In January, Kawshalya became the first woman pastor to be ordained in the Church of the Nazarene in Sri Lanka. Hers is a story of overcoming hardship and heartache to obey God’s call into full-time ministry. She shared her story with Simon Jothi, principal of South Asia Nazarene Bible College, from which she graduated in January 2014.
Kawshalya grew up on a tea estate where her parents worked hard each day to pick the small green leaves from the endless rows of tea bushes under the hot Sri Lankan sun. When she was 8 years old, a friend invited her to a Christian Sunday school, which was her first exposure to the gospel. By the time she was 11, she had been attending the Sunday school regularly and loved singing the songs and learning the stories about Jesus. At that point, she made the decision to accept Christ into her life and was baptized — the first Christian in her family.
Her mother noticed a significant — and positive — change in her daughter’s attitude and behavior and became interested to know what she was learning at the church. So she began to attend with her daughter.
The family moved to another village soon after.
Then came a time for heartbreak for Kawshalya’s family. Desiring to go abroad for work, her brother contracted with an agent who promised to match him with an overseas employer for a large sum of money. The family took out a loan to pay the agent, but the agent was a scam artist and ran off with the money.
Now burdened with a huge loan they could not pay back, the family had to sell their home and all their belongings. Kawshalya’s faith was shaken. She wondered why God had let this happen to her family. Her relationship with her brother was damaged.
At this low point in her life she met a Nazarene pastor from a neighboring village. He was visiting their small settlement to plant a new church there.
“The pastor assured her that God is able to fill her with joy and happiness; even though materially she lost everything, God is able to fill her life,” Jothi said she told him. “She thought she can start afresh. She put her faith more in God and began a new life in Christ, in trusting Him.”
Her new hope in the face of a hopeless situation was a great testimony to her family. Through her renewed commitment, she was able to lead her mother to Christ.
She also began to sense that God was not only consoling and comforting her through this time of loss, but that He may be calling her to become a full-time evangelist.
Around this time, as is traditional, her parents wanted to find her a good husband from among their relatives, and they picked out a young man they felt would treat their daughter well. When she learned about the planned match, she wanted to ensure she would have a Christian husband. So she shared about Jesus with him and also led him to Christ. The couple were married.
Early in Kawshalya’s marriage, the Nazarene pastor who had discipled her as a teenager began to invest in her calling to ministry. He enlisted her to join him in planting a new church in a nearby location. After they gathered a small group of new believers, he turned over the church-type mission to her so she could get leadership experience. Her husband and mother also supported her work.
“She discovered this is a church who gives equal opportunity for men and women to be involved in the gospel,” Jothi said. “She felt this is like her home; she can work and associate with the other pastors even though she’s a woman.”
In a male-dominated society, it was a new experience for her. She decided to enroll in South Asia Nazarene Bible College in 2011. When she arrived for her first class, “she was very much surprised there were other ladies who worked in child development centers and JESUS Film ministries to come into the course of study. That gave her more confidence,” Jothi said.
During Kawshalya’s three years in the Course of Study — a Nazarene system of 25 or more courses designed to prepare clergy for ministry — she became the leader of a JESUS Film team. In that role, she led a team of people who visited targeted locations to screen a film about the life of Jesus to people who likely had never heard of Jesus or the gospel before. Through watching the film, many people accepted Christ into their lives. Then she and her team gathered them into small groups that pursued ongoing discipleship in their new faith, eventually forming new churches. She has also pastored one church throughout her studies.
But ministry has not been her only challenge. Last year, Kawshalya’s husband was involved in a bicycle accident and was hospitalized with serious injuries. The family thought for a time that he wouldn’t survive. For six months he has been recovering and thus unable to work or help care for their son.
Kawshalya had to balance caring for her husband, raising their child, earning an income, keeping up with her ministry, and continuing full-time in the course of study through SANBC. Her joyful attitude in the midst of such difficulties impressed everyone, Jothi said.
“Her difficult situation in no way tempered her faith in God or diverted her attention from completing the course of study,” he said. “Now her goal for the future is to empower more and more women to actively participate in the ministry in our church. She already has mentored and sent one girl from her church to enroll in SANBC. Her goal is to send one to two women each year. She mentors and encourages them to go forward in ministry, to reach more and more women in the rural areas here in Sri Lanka.”
Jothi said that Kawshalya has been partly responsible for a significant increase in women enrolled in SANBC.
“This year we have about 54 new students enrolled in Sri Lanka, and about 15 to 20 percent were women students. It’s an increase. In the beginning, the ladies don’t know that they can enroll in ministry. When we say we want to embrace all, God has equally created all people, that is making people to respond and come. I think the Nazarene church is a kind of open door, a church that encourages more women."