It was more than a month ago, I had to go for a quick hospital visit as one of our church members was in ICU. She was battling stage 4 bone cancer. She was surrounded by several electronic monitors showing signs of her deteriorating health. She was put on a ventilator.
As soon as she saw me, she was tossing her head in utter dejection and trying to communicate that the pain she was enduring was beyond her capacity. In her utter helplessness, her eyes were welled with tears. When she couldn’t do anything, tears became the only outlet of expressions of her painful experience. Honestly speaking, as I stood helplessly right next to her bed, I struggled even to say a word. I know as her pastor, I was supposed to instil courage and give hope that she had in Christ Jesus. But, within no time, I found myself in the quagmire of emotions. On one hand, I was taken aback by my inability to empathise with her suffering on a level that would comfort her, on the other, I was saddened by the fact that there was no remedy available at hand.
As she was about to be drowned in the sea of sickness, I was stuck not knowing what to do. And, in my utter helplessness, I prayed to the Lord to have mercy on her. Ironically, as much as she needed a Saviour to heal her and to comfort her, I also needed a Saviour to help me empathise with her and to comfort her.
Sister Padmaja passed away just a few days ago. She left this world after battling cancer for more than three years. Let me tell you her story of her background, her faith and her hope in Christ.
Nearly 50 years ago, sister Padmaja was born into a Brahmin family in a village in South India. Her dad was a postmaster. Her mom was a homemaker. She married Benjamin who belonged to a different caste (which was a radical thing to do in those days).
Hinduism is predominantly distinct from other religions because of the complexity of its caste system. Your caste creates your identity in society. The higher your caste within the religion, the higher the honour and the dignity you get. The lower the caste, the lower the honour and dignity. Your identity is inextricably linked with your caste. And, a Brahmin is at the peak of the caste system within the Hindu religion. Sister Padmaja, because of her inter-caste marriage, had to let go of her identity as a Brahmin and take on a new one.
Coming from a different community to live with her newly wedded husband’s family in a new environment would have been challenging for anyone, let alone sister Padmaja. Though her husband’s family was a church-going one, she never felt the urge to go to church or follow Christ. In fact, she was quite annoyed about the aspect of ‘sin’ in the Christian message. It took her a while before the Lord drew her to himself. It was the words of Christ: “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” that captured her heart.
After the Lord gave her a new faith, she engrossed herself in the word of God. She read the Bible from cover-to-cover innumerable times. She soaked herself in the Bible. Her grip on the Word of God makes even a seasoned preacher nervous.
While listening to the sermon, she always took notes. She would not hesitate to give her feedback to the pastor or ask him questions if she had any. Her honest feedback, though I found it overwhelming at times, helped me strive for more balanced preaching.
She had a heart for evangelism and missions. She would be the first one to sign up for when we wanted to share the gospel in different communities. She always counted it as a privilege to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Her heart’s desire was that her family members would come to know Christ as their saviour. Even when she was diagnosed with cancer, she was determined to share the gospel with the cancer patients in the hospital.
Her Hope in Christ:
Around five years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And, later on, it turned into bone cancer. All the while she was suffering, she never skipped attending the church. It was only when the pain became unbearable, she stopped coming to church. During our Wednesday bible study/ prayer meetings, often I used to ask if anyone had any prayer requests and she would never ask us to pray for the healing of her cancer but would pray for God’s healing for the sick. It only showed us the fact she did not abandon her hope in the supernatural healing power of God. She truly believed that God would have healed her had he wanted to, but ultimately, she subjected herself to the will of an all-knowing God. She laid herself entirely into the loving arms of her Saviour. She trusted in God’s faithfulness.
While enduring intense pain due to cancer, there were some who tried to confuse and hurt her with their words. They told her that she must have gotten cancer as a result of her past sin. Some told her that it was an attack of the evil spirits. But, in all that, she was unwavering in her faith. In the midst of pain and mental persecution, she looked to the Lord; the Author and the Finisher of her faith. She anchored her belief to the immovable rock, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Even when we saw her smiling face being faded away and turned into a face deeply disturbed by pain and anxiety towards the end, her faith in her Saviour never faded away. What the Apostle Paul said about himself was a reality in sister Padmaja’s life as well: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness…2 Tim4:7
Now that her journey in this world is over, her endless journey with Christ has begun. The words of the Hymn writer has become a reality in her life:
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of Joy and Peace
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine,
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first began.