Weddings where Tamarai lived were several-day affairs filled with color, tradition and family. For Tamarai, though, her wedding was just a countdown to the day she was banished to the home of someone she was desperate not to marry. She had grown up knowing a forced marriage was possible, but this man didn't even follow the same religion.
As if their faith meant nothing, Tamarai's Christian parents expected her to give up Jesus for this man's gods. Feeling like she had no other choice, that's exactly what she did.
Parents Give Daughter to Unbelieving Man
Despite living in a part of the world where being a Christian carries heavy risks, Tamarai's parents still claimed the Christian faith as their own—even though they never took it seriously. They were safe in their own community, so they attended church and said they followed Christ. When it came to making decisions, however, God was far from their minds.
In South Asia, families have a variety of reasons to ignore their daughter's input on whom she marries. A well-connected husband can bring status and honor to a family. Lesser husbands at least rid families of "extra mouths to feed."
Tamarai's parents should have known better, but marrying their daughter to this man would help solve their problems. Unfortunately, it was only the beginning of Tamarai's.
New Gods Bring Hardship
After Tamarai married Paandu, she dutifully began following his religious traditions and worshiped his gods. She had never received much from her parents' nominal faith, but these new gods seemed bent on making her miserable.
Her new husband wasn't home much. He worked all day and spent his nights drinking alcohol. Meanwhile, Tamarai began suffering dizzy spells and pain throughout her body. Her doctor didn't know what was wrong, and her health worsened every day.
Still, Tamarai told herself she couldn't simply trade in these new gods for another. As the years passed, she had two children, whose care added to the problems of her alcoholic husband and unexplained illness. Who had time to switch religions a second time? Besides, how would Paandu react?
Even if another god could heal her, she was stuck—unless someone could show her a way out.
Woman Seeks Answers in Secret
Wahab, a recent Bible college graduate, and Ibraheem, a Bible college intern, were new to full-time ministry, but they didn't hesitate when a local believer asked them to visit a woman named Tamarai who had been sick for more than a decade.
"We are serving the Lord, and we came to know that you have not been well for a long time," they said when they arrived at her door. "We would love to pray for you."
After they prayed, Tamarai began pouring out her life's story to them.
"I was born and brought up in a Christian family, but my parents had no fear of God in their lives," she began. "They were living a worldly life. Due to that, there was no blessing in our family."
As Tamarai told her story, the men listened thoughtfully, and then told her to put her faith in the Lord and not lose heart.
"Our God will make all of this right in His time," they said.
Tamarai was encouraged and asked them to come back. When Paandu found out, he forbid any more visits, but Tamarai continued inviting her friends in secret and began attending fellowship meetings.
The men gave her a Bible, which Paandu also forbid her to read, but Tamarai couldn't be dissuaded. As Wahab and Ibraheem continued to pray for Tamarai to have true faith in Jesus, she began to change—and her pain began subsiding, too.
Still, the young men wanted to see God do more in Tamarai's life—to know she wouldn't revert to the nominal faith of her parents or give it up completely when more pressure came. This time, they wanted her to have faith that couldn't be shaken.
Woman Stands Firm in Faith
Wahab and Ibraheem had equipment to show a film about the life of Jesus, and they began fasting and praying for the opportunity to show it in Tamarai's home. One day, while Paandu was out, they got their chance.
As Tamarai and 15 others watched, she felt the Lord speaking to her heart, calling her to love Him. From that day on, there was no question: Her faith would encompass her entire life.
Tamarai began spending time in prayer and rejoiced as Jesus brought her complete spiritual and physical healing.
Seeing his wife healed after a decade of suffering, Paandu stopped voicing his objections to her new faith, and he even came to church a couple of times.
Tamarai prays that one day he will embrace Jesus, too, but even if he doesn't, she's ready to stand firm in her faith. Because of two young men's efforts, she knows truly serving Jesus is greater than a Sunday-morning ritual.
"If I had to forget my husband," she says, "I would do it for my Jesus."
Gospel for Asia Bible college students are being trained to bring the Good News to life for people like Tamarai—and those who have never heard Jesus' name once. You can be a part of their stories.