It was time for a change. After 40 years of work, 20 as a teacher and 20 as a scientist, Mridula and I began a new phase of our lives—volunteerism. Our service in various Seventh-day Adventist colleges took us all over the globe—Kenya, Trinidad, Thailand and India.One morning during our devotions in India, Isaiah 56:4-5 struck a cord of urgency within us: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my convenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will under forever.
The longer we contemplated this text, the more we were convinced that this was our calling. This was a special message from God to one of the most marginalized people on Earth. It was a message of love, acceptance and hope.
These people are the Hijra, which literally translates into eunuch, but more commonly known in the Western world as transgender. In India alone, their numbers reach to about 4-6 million. Yet they are routinely rejected and shunned by society, even religious organizations. My first direct encounter with the Hijra occurred several months after I read that text… At a busy intersection, in front of a vegetable stall, two women stood draped in bright saris. I greeted them with a smile which startled them. Surprised that someone would take the time to talk with them with respect, they began a friendly conversation. They were from Bhimavaram about 31 kilometers away. They often came to Narsapur with their guru to eke a living in the bigger town, doing whatever it took—prostitution, begging or dancing at auspicious events. So impressed that I should share Godʼs special message with them, I asked to speak with their guru, gave them my contact information and said goodbye.
About 20 minutes later, I was shopping in another area when I heard someone call out to me. “Ammaji, our guru, will see you. We will take you to her,” they said, motioning me to follow them. When I met Ammaji, I was brief. “I have a special message for you from the Holy Scriptures,” I said. “Iʼd like to visit you in Bhimavaram and deliver that message to you.” She agreed without hesitation and we set a date for my visit. When the day finally came, I was very excited. But when I arrived with a pastor, it was not just Ammaji waiting to meet with me. With her were her neighbors, a Muslim couple. Afraid of offending them, I said a silent prayer before opening the Bible: “Lord, just as you were with Moses when he gave Pharaoh your message, be with me now.” I then read out loud Isaiah 56:4-5 and said, “No other holy book but the Bible has a promise specifically for you. I want you to know that God loves you. Thatʼs all I have come to say. I shall leave now. But if you want to hear more, I can return.” I wasnʼt sure if Iʼd said too little or too much. I didnʼt know what would happen next. But before I reached her front door, Ammaji called back to me, “Please come back. I want to hear more!” With that first invitation, began a rewarding mission. The challenges may be formidable, but with God all things are possible. It is indeed time for a change.
— Johnson and Mridula Choppala