'My husband died but I came back to the village. People noticed'
Iris’ story | Faith slowly spreads in the Indian jungle
“I grew up in a wealthy family in Chennai, India. We had four servants. My father was an engineer with the United Nations. I had 25 proposals and I said no to all of them, and then I said yes to the 26th. His name was RAC Paul and he was a veterinarian missionary. We were married in 1972.”
“I was a medical doctor, specialising in tropical medicine, so straight away, we moved to the jungle of Malkangiri [India], to do medical and gospel work. It was 27 hours away by jeep. I’d never even seen a village. There was no running water or electricity. I had to redo the cow dung floor every three days. At first I cried. Then God spoke to me. He said that Jesus was born in a cow shed, in the midst of cow dung. I stopped crying.
“Two weeks later, we were trekking in to the interior, to different villages, treating patients and sharing our faith. There were no other doctors in the area, so the patients would line up from 4.30 in the morning.
“I loved it, even when it was hard. The hardest thing was that for the first 15 years, nobody from the Bondo tribal people asked for baptism. They were interested in Jesus, but they didn’t ask for baptism. And every month, for 15 years, we had to fill in forms from our Indian mission society asking how many villages we’d visited, and how many people we’d shared the gospel with, and how many people had taken baptism. Every month, for 15 years, we wrote nil to the last question. We felt like giving up.
“Then in 1986, Paul became very sick. His kidneys weren’t working well and we went south to hospital. Paul had an operation … and he died in the middle of it. I was stunned. I cried so much. I was 42 years old and we had four small children. Everybody said to me, ‘Don’t go back to Malkangiri. Stay here in Chennai. Set up a medical practice.’
“But nine days later, we got in a jeep and we returned to the village and the people of Malkangiri. I went back to seeing patients from sunrise till sunset. The people noticed. They said to each other, ‘You see, she came back. She loves us. The God she loves must be real.’ Within six months, we had 36 people asking for baptism. And now there are 5,000 believers in Malkangiri.
“I’ve learned that God works in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes, God takes you through very hard things, to train you for better things. Right now, I’m in Malkangiri District in isolation due to COVID and ours is a Red Zone. Jesus has helped me to complete 49 years here!
“It’s hard, but God is still teaching me. Whenever it’s been hard, God has said to me, “I bore the nails for you.”
“One of my favourite verses is in Psalm 46. ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (v 10). It pops up every time I feel worried. Every now, today, I need to be quiet and know that he is God.”