This is actually my ‘academic’ testimony, in note form. When you read it, you will see what makes it “academic”. Basically I believe that God’s salvation works throughout our lives; while we are saved from our sins through Jesus’ death and resurrection, that same death and resurrection enables God to constantly save/redeem us on multiple levels. This is the story of how God saved my mind. (updated on 4 April, 2016.)

Introduction

1. I am writing this testimony in a different-from-usual style. I write this while I am not necessarily academically successful; nor am I writing this from a happy-all-is-well-in-my-life phase.

2. But somewhere deep down I have hope.

3. Where does this hope come from? Not simply from Christian doctrines, but by lived experience. I’ve seen it!

4. I therefore share this small story with you, partly to encourage you, but largely to remind myself that the God of my past is the God of my future.

As a poor (weak) student

5. Ever since I can remember I have been a poor (weak) student. I left Wynberg, my first school, to join a school in Delhi. I couldn’t get admission to any because I kept failing the entrance exams.

6. I eventually got admission to the 6th standard of the school in Gurgaon, a small town back then. I attended the school for about 5 months. At the end of the period, I received a transfer certificate with an academic rating. The highest rating, 1, stated that the student was extremely bright, a delight to have in class. Rating 2, was that the student worked hard and had a lot of promise. My sister, who had just started KG, was given a 3 rating, for a student who is either lazy, or unable to understand. I was given rating number 4, a student with very little hope.

7. In my new school (Woodstock), which I got in without an entrance exam (grace of God!), not much improved. I hardly understood anything that I was reading. And the only way I tried to survive in class was by trying to impress my teachers with my questions. At  Woodstock, class participation helped your grade, and so, for each class, I’d make sure I would ask about 2-3 interesting questions based on the class lectures, but not really pay attention to the answer. Eventually I would do poorly in my tests, but my teachers would be surprised, and at least give me high effort marks, thinking perhaps I probably didn’t do well in examinations  By some grace, my high-school grades “improved” to the  “B”s range. For a few classes, though, I remained at the “C” level.

8. I remember that once in my Physics exam, we had a multiple choice paper. When my final results came, the teacher told the class that even if a monkey had randomly marked the test paper he would have gotten more points than me. I got 9 out of 100 for that paper. I had learned my lesson though, and in the next major exam, I took dice and for each answer I would roll the dice and choose the best option. It worked, I got a “C” grade and passed!

9. That was basically how I went through my school days.

Early days at college, not much had changed

10. I got into the prestigious St. Stephen’s College, Delhi for my BA simply because of 2 reasons. I got into Stephen’s because my final percentage did not reflect my ability. In Woodstock we didn’t have board exams, so we were given a marksheet based on grades. By my 12th I had done some average work, and I got the average grade of “B”. However, again through grace, this average grade was converted into an acceptable percentage of 84%

11. But there were many more smarter people than me, with higher percentages, who didn’t get in. I got in, it turned out, because just that year (1992) St. Stephen’s College won a supreme Court ruling allowing a 50% reservation for Christian students. The good thing for me was that many Christians came with less than 80% to apply. With my 84% I was thought to be good enough and (blindly) accepted through the Christian quota. Grace for me, certainly.

12. My first year of college was also the year when Cable TV was introduced in India. And so every single day, after returning home by 3 in the afternoon, I would watch a movies from 3 to 6, from 6 to 9, and from 9 to 12. Yes, three movies a day. It didn’t matter what was coming, I’d just watch, and watch, and watch. Not surprisingly I hadn’t done any studying.

Turning point

13. About one month before my final exams I had a spiritual breakthrough. I knew that I hadn’t done any studying, but it was my spiritual life that worried me. I was very critical of my fellow Christians at Church, and I was living an isolated life from other believers, complaining about the lack of fellowship. It was then, in February 1993, that I recommitted myself to God; saying that I didn’t care whether I passed or failed in college. I just wanted to fix my spiritual life.

14. I started reading the Bible more, I started praying more, and started mixing with other believers.

15. Exam time drew nearer, and I did what most people do in universities. I bought a guide, a condensed (abridged) version of the novels I was supposed to read, prepared basic questions that I guessed would come, and attempted my exam paper.

16. when the results were about to be announced I had begun focussing on my spiritual life and it had improved. So I actually wanted to either get a first division (pass with flying colours) and say “God glorified my commitment” or I wanted to fail and say, “God confirmed my calling to serve him most”. I did neither, I got a low Third Division (poor C grade) in my first year. I had passed, but just barely.

Breakthrough

17. In my second year a few unexpected things happened that I can only term as the providential beginnings towards my breakthrough. My parents moved to Mumbai from Delhi so I was admitted to the college hostel. (meaning no more TV)

18. Then, I started having a bible study with some of my friends in my room.

19. Also, because I was in the hostel, I was able to spend more time in the library, and at church, with other believers.

20. And somehow, almost simultaneously with my growing interest in the Bible, I started being interested in one or two books I was supposed to be reading.

21. This was the first time I was interested in anything related to studying. And I actually didn’t even notice that I was enjoying “studies”.

22. By the time exam time came, I had actually spent some time preparing, not just relying on short-cut study methods and made it to a low second division (about a B grade).

23. For the first time I felt a sense of academic satisfaction. A feeling that I studied for something and got a good result out of it. I was happy.

24. But something more remarkable happened in my third year. By the time my final exams were approaching, I was having group discussions with fellow students, teaching/sharing concepts in the literature that we were reading. My enjoyment had made me proficient enough to help others!

25. This was truly amazing, and I got a first division (A) in all my papers except one, which brought my average down. But I didn’t care. I’d never gotten a first division in anything, and I was really happy, thinking the lessons I had to learn had already been learned.

Next phase: Filmfare to SAIACS to Woodstock and Back

26. I joined Filmfare magazine in June 1995, and I met one of the most eccentric editors in the journalism business. To cut a long story short, if I ever had a feeling that I knew how to write, he forced me (us) to completely change our styles to suit his.

27. the result, I learned to manipulate my writing for different purposes.

28. What does this have to do with my life? Nothing, I thought, but God had other plans.

29. In 1998 I joined the SAIACS MA programme partly by accident, and partly because I wanted to do “something for the Lord.”

30. And for the first time in my life, I started getting As in everything. No matter what I wrote, I would get an A. I even wrote a book review saying I didn’t like a book, and I’d get an A. I’d be given an assignment and I’d completely change it according to my own purpose and I’d get an A.

31. Only I knew the irony of this. I had never ever gotten A’s so consistently. And now it was just so easy.

32. As a final requirement for my MA, I opted to do a MA level thesis. And choosing a difficult topic, it was sent to UTC for correcting. And what grade did I get? You guessed it… A. But the examiner did add one thing, he said, “I pray that this man will take academics seriously.”

33. Initially I ignored this statement and left SAIACS to become a teacher at Woodstock school. I taught publications, journalism, and some religious education. I thrived with my SAIACS education, but God kept speaking to me louder and louder, “Take academics seriously”.

34. Until finally, and confirmed by my by-then wife S., we felt a very strong push by God to go to SAIACS to do just that.

35. We resisted. I didn’t think Christian work was my primary calling. But now I got a clearer sense of God’s purpose.

36. My wife and I joined SAIACS in 2003, and now for the first time since my transformation, I began to struggle again. But this time, my academic struggle was in just another level. I started dealing with issues that I would have never thought of dealing with before. I found myself reading many books on one issue, when earlier, just finishing the assignment was important. I was becoming an academician, working with ideas, being able to express them in multiple ways, being able to relate multiple ideas with the Bible.

37. And for a person like me, with my history, the irony was all the more stark.

To the PhD

38. In 2005, I finished my MTh, and the following years I started my PhD programme. If I thought MTh was hard, PhD was harder. I was now in a more difficult situation, finding myself struggling with reading requirements, multiple thoughts, and lack of clarity. In fact, I felt like the student I once was before, I remembered my school days, but only this time there was no one to fool but yourself. If I did a bad job, only my own work suffered. Neither grade, nor teacher’s approval could save me.

39. But I had a hope. I knew that what I had was a gift. My mind was blank when I was a child, and the Lord, through his grace, gave me a love and desire to understand. He opened my mind to new things, and gave me the ability to study. What I was now was clearly fashioned by him.

40. To the extent that I felt tremendously weak and unable, I knew that the same grace that led me through my early days of school, the helped me understand in college, that opened my mind to his word at SAIACS, that same grace from that same God would pull me through.

41. And eventually, in 2012, I finished my dissertation. I don’t want it to look like I’m bragging. Because honestly, the title does not mean much to me. But it was that struggle, and God helping me through that struggle, that I celebrated. It was so awesome that I, such a poor student, was able to produce work that was “good”. (at least in the eyes of a few).

Now

42. Now, I’m a teacher. At times, it feels natural. At times I can hardly believe.

43. But I also know that I, of all people, know what it means to have a mind that is closed. I know how I just wanted to pass, and had no desire for anything else. And yet, God was not satisfied with that life for me. He wanted me to think deeper, to read his word, and even read the “world”. And that for me is education, that for me is helping a student improve.

44. But I am afraid. I feel weak. In the words of my mentor, I often fear that I’ll be exposed as a fraud, as one who knows nothing. That all my learning is derivative, and I have nothing to offer. Honestly, I do fear this.

45. However, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me: he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.” Psalm 34:4-6 For as long as I can remember, these verses have constantly encouraged me, but mainly because I misinterpreted them.

46. When I was in school, when it came time to have yearly results of tests and exams, I would read these verses and think God would not allow me to fail because God will not allow me to suffer the shame of failure. Interestingly, I learned the meaning of these verses more clearly after suffering failure and shame.

47. Now as I read these verses I know life is not about academic success or failure. Even if we fail or succeed in class, it will not be the end of the world. But I have the assurance that God’s plans are so beautiful that as I look to Him I know I need not fear for my future, for he has delivered me, and will deliver me, (and hopefully several others like me) always.

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