dad’s health worsened because of a stroke followed by a heart attack, the church granted us a month’s leave and allowed me to return to India to visit my parents. My dad had lost over 60 pounds and was down to a meagre 100 pounds. We made our trip at the end of March 2002 and it lasted for four weeks. Trena and Rachel accompanied me on this trip. We were able to share the gospel with my dad and he has started reading the Bible. It is our prayer that God would open his blinded eyes to the glorious Gospel of His Son, our LORD Jesus Christ. Since our return, God has been doing extra ordinary things at Paxton. Recently the church celebrated its 50th anniversary and we are thankful to the LORD for being in the midst of it. We look forward to God’s working at First Baptist Church to conform it to His will and to the image of His Son that He may be glorified all in all through her.
During my time here, God has impressed upon my heart that I need to be further grounded in His truth. He has allowed me to see His passion for His people in this community and in this state. The LORD has allowed us to see a great harvest and hunger in the lives of His people in this church wherein we have had 15 people who are committed to reading through the Scriptures at least once a year. He has burdened my heart to be a witness unto Jesus Christ concerning His glorious salvation with at least one individual a day. He has allowed me to see His increase to His kingdom through bold witness like I have never seen before in my life. He has granted me the privilege to see two young men surrender their lives to the LORD Jesus Christ in response to His call to the gospel ministry and gave to me the privilege of mentoring them prior to that and during that process. One is already at Southern Seminary pursuing the call to the ministry. Right now, we are training members of this church to be bold witnesses to all peoples right here in this city and surrounding areas. We had the privilege of holding our first ever evangelistic block party at the local community park wherein we witnessed to about 75 and about 10 of them surrendered their lives to the LORDship of Jesus Christ that very day.
These are only a few instances that have been written down, and God will add many such chapters in the days to come.
May the LORD bless you and keep you steadfast in the days to come as you look unto the Author and Perfecter of our Faith even the LORD Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever and ever (Hebrews 12:1-2). Amen!!!!!!
To the Reader:
Maybe you have not been confronted with the gospel of the blessed LORD Jesus Christ in this manner before. You may be asking what do I do now? Do not be concerned, the Bible gives us clear direction how you can know Christ and have eternal life by believing on His name.
The first stage of your need is to Acknowledge Your Need. First, Agree with God that you have sinned, for the Bible clearly tells us in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” You may wonder what sin is. Ask yourself this question, “Have I ever lied?” What does that make you? A Liar!!! “Have I ever stolen anything (value is not important – if I take one dollar from your wallet or a $1000 dollars, I am still guilty of stealing)? What does that make you? A Thief!!! This one gets me, ‘Jesus said, “If a man looks upon a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” “Have you ever lusted after a woman?” So you see, by your own admission, you are a lying, thieving, adulterer at heart!!! So if God judges you by these commandments on the Day of Judgment, “Will you be innocent or guilty?” You know in your heart that you will be guilty just as I was. It also reaffirms to us that we have been created in sin and that our nature is to sin from our birth (Psalm 51:5; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Furthermore God clearly states the consequences of our sins is death in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.” Secondly, Admit to God that you cannot save yourself even as the Bible informs us in Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done.” Furthermore our condemnation is made clear in Romans 3:20, “Also by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Thirdly, Accept God’s provision for you in Jesus Christ as He tells us in this well known verse in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” For God made Jesus Christ our atoning sacrifice as stated in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God,” and in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world. ” In other words, Jesus took your punishment and my punishment for sin and paid our penalty on the cross. All you have to do is to turn from your sin once and for all and trust in Jesus Christ and you will have passed from death to life (John 5:24).
The second stage of your need is to Become His Child. It is really not that complicated. First, Believe in the LORD Jesus Christ for salvation as He states in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the LORD Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” He has given you a very simple proposition as in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” John further iterates in John 1:12, “As many as believed on His Name, to them gave He the right to become children of God.” Secondly, after you have confessed your sins and repented from it, you need to follow the LORD in obedience to His command to be Baptized in water even as Jesus commanded you in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Thirdly, you need to start living a life that brings glory and honor to the LORD Jesus Christ. You cannot do this on your own strength, but on the strength that Jesus provides you on a daily basis, for Paul says in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” You do this by reading your bible on a daily basis to get spiritual nourishment even as God reveals Himself through His eternal unchanging word. Read 4 chapters a day, (one chapter at breakfast, one chapter during lunch time, one chapter during supper and one chapter before you go to bed.” If you do this faithfully starting from the first book of the bible Genesis, you would have read through the Bible in less than 10 months. Also, learn to Bring all your requests to Jesus Christ, meaning pray. You learn to pray by praying. Praying is nothing but talking with God. I did not say, talking to, but talking with. You listen to God as He speaks to you through His holy unchanging word. Then you need to find a church where you can join fellow Believers to worship and fellowship. This means you need to find a local church where the Bible is taught and preached. Last but not least, you need to Bear witness to others. Telling others what about Jesus has done for you (Mark 5:19-20). Keep the focus on Jesus, not on yourself, since Jesus has commanded you to be a witness for Him (Acts 1:8; John 15:27).
If you do know Him as your Lord and Savior, let this encourage your heart, and please continue to bear witness to the All-Glorious Name Lord Jesus and may your life continue to be blessed by the Lord God Almighty. Understand the passion that the Lord has for His people, and wholeheartedly accept that which He lays upon your heart. For you see, He is the One who cares for you and asks that you cast all your burdens and anxieties upon Him (1 Peter 5:7).
Praise the Lord, for He alone is Worthy. May the Lord uphold you in His Grace and keep you from stumbling until He comes again!!!
Amen and Amen and Amen
Source: PERSONAL TESTIMONY OF “NAVEEN”, accessed from the link:http://home.illicom.net/~naveen/, accessed on November 7th 2008.