Rev. Nungshitula “Atula” Jamir is the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Lowell, Mass. The holder of several academic degrees, Atula has taught at the Discipleship Bible College in India and served as a researcher for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research for the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Conn., prior to assuming her pastorate. She is a native of Nagaland in Northeast India.
I believe the seed to serve in God’s ministry was placed in my heart long ago. I remain firm in my lifelong commitment to serve God in whatever capacity and to whatever service I may be called. For me, our God is a surprising God. I am always reminded about God’s mysterious ways 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 don’t know where the spirit may be leading me on this earth but only believe in its leading. It might be frightening in some ways, but it is thrilling when I am fully aware of God’s presence in my life, to think of what God is going to do in and through my life. I know my life is never fixed, because God’s spirit is working. There are always surprises.
I’m an American Baptist because my ancestors who were introduced to the Baptist tradition nurtured me in the same faith, particularly demonstrating in their daily existence the joy, freedom, risk, responsibility, and excitement of Christian life. I am blessed to be an American Baptist for the distinct beliefs and practices that we hold. I am deeply convinced by the “priesthood of all believers” where every member is called to serve. American Baptists’ awareness of the socio-economic condition of people locally and globally is remarkable. I value the American Baptists’ shared efforts in having conversations and dialogue with one another, across denominations and other faiths for common good; our ecumenical spirit and our involvement in the worldwide outreach and relationships maintained through active engagement in the work for peace, justice and empowerment. Being one of the most diverse and inclusive church bodies, our denomination values the autonomy of local churches, which is more relevant now than ever in the churches’ arrangement of worship style, mission and other developments within one’s own given context. I faithfully and willingly remain an American Baptist because of the freedom I have in serving God in the compassionate openness shared in the American Baptist Churches USA family.
I first received the gift of faith while I was in high school in India in 1985. I attended a summer youth camp in my village, and the preacher preached on John 3:16. I had heard that message many times before and had even memorized that verse, but that evening God’s living compassion pierced the depth my heart. I felt the preacher’s message was directed at me: God loves me as much as God loves God’s own child! The Holy Spirit completely took charge of my life. The seed that was nurtured through the years had rooted deeply and the tree in me that was growing suddenly blossomed in my strong desire to serve God. I knelt on the floor, cried and prayed and gave my heart to God. I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and surrendered my life to him. I came home a new person with a different perspective on life.
The first experience in church I remember was in my village church. Sunday mornings were dramatically busy but happy at home because it was church day. I remember my father warming water over a big fire to give us a bath, wear our Sunday clothes. I can still see in my mind’s eye my tiny hand stretched out to put a coin in the offering bag. I vividly remember the performances I did in church – reciting poems and scripture verses, singing, acting in skits. Church helped me develop skills in public speaking. The older youth taught us tirelessly and with dedication.
The greatest challenge facing the church today is fear, fear that the church will disappear, fear to let go of things that no longer work, fear of irrelevance, fear of being left behind in this glittery fast-paced world, fear of people and power, fear of insufficiency, fear of change. Fear has gripped churches so strong that it is like walking on eggshells.
I pray constantly for God’s guidance in my life as I serve a congregation, and as I try to be accountable to God and God’s people. I pray for less grief in the world and for people to cultivate more blissful imaginations that would make the boundaries between different groups of people dissolve.
I struggle most with my personal life to take care of myself. I know that self-care is a faith component but when things need to get done, when needs arise, I start my body engine and throw away the key. I struggle with the desire to accomplish more, but often feel helpless about getting things done.
I’m most passionate about a theology of flourishing, about healing and fulfillment of life on earth especially in respect to the lives of women, girls, nature and “the other” who are oppressed and exploited, and whose lives disappear unnoticed. This passion includes respect for and compassion for welcoming others into one’s heart.
Ten years from now the church will still be thinking critically and faithfully about what it means to be the church of Christ in the world. The church will stand firm in her understanding of the core of the Gospel of God’s love and care for creation, and will be struggling against everything that works against the Gospel. The church will engage and respond purposefully to liberate and transform the human spirit. Influenced by Christ’s principles of life, the church will be empowered by God’s love to engage in concrete ways with people’s realities. The church will not cease taking on the role of relevance.
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