“Sister, is God dead?” An 18-year-old student surprised me when he stood up in the class to ask this question. Seeing me a little embarrassed, he continued, “I read somewhere that God is dead. What is your opinion about it?” he continued.
Hiding my discomfiture, I countered him with another question: “Do you still believe in God? If ‘yes’ you got the answer.”
It was his turn to be puzzled. I continued: “Because God is beyond time and space, he has no birth or death. It is the human mentality and attitude that creates division and inhibition among us that is extremely destructive. I think your doubt is clear by now.” He smiled and took his seat.
That was one of my memorable moments with the young people.
To be with the youth is always exciting and at the same time challenging too. This techno-generation is far advanced in knowledge and facilities, but lacks proper guidance and role models. The attitude is changed into business type and profit making rather than keeping warm relationships. Their priority is not values and morals, but competition, success and self-enjoyment.
I work in a school run by Catholic missionaries where 99 percent of the students and staff are from other religions. It is always a risk, especially if one is in the traditional habit of a nun like me.
Many times I have felt strange when people keep an unseen distance from me, trying to keep a very official rapport with me. Even after two or three years of familiarity, some students still ask me whether I belong to India or some other nation. They ask such questions perhaps because of my dress (religious habit), or the subject I teach, English.
I work in Berhampur, a fast developing city in Odisha where the dominant community is Hindu. Temples, big and small, dot every nook and corner of the city. Stray cows and bulls occupy roads and monkeys enter freely wherever they want, with no one to control them. People worship them.
You can teach well and mingle with students and staff. They appreciate your skill and caliber — utilize your service to the maximum. But they are not interested in your faith or religion. Students, parents and colleagues ask me often why I did not marry, why do I have opted for celibacy and why do I have to lead a simple life. They also want to know why I cannot spend my salary as I wish and why I have chosen what they think is a horrible lifestyle. Very seldom, do I get a positive response from them about the dignity of a consecrated life.
I hardly get chances to speak about my faith and Christ. If I speak something about it, people may misunderstand that I am out to convert them. In this time of religious intolerance, prudence is an essential virtue for a missionary.
However, I could preach through my life – the way I deal with others and through my sincerity, dedication, commitment and hard work. The real challenge is to be exemplary. I have to be patient and tolerant, but firm in my ideals. Christ is the style and motto I follow in my mission land.
A few persons have asked me out of curiosity about the retreat centers in Kerala where they have heard miracles often take place. They wanted to know if the miracles were real or mere publicity gimmicks and the secret behind them. My response is always this: “Believe in God. Have faith in the God you worship, and live a good life. You can experience miracles in your life too.”
During my 21 years of religious life, I have never converted anyone to Christianity. However, I have tried my best to convey the message of positive thinking to all whom I meet and wherever I work. Many a time, I have tried to be a good listener to people’s sorrows and laments and tried to help them with what I can and what I have.
The students, who often keep an unseen distance, approach me when they are in need. They would share with me their emotional imbalances, broken relationships, domestic problems, and difficulties in their studies or other personal disturbances. They open their hearts and go back relieved.
Then, they keep the same distance, become friendly with other teachers and look at me “officially.” These are the times I experience rejection and alienation, moments of ingratitude and scorn, instead of love and acceptance.
But after the initial embarrassment, I have learned to accept such experiences as the nourishment for a true missionary, a true disciple of Christ. Then I speak to my heart, “Anitha, when you are treated in the wrong way, contrary to your expectations, remember that you will be rewarded by God and you have added to the fixed deposit account in your heavenly passbook.”
(Sr. Anitha, who belongs to Daughters of Charity of the Most Precious Blood (DCPB), teaches English in the senior secondary section of St. Vincent de Paul School, managed by Vincentian Priests, Berhampur, Odisha)