You did not choose me, I chose you
Catholic-convert, Jini Lobo writes about how God drew her to the Catholic faith and a family life of mission with the Santvana Community.
Born to an upper middle-class family, I learned at an early age that money and comfort was not what life was all about. Even though we were well-fed and well-educated, life had its own twists and turns; as a teenager, the strained relationship between my parents, a controlling father and my secular upbringing made me a confused and insecure person.
As a family, we never practiced any faith because my father believed in socialist ideologies rather than in God. My siblings and I were not baptised and did not go to church either. At 17 years of age, when I needed a community certificate to apply for entrance examinations, we were all baptised together. We couldn’t pray openly at home but I remember seeing my mother praying at nights when my father was not at home. This was the only experience about God I had as a teenager.
Even though I wanted to become a medical doctor, I did not qualify for the same. Contrary to my desire to then opt for BSc in Agriculture, I was forced to pursue engineering. That’s how I landed up in TKM Engineering College, Kollam1, feeling miserable. It felt like the whole world was against me and I was utterly dejected.
As first years in college, we were invited by our seniors for prayer meetings and I began to attend them for fear of ragging (which unfortunately prevailed then); later it became an escape from my low spirits. After a few months, I started enjoying the songs (music) and the company (fellowship) out there which made me a regular attendee.
Until then, my understanding of love was something I had to work hard for, being obedient and getting good grades were my means to seek love, especially from my father. I felt let down when my father stopped talking to me after I failed to qualify the medical entrance exam. And it was through this Jesus Youth prayer meeting that I was introduced to a Father God, who loves me personally and unconditionally, who had sent his own Son to save me even when I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8); this shook me to the core of my being.
I was introduced to a God (in the Holy Eucharist) who comes and waits to meet me personally, every single day. I felt loved and healed to know that the Creator of the universe waits to see me every morning in the Holy Eucharist. So meeting my Creator every day became my habit, even though I was not able to receive him (but received him spiritually as my elders guided me) for the next nine years.
The loving concern, care, empathy and constant follow up from my seniors, one of the important attributes of Jesus Youth lifestyle, accelerated the healing process which gave me a positive outlook about life. As a new believer I was very enthusiastic about different aspects of faith. Daily Mass, daily learning a Word of God and sharing it, daily Rosary, outreaches to old age homes and orphanages which developed my compassion for the less fortunate, etc. were all what I learned from JY TKMCE prayer group.
I was a novice in faith and did not know anything about God. Reading the Bible was an unavoidable exercise because my elders told me that God revealed himself to us through the Scriptures; for the next three years I read the New Testament three times which gave me a good grounding to my faith. Being from Protestant background, I had friends and relatives who were concerned about my new-found Catholic faith. God clearly talked to me through the Scriptures to clarify my confusions about Catholicism.
Once it so happened that I attended a retreat with my prayer group members in Kottiyam2 Retreat Center. I hadn’t informed my parents about it, knowing very well that permission would be denied. Unfortunately that weekend, my father decided to visit me at the hostel and so came to know that I had gone for a retreat. He came to the retreat centre and took me home. Having discovered my newly-found faith, I was barred from attending prayer meetings and spiritual activities. But God showed me another way, some of us started coming together for a Rosary every day after dinner in the hostel, which helped me stay in fellowship and grow in my faith. Scripture came to my help with assurance, promises and admonitions which helped me to grow in Christian maturity. My favourite verse is Romans 8:28, We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. This verse kept my spirits up and helped me walk through the darkest valleys of my life, and does so even today.
Seeking God’s counsel and guidance through eldering was a special gift from God for a naive Catholic like me, which guided me throughout my life in taking the right decisions, even when I did not understand what God had in store for me. I used to feel sad and discouraged that I could not receive Communion for nine long years, it was the loving guidance of my elders that helped me stay patient for the Lord’s time. The patient waiting bore fruit in the form of my call to Santvana, where in all our houses we have the Blessed Sacrament in our chapels. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds. (Psalm 145:13) Thus I learned that waiting for Lord’s time brings abundant grace!
Another challenge was my marriage. As a Protestant, I was expected to marry from the same community but I wanted to marry a Catholic. My family was not very keen about it as they did not understand the significance of being Catholic. But I had loving elders who prayed for years, took initiative to find a suitable partner. Naveen’s proposal was a miracle in my life. I was blessed with a wonderful partner, a loving family and a beautiful community (Santvana Community). After my engagement, I was received into the Catholic fold, finally I could receive my Lord and Saviour after the long wait of nine years.
Today when I look back, I am so grateful to God for letting me study in TKM Engineering College, even though I have never worked as an Electric Engineer in all the six years I worked before joining the mission. But my personal and spiritual formation in the JY prayer group instilled in me a love for the Eucharist, commitment towards the constants and a matured understanding about the world around me. I learned some of the important virtues of life like compassion, temperance and charity from here, which made me a better human being.
I had learned one important lesson over these years, that being part of a matured Catholic fellowship was important to keep growing in faith. As the Scripture says, Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together … but encouraging one another…(Hebrews 10:24,25). God was gracious enough to use this naïve Catholic to start a few Jesus Youth prayer groups in different parts of Kerala, which helped me personally to grow in my faith and as well as share my newly found to many youth and it is a great joy to see many grow up as leaders in the movement today.
During the initial days of my encounter with the Lord, I happened to read about Francis of Assisi and Clare which gave me a deep desire to serve God. You, Lord, know every one of my deepest desires (Psalm 38:9). The Lord respects even your smallest desires and his response to mine was my call to Santvana Community of Disciples, to serve him as a lay missionary family. I did not even understand what it meant to be a lay missionary, how a missionary worked nor had I personally met a missionary family in my life, when I got this call. But God gave me the grace to respond positively, without worrying about the future. Even when people told us it was foolish to leave our jobs and become volunteers in mission, the Lord was faithful to us all these 18 years. He not only took care of all our material needs but also blessed us abundantly with joy and peace which surpasses all understanding. …the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations… (Deuteronomy 7:9)
In November 2004 I landed in Delhi, the capital city of our country with Naveen, as newlyweds, our honeymoon was the cultural exchange programme. We got back-to-back transfers to Agra, Ranchi and Delhi3. Being a novice to mission, the Lord, through the community and a few other missionaries, taught us what it was to be a missionary. To walk along with those entrusted in your mission – not ahead or behind, to respect their culture, to love their language and food, to entrust responsibilities, to build native leadership and to finally accept the destiny of your people as your destiny, are a few lessons learned; still in the process of learning to be a missionary.
The Lord in his mercy used us in his vineyard to form youth and catechists in different parts of India. We could also serve the Jesus Youth in the Hindi-speaking belt. All in all, there are just a couple of states where we have not had the opportunity to work these 18 years.
After eleven years of marriage and being in North Indian mission, God gave both of us (Naveen and me) an opportunity to do our Masters in Theology of Family and Marriage, with our five children. During this study we were introduced to the treasures of the Catholic Church, especially on family and marriage which transformed us as persons and family.
It amazed us to know that the Church teaches and has answers to all problems pertaining to life. After all these years of spiritual journey I did not know about the significance of the Magisterium and its teachings. The course opened our eyes towards the time-tested wisdom of the Catholic Church, which is more than 2000-years-old. Now I spend a lot of time reading and understanding these teachings rather than speculating on answers in my personal capacity on any topic.
During the course we were introduced to Church History and the teachings of the early Church Fathers. I am sure that if any one goes through the history of the Church, they cannot but be convinced about the authenticity of the Catholic Church.
I feel unworthy of the greatness of the riches of the Holy Catholic Church. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). I am really grateful to Father God, to Jesus Christ, his Son, and to the Holy Spirit, the helper, who out of mercy called me to the Catholic Church!
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