Monday, October 26, 2009

Magnificent Mama Mondays

Recently I had the opportunity to attend Gilgal Gospel Mission's (GGM) annual banquet held at Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn. My husband Bill has been the go-to guy for the set up of this yearly event for a few years now, and this year it was impressed upon us that our presence would be greatly appreciated.

It was a night of wonderful Indian food, great conversation, and a sincere message given by Christobel Russeliah, who founded Gilgal Gospel Mission, or GGM, with her late husband Rev. Dr. Chelliah Russeliah. After her husband passed on in May of this year after a long battle with illness, Christobel decided to continue the mission they set out on together 35 years ago-to reach the untouchables, or Dalits, of India, to teach them about Jesus and bring them hope.You can check out her website at the link below to learn more.

She is steadfast in her journey to reach and love the unloved ones of India-and unwavering in her faith. She is admirable no matter what your faith happens to be-simply because she is a kind, generous and loving person. In my opinion, Christobel is one of those truly honestly good people that you don't run into every day. She is a missionary, mama, and grandma also. Please allow me to introduce my sweet friend who lives her life to serve the young, despised, and poor of her homeland.

Christobel Russeliah

How she got her start:

When Christobel was a small girl, she had an unusual upbringing. Born into a nice middle class family, she was given a good education and a loving home. Sounds pretty normal, but further details explain my observation. She was encouraged as a child to speak directly to her father, and to be outspoken and bold. In the Tamil state where she grew up, this was not common. There, the cultural norm for women was very rigid and defined-the roles females play seem limiting and hard to break free from to my American-girl mind. According to Christobel, globally, women coming up in leadership is not easy- but coming up in leadership at all as a woman in South Indian tradition is very hard.

Somehow, she did it.  If you ask her how she grew to become an influential leader in the mission field, she'll simply say it was God's will.

As a new bride at the age of 21, she joined her husband in his daily duties as an Anglican pastor in a large church. Rev. Dr. Chelliah was just 25 at the time of their marriage, but already he had planted a handful of churches starting at the tender age of 16. Daily compulsory house calls were expected of the young pastor, and by 6:30 they would go out to visit the flock. Their Anglican church was large, and every person who attended was of upper-caste, well educated, and spoke English.

Chelliah and Christobel had a bigger goal they were working towards, though-reaching the unreached ones. And by unreached, I mean untouched-literally. The untouchables, or Dalits, were largely ignored-the young couple knew this, and saw a clear vision of the work before them. They knew in their hearts that God was leading them to preach the gospel to the Dalits, and many others residing in remote villages of the southern states of India.

Christobel may have started as a young housewife, but with the encouragement of her husband, she soon ventured out to far flung villages to tell them about God. During our visit, she recalled the many times she'd have to calmly walk past military bases in order to find the remote Hindu villages, often visiting and talking with many folks who lived in one room huts that had stood since the land was colonized by the British.  She told me that yes, she was a bit nervous walking past the military men, but she stood firm in her mission to show compassion to the unloved ones of her land.

Why she does what she does:

Christobel has an unshakable faith in God. She truly thrives in her work. She believes it is the goal and purpose in her life-that's why she was created. Whether she is praying with a person who has not been acknowledged by another in years, helping a child in the orphanage she runs, or spreading words of hope, she is in her element. She is her work, and the work is her.

I asked her if her gender plays a role in the difficulty of her profession and interest. To this she looked at me with her strong, yet warm brown eyes, and told me something I'll not soon forget. She said:

"Women can do anything if their desire is right."

For a lady who was brought up in a very traditional community, that kind of thinking is very forward.

Of course that led to my next question, what she hopes to contribute to the next generation of women?
Her answers were simple, direct, and powerful.

Be courageous.
Keep God in the center of your life.
In every single direction, fulfill God's calling in your life.
Be sincere, honest, genuine, and pure of heart before the sight of God.
Go with what you have, like Gideon.

Who? I thought to myself. As a Sunday school teacher, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I'd only learnt about Gideon by a Veggie Tales movie. (GAH! That hurt to write.But, I have to be honest.)

That and, aren’t Gideons a bunch of old guys who distribute those little vinyl-covered Bibles in hotel rooms? Wanting to honor my friend, I sat down, did some reading and research, and found out about him. Turns out, Gideon sort of reminds me of me.

Gideon was a man who initially lacked self-confidence, but was taught by God to believe in himself and to do God's will. His full story can be found in the Book of Judges in the old testament of the Bible. Gideon is given the seemingly impossible task to conquer a large army who had crossed the Jordan river to battle him and his people. (This is after he had crushed the false idols that the people worshiped.) Gideon was told to win the battle, and free the Israelites. Gideon had a large body of warriors to help him out, but God told him he had too many men backing him up, and instructed Gideon to dismiss the men who were afraid. In verse 3, chapter 7 Judges, I read "And there returned of the people 22,000, and there remained 10,000."

Okay, so Gideon's forces were cut in half. Victory could still be his. If God told me to have a battle royale, I'd be okay with 10,000 people backing me up.

Then, God told him to bring all the men to the water, and perform a little test. Gideon was to bring the men to the water for a little drink, and those who lapped up the water like dogs, face first into the water, were to be sent home. Only three hundred guys brought the water to their mouths with their hands. I can imagine Gideon's mental response to the other 9700 dudes who lapped it up like thirsty dogs. "Jerks! Use your hands!"

Kinda makes me think of guys drinking milk straight from the carton, but I digress.

Anyways, with his now limited resources, Gideon was able to free the Israelites with only three hundred men.

My point in bringing up this story is not to proselytize; I think you all know me better than that. My point is, in her own way, Christobel is trying to say, don't give up, even when the odds seem stacked against you, even when you feel ill-equipped to do your task at hand.

Whether your task is changing one more diaper, untangling one more wet knotty shoelace, or searching for one more way to help your child learn to spell.

Persevere when you need to complete your "impossible" tasks-like washing those five loads of laundry before company comes over, budgeting so you can make the enormous bill that's due by Friday, or sorting out your feelings regarding a sticky family situation that's ultimately going to hurt somehow.

Stand firm in your spot, should you need to decide how much to keep back, which parts to share, what amount to give in abundance, how many to store for that rainy day.

Set your sights solid on how to defend, when to intervene, or how to help the ones you love reach that elusive compromise.

Be encouraged to do what your heart knows is right, resist waffling to conform to popular opinion, and remember that bit about reaping what you are sowing.

Don't waver in your belief in your gifts, your abilities, or your endurance. You can do it, keep on truckin', don't give up, never say quit.

Continue your good fight, remember your purpose, become the path.

Because when our desires are right, we as women can, and have, done just about anything. We've been at it for centuries, and we shouldn't stop now. We can't!

I have been honored to speak with Christobel, a woman who has lived those words I just typed up there. She has unapologetically stood for what she believes in, and offered hope and comfort to a people who might not have been reached if not for her compassionate spirit. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, I hope you have enjoyed reading about this special, strong lady. I hope she inspires you to do your best, and to stay strong in your own daily battles. I sure enjoyed writing about her. She is an example of love and kindness to me, and I'm glad to know her.

Of course, we have one last question-What is your favorite food?

Christobel related to me that when she was younger, she had a very healthy appetite. Now, not so much. In fact, since I first met her two years or so ago, during the occasional times we've seen each other, I have never seen her eat!

She is content to eat just a little, since she feels so fulfilled by her work. But, she does enjoy a dish of India called Biryani, which is rice cooked with veggies, and chicken or lamb, with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cloves, and many other varieties, depending on the recipe's region of origin.

Of course, you may enjoy Christobel's favorite American dish, too-veggie pizza.

Veggie Pizza ala Me!

Sometimes we make varying types of this meal at my house when we are busy but still want home-cooked food.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut a large French bread loaf in half, as if making a sub sandwich. Lay the long halves side by side on a baking or cookie pan, and trim if needed to fit in your oven.

On the loaf halves, spoon pureed or crushed tomatoes on for sauce, straight from the can. Add some spices like basil, oregano, and marjoram. Do sprinkle on some sea salt, if you wish. Try some hot peppers if you are feeling adventurous. Next layer on some sliced or diced veggies-you may want to try green pepper, onion, garlic, mushrooms, broccoli and black olives. You can even buy most of these veggies pre-chopped in the frozen aisle-just remember to thaw them first if you go this route, to ensure proper baking times.

Then add some shredded mozzarella or sliced provolone, and pop in the oven for about 10 minutes, then check the cheese-if it's melted and golden at the edges, you're all done. Or, if you like your veggies cooked a bit longer, try leaving the cheese off while baking the pizza for the first 10 minutes-then take the pizza out of the oven, add some cheese to the loaves, and place them back in for about five more minutes. Voila! Veggie pizza with a minimum of fuss.

Enjoy, have fun, and stay strong!

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