But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, God has chosen, and the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, that no man may boast before God. (I Corinthians 1:27-29).
One of God’s special children who proved these words to be true was Pandita Ramabai Dongre Medhavi. When we study her life we see how wonderfully the Lord works in the lives of His children; how He blesses and saves others through their testimonies; how the Holy Spirit uses them to minister to others; and how He providentially cares for them.
Ramabai was born in 1858 in India to Hindu parents. Her father, unlike the other Hindu men in India, believed that women should be educated. Though doubtful that Ananta Shatri Dongree, a wealthy Hindu guru, was ever a Christian, God used him as an instrument for His providential purpose of raising up Ramabai for a great Christian work. Ananta educated his wife and daughter. By the time Ramabai was twenty years old she had memorized 18,000 verses of the Puranas, the Hindu holy book. God would use her remarkable abilities in her later life to start a school for women. (You can read a little more detail on Ramabai’s life in an earlier blog posting – December 2011).
Today I want to further explain how we can learn from her faithfulness. There are many important characteristics that we all need to cultivate, and Pandita (a title that means “learned” or “wise one”) Ramabai displayed more than a few. I would like to concentrate on three: reliance on the Holy Spirit, patience, and humility.
All through her life, Pandita Ramabai gave the glory to God for the things that He did through her. She never sought fame, but only to give to others what God had given her – peace and joy through salvation in Jesus Christ.
An early incident shows her humble attitude as she sought to change the cruel conditions for women in India. Ramabai was offered a government job teaching high caste Hindu women, but she chose to open a small school where she could work with the women herself. Her first school had only two pupils but she was overjoyed that God had answered her prayers and allowed her to realize her long cherished dream.
Ramabai’s work was not easy. She firmly believed that the way to reach the Hindu women was to keep her school “neutral” religiously. That way the Hindu fathers would trust her with their daughters. She made it plain that they would study the Bible, but she would not proselytize. Of course, the Lord used her work to convert many girls to Christianity anyway. But because of her methods, she received criticism from the people in her country as well as from the missionaries who thought she should just join a mission group and preach the way they did. The problem was that the Indian populace did not trust Westerners. Ramabai knew this and she kept her Hindu customs in dress and her strict vegetarian diet. She knew that God had given her the opportunity and she wasn’t budging. Of course, time would prove her right.
A remarkable incident that shows the spiritual maturity of Ramabai was centered around her desire to reach more girls for Christ. Ramabai had attended a camp meeting with fifteen of her girls. These girls were converted Christians and were very serious about learning the things of God. They attended with pencils and notebooks and showed that they understood the teaching. This warmed Ramabai’s heart because it was further proof that women can be taught.
One morning while praying in the woods and enjoying the sunrise, Ramabai felt overwhelmed with gratitude to God for the fifteen young women and girls and wished with all her heart that more of her people would open their eyes to the Gospel and be filled with the knowledge and the joy of salvation. She was led to pray that God would “square” the number of her spiritual children and give her two hundred and twenty-five before the next camp meeting took place.
This was a really bold move on her part. At this time there were lots of reasons against increasing the number of girls in the school. The total number of girls in the school was only forty-nine and the summer break was about to begin. She did not know if there would even be fifty girls in the fall. But she was compelled to pray and trust in God.
Some of Ramabai’s friends tried to encourage her to give up the school and become a full time evangelist. She was willing to do whatever God wanted her to do, but she still felt convinced that He had led her in the right direction so far.
The enrollment in the school stayed low for many months. Ramabai gave up her salary and lived a life of poverty to keep the school going. Enrollment dropped to forty-one. But God was preparing her for the fulfillment of her dreams; just not like she expected.
A famine had been going on in central India. Thousands were starving to death. Many widows were especially destitute.
I must put in a word here about the widows in India. When we think of widows here in America, we think of older women primarily. But in India, in the high caste system, the widows could be as young as babies. The girls were sold into marriage by their parents whenever their parents could get a good price for them. Sometimes the “husbands” died before the girls got married or consummated the marriage and they were considered widows. They were then at the mercy of the husband’s family, including other jealous wives, or cruel mothers-in law. During the famine many were just turned out of the house. Ramabai thought that the system was cruel and heartless and she longed to change it.
And so, Ramabai went on a journey during the famine and gathered three hundred widows to bring home to her school to feed and care for. This was even more than the two hundred and twenty-five that she asked God for. Many of these were as young as five years old. Before she left on her journey, God sent the money from many unexpected places.
Just getting them home was a big challenge, but then she had to feed them and care for them. Here again, God showed His love and providence by providing enough money for Ramabai to purchase some land and plant fruit trees. She also raised animals. This provided work for the widows and of course nourishing food. During the drought she was able to dig some wells and obtain that most precious of commodities during a drought – water. It wasn’t a huge amount, but because of her poor, struggling childhood, Ramabai knew how to conserve and there was enough to meet the pressing need.
During this time of hardship the girls learned the Christian principles of work, caring, praying, and giving. So many would become serious, devout Christians that Ramabai would be able to send out groups of twenty at a time to the surrounding towns to evangelize.
From two pupils to over 25,000 at a time! Ramabai was surely blessed by God to help people in India. Yet one further anecdote shows her tremendous humbleness in spite of her fame throughout India, England, and the United States.
When she knew that she had only a few years left to serve the Lord she began to make plans for her work to be carried on by others. An organization was formed with highly respected trustees to oversee it. She insisted that her name not be used as the title of the organization. “Ramabai is dead,” she said. Her work was to be God’s alone as the work continued. Many of the women and girls that she raised up, including her own daughter, carried on the evangelization that she so earnestly desired.
How amazing what one little woman can do while serving God with patience and humility! Ramabai is a great example to us of faithfulness to the Lord, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and courage to follow a dream. May this be an encouragement to us as we seek to follow the Lord.