“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28: 19-20
I saw God quite unexpectedly during a recent work trip to India. As a South Asia specialist at a Washington D.C.-based think tank, I travel to India fairly frequently—at least once or twice per year. The preparation for the trips and the trips themselves (usually lasting 2-3 weeks) typically result in me missing a few Sundays of church, which is always disappointing for me.
However, this trip was different, mainly due to a young India woman, Ms. Priya Paul. Priya helped facilitate my visit to Visakhapatnam, located in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. I was in Visakhapatnam to participate in a conference and to learn more about India’s fastest growing state (in economic terms) and the important commercial and economic linkages between the U.S. and India. Did you know that one in four people living in Andhra Pradesh have family connections in the U.S.? Amazing, huh? Especially considering Visakhapatnam (or Vizag, for short) is around 8,000 miles from Washington, D.C.!
Priya was a reassuring presence from the start. She met me upon my arrival at the Vizag airport, took me to my hotel and then made sure I was comfortable and able to get to where I needed to be over the next few days. I knew from Priya’s last name that she was a Christian, but the topic did not arise immediately. On our second day together, however, we started to talk about our faith and what an important role it played in our lives. Priya asked if I would like to attend church with her on Sunday. The conference ended Saturday evening, and Sunday happened to be my only free day of the entire two-week trip before I headed back to the U.S. I decided going to church with Priya would be a perfect way to spend my last day in India.
Before church, Priya took me to her place of work, a small housing design company called Honeyy Group. She introduced me to her colleagues and showed me around the office. The company started up only a year prior but was doing quite well, and I was happy to meet several of its female employees.
Then we headed off to Priya’s church, Christ’s Church Vizag One, headed by pastor Ravi Royal. When we arrived at the open-air service, the congregants were singing praises and clapping joyfully along with a drummer, guitarist and keyboardist. During the sermon, Pastor Royal was kind enough to have his wife, Sulochana Royal, translate in English for me. In Andhra Pradesh the predominant language is Telugu.
I learned from Sulochana that Dr. William Carey, a British Christian missionary, translated the Bible into several Indian languages in the early 1800s. Incidentally, he also translated the Hindu classic epic poem, the “Ramayana,” into English. I had seen a performance of the “Ramayana” when I lived in India many years ago.
After the service, Pastor Royal and his wife invited me to their home for lunch. I enjoyed getting to know their two young daughters, Nasya and Tiqwah. They both liked attending school. One commented that her favorite subject was Indian history, and the other enjoyed English literature. When I asked who her favorite author was, she immediately responded with Roald Dahl. I shared that my sister, an elementary school teacher, loved Roald Dahl’s book, “Matilda,” so much that she had named her daughter Matilda, who is now eight years old.
I am so grateful to Priya and Pastor Royal and his family for opening their church and home to me. Instead of another Sunday, missing church due to work responsibilities, I was able to honor my faith and expand my understanding and experience of God by worshiping in another culture.
As part of my career, I have been a student of India for nearly 25 years. It is wonderful to be able to connect my work and faith in a truly meaningful way.
I hope to visit Vizag again soon!
Submitted by Lisa Curtis.