She turned up in my small group on the first day of my first year. A young woman, slender and frail, skin as dark as the night, dressed in faded clothes, barely speaking English. A few of us wondered how she possibly passed the entrance exam. But her name was Kiruba, which means ‘grace of God’. Maybe it was by God’s grace that she had been accepted into one of the most prestigious Bible colleges in the country. But how was she ever going to get through four years of rigorous tertiary studies in English? Maybe I could help somehow. Would it be worth it? Maybe the college should just send her home now.
In second year, every student has to read the Bible aloud in the chapel. How was Kiruba going to manage it? Her first year had passed in a blur. She barely understood instructions, often managing to show up in the right place at the right time by literally following the other women. Others from her ethnic group must have been helping her get through the classes by translating for her, both ways. She asked me for help and came to my apartment every day to practise reading her Bible passage. This wasn’t a sermon, mind you, just simply reading the passage out in front of the whole community. As she stood behind the lectern, quaking with fear, every student and every faculty member was holding their breath.
It was word perfect. And with a boldness that must have come from the Holy Spirit.
One Christmas while our residential Bible college was on its holiday break, I went to visit Kiruba and a few other students in their homes. After about twenty hours on the rickety train, she met me at the tiny station and we rode in the open, ‘naturally air-conditioned’ bus another four hours to her home.
It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. There was a lot of love here, but not a lot of money. It was a simple mud-brick house with a couple of bedrooms, a common area and a kitchen outside. The beds were made of jute rope tied over wooden frames. We walked in the fields and chased the chickens and chatted about this and that. I wondered how this farm girl ended up at a prestigious Bible college in the big city 2000 kilometres away, and what would happen after she finished.
In final year, all of the students have to preach in the chapel. By then we were no longer anxious about what would happen when Kiruba took the pulpit. We all knew that this was a woman anointed by God with the power of His Spirit. She had an incomparable boldness, a fearlessness that made others stop still and listen. Where had it come from? I believe it was there all the time. I always felt that my time in the classroom wasn’t as significant in the lives of our students as the time I spent with them in the college dining room, by the playing field, in my lounge room. My colleagues and I had just allowed Kiruba the space to blossom and flourish under the care of her Master. She trusted in Him fully, and gave herself fully in his service.
Now Kiruba pastors a church in the south of the country, together with her husband.
Jessica has taught at Bible colleges in Asia and Australia. She currently provides leadership and pastoral care to Interserve workers in South East Asia.