I was born in Fiji to a Hindu family. My father was a poor farmer but he had great hopes for us. He dreamed that one day I would become a lawyer. It didn’t happen. And there’s a curious reason why.
By the time I got to university I began running in a rough crowd. We were involved in drug dealing on campus. Marijuana mostly but some of the group also dealt cocaine. Our leader was from China. The money I earned was helpful but it really wasn’t the reason I got involved; I was looking for a place to fit in and this group made me feel like I belonged.
Like most uni students I wasn’t sure where I’d end up philosophically or spiritually. I was open to all the world had to offer. Well, not entirely open. I’d met a few Seventh-day Adventists over the years and I didn’t like what I saw. I liked to fit in with what was going on around me. That’s why the group I was hanging out with was so attractive to me. We all did the same things; we all went along with each other. But the Adventists I met? They were the opposite. They didn’t compromise their own judgement just to fit in. They seemed out of step with society. And their unique style really grated on me.
One day I was walking down the street and saw a little kid handing out fliers. I tried to avoid him but he locked in on me. He ran up and thrust the paper into my hand and invited me to an Adventist outreach. I felt genuine loathing well up in me. He looked me right in the eyes and said, “This is for you.”
He was just a kid but the way he looked at me and what he said really had a big impact. I wanted to tell him to get away from me. I stuffed the paper into my purse and went about my day. When I got home I put it in on my table. There was something about that invite that was like a pebble in my shoe—I just couldn’t ignore it.
At the same time my sister was telling me about a banner stretched across a nearby street, advertising an evangelistic meeting to be conducted by Adventist Church and Fulton College students. I took the flier and tossed it to her, saying, "This may be of interest to you."
She left the invite on the table in our living room. Next time I was there I saw it staring back at me so I removed it and placed it on the refrigerator door. Next time I was taking something out of the fridge my eyes caught a glimpse of it so I kept changing the place of that invite around our house until somehow it ended up in my room. While in my room I looked at it carefully and I heard a voice inside me for the first time in my life: “If Jesus Christ doesn’t exist why does He bother you so much?”
I decided there was nothing to be afraid of. I would go and check out the evangelistic series. I bent my sister’s arm and off the two of us went. It turned out we were the only two Fijians of Indian descent in attendance. You might think we’d feel very out of place considering some of the tensions between the communities in Fiji at the time but it wasn’t like that at all. People treated us very well—they were loving and welcoming.
Eventually I decided to make a stand for Christ. It was very uncomfortable at home. When I eventually told my dad he was furious. He had so many high hopes for me and they were all destroyed. I wasn’t going to be a Hindu anymore. I wasn’t going to study law. I wasn’t going to be the daughter he thought he would have. It was shattering. He told me he wanted nothing more to do with me. I was devastated. But I was also determined to follow Christ.
My dad wasn’t the only one who I had to tell. I went to my gang and told them my days of running with them were over. It didn’t go over well. The leader of the gang began following and threatening me. He became a stalker—it was very intimidating. We had a number of confrontations in which he described terrible things he was going to do to me if I didn’t rejoin the gang. Eventually I blurted out, “If you are going to kill me, kill me, because I’m never going back to that life, never!” He was taken aback. From then on he left me alone.
He was in truth a very nasty guy. I had every reason to be afraid. And I didn’t doubt he was willing to hurt me—and maybe even kill me. Not long after, however, something terrible happened. He got mixed up in a deal that went bad and he was killed. It was a reminder to me how fortunate I was to be pulled out of that life by our God of love. I was now one of those people who marched to the beat of a different Drummer. And I was so glad I did!
I decided to go to Fulton College to study ministry. In our ethnic and religious cultures this was very unusual. Women were generally in support roles, not leading. God called me to be different and I was ready to be as different as He wanted. I had no money and my dad had withdrawn all support. I said to him, “I’m going to go and study and, if God is real, He will provide the necessary resources.” You know what? He did provide. It was remarkable. To his credit, my dad came to my graduation. I think he saw God working too.
After finishing my diploma I spent two years as a pastoral intern. They were two good years. And then I was given a church to pastor. I’m not going to lie, it was tough. Yes, there were many very good experiences but there were people who saw a woman in ministry as something to be resisted. There were days I went home and just cried out in despair to God. I wanted to quit. Maybe my dad was right: I should just go back and be a lawyer. At least in the secular world I would be respected. But every time I felt the tug of God to stay the course. I’d tried to live life my own way before, and made a mess of it. I decided that, no matter the pain, I would stay on God’s path for my life. And just as well.
After five years in ministry I went to Pacific Adventist University (PAU) in Papua New Guinea to complete my BA. It was a very rich intellectual and cultural experience. It opened my eyes and it opened doors. It was at PAU that I met a Pakistani guy named Younis. As you probably know, there isn’t a lot of love lost between Indians and Pakistanis. The two nations have fought a number of wars and there are periodic outbreaks of terrorism and communal violence in which many Hindus and Muslims have been slaughtered. I wondered, “What is a guy from Pakistan doing here in PNG?” It seemed a bit strange.
And it was a bit strange—but in the best sense. There was something about Younis that just drew us together. It was while we were at PAU I met Branimir and Danijela Schubert. It turned out that they had gotten to know Younis when he was a young man in Pakistan—he did yard work for them. He, too, came from a very poor family. And it was through their influence that he ended up at PAU. They have played a very important part in our lives ever since—encouraging and nurturing us. At PAU we also met the Taskers. They are another family that has played a very important role in our lives. They are an inspiration to us!
After PAU we both went to Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) in the Philippines and did our Masters degrees there for three years. People were just so generous to us. Joy Butler, who was director of Women’s Ministries, arranged some sponsorship for me, and Kelvin Peuser, Paul Petersen and his friends arranged sponsorship for us, and a number of others. To this day I can’t express just how thankful we are to these members of our Church family. We got married at AIIAS and after finishing our studies went to Fiji to work at Fulton College. We spent five years lecturing at Fulton before we were called to South New Zealand Conference.
Almost two years ago I was called to pastor Invercargill church. Younis and I had decided that our academic work was enjoyable and satisfying but we really needed more practical ministry experience. After all, how can you teach pastoral trainees if you don’t have a wealth of practical experience yourself? My parents had moved to Auckland in the interim. So we were so happy to come to New Zealand. Younis is my associate pastor. It’s a unique arrangement but it seems to be working well. We have always seen ourselves as a team.
Our church is growing. In 2014 we had 20 baptisms. In 2013 we had 22. In the past three years we have had almost 80 new people join our church. There is a real love—a sense of family. It isn’t all smooth sailing—the church had a split a few years ago so we have two church groups now in small Invercargill. I sometimes wonder, if we can’t get along here on earth how are we going to get along in heaven? I hope history and hurts can be buried and we can reunite as a single church, unified in the love of Jesus Christ and His truth.
But as sad as that split is, God has blessed. The church growth we’ve experienced over the past couple of years has resulted in the church being more full today than it was before the split. But there is a lot of work to do. We need to ensure we retain our new members. We need to strengthen our community in the faith. We all have a very long way to go to grow to full maturity in Christ.
I don’t know what God has planned for us in the future. But what I do know is that I can trust in Him. And no matter what comes my way that is precisely what I intend to do. I want to be strong—just like those Adventists I once hated—not in myself, but strong because Jesus lives in my heart. Does He live in your heart?
Romina Masih is senior pastor of Invercargill church, New Zealand. She shared her story with James Standish at Invercargill church camp.