Overcoming Life’s Challenges in South Asia
AS I slowly regained consciousness, I became aware that my left leg was strangely numb. I turned my head. My beloved Henry’s life was slipping away. Yet, it was not time for despair. I had to fight—fight to maintain my integrity to the God who had given us so much.
It was May 17, 1982. My husband was a traveling overseer for the Tamil-speaking congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Sri Lanka. We were serving a congregation far from Colombo, the largest city. Riding together on one bicycle, as so many do in this country, we had just a short journey to make to visit a fellow Witness. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, like a cobra a truck hit us.
As the doctors gave up hope of saving Henry, they turned their undivided attention to me. Weak as I was, the urgent need to advise them of my determination to respect Jehovah’s law to abstain from blood filled my heart. (Acts 15:28, 29) I must let them know. I gathered what little strength I had to speak: “A piece of paper, please.” I laboriously wrote my convictions down and signed the paper. And then the fight began.
I was given first aid. It was only too obvious that I was very seriously injured. My determination to act as a true Christian filled my every fiber—this was not yet the time to grieve.
They Refused to Operate Without Blood
For nine days the battle regarding a blood transfusion continued—my fight to live in harmony with my conscience by refusing it, the doctors’ fight to convince me to accept it. Although they had the skills, they simply refused to operate without blood. The wound was a major one and needed their immediate attention.
But I did not have to fight the battle alone. Jehovah was with me every moment. And the brotherhood of Jehovah’s people was full of loving concern. Colombo was 250 miles away. Dr. Perrin Jayasekera, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, arranged for his fleshly brother, a surgeon there, to admit me to Colombo General Hospital.
Lasting nearly 24 hours, that trip in the rear of a van over rough roads seemed by far the longest trip of my life. Yet, my heart was filled with gratitude to Jehovah for his loving care, just as it had been ever since I first learned the truth in my native country, India. There was now, however, no one of my own by my side. But what had brought me to Sri Lanka in the first place?
I was born to Roman Catholic parents in the state of Kerala, India. We spoke Malayalam. English was a school subject. How glad I am that I used the opportunity to learn it well! That part of India has a large population of people claiming to be Christian. Tradition says that the apostle Thomas brought Christianity to Kerala in the first century. In any case, over 1,400 years later, when the Roman Catholic Portuguese colonizers led by Vasco da Gama arrived in Kerala, they were surprised to find many there who already believed in Christ.
Challenging Decisions to Make
When my family began to learn the enlightening truths from the Bible with the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses, my natural desire was to share this truth with those professing Christianity in my community. So I became a pioneer, a full-time minister, shortly after my dedication and baptism. This meant rejecting the offer of an excellent position as a teacher in my home State. Having the apparent security that such a pensionable position gives is the goal of many young Indians, but my purpose in life had changed. I wanted real security, and that could be found only under Jehovah’s protective hand.
Two years later, a new challenge. Would I be willing to move to another part of India to help where there was a greater need for preachers? It posed the challenge of learning a new language, Tamil, and helping people from a very different religious background, this time Hindu. Yes, the opportunity to demonstrate my appreciation to Jehovah made all the changes worthwhile. Witnessing to those warm, friendly people from a Hindu background was a joy indeed. They could easily accept that we are nearing the end of Kali Yuga (the Wicked Age) and that something far better lies just ahead for those acting righteously now. However, helping them see the difference between true Christianity and what they had experienced from the West was a great challenge. How often I opened my Bible to Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Mohandas Gandhi had said it well: ‘I love Christ, but I despise Christians because they do not live as Christ lived.’
Many Hindus are finding, just as I had found, that there is a lot of truth in that statement. And now they also observe that many of their fellow Hindus act little differently from those from the West who hypocritically profess Christianity. But Jehovah’s Witnesses are so very different. Hindus by the thousands are beginning to realize that.
A New Partner, a New Test of Integrity
Two and a half years passed. The “Everlasting Good News” Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses was being held worldwide during 1963. One of the venues was New Delhi, in the north of the country. What a memorable convention! And there I met Henry Abraham. Both of us were looking for someone with whom to share our lives of devotion to Jehovah. Five months later we married.
He had been trained at the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in New York State and then sent back to his native land, Sri Lanka, where the need was very great. I hoped he would be willing to move to India, where I felt the need was even greater. But that was not to be. He was needed where he was. So my home became this lovely island of Sri Lanka. Happily, Tamil and English are very useful here. So I did not have to learn another language—then. We enjoyed 18 happy years together in Jehovah’s service before tragedy struck in the form of the speeding truck.
But now I was in Colombo, and my fight to live without compromising my integrity by blood transfusion continued. Now my life was in jeopardy, not because of my stand on blood, but because of the delay in treatment.
A plastic surgeon with a Buddhist background and an orthopedic surgeon with a Hindu background joined to offer their skills in my behalf. My blood count (hemoglobin) was now down to about four.
How to amputate at the thigh with so little blood? My determination was clear, but would these two surgeons be willing to give me the assistance I had previously been refused? Their courage in accepting this tremendous challenge without trying to force me to compromise my conscience was outstanding. I lost my leg, but my life was saved, and my integrity to Jehovah was intact.
Without the husband I loved so much, a totally new chapter in my life was now opening. First with crutches, then with a prosthesis (later, through the kindness of many brothers and sisters, replaced by a much-improved artificial leg), I was able to continue in my ministry. Grief slowly gave way to activity.
Should I return to India and live among unbelieving relatives? The marvelous Biblical example of another widow by the name of Ruth was crystal clear. I too wanted to be where I could serve Jehovah to the very best of my now somewhat reduced ability. Sri Lanka is still my home.—Ruth 1:16, 17.
A Challenging Territory
These past 11 years have passed quickly. There has been “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) I keep busy in the field ministry in Colombo. Here are people from very diverse religious backgrounds—Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, nominal Christian, and others. The challenges continue.
Each month a few of us spend a weekend visiting one of the towns to the south where there are still no groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The vast majority profess Buddhism, and their language is Sinhalese. Learning to help these people has become very important to me.
Much like the Hindus in India and throughout Sri Lanka, Buddhists have been turned away from the Bible by the conduct of the so-called Christians of the West. Yet, their basic Buddhist principles, the famous Eightfold Path of right thought and right conduct (right belief, intention, speech, action, living, endeavor, thought, meditation), are but imperfect human wisdom compared to the divine principles found in the Bible, most of which was written centuries prior to Siddhārtha Gautama.
When Siddhārtha Gautama spoke to the Kalamas as quoted in the Kalama Sutta, he said: “Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition.” How very strange that I should have the privilege of reminding many sincere Buddhists that if that guidance is applied today, no one could believe the myth of evolution or deny the existence of a Creator.
The End of Wickedness Is Near
Jehovah’s Witnesses have many good things from the Bible to tell these people—about the kalpa vinasha, the end of wickedness, that is so near. The Bible’s 1,900-year-old prophecy on this is found at 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13. We also have the privilege of showing them that the place to look for preservation through these times is not the religions of the West or the East but, as 2Ti 3 verses 16 and 17 of that same chapter show, Jehovah’s own inspired Word, the Bible.
Buddhism is a search for enlightenment. In the Bible, long before Siddhārtha Gautama began his own search, the true cause of suffering was clearly explained. (Genesis 3:1-19) Rebellion against righteous law right at the beginning of human history brought unhappy results—sickness and death, which spread inevitably to all human sinners. Troubling questions come up in the minds of many—as at Habakkuk 1:3: “Why is it that you make me see what is hurtful, and you keep looking upon mere trouble? And why are despoiling and violence in front of me, and why does quarreling occur, and why is strife carried?” Only the compassionate Creator can supply the answers and design a means of restoring permanently that which was lost. Even now, millions worldwide are benefiting from the practical wisdom of God’s Word. And so now Sinhalese, the major language of this country, has become another challenge for me, for in that language I can help those earnestly searching for the enlightenment I found 37 years ago.
Still another challenge. With new branch offices and a translation center for Sri Lanka under construction, more people need to be trained. Slowly I am learning the new language of computers as I assist in the Accounts Department at our branch office.
My 33 years of full-time service to Jehovah have been but a moment in what I hope will be an eternity of serving him. Many have joined us in Jehovah’s service during these years, including the skilled surgeon who arranged both for my admittance to the hospital in Colombo and for the necessary surgery. Now he also is a fellow dedicated Witness of Jehovah.
Jehovah and his family of servants on earth have sustained me so very well. I have felt his protective arms enveloping me, and I know his loyal love holds Henry fast in memory. Only Jehovah can bring my beloved one back from the dust, to allow me to greet him once more, to tell Henry of all the thrilling challenges our generation has brought and how Jehovah has helped us meet them.—As told by Annama Abraham.
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Annama Abraham and her husband, Henry
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Annama witnessing to the tea pluckers working on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka