It is said that God has a tendency of picking up ‘Nobody’ and making them ‘Somebody’ without consulting ‘Anybody’. This proves true in Ashani Perera’s life as she shares with Sharrol Jose

Ashani Perera is not your ordinary Catholic youth. She is an epitome of hope to those who have lost hope in serving the Lord as a “normal” person. Born premature, she developed an infection from a vaccine, which eventually paved way for some physical deformities. However, it didn’t stop her from having a joyful life with Christ.

Today, she’s the National coordinator of Jesus Youth in Sri Lanka, fervently leading the youth towards a Christ-centered life.

Q.Ashani, could you share your miraculous journey as a new-born?

A.I was born three-months premature and was kept in an incubator until I had gained enough weight. I was vaccinated for BCG three months after my birth. That vaccine had been affected by a germ which turned the tone of my body to purple colour within 24 hours, and my mom noticed that both my legs and arms along with the neck had collapsed. I had been left with a tiny breath and was almost dying. The doctors who examined me suggested that she leave me in the hospital, because I was not going to live more than a couple of days. My mom was an uneducated woman who could hardly read or write. But she was a fighter and never accepted defeat easily.

She took me to the Army hospital, and a panel of specialists took over my case and diagnosed that the Cerebrospinal Fluid was infected by a strong germ. They informed my mom that I might be a child with deformities. Though they could save my life, I was never going to be a normal child anyway.

My mom had a great devotion to Mary and an incredible faith that God will answer her prayers. Surprising the doctors, I recovered miraculously. Today, that child who was meant to be totally deformed is 34-years-old, with a deformed left hand and a weak right hand and is a graduate teacher. Yet, that doesn’t stop me in the mission of proclaiming the love of God before the world.

Q . In spite of your physical problems, you are managing on your own now. Please share how your mother equipped you to overcome your physical challenges.

A – My mother is my role model and my inspiration in life. Today, I am who I am because of her incredible faith in me. She equipped me for life both mentally and physically; she believed in me and was always proud of me. That kept me from feeling inferior.

Amma took great pains to teach me to walk and do other physical activities. When I was in Middle-School, she taught me to wash my clothes. I found it difficult to do it with a single hand and she would say, “Not only your hands, but your feet were also created by God, so why don’t we try to use it?” Together we invented many new ways and means of doing things on my own. She taught me cooking, as well. From scraping coconut to laying the table, from cleaning the bathroom to mopping the house, from sweeping the house to working in the garden, she got me involved in most of the chores around the house. No matter what, she never stopped training me for life.

I had short hair and when I grew older, I wanted to grow my hair but never realised that I was going to add another job to Amma’s list. Since my hair was curly it was impossible for me to handle it single handed. But with so much of love, she did my hair and she continued to do so until her death. Not only did she train me physically but she also gave me a good vision about life. After my ordinary level exam, I wanted to do a computer course but we couldn’t afford it. My mother sold her tiny gold chain and said, “Nothing is more important than education.” Amma taught me how to love and sacrifice; how to find happiness in giving and letting go. Every single thing she taught me is making a huge impact on my life today. Her contribution is so immense that I can even write a book about it.

Q – Can you share your personal encounter with Christ? How did you come to know about the Jesus Youth movement?

A – Though I had a very unique encounter at my birth, it took me more than 20 years to recognize it. Today, I meet Him daily in my personal prayer, Holy Mass, Confession, Word of God, and sometimes in the people I meet, in life incidents; it also gives me the road map for the day.  He keeps my smile unchanged no matter how gloomy or bright the day is.

In 2012, I was working as a tutor in St.Sebastian’s College, Moratuwa. One day, the primary school Principal, Rev.Fr. Daya Darshana Perera called me and asked if I could stay back on Friday evenings and be with a few students who were coming together for a prayer meeting. I said “Yes” because I was free on Friday evenings. These prayer meetings changed my life. I came to know that they were Jesus Youth, and from there a new chapter of my life began. Today, Fr. Daya is the Chaplain of Jesus Youth, Sri Lanka.

Q- You are the National Coordinator and in spite of all the challenges, you are a strong witness to the youth and old alike. Could you tell us the secret behind this.

A- It’s a public secret. You can call it ‘Amazing Grace’. Becoming the coordinator of Jesus Youth Sri Lanka was totally unexpected. It’s said that God has a tendency of picking up ‘Nobodies’ and making them ‘Somebody’ without consulting ‘Anybody’. It is just His grace and providence in abundance that I am able to do anything for HIM.

There were a few things which made a great impact on my lifestyle. On the very day that I said ‘Yes’ to this new calling, the Holy Spirit compelled me to find a theme for my life; “Create a  pure heart in me, oh God and put a new and loyal spirit in me” ( Ps 51: 10), eventually, this became my constant prayer. On the same night when I was in prayer, this line from a hymn struck my soul, “I will hold your people in my heart” and I pledged and claimed it before the Lord.

During one of the retreats, I chose Jeremiah as my favourite prophet. Though I didn’t know much about him, I started reading about him, which paved the way for reading and studying the scriptures a little more in my daily routine.

In a casual chat with one of our senior leaders, I learned that the personal holiness of the leader or coordinator has great say on the growth or the downfall of the ministry. This conviction had a ripple effect. I longed to make confession, and that created a thirst to visit the blessed sacrament often and also a hunger for the Holy Communion, which gave me a great desire to attend daily mass. You see, without my knowledge, I found myself strictly following the six pillars. This drew me closer to Jesus and to depend on him for anything and everything. Though I have my own struggles, battles or imperfections, I know the love of the Father fills me with His grace and when His love overflows, all my imperfections are washed away.

This journey was never an easy one. The challenges made me depend on HIM totally. Many transformations happened in my life. My team, elders, animators, cellmates, prayer partner – everyone has been by my side to support me. So when I am in the midst of all these graces, and when I’m always protected by His providence, I forget about my physical disabilities. As I claim, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Corinthians 12:10)

Q- What are your dreams for your region?

A- I love to dream and there are certain dreams which have already come true.

For many years, Surali (another Jesus Youth), and I had the responsibility to do intercession and make tea during retreats. We used to make tea and wash cups while praying. Both of us dreamt about having intercession as a separate ministry and also to have a praying kitchen, where cooking and intercession happen together. Today, we are blessed with a strong intercession ministry and we also have a praying kitchen.

I have a long-cherished dream to take this Jesus encounter experience to the differently-abled people. I believe as a movement, we are called to take this light to them. I’d love to name it ‘Gifted Ministry’. Because I have a strong conviction that differently-abled people are truly a gift, who shows us a different dimension of the love of God.  But unfortunately, some are not given the opportunity to recognize it. I want them to accept the truth from the hands of God and to see His unique plan for each life. The same God who created me and uses me has created them and is going to use them too, to shout out to the world and tell about his unfailing love.

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Sharrol Jose has been actively involved with Jesus Youth movement since her
college days and is currently part of the International Formation team and the
Executive Editor of Kairos Global. She lives with her husband and three children in Chennai, India