As a child growing up in India, I thrilled with excitement on Hindu religious holidays. Following my parents’ instructions, I would mimic their actions in the rituals of worship and listen intently as my grandmother told stories of the Hindu gods. The stories intrigued me, but the gods didn’t seem real. I couldn’t understand how they could help me, and I didn’t have the courage to ask why we worshiped them.
We had a neighbor who was a nun in a local Catholic church, and she would tell me tales of Jesus. I was about 10 years old and would sit next to her chair with my imagination going wild as she gave the illustrations. It was “enlightening” to learn so many things about Jesus! He walked on water, turned water into wine, was born at Christmas, and did many more things which were just magical to me at that tender age. Our sessions together continued for several months. Then my neighbor moved away to work in a different state, and I never saw her again. As I grew older, the memories of Jesus and the stories the nun told me lingered in the back of my mind.
No Longer Fun
During my teenage years, my family moved to the booming city of Mumbai. I loved the city with its rhythm of movement and skyscrapers rooted on both sides of the streets. Riding the bus to school each day, I would stare through the windows, craning my neck and filling my eyes with the sights of the busy city. But being born in an upper-class Hindu family in India had its own set of problems. On religious holidays, my family would donate a large amount of money and food to the local Hare Rama Hare Krishna temple, which meant that people, in turn, would come to our home to honor us for the work we did. Money was the currency of gods. The more you had meant the more you were blessed. The more you were blessed, the more you could donate and hold a position of power in the temples. My parents counted on me, the eldest son, to follow the religious observances, and my younger brother looked up to me. Most importantly, I was to believe in the hundreds of Hindu gods and keep in mind their different agendas. Before going to school each day, I prayed to my own god, but I was living in the midst of gods which I knew only as mythologies.
As I grew older and wiser, I began to take the practice of Hinduism more seriously. My conservative business family treated me as an adult, and my grandmother, with whom I am very close, often cautioned: “A successful businessman always has god by his side.” But the monthly religious ceremonies—which I was to conduct—became a chore. Sometimes an entire apartment complex would come together for a ritual, and I would spend countless hours sitting next to the Pundits (Hindu priests), worshiping next to burning logs of woods to clean the souls of people nearest me in my family. The ceremony of Holi and Diwali, which as a child I knew as a fun event when I got to eat delicious food and shoot firecrackers with friends, became a six-hour ritual of praising the gods at the temple and later at my home. After the rituals were over, I was to serve food to the guests who honored our family with their presence.
The Question Grew
By the time I was 19, our family had moved to an even more upscale neighborhood in Mumbai. I began to take part in the family business of real estate and to learn the trade my larger family was involved in. It was understood that I would eventually run the family business. During this time I made the acquaintance of a wealthy Muslim family who owned a handmade embroidery clothing chain. When I visited them during their religious festivals, I would hear them recite the Quran. They practiced their religion methodically; every act was precise and calculated.
On one visit, as the family was reading from the Quran, they read the story about Joseph, Mary, and their newborn child, Jesus. In a flash, memories of sitting before the nun, hearing her tell stories of Jesus, flooded my mind. And now, here was Jesus—in the Quran too! I wondered why he was so special that he was present in Islam as well. The question of “Why?” grew larger and larger in my heart. I was not a child anymore. I was an adult in my family, and as an adult, I had to find my own answers.
A Path to Life
When I was 20, I decided to come to the US to continue my education. My parents supported me in my decision to study abroad, thinking it was good that I explore the world. Little did they know that this would be a turning point in my life, when Christ would come into my life—and I would meet Him in Texas!
When I landed at DFW airport, I was greeted by some friendly faces, volunteers from a Christian campus ministry called ISI (International Students, Inc.) They drove me to my apartment, took me to Walmart to buy the things I needed as a new student in the States, and offered further help as I needed it. I wondered what the price for this help was, since in my country, everything has a price tag. But not knowing the culture, I decided to wait to ask. It was not until I attended a Friday night event that I got to know what the price tag was. I approached Roy Yabuki, a staff member with ISI, and told him that I had really appreciated their help. Then I asked how I could repay them for all they had done. Roy’s response was one sentence: “Christ has paid the price!”
Instantly, I figured that I had found people who knew about Christ and who could also help me with questions I had about my Hindu gods. I began attending Bible studies with Roy, meeting him for lunch, and spending time with his family as well as with many other Christians in the ISI organization. I found that in the Bible studies there was a freedom to ask questions, and I asked plenty! Slowly, I understood that the Bible was a book on how to live life to the fullest—by having a “relationship” with God. This was an alien concept to me. In Hinduism, pleasing the gods was the way to get to heaven. In Christianity, accepting Christ as your Savior destines you for heaven.
In March 2014, I accepted Christ as my Savior and received a life that is so much more than following religious rituals. It is becoming a child of God with a relationship with Jesus Christ. This new birth at first seemed unreal to me, but looking back, I see a timeline of Christ trying to enter my life. He had provided the path to know Him, and I was destined to follow Him and His commission.
A Trial of Faith
In the summer of 2016, I had the privilege of going on a summer mission trip to San Francisco, feeling very much like an amateur “missionary.” I knew I couldn’t contribute much, but I prayed a lot and tried to make a bridge to people from other religions to show them that Jesus’ death was for them. After a tedious—but thrilling—two weeks, I was back in Dallas with a booked ticket to India the following day. I needed to visit my parents, and I wanted to tell them about my faith in Christ. For two and a half years, I had kept them in the dark. Could it be because of my cowardliness in facing the consequences? The 29-hour flight seemed so long.
Arriving home in Mumbai, I realized that my family had become even more devoted to Hinduism than when I left. This sent chills down my spine as I wondered how I should tell them and what the outcome would be. Then one evening, sitting at the dining table before a big family gathering, I told them everything—from what had happened my first day in Dallas to my recent mission trip. With tears running down my face, I told every bit of my story, with my family members shaking their heads in despair of my acts. They immediately barred me from home and from associating with any of my relatives. My humiliation in front of 15 elders in my family was complete!
Actions to remove me from my home were swift and severe. I left that night, spending several nights in my car until a good friend allowed me to take refuge in his home. Even though I tried to reflect on the Bible, not a single second passed that I did not regret my decision to follow Christ. I had exchanged my family, my home, for what? For Whom? It was bad, soul-crushingly bad! No one should go through what I was going through as a price for following Jesus. I felt total rejection—not unlike what Jesus must have felt when His own people rejected Him.
To find peace from all the madness, I left for the Himalayas. There, spending days in meditation, reflecting on my life and considering the consequences of following Christ, my soul found rest. My faith was restored, and I reconnected with my Savior who promised to never leave me or forsake me. My head was right, my heart had Christ, and my body was purified from the stress of spiritual warfare. I was proud to be a follower of Christ, and I returned from the mountains powerful in God’s Spirit to face whatever lay before me.
Back in Mumbai, I faced the wreckage of my family: my relatives showed disinterest in talking to me, there were conflicts over the family business, and my bank account was frozen. All I had was a return ticket back to the States—and a future to build.
My heart was crushed from all sides, but I consoled myself during the 29-hour flight by recalling what I had remaining. I still had my family name, my childhood memories, and a story to tell. In the States, I had my education to finish, trusting Christian friends for support, and a hope of God leading my life to success.
My Hope and Future
During the year since I returned to the States, I have been finishing up my undergraduate degree at the university and looking forward to the future. The promise in Jeremiah 29:11 has been solace for me: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I haven’t had any contact with my family except with my younger brother, who keeps me updated on family matters. I am learning that, in the family of God, every person has a different destiny. Through every devastating experience we face in life, God has the purpose to make us stronger—and if we truly long for God’s kingdom, no adversity will overcome us. When we are blessed with God’s love, nothing else matters.
God’s kingdom awaits each one of us!