Born in another country, in a lush, diverse land that boasts the Himalayas and verdant tea hills, I was very sick. My parents placed me in a Christian hospital as a newborn, the Frances Newton Mission Hospital in Ferozepur, India. (Many years ago, when I visited, we drove by and I have a picture in an album somewhere). It was there, they said, I survived. Low birth weight (4 pounds but not premature) and I don’t know what else was wrong, but that is where I spent my first days of life.
A little over a year later, my parents moved thousands of miles, and on June 30, landed halfway around the world on the shores of New Jersey, in pursuit of something better in life, with a dream to come to the U.S. Leaving it all behind, embracing the unknown, that is also the beginning of my journey to faith, believe it or not.
My parents had very little, less than $25 cash, and whatever was in their suitcases. My father had a job waiting for him as a physician at a hospital in New Jersey. The hospital had arranged an apartment, and the administrator took my dad shopping and bought groceries.
My mother did not speak English. My father had no money, but he needed a car, so he asked the hospital for a loan. They could not give him a loan, but they agreed to give him a $200 cash advance from his paycheck.
My father took that paycheck, and bought a $99 small black and white TV. He took the rest of the money to buy a used car. The administrator went with my dad, and they found a used 1957 Dodge, blue and cream-colored, the kind with those “wings” on the back (I’m not sure what you call those things!) The car was $99 but my dad offered $75… and the lady at the car place took it. The seat cushions were all torn up, with springs exposed, but it ran well, so they put pillows on the seats. Here is a picture that sort of fits the description:
I suppose a vehicle of this type would be a collector’s item for someone, nowadays?
As I’ve heard my parents share, a church gave them furniture… a new immigrant family. And that is what opened the door for a Hindu family going to church: furniture. Everywhere we moved after that, I recall going to church.
23 days later, after walking off the airplane, my sister was born. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for my mother, with two children, a 15-month-old and an infant, not speaking English, knowing no one, new food, new people, everything new, living in a new country.
I have heard my mother say that she learned English by watching episodes of “I Love Lucy”…. so I think that was a source of some laughs. I think some of Lucy’s antics transcend language. :)
After living in New Jersey and then Louisiana, we moved to a very small town in South Dakota and lived there for five years.
I remember walking to school in the snow. One day the snow was piled so high we could not even open the front door. But, I have to reserve another post for the many other things I remember about living in South Dakota.
I do remember going to church – and my first memory of going to Sunday School was in a room in the basement. One particular day, a little boy had gotten himself stuck in a chair. (You know those little plastic kid-size chairs? He had put his head through the space between the back and the seat and got himself stuck!)
Down the street from our rented house with the green trim was a building, and I think it was a church (not the one we attended). I just remember running around outside with other kids, and sometimes we’d be near that building.
One day, some boy a little older than me started talking about God, and a small group of kids was standing outside that building. I do not remember his name, or who he was, but he was not part of the usual group of kids I would usually hang out with.
Whatever he said scared me to death.
I went home, and I immediately found a place to hide. My mom found me and asked me why I was hiding. I responded that I was hiding from God. “He’s everywhere,” I said, “and He’s always watching me.” I looked up at a light fixture on the ceiling and remember thinking God was in that light fixture. My mom told me God was not in the light fixture. (It’s a good thing I believed her, because I would not have wanted to grow up with a pathological fear of light fixtures.:)
Whatever that boy said, I was scared. I do not know if he intentionally was trying to scare us or was simply talking to us, but I surely did not want God to see me. It’s amusing to me to think that my first memory of God is me hiding from him. Not sure what that means, but thankfully I was not scared away forever.
We moved to Alabama when I was eight, and where my parents still live, and the place I consider home. One of the first things we did was find a church.
Even at our home in Alabama, my mother had a little “worship area” in one of the rooms downstairs. Many Hindus have a room or area of their house where they have statues of their idols, or photos, and incense, and it is their prayer room.
Even while we went to church, somehow we also had this in the house, and quite honestly, I thought nothing of it until I was older. How is it that a “Hindu” family went to church? (Jesus was just one of the many gods to believe in…?)
My parents literally forced us to go to church. I remember rebelling. I remember not wanting to go. They insisted. Eventually, my father was even baptized.
When I was 10, I asked a neighbor girl who also went to my church if she really and truly believed that God listened to us when we prayed? I was wondering and thinking about it. She was utterly convinced he did. She seemed pleased I asked. Her confidence buoyed me.
By the time I was 12, in the 6th grade, I was extremely rebellious… struggling with the preteen/teen phase. I was a good student at school, great academically, but rebellious at home with my parents. There was a girl at school who would bully me, call me names, make fun of me, taunt me, and one day I finally got so fed up with it I pushed her against the wall. And almost hit her. But I stopped myself. I think that woke her up – and it woke me up, too.
While I was struggling and my parents were upset with me, and I was writing all the anger out in my journal, I gradually began to believe in God.
By the time I was in 7th grade, I was my normal self again (and there is more to the story, connected to the bullying episodes). In fact, I must have been so different, because my teachers selected me to be the 7th grade student of the month for September. I was the first 7th grader of the year to have that honor, and I had no idea what it even meant. The school newspaper interviewed me, took my picture, and asked me for a statement. I said, “I don’t know what to say,” and so next to my picture, there is no comment. Later, I learned people would say something like “honored to have been chosen” or something like that. They only did this for the 7th graders and 10th graders.
So much of my high school was new to all of us: my parents, and me, of course. I felt like I was swimming in unknown waters sometimes since my parents had not grown up here, and I was trying to figure some things out on my own. They were not used to rebellious teens, teens who went out with their friends on weekends, and so much more that was so different. They grew up in a place and a time where one did not dare talk back to her parents. It must have felt like they were trying to swim and stay afloat, too.
Also at that time, 7th-8th grade, I became more involved in the church’s youth group. By this time, my parents did not attend regularly, and I was the one asking them to take me. At some point, they had stopped going to church and our attendance was sporadic, but for some reason, I wanted to go. I attended any activity they had for my age: Wednesday night youth choir and classes, Sunday night youth group and church and our youth choir singing every Sunday night, handbell choir, and later in high school I was part of a singing ensemble and we sang special pieces. (Our youth minister was also our music minister.) I went on retreats, music camp, etc.
When I was 13, I knew that I believed in Jesus. In our church, you had to walk up the aisle if you were going to make a decision – so I did that one day. And was baptized the following Easter. My mother came; my father did not.
Fast forwarding now ahead a great deal… to something that is interesting. Two years ago, I was in Arlington Heights, Illinois, for a speech and debate tournament that my kids were participating in. (Yes, I know I am skipping way, way ahead. :) Our group had taken over a Christian school for several days (during their spring break) and holding our tournament there.
Parents organize and run the tournaments, and one of my jobs typically at tournaments is to do a brief training session for community volunteers who come in to judge our students. This job allows me to meet many of the people in the surrounding areas who come in to our tournaments to help us with judging. Tournaments in our league rely heavily on community judges: friends, family, acquaintances, anyone (age 18 and older) that would be willing to come and spend 2-3 hours judging students in a speech or debate round. We need anywhere from 300-500 judges for each 3 day tournament. (Most judges end up loving it so much, by the way, we get many repeat volunteers.)
One day during the tournament, an elderly couple who was volunteering seemed quite interested in speaking to me. They were the sweetest people, I remember them coming to me and asking my name, holding my hands, they were so interested in starting a conversation. We started talking, and as it turns out, they had been missionaries in India. Of course, that was their interest in me – they knew where I was from.
I asked them where they had been missionaries. As it turns out, he was a medical missionary doctor in a hospital called… would you believe it? Frances Newton Mission Hospital, in Ferozepur, India.
Of course, I could tell them I do not know of any other hospitals in India, but I had surely heard of that one.
I saw them again the next year when they came to volunteer to judge… and we’re heading there again in April.
What are the chances?
How in the world did a girl born in India, who grew up in the south (who used to have a southern accent!) but who now lives in the Midwest, how did it happen, that I could become a citizen of Heaven?
We all have a story… of being lost and found, of God working in our lives.