A few years ago, Bishop Eggoni Pushpa Lalitha, 57, of the Church of South India, was asked by the people of a village in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh to pray for rain. The district was reeling under a drought.
Initially, she was reluctant and told the villagers, “When a doctor gives an injection are you healed immediately? So, to pray for rain and then to expect it to fall at once is not right.” But the people begged her. So Pushpa, along with the villagers, who brought along their starving cows and buffaloes, went to a nearby hill. The prayers, as well as fasting, began at 11.30am and lasted till 5.30pm. But there was no sign of rain.
However, when Pushpa reached home at 6.30pm, it began raining heavily, though there were no clouds in the sky. “The entire village witnessed this miracle,” says Pushpa. “It was the most moving experience of my life. The villagers told me, ‘God is great’. That year, they got a lot of paddy.”
Pushpa Lalitha made national headlines recently when she became the first woman to be appointed as a Bishop of the Church of South India, in 2,000 years of Christianity in India. “God had done great things in my life,” she says. “I never expected to become a priest, but it happened. I never dreamt that I would become a Bishop, but it happened.”
Pushpa is the Bishop of Nandyal province in Andhra Pradesh where there are one lakh adherents. And she has clear priorities. “Apart from providing good health facilities, education for children is going to be my primary focus, especially for the girl child,” she says. “Education can transform a girl’s life. My own life is an example.”
The daughter of a farmer, Ratna Swamy, Pushpa was born in Diguvapadu village in Kurnool. Two sons had died earlier, so she was always going to be a precious child. But her destiny seemed pre-ordained. When her mother, Danamma, was five months pregnant, she had a dream in which a priest gave a Bible to her. Her parents vowed that their next child would be dedicated in the service of God, not knowing that it would be a daughter.
“My mother told me about this dream when I began my college,” says Pushpa, who received a bachelor of divinity degree from the Andhra Christian Theological College in Hyderabad. On July 15, 1983, she was ordained as a deacon. “Unfortunately my mother died a year earlier,” says Pushpa. “She never saw me become a priest.”
Pushpa also pursued further studies at Selly Oaks College in Birmingham, Britain, in Jamaica and from the Pacific Lutheran Theological College in Berkeley, US. “In the West, there is too much of materialism and less belief in God,” she says. “But Indians are naturally spiritual. The people in the villages respect all religions,” she says.
At the moment, there are 110 women priests in the Church of South India. “I hope more women are appointed to senior positions,” she says. “Women have particular advantages as compared to men. When a woman priest visits a family, she can go all the way to the kitchen and learn about the troubles facing the family from the wife. Women have great emotional stamina.” Armed with these qualities, Bishop Pushpa is determined to make a difference.