Category Archives: commitment

Race, Caste and Class

A story is told of a prince who wants to marry a real princess, but is having difficulty because there are many pretenders who are in fact not princesses at all. One stormy night a young woman drenched with rain seeks shelter in the prince’s castle, claiming to be a princess. So the prince’s mother offers her a bed covered by 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds, with a single pea at the very bottom. In the morning, the guest tells her hosts that she endured a sleepless night, kept awake by something hard in the bed that has bruised her badly. The prince and his family rejoices. Only a real princess would have the sensitivity to feel a pea through so much bedding! So the two get married.

Here is a children’s fairy tale with the subtle message that no one is worthy of the prince’s hand except those with the “blue blood” of princesses! Unfortunately it reflects a tragic reality that exists even today. An article about Princess Kate talks about the class divide that still plagues Britain: “She may be beautiful, graceful and fabulously rich, but Middleton is still a ‘commoner’.”

Coming even closer to home, I hail from a country where the caste system is ingrained in our culture. India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of surviving social stratification. At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers and intellectuals and are believed to have come from god Brahma’s head. Then came the Kshatriyas, or the warriors and rulers, supposedly from his arms. The third slot went to the Vaishyas, or the traders, who were created from his thighs. At the bottom of the heap were the Sudras, who came from Brahma’s feet and did all the menial jobs. Outside of this Hindu caste system are the Dalits or the untouchables. Christians in India are also often associated with castes that depend on the region and the language spoken.

Yet another way we humans distinguish ourselves from each other are by our race and ethnicity. This is sometimes referred to by the color of people’s skin – red, yellow, brown, black and white. The extreme abuse of this was found in Nazi Germany during the second world war. Nazi foreign policy was guided by the racist belief that an enlarged, racially superior German population should establish permanent rule in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and this led to the horrors of the holocaust.

In addition to caste and race, there is also an underlying thinking about class and pedigree. We just looked at the story of “The Princess and the Pea”. However, even in everyday life,. We talk about the “poor”, the “middle-class” and the “rich”. We also talk about “blue-collar” workers and “white-collar workers”, as well as about the “educated” and the “uneducated”. An extreme abuse of this was found in slavery, that used to be practiced until relatively recently. Today the exploitation of human beings still exists in a twisted, evil form now known as “sex slavery”, where typically younger children and girls are forced into prostitution. Even leaving aside these extreme forms of exploitation, considerations about class and pedigree have seeped right into our own homes! For example, often the dignity of labor that is taken for granted in America does not exist in third world countries such as India. Most homes employ maids who are not allowed to eat at the table of the home in which they serve, but sit on the floor with a different plates and glasses that only they should use, and are often treated as working machines rather than people. All of us (the exploited and the exploiters) have been conditioned to believe that they do not have a right  to be treated the same way as we are, in society.

The Christian gospel does not give room to us, for using these kinds of differences for social stratification. There are two premises that our fundamental to our Christian faith.

  1. Every single human being is in the same plight – at odds with our Creator, and on the path of His wrath against our sin. None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:11-12).
  2. God does not accept a person by any considerations based on race, caste or class. He opens his arms to welcome all of us – all who put their trust in Jesus, who died on the cross on our behalf, and bore the punishment for our sins: God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). One of the apostle Peter’s early discoveries as a Christian caused him to say: I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality (Acts 10:34, KJV).

Thus the playing field is flat. No one has any intrinsic advantage or disadvantage over anyone else. In fact, often the things that we consider to be advantages may actually work against us the other way! But I digress – more on that in a later post. Flushing this out in detail in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul concludes: He Himself is our peace, who has made us one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall  … that He might create in Himself one new man …, so making peace, and might reconcile us all to God in one body through the cross (Ephesians 2:14-16). And Paul triumphantly states: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). This truth should so grip our hearts and minds, that it should spill into all our interactions with others: Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? … If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-4,8-9)

This radical way of thinking has caused fundamental changes in society that have reverberated across the annals of history. The US Constitution states: …We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. And after this there has been a civil war and a civil rights movement to uphold this now “self-evident” equality in the dignity and value of all human beings. Unfortunately, even truths such as this are not sufficient to erase centuries-old habits and biasses.

More unfortunate however, is the sad fact that although we Christians should be leading the way, we still have not fully embraced these profound truths in our personal lives and families. For example, these differences are deeply ingrained in the Indian Christian Community, and are evident in the choice of spouses we make for our children. One of the ripple effects of this is that most families do not even consider the option of adoption except when they have a need, such as in cases of infertility. Stay tuned for other posts, where I unpack the underlying reasons why I make these statements. May God grant us grace to transform our thinking from the inside, so that behavior becomes consistent with the faith that we profess!

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Oceans Apart My Bride!

What is on the mind of a young man who has just graduated from college and started working full-time? Definitely anything but marriage! Yet, here I am engaged to be married to a bride who is 10,000 miles away! God has a strange sense of humor!

The summer after my graduation, my family and I were planning a three-week vacation to India. Before leaving, my parents had joked with me about finding me a girl in India, and I had firmly said “NO”. The idea was unthinkable because I had lived most of my life in the US, and hardly had a connection to India. This trip was to be a fun vacation exploring Bangalore the home town of my parents, and visiting friends.

Near the end of an enjoyable stay in India, a family friend invited me to share my life story in her church small group. This was just two days before our family was returning back to the US. After I spoke, another young lady named Shirley also shared about her experiences during a summer internship she had returned from in Germany. She was excited about how God had been leading her, and mentioned that she had been accepted into the PhD program there. This did not seem particularly extraordinary because many people go abroad from India to study. However, soon after that, her mother also shared their family’s story, talking about their struggle after her husband had suffered a stroke 13 years prior, which had left him semi-paralyzed. This made me look at Shirley’s story in a whole new light. She was different to most young people I had met thus far. I was amazed at this family’s faith and trust in the Lord Jesus despite their extremely tough circumstances. I believe it was their sufferings that refined their faithI have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10). Incidentally, my parents were impressed too and nudged me, saying that this was the kind of girl they would like me to find as my future wife!

We ran into each other during dinner and we had a short conversation, along with a few other young people there. Shirley intrigued me that evening. I really wanted to get to know her more. She was not on social media at that time, so I gave her my number just before the evening ended. Though our family needed to leave India the following Sunday, we stayed in touch by texting. After I returned to the US,  I started communicating more purposefully with my parents’ permission and blessing. Fast-forward to a month later – after innumerable conversations, a lot of prayer, and our parents’ guidance, I asked Shirley to marry me. By now I had come to know that she was beautiful inside and out, refined through the furnace of suffering and sorrow by God. This may seem unusual to many. But as the Bible says, I had an intimate relationship with God as my Father, when I put my trust in Jesus.  So you are … a son, and if a son, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:7). I had really prayed and asked God to lead me, and was confident that I could trust my Heavenly Father, to give only what was best for me. The Bible promises: And your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it”, when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left (Isaiah 30:21). So when I proposed to Shirley, I trusted that God would lead me through her response on whether He wanted me to marry her or not. To my delight, Shirley accepted! We went back to India on a very short trip where I formally got her Dad’s permission and proposed to her on one knee with all our family around us! We had a wonderful formal engagement on October 31, 2015 with many family and friends as our witnesses, celebrating the commitment we were making to each other before God.

It’s been a whole year of patiently waiting and living continents apart. Thanks to Skype and WhatsApp, our love has continued to blossom and grow. I long for the day when my beloved bride will arrive here in the US for our wedding, and our future life together.

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Marriage – Love or Arranged – For Better, For Worse

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Choosing whom or what we worship is THE most important decision any human being makes. Jesus demands that choice of us. The second most important decision is choosing a life partner. Over the past few years, Peter and I have had a chance to talk to several young people about marriage and finding a life partner. The world we live in is messed up and broken and divorce appears rampant. Young people often seem afraid and confused and appear to assume that finding a spouse is a 50-50 hit or miss. How can anyone be sure? “Unless the Lord builds a home, those who build it labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1 We don’t need to worry if we need to get to know a person by dating them for long periods or if we meet them just once before we marry if Jesus is in the midst of the equation. Ultimately, life is not a sprint but a marathon. No one controls life anyway. Those who struggle much in the first 10 – 15 years may still have the most wonderful overall marriage while those who appear totally compatible and in love at the start might struggle in the long run. What Peter and I have found is that when we have Jesus looking out for us, though life may not be easy, it is ultimately a 100% hit because He gives the needed grace and Romans 8:28 is true!

Here’s our story! “I rather reluctantly packed my bags in June 1991 to make our first trip back to India since our emigration to the US a couple of years prior. I was still in the midst of doing my Masters in Computer Engineering at the University of Missouri – Rolla. I was not really interested in meeting anyone in India as I had my “list” of desires for my future spouse and returning to India was definitely not one of them! At that time, I only had a “Green Card” which God had miraculously gifted me allowing me to arrive in the US with my family just the day before my 21st birthday. Our family had waited for over 7 years for the immigration papers and I would not be allowed to travel with them after 21 – yet, I squeaked through! But now, if my spouse was in India, I would not be able to sponsor him as I was far from being a US citizen which meant either I give up my chance of living here in the US where almost all my family lived or I would have to return and wait a 3 year separation while I get my US citizenship. I was definitely not interested in going down that path!

But God had other ideas. The day before we were to leave, a friend from church at the university prayed with me and advised me to surrender all my desires to the Lord Jesus, to yield completely to His will and to see Him work! As I prayed that day, I realized that God was the loving Father who desired only the very best for my eternal future and if I profess to be a Christian, I must trust Him and live out my faith. I had to trust in promises like Romans 8:28 “God causes all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” So, I surrendered and told God that I would trust in His best even if it meant change. I then threw out my list of desires for a future spouse and life and my main desire now was for a man who loved Jesus more than I did – who would lead me towards a closer relationship with God. I also asked God if possible, that my husband should be equally or more educated than me. I also did ask God if possible that the first proposal be the one as I disliked meeting unknown people! Of course, I strongly felt dowry ( a rampant evil in India) was wrong and totally out of the question. So, Mom and I, accompanied by my little cousins Neetha and Priya, went to spend two months in Bangalore – Dad would follow for 3 weeks.

At the end of May 1991, our Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was suddenly assassinated. When we arrived in the beginning of June, India was still in mourning. Unknown to me, God was using even political events to change my life! Peter had just completed 3 years of his Ph.D in Physics at TIFR in Bombay. He had eagerly looked forward to a vacation with his uncles’ families in Malaysia that summer. His passport however had been sent for renewal but had not come back as the Indian Government had shut down due to the assassination. So, now he was forced to change course and came to visit his parents in Bangalore instead.

My cousin’s Grandma on their dad’s side Mrs. Ida Mony also came to spend time with them. She was a gentle, sweet lady with a beautiful smile. She wanted to visit a known family in Bangalore as they had been family friends of hers in Malaysia. She also suggested that their son Peter was visiting Bangalore and asked if she could take a letter with my information to them to prayerfully see how God would lead. My Mom and Grandparents thought it was a good idea. Ida Aunty came back with the news that though the son was not seriously considering marriage he was willing to consider and see if it was God’s will, so they would like to meet the next day.

Peter’s parents came on June 28, 1991 to meet my family and to talk to me. I still remember his Mom praying at the start of the meeting that if it was NOT God’s will, that He would block our human efforts which was exactly how we felt. They had also lived in Bangalore most of their lives with similar family, faith and community background to ours. They asked me about my life in the US and about my faith walk. They liked me a lot, we liked them too. They wanted their son, Peter to meet me the very next day! Peter was the first guy I was being introduced to in Bangalore, he was brought up with a strong faith and relationship with Jesus, he had a similar upbringing to mine, he was working on his Ph.D and his family was against dowry! We looked forward to meeting him.

Peter, his parents and sister’s family came over the next evening to a down pour of Bangalore monsoon rains. Thatha’s home was a very old, high ceiling, tiled roof building which would leak when it rained heavily. It was amusing the way drops started falling inside as we all sat and talked! Showers of blessings? The atmosphere was comfortable despite the rain.

Peter and I went to Thatha’s front office room to have a private talk. We asked each other the most important questions about our faith walk. Peter being the academician, of course had his list of points in his head that he asked me, while I just talked! But in just ONE hour, we both were convinced that as we and our families had prayerfully approached this, God had clearly led us to commit ourselves to marriage. His family left soon after. That night, his Mom called my Mom and said that they were very happy that we had agreed on getting married! Dad was on the flight from the US that night and we surprised him he next morning with the good news of his future son-in-law! He met them that week as plans were made for our formal betrothal ceremony and to discuss the details.

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Interestingly, God had led me to commit my life to a man who strongly felt that he was called at that time to live his faith in India. Because I had already worked this out with the Lord, I was able to accept it more easily. Peter’s family were not wealthy, he was still studying and on a student’s stipend and he had warned me that the beginning of our life would be really hard – again, God had already worked on my heart and it did not matter to me. He was also a more thoughtful, often absent minded academician. We had a lot of details to work out but as we both were still studying, we would get engaged and wait a year to be married the following June. It was a huge step to commit to an unknown man who I had just met for an hour to whom I would be leaving family, friends, life as I knew it and move 10,000 miles to a new city in India to live in hardship. My confidence only came in the grace of God who we trusted completely, who knew everything and who had led us thus far.

We had a beautiful engagement ceremony where before God with our pastor, parents, family and friends (about 200 people), where we committed to wait for each other. It was a time of much rejoicing and fun. Peter shared his testimony which I heard for the first time. We both also sang the meaningful song below together.

Jesus stand among us, At the beginning of our lives
Be the sweet agreement, At the meeting of our eyes
O Jesus! We love you, So we gather here
Join our hearts in unity, And take away our fears
So to you we gather, Out of many different lands
Christ the love between us, At the joining of our hands

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With that we committed to a life of faithfulness to each other. Peter left for Bombay soon after and I returned to the US at the end of July. We worked hard and waited patiently a whole year. As both of us were poor students on scholarships, we had very little money to even call each other with each minute to call across the world costing over $2.00! But God graciously provided for us. As both of us were in universities, this being the pre-Internet days, we were one of the few who had free chat access across the world. This may seem trivial in today’s digital age, but it was very rare and fancy in the early 1990’s. I had friends who had run up $1000 phone bills calling fiancés back in India. We chatted everyday for hours totally free!

Satan of course was definitely not happy with all the goings on – a sure thing in a believer’s life. He began stirring up trouble in the form of Peter’s closest uncle who did not even live in India but began questioning whether the way the whole process had happened was in line with God’s will. He even wanted Peter to break off the engagement and start over. Sadly, this suddenly created a lot of confusion and attitude change in some in his family. Where there had been such joy, now there was doubt and confusion. But Peter stood strong. The decision had been made prayerfully, with full approval and blessing from his parents who had met me the day before we agreed, so, irrespective of external opposition, he was sure we were in the midst of God’s will.

Though outwardly there was a lot of fun and happiness at our wedding in June 1992 as we were surrounded by over a 1000 family and friends, deep down I was very sad at the shadows that had been cast and the lack of approval I was receiving from his family. We realized that real life had begun! Marriage we have learned is definitely the Divine Refiner’s fire where He takes two sinful, broken people who rub each other the wrong way and place them in a “Covenant” relationship with each other and Him. He uses marriage to sand down the rough edges and impress Jesus’ image on our lives.

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Peter and I have had innumerable issues to work through and we probably will until the day we die. But, we are 100% committed to each other until death do us part. Our wedding vows had included the words “As led by God, I, ………. take you …….., to be my lawfully wedded spouse…………….till death us do part, according to God’s Holy law and in the confidence of the enabling grace of God alone, I give you my pledge.” Looking back we realize the enormity of the truth of those words and how much we have needed “the enabling grace of God alone”. There have been many, many times when we have walked through very deep difficulties or have found each other lacking or failing and unable to fulfill human desires and needs – when it would have been easier to give up on our marriage emotionally, spiritually or physically. At times, we have failed and even done some of that temporarily. But we thank God that He has held us and continues to hold us and remind us of the covenant of our marriage.”

We look back over the 20 years of marriage and think we could not have chosen better what we needed and we thank God, He did! Life together with all it’s painful difficulties has drawn us as individuals into a deeper and more intimate knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We are trying to choose to give thanks to the Lord in everything. We also realize how important it is to pray as we navigate life’s choppy waters. Happily ever afters do exist only if we are willing to fall on the mercy of the future grace of God!

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Thursday June 27, 2013: Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Psalm 127:1

We hear over and over again of marriages of precious friends breaking down with saddened hearts. We know that it is ONLY the grace of God that we both stand firm in this marriage covenant! Trials for 21 years has made our marriage extremely hard. God used His Word to remind us that it is in the brokenness of our lives, His grace is poured out and His love perfected. We stand today deeply loving each other in a marriage filled with God’s love, romance and commitment unlike what it was 21 years ago! We humbly fall before Jesus knowing it is ONLY His grace that has held us and our hearts are filled with eternal gratitude. So marriage is beautiful when we are in a covenant relationship with the God of this Universe! We were advised just 2 weeks ago to commit to read God’s Word and pray multiple times each day together and see how God works – so far that has been the best marriage advice we have ever received!

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