Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Atula Jamir. Atula IS what a minister looks like!
Atula, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Imagine God’s hand reaching out to us and clasping our hands to take us all the way, revealing God’s plan and purpose. I grew up in a happy and God-fearing home. My parents are devout Christians and they put God at the center of our family. My siblings and I were brought to God very early in life. Everyday, after dinner, we would gather in the living room, sing a hymn, read a scripture passage, my parents would exhort us, collect prayer items and pray together. My mother was the leading torch, the shining star, and the glorious angelic voice. Nurtured in such an environment, I think God held my hand a long time ago.
To be in God’s ministry, I believe, the seed was planted in me in my childhood, which nothing could take away from me. After dedicating my life to Christ, I went for my theological studies. Passionate about teaching, I took a senior faculty position at the Discipleship Bible College in India. I taught Systematic Theology, Christian Ethics, and English and also served as the campus chaplain and advisor in the College Sunday School Department. I also had the privilege to serve as a visiting lecturer at the Working People’s Bible College in India.
During my years of teaching, I felt the need for adequate theological knowledge to address the complex issues that confronted my ministry and to seriously explore a sound theological basis for Christian social responsibility. I desired for wider understanding of people’s perspectives so that I could engage with them and be more sensitive to the real life issues in a changing, diverse, and global world, which would deepen and strengthen my faith and theology. So, I prayerfully decided to seek further theological education in the United States of America at Yale Divinity School and Boston University respectively. I sought every chance to teach and found the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant at BU. My desire to serve God was fixed, but God in God’s mystery led me to places I never imagined.
Ten years ago, one of my beloved mentors asked me if I would be willing to preach in his place at a church. I said, “yes.” A couple of weeks later, the same mentor asked me if I could preach for him at another church. I said, “yes.” Unbeknownst to me, some of the members of the previous church I preached were present. That same month this church asked me if I would be willing to serve as their pastor. I said, “yes.” The amazing, surprising, compassionate, and living God called me to Calvary Baptist Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. I am still there with them serving the Lord together!
I set my heart and mind on one goal—to teach in a theological school, and God’s heart for me was set on another part of God’s Kin-dom. That’s why for me, God is a surprising God whose mysterious ways are recorded in John 3:8: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I will never fully know where the Spirit is leading me but what I know is to just believe in its leading. It is frightening in some ways but quite exciting to think and anticipate that God is going to do something in and through my life.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
Life as a pastor has brought me in touch with the real world and real people. There is immense joy in growing together with the people you serve, sharing their joys, as well as pain and struggles, and they trusting you with their lives. I remember a lovely elderly woman who had always looked forward for my visit. Some years ago, when she got very ill, she asked for me. I asked her if there was anything I could do for her, and she said, “be who you are. I like you the way you are. I love you.” She was a woman of deep gratitude. She thanked me profusely for my visits and being her good friend. The gratitude was mutual because I know I too had found a good friend in her. We were friends from the heart. We didn’t talk much when we met; we just held each other’s hands. On her sickbed, she asked me to help her to go peacefully to heaven. “Will you, will you,” she asked. I said, “Yes, I will.” Deep down in my heart I cried out to God, “I need your help to help my friend.” We read Psalms 23 and 121, imagining we were there. She smiled and nodded her head. She has long gone to be with the Lord; to be in that place we imagined walking together.
It is an unimaginable joy to know that God’s call on my life includes this compassionate gift to offer peace, comfort, and hope to the dying and the bereft. I cannot fathom the profundity of this privilege. I ask myself, “Who am I to do this?” But God has God’s way of claiming us and filling us. God reassures, “Don’t worry, just do it. I have already set before you the message. Don’t you know I am the life-giving Christ?”
The greatest joy in ministry is to be reminded everyday that the path I took, and am taking is a unique way to ministry, to meaningful engagement. This call is not a privilege just for myself but I am playing a part in the larger whole, to lead, serve, and nurture the community of faith where I am placed.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Cultural barrier and confronting the reality of prejudice is a challenge. Being immersed in the diversity of people and culture is deeper than we imagine. Intentional communication, education, conversations, and get-togethers transcend all cultural barriers, which, most of the time happens in the sharing of meals. Friendships are forged and the kindness of the people is seen at their best as they mingle and share the food that has come from their kitchens to a community table. We are introduced to a vast spectrum of potentials for communication that conveys love, appreciation, respect, trust, humor and solidarity. Every little thing that is different becomes the bridge to all generations and cultures. We emerge out of the immersion in diversity transformed from the assumption, “they are different from us” to “we are meant to respect and enjoy each other.”
The once pungent smell becomes a comforting aroma because that smell now represents the friends we know and come to love and respect. We begin to understand the commonalities we have as human beings, acknowledge our cultural differences, and respect our individuality. In our friendship, we actually experience and manifest God’s perspective on inclusivity, creativity, and redemptive living. We affirm the importance of one’s stories of life and the practices that have shaped them, which becomes a meaningful part of our communities’ beliefs and practices. In our visits into each other’s lives, we enter into transformational moments. Barriers fade in our willingness and openness to partnership, and begin to have a strong presence in each other’s lives, leading to faith that moves us to return to the heart of the Gospel again and again. In embracing our beautiful diversity, we make the amazing realization that each story, each community in all its ordinariness becomes the place where God’s redemptive operation is unveiled. Our sense of awareness sharpens with deepened humility, and we become positively alive!
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
When I left my country to come to the U.S., my parents, who are my spiritual companions and mentors in my faith journey, sent me with this priceless gift: “We will pray for you without ceasing.” My father said: “You are going over the mountains and hills, and valleys, across the seas and oceans, for God’s work. Wherever you may be, serve God faithfully and love the people sincerely.” My father’s voice is etched deep in my heart. These words coming from a gentle soul who himself has served his community throughout his life with deep faith and humility, is my rare inspiration.