Immigrant couple finds friendship, ministry
Roopa N.* arrived from India in Richmond, Virginia's capital city, in 2001. She was young, well-educated, tech-savvy, fluent in English. She had all the tools for personal and professional success. She also was newly married to Tagore, another young Indian with bright career prospects.
But she felt alone. Achingly alone.
"I was raised by a very religious family," Roopa recalled of her Christian upbringing in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. "Whenever I needed something, I used to go to my mom and dad, and they prayed for me. But after I got married and came to the USA, I started feeling really lonely here. There weren't many Indians that I could connect with at that time. I was also feeling spiritually dry."
Tagore grew up in a Christian family back in India, too, but had never truly committed his life to Christ. They both landed jobs with a major health insurance company in Richmond, but encountered few other Indian immigrants in those early days. They visited a church across the street from their apartment a few times. People were civil there, but no one introduced themselves or started a conversation.
"Is this what life in America is like?" Roopa wondered. Work hard, make money, go home, waste away in isolation?
Enter Jayne K.*, a member of Grace Community Baptist Church, a small congregation in the western suburbs of Richmond.
Jayne, a busy stay-at-home mom, was part of a Bible study group geared toward Asian women. When a former International Mission Board missionary who started the study moved to another state, Jayne agreed to lead the group, which included immigrants from Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia and India. Jayne, who is married to a third-generation Japanese-American, had long nurtured a warm spot in her heart for Asian women and their spiritual needs. Another Indian in the group introduced Roopa to Jayne, who offered to give her rides to group meetings.
That's all it took. A smile. A friendly face. An invitation.
"I just wanted to love her and give her a group of women to be with, because she was new to this country," Jayne said. "She was the one who asked me later, 'Where do you go to church? I want to come to your church.'"
When Roopa and Tagore visited Grace, they found the same kind of warmth.
"The first day, everybody was very friendly and they were like, 'Hey, how are you? Where are you from?' They were very welcoming and made us really feel at home and connected," Roopa said. "That day we decided we were going to come to Grace from now on."
That was more than a decade ago. Today, Tagore and Roopa -- and the two children they've added to the family -- remain a vital part of Grace. Roopa found the friendship and spiritual support she needed. Now she reaches out to other Indian women, especially Hindus, who need a friend. Tagore got serious about his Christian faith and was discipled by mature believers in the church. Now he's discipling others -- and even leading in the translation of discipleship materials into his native language of Telegu for use in America and India.
Other Indian families have followed them into the church. And "In His Grip," a community-wide Indian fellowship that opens its arms to Christians and seekers alike, has found a friendly location at the church for its weekly worship, Bible study and fellowship.
"Actually, we call 'In His Grip' a family more than a fellowship," Roopa said. "The intent is to make everyone who comes feel like family, to share brotherly and sisterly love."
A minority among Indians
Christians are a minority among Indians in Richmond. Most are Hindus; some are Muslims and Sikhs. The Indian believers of Grace and "In His Grip" see it as their mission to reach those who need to know that Jesus is Lord.
Suresh V.,* the elder leader of the fellowship, explained how he works as a software engineer, but he sees his occupation as secondary work, "because we are called to be full-time ministers in the Lord."
"There is now a big mission field right here made up of Indians, primarily Hindu Indians," Suresh said. "So it's a great opportunity for us. God has used all of us in different ways to reach out to non-Christian friends. Because of personal interaction between friends and sharing of the Gospel, we have seen a great number of people who have accepted Christ."
Their activities include everything from evangelistic concerts and speakers to Christmas caroling in the community. They even took a cross-country road trip a few years ago, praying on-site in key cities all the way to the West Coast and back. And now they're touching India itself through Telegu-language discipleship training.
"We are growing in number, and at the same time we're really understanding the greatest command that God has given us is to share the Gospel," Tagore said. "Through that we are reaching back; it's always on our minds that we pray for India, especially for the believers as well as unreached people groups."
Just love people
Jayne, who shared that first smile with a lonely young woman years ago, puts it this way:
"I feel like a little link in a big, long chain. But really it was God," she said. "Who knew that when we were reaching out to this young woman, God would use her and her husband to start this? If you can just reach out and love somebody who needs a friendly face, take that opportunity."
*Last name omitted for security.