Gopi and Emmy
I grew up in southern India, in Kerala. My family consisted of mom, dad, my sister and I.
I grew up in a Hindu family; we had our own family temple and were steeped in the faith. On my mother’s side, in order to please the gods, the priest would do rituals called pooja (Sanskrit). My parents instructed me in all aspects of the faith, for instance, if I wanted to succeed in my tests I would pray for say ten days and fast for another seven, then success was guaranteed, if I did not fast and pray then I would fail. My father used to go to the temple every Thursday morning and made an offering of oil lamps in lime shells placing them all around the temple.
The smell of incense would pervade our house; such was pleasing to the gods. Daily my parents walked with the sticks around the house and I can still smell the soothing scents of these offerings. I cannot forget my mom’s mantras which she would say every evening around 6:30 pm, and she would recite them for about half an hour at the top of her lungs while sitting in a yoga position in front of the idol. I too was much steeped in the Hindu religion and would travel by myself a great distance to reach other temples, sometimes a few thousand kilometres away. I believed a particular temple had the truth because I used to like this one goddess who was my favourite. In Hinduism there are more than one thousand idols and one can choose one’s preferred one.
In February 2007 I reached Singapore, where I went for my studies after taking out a loan. My parents put a lot of pressure on me because of the debt I incurred. So I felt that this pressure was my punishment for going into debt. People in Singapore are friendlier than in my country, for instance, when I called my parents, they would ask me:” Are you sure you’re going to get a job and be able to repay the debts?” So this was the tension in my life and for the first time I doubted whether I could really do this or get a job. I didn’t pray since I was alone and free with nobody watching me. I wore a pendant around my neck with my favourite goddess. Whenever I felt worried I’d hold on to the pendant and pray. But I felt a lot of emptiness and I wasn’t sure I would be okay because I wasn’t really sure that I was going in the right direction in life while I was in Singapore.
Around May-June 2007, through some of my close friends, I happened to go to a Church one of the Sundays, which had 2,500 members. I found this church very interesting because they had vibrant rock bands and nice music with dancing. The pastor had a good sense of humour and that made me more interested in this church, where I started going every Sunday just to listen to the pleasant music and to the pastor’s good humour. As time went on I started to think about what the pastor had been preaching about. I got my first Bible and some verses, such as John 3:16 and Psalm 23: which were becoming much loved and personal to me. In the midst of the tensions these verses would bring some kind of comfort. At some point, while reading the Bible and making baby steps in prayer, I removed my pendant but still kept it, because my parents would certainly ask me about it whenever we’d have a webcam conversation.
Within the church, a small group of people would welcome newcomers and welcome them to the church family. I would be asked about my walk and what problems I’d be going through. For the first time someone asked me to make Jesus my Saviour. Shortly afterwards I met different groups of friends with whom I connected, among whom my wife Emmy but of course I didn’t know that yet. This group of friends started encouraging me to pray, and I tried to do so. I no longer had to travel huge distances to have God with me. This was the biggest truth: that the Lord is with you always. One thing I noticed as a Hindu whose gods had many arms and weapons, that this new God, Jesus, had His arms open to welcome me. In the beginning Jesus only represented another additional god; my journey to faith took different stages before I could see the difference. My biggest support in my Christian growth was my wife Emmy who then was a dearest friend. She told me what it was to be a Born Again Christian, after which I started to pray when I was alone; I would speak wondering to whom I was speaking to but I would get a sense that I was being heard. Then I learned about the Holy Spirit and I experienced His infilling, which brought me to the next level of my Christian growth and awareness. Shortly afterwards I had a feeling that I should work for the Church. I became worried because I wasn’t baptized or a mature Christian, I was only a very new believer and would they accept me? One of the Sundays, a brother in Christ told me about different opportunities available in the church and asked me to fill in an application; he was unaware of my misgivings to work in the Church. The next day I received a call to serve in the Church in the position of welcoming new believers. They called me for an interview, asked me a few questions about what I believed and asked me to join the very next week. I was very excited and scared at the same time. I who was born in a Hindu family was now working in a Christian church. If my parents found out about it they would kill me! So when I was alone, the Holy Spirit spoke to me. “When you believe in Christ why do you worry so much about your parents? After your death you will be sure to be in heaven, but your parents will not be there with you and they will ask you: why didn’t you tell us?’” So I decided to speak to my mother about my new beliefs. I started telling her in a simple way, and she was okay with it but didn’t tell my dad. She said she used to go to a Catholic church when she was younger. At that time I didn’t have enough guts to say more and decided I would tell them more at a later date.
I started serving in the welcome centre and found out that some people who would come to the church weren’t believers. Then I could really see the difference between them and real believers, although I couldn’t exactly say what it was. When I shared the good news, some people would listen and some would disagree and it helped me in understanding what the Bible and the New Testament were all about.
I became very sure about my direction as a Christian and started thinking about getting baptized. By then I had thrown away my much coveted pendant. On March 2008 I was baptized. Because I lived by myself in Singapore, there was nobody who objected to what I was doing which was really good for me and made it possible to become a Christian in a fairly short time.
I started to post messages on Orkud.com which is similar to Facebook. In the same manner that you post about yourself, I quoted about my Saviour in the “Status” page and my religion status had changed from Hinduism to Christianity, so every one of my friends and relatives who saw it told my parents and that was when the bomb exploded. It was also the easiest way to tell my parents about the change of my ways. By then my studies were over, (March 2008) and I was looking for a job.
At that time there was a recession and it was difficult for a foreigner to find a job in Singapore. I asked myself: “I believe in God with all my heart, all my friends, who are unbelievers, have jobs, and I’m having such a hard time finding a job. Why am I going through all these difficulties?” I spoke to my Christian friends and leaders in the Church and the only answers I received were: “Keep on praying”. I kept praying and didn’t lose hope and I was really sure that the Lord was taking His own time to give what was best for me. I got a small job as a Restaurant manager in a small independent restaurant. It took four months to find that job. I was not happy with it because I was working twelve hours a day for a low salary but I kept my faith in the Lord and was still really sure that there was a reason why I started with a job I didn’t like. I was concerning myself with repaying my student loan and, at the same time in India, my mother was crying and disappointed about my change to Christianity and she kept sending me emails. Her main issue was my sister’s marriage and that she may not find a groom from a good family because of my conversion, and that my father’s dignity was touched as he lost face with other people. My answer to this was: “This is my personal belief and it will not affect my family in any way. I told you about my belief in Jesus Christ and it will in no way affect your lives, it is very personal for me.” I even received telephone calls from my uncles and aunts who were saying: “If you were a drunk or a pervert it wouldn’t bother us, but why did you have to become a Christian?” Then I had a conversation with the Holy Spirit, where in my troubled heart I would question why this had to happen but He would assure me not to worry, that God is a good God. So this reply gave me hope.
I received a better job offer from the Pan Pacific hotel and took it. The experience I had acquired at the restaurant helped me to succeed as a supervisor in my new job, which also helped me to understand that even if, as a Christian, you go through difficulties you don’t understand; it is often a path to better things in the future.
Then my dear friend Emmy got an offer for a job in Australia and she was already in the last steps of the application process. When she told me, I was stunned for a moment and then I immediately proposed to her and she replied: “Let’s be friends”. When Emmy told her Mom, the latter was very scared and said, “no” because of the repercussion she might suffer from my Hindu family. Nevertheless, Emmy couldn’t resist my charms and my proposal and eventually broke down and said yes! She dropped her application to Australia and started to look for work in Singapore. We were looking for other openings around the world, as we wanted to relocate from Singapore where the cost of living is very high and incomes very low. Emmy’s friend heard about permanent residence in Canada; we went to meet a Canadian immigration lawyer who told us it would cost $10,000 for his fee, which was not affordable for us. We prayed and started applying directly online. The Lord proved faithful by granting us a visa within six months, which came as a total shock to us. We married before leaving for Canada. Neither side of our families knew of our marriage yet. We wanted to tell them that we wanted to get married in India before leaving for Canada, and I told my mom that I was in love with Emmy. My mom was very disappointed and there were a lot of issues. As a Hindu there are lots of rituals to take care of and as Christians of course we couldn’t participate in them. Then my dad got involved and said that if the marriage were to take place it had to be the Hindu way. I spoke to Emmy’s family and they said that if there was no other way: “Let it be like that” and gave me a warning that this would be the one and only time. About two hundred believers prayed for us and as a result my father called me and said that if we didn’t like to marry the Hindu way, we could get married any way we liked, as long as it wasn’t Christian. In the common interest for all, we thought of getting registered and holding a reception for everyone. My relatives said that nobody was going to attend because it was an intercaste marriage. I said it was not a problem and that we would keep it in our prayers. When we reached India, the family gave Emmy an unexpected warm welcome and we saw God’s work in that. About 1,500 people came to the reception!
In India and without the knowledge of my parents, we went to different local churches both in my hometown and in Emmy’s. I was able to give my Christian testimony. All the church members were very excited to know my name because it has Krishna in it, the name of a Hindu god; all wanted to know my story. In the church I felt the closeness of people that we didn’t feel in foreign Christian churches. Here in India, Christian churches really speak about family matters. Believers are therefore very close to each other and care for each other. Emmy and I felt the churches tried to walk their talk by all means, though not to perfection.
If something has to be done, or problems affect my life, I look forward to it as I know I have a very powerful tool through prayer. And this is where and when I hear God’s voice and receive guidance.
To be very frank, in Vancouver we went to different churches. In most of the churches, including Ebenezer, different groups of people sit together by their ethnicity and none of the groups talk to the others. In one church we had received a very warm welcome from the first time they saw us. After about three weeks however, we found that nobody really wanted to speak to us. People would just greet us and turn away. Compared to India where, if I had a problem, whether financial or in need of moral support, a brother would immediately come alongside to help. If we were without a house, for example, some people would immediately offer to share their home. So the Christians there behave truly as family; people are very open toward each other. On the other hand, if someone for instance is doing something wrong, here we won’t tell that person anything. In India somebody will immediately speak to that person in a caring way and encourage that person to do what is right.
We would be much happier to see such closeness in the church, though it’s not always possible in a large group.
Ebenezer is blessed with Godly leadership and members. We are praying that the church will definitely experience a spiritual revival in days to come.