I want to dedicate this post to my parents- thank you for giving me the best childhood;
and to my sister- there is no one else I would rather have grown up with <3
I was around a year old when the Lord called my parents into full-time ministry. They left their home, their jobs and their families in Bombay to serve the Lord in a small town in North India. For those of you who may not be aware of what a missionary is, let me explain. In simple words, a missionary is someone who goes to a different place or community to serve the Lord Jesus, to share the gospel with the local people there. How the Lord “called” my parents is an amazing story in itself, one I believe everyone should hear (I’ve always told my mum to write a book!). I still get goose bumps every time I hear it.
Heeding the Lord’s call, my parents moved from Bombay to Dehradun. From a life of comfort to a life of uncertainty. From the city that never sleeps to one that sleeps early. From the sweltering heat to the chilling winter. In those days, the streets of Dehradun would be deserted and the shops shut by 7 in the evening. Everyone would be in bed cuddled in their warm blankets or eating peanuts and jaggery by the fire. For me, the move wasn’t that big a deal seeing as I was only one, but it was a huge life change for my parents.
So, I grew up in the quaint little town of Dehradun, nestled in the Doon Valley, at the foothills of the Himalayas. It is primarily known for its elite boarding schools, and institutions like the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and Forest Research of India (FRI). And I’m sure you would have eaten or at least seen the famous “Dehradun Basmati rice” in grocery stores!
I call Dehradun the “home of my heart” because wherever I go, it will always be “home” to me. Growing up as a child of a missionary/evangelist/Pastor was an experience I am grateful for. I wouldn’t say I have always felt that way, but looking back I wouldn’t change my childhood for anything.
I want to share a few highlights of my childhood that have stuck with me and have had a huge impact in my life.
“The Lord didn’t call me”
We would spend our summer holidays every year in Bombay with extended family and friends from my parents’ home church. I would look at the girls in Bombay and feel envious of their exciting city lives. My life, in a small village-like town paled in comparison. We looked forward to eating burgers at Mc Donalds, shopping at the malls, and visiting the amusement parks. Life there seemed to be so much fun! It almost felt like a different country. I watched my cousins and friends and I couldn’t help thinking what I was missing, all because my parents had decided to move away. On one particularly frustrating day, I asked my mother why we couldn’t just move back to Bombay. She said, quite pointedly, “Because the Lord called us here.” I remember getting upset and screaming back at her, “He may have called you but He didn’t call me! Why do I have to live here?”
Who else, but God?
In Bombay my parents were well settled in their careers when the Lord called them. They left their jobs and moved away to Dehradun. As missionaries, they lived “in faith” which meant they didn’t get a fixed steady income every month. You will wonder how people can live without a steady income. Well, let me tell you, we never lacked anything. The Lord always provided at the right time. There are so many stories of God’s faithfulness that we as a family have witnessed, but for lack of time I cannot write them all, but I will share a few. There was a time we ran out of groceries, and my mum was anxious and worried about what she was going to feed us for the next meal. There was no money to buy any more. My dad comes home from a meeting that evening with a big bag of rice, lentils, sugar and other items, enough to last the whole month! A new believer had left it for us because he had to leave suddenly for his hometown. He never knew of our need but God did, and put it into that man’s heart. I also remember counting coins to fill just enough fuel in our vehicle. I recollect a big fridge just arriving at our front door one day. We kept telling the delivery guys that we hadn’t ordered a fridge and we didn’t have the money for it, but they insisted that it was paid for and they had to install it for us, as ours was the name and address they had! Later we found out that some people we’d only known for a few days, who had been blessed by my parents’ hospitality had bought it as a gift for us. Who else, but God?
Someone once called our home a “railway station”! It often felt and looked like one! Our home was always open for people. Through my childhood, we had someone or the other living with us. I don’t think I can recollect many evenings with just the four of us at home. If we wanted to spend time together as a family we had to go out to a restaurant. If we decided to stay home and have a quiet family night together, someone would inevitably drop by. As a young child and even in my teenage years I sometimes felt overwhelmed with all the people around. As I grew up, I understood why it had to be that way, but there were definitely times I wished we could have a quiet moment with just us. However, when I look back now, those were truly the best years of my life.
“You don’t speak Malayalam?”
Originally my parents are from the South of India, one from Kerala and the other from Tamil Nadu. When we moved to the Dehradun, they wanted to learn to speak Hindi well, in order to better serve the local people. They made an intentional decision not to converse in their own languages, but rather in Hindi so that people around us would feel welcomed and loved. So I grew up learning Hindi as my first language. That was great when we were at home but it definitely posed a problem when we visited Kerala and we (my sister and I) could not understand or converse with any of our relatives who spoke only Malayalam. We had to rely on my parents or someone else to translate. On hindsight, I do think it would have been nice to know a little of the language in order to have a conversation. However, I do admire my parents’ dedication to the local people. All through my life, I have witnessed the sacrifices they made for the people the Lord had called them to serve. The divide between the South and North was great, and my parents were doing their part to bridge it, in light of their calling.
“Where are you from?”
I spent my entire school life in a good Christian school, all the way from first to twelfth grade. By God’s grace I was blessed with wonderful friends in school, some of whom are still close friends today. However, I often felt like I didn’t fit in. For starters, I looked different. I stood out as a South Indian next to my friends. Back in Bombay, people would hear us (me and my sister) speak Hindi and praise us and admire the shudh (pure) Hindi we North Indians spoke. However, in the North people sometimes laughed at our Hindi and we struggled in Hindi class at school. (This was when we were in school by the way. I am quite proud of my Hindi now! :D) In Bombay we were called North Indians and in Dehradun we were referred to as South Indians. When I went away to do my Masters in the South, people would ask me “Where are you from? My initial answer was always “Dehradun”, to which they would say “Oh okay!” in a surprised, disbelieving voice. Most people were very curious and would blurt out “But you don’t look like a North Indian!” Then I would have to explain my life story as to how my parents were South Indians but I had lived in the North all my life. I am a half Keralite-half Tamilian, born in Bombay, grew up in Dehradun, and married to a Telugu. Even today, I really don’t know how to answer the “Where are you from?” question!
Value ALL people
One of the greatest blessings of growing up as a missionary kid was the different types of people we had the privilege of interacting with. We learned to make friends with the village kids who ran around barefoot and also those that drove around in fancy cars. It is a gift my parents gave us, to be able to talk to and make friends with people who came from all kinds of backgrounds. They taught us to value and include all people, no matter what their status in life.
The local church was our family, most of them first generation believers. Seeing the sacrifices they were forced to make for the sake of the gospel was a challenge for me personally. Their lives always made me think and take stock of my life. Would I be able to give up everything I had, even my family for the sake of Christ? We had the privilege of encouraging them, loving them, and opening our homes to them. To this day they are still part of our family.
I soon grew out of my “The Lord didn’t call me” phase. I don’t remember when it went from “THEIR calling” to “OUR calling” in my mind. I have my parents to thank for that. They always included us in the ministry. It never felt like they were doing the Lord’s work and we were just along for the ride. Whenever we could, we went along to all the meetings, the gospel outreach, the house visits, the village programs- everywhere. Often we would carry our books along and do our homework in our jeep or in someone’s house if they had a spare room. I remember eating our dinner in the jeep too sometimes, and then falling asleep on our drive back home. We helped in Sunday School in the villages. It was on one such trip to a village where we were showing a Hindi movie called Daya Sagar about the life of Christ, when I surrendered my life to Him at the tender age of nine. The movie was being played in the village square, on a big white screen using a projector. My mother and I were sitting in the jeep because there was a huge crowd of people outside. I was so upset during the crucifixion scene that I wept “Why did Jesus have to go through all that?” My mother explained to me that it was for me that He suffered and died. She told me I didn’t have to be sad but thank Him for His sacrifice and ask Him to take away my sins. I knelt down in the little space at the back of the jeep that night and asked Him to come into my heart.
The best life
I don’t think words can truly capture all that I saw, experienced, and learned growing up as a missionary kid. I’m not saying our life was a cake walk, nor am I saying we were miserable all the time. We didn’t get everything we wanted, and I am grateful we didn’t, because God gave us everything we needed and that was enough. I once heard my dad tell someone that the one thing he regrets is that at times we were neglected during our childhood. I want to tell him, that is not what I remember at all. Maybe at that time I may have felt it or wanted more attention, even said some things in anger. But now as I reminisce about my life, that is not what I remember. All I remember is the love we received at home, how hard my parents worked to ensure they were there for us in spite of their many responsibilities, and how they did their best to involve us kids in the church and other ministries. I remember how they sacrificed their time, their money, their sleep (people would call/come at odd hours for help), and their personal space for His people. They taught us to prioritize God and to love His people, those who were not related to us by blood but were very much part of our family because of Jesus.
I once asked my mother, why they continued to stay in Dehradun after all the troubles and betrayal they faced (because they did face a lot), and she told me, “It is only because the Lord’s call to us was so specific and clear. We know for sure that this is where the Lord wants us.” The Lord spoke to them through His Word when he called them; and He confirmed it again and again. She told me that whenever she was feeling discouraged she would go back to those verses and remember the promises the Lord had given her. She said, “If not for that, we would have left and gone back a long time ago.” It’s been 35 years and they’re still there. The Lord has been faithful.
Being a wife and mother now, I wish I could give my children all the experiences I had. My childhood was far from perfect. Being a missionary kid is hard. You have to share your parents with so many people. But would I trade it for anything else? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I am so grateful for the experiences I’ve had (and even the ones I missed out on), the people I’ve met, the miracles I’ve witnessed, and the love I’ve seen in action. God gave me the best childhood. For that I am eternally grateful.
Featured Photo: Snow-peaked Himalayan range as seen from Dehradun
Photo Credit: Blesson Das