April 29, 2014

A Bigger Plan than Anything I Imagined

By Sarla Mahara

She reminded me so much of myself at that age.

Sangita (left) and I

I was enjoying the best of Indian hospitality at the home of a Christian couple who oversee a ministry in Rajasthan, a western state near the Pakistan border. Sangita*, a friend of the family, helped serve the meal. The 22-year-old had such a radiance about her. Just from her demeanor, you could see the joy overflowing.

I noticed she didn´t eat anything. She later told me she was on a three-day fast, although she didn´t explain why. I was impressed by that level of faith commitment in someone so young, but what really moved me was to learn that she is the only believer in her Hindu family. The daughter of this ministry couple is the one who led Sangita to Christ.

Normally when a young woman like Sangita comes to the Lord, the family rejects her or she is persecuted by the community. But by God´s grace, Sangita´s family has not abandoned her. They haven´t accepted the gospel, but they are okay with their daughter being a Christian.

I could identify with Sangita because that was my situation. I was 25 when I received Christ. I had heard the gospel while growing up in Nepal, but I didn´t make a commitment to the Lord until I was a university student in France. I was baptized there and started attending a church.

The rest of my family in Nepal were not believers. I remember telling my mother I had become a Christian, and she said, “Fine, but don´t tell anybody.” You see, when someone from our culture embraces another faith, it is viewed as bringing shame to the family. In their eyes, I had adopted something foreign because our religion was not good enough.

Although they were supportive, my family thought I would “grow out of it.” Now all these years later they see that I haven´t. They love me and accept me, but they are still resistant to the gospel. My mother says it is easy for me to practice what I believe because I live in another country. She´s right. That´s why I so admire a young woman like Sangita. I think she is very brave, and God has given her the courage to live out and share her faith in her village—even though it won´t be easy.

A typical village in Nepal

After I committed my life to the Lord while in France, my plan was to go back to Nepal. I couldn´t wait to share this wonderful message that had changed my heart. My pastor advised me that I first needed to study the Bible more. As it turned out, God led me to the United States, where I met Dr. Finley and later became the South Asia director for Christian Aid Mission. God had a bigger plan for me. It wasn´t just the people of Nepal that he wanted me to serve. He wanted me to serve the entire region.

To go and represent Christian Aid in South Asia last month was such an honor. The pastors and missionaries we assist carry on their work in the face of persecution without adequate resources. Regardless of their circumstances, they move forward, putting their faith in the Lord to provide. Ministry isn´t just a job for them; it´s their calling. They are in it for the long haul.

I think what touched me the most was a comment by one of our ministry brothers in India. He expressed a deep appreciation for the strong ties with Christian Aid that go way beyond looking at us as a mere pipeline for funding.

“Sister, our relationship is one of family; it´s not of money and never should be about money,” he told me. “I am thankful that Christian Aid does send us support because you have helped our ministry grow, but whether you send another dime or not, we are family now and it will stay that way.”

Those heartfelt words made me feel so privileged to be an ambassador for Christian Aid. We don´t go to impose or to be demanding. I wasn´t there to do policing work. I went there as a humble servant to listen, to hear their hearts and see what the Lord is doing through their ministries.

One of the churches I visited in India

His statement also made me think about my family—my husband and daughters in Virginia, my family in Nepal, my Christian Aid staff family, and my brothers and sisters in the Lord who are serving with such devotion throughout South Asia. I realized that God in His mercy has extended my family—and it will stay that way.

Oftentimes God´s plans for us are way bigger than what we envision for ourselves. It is only years later when you can look back that you start to see the big picture. I´m so very thankful to the Lord that He brought me to Christian Aid, and that I get to serve the entire South Asia region. When we trust God with our lives, and allow Him to work through us, that´s when amazing things happen.

I can hardly wait to hear what awesome things He is going to do in Sangita´s life!

*name changed

Sarla Mahara has served as the South Asia director at Christian Aid Mission since 2002. In March the Nepali native spent three weeks traveling through the region, where she met with several indigenous ministry leaders, visited relatives, and reconnected with her roots.