Pastor from India visits with Peoples Church congregation
BEMIDJI -- Her trip did not start off as it was intended. In fact, it was nearly disastrous.
But Angela Veronica Sathuri, a visiting pastor from Guntur, India, never felt insecure, even as she found herself days behind schedule, battling to get visas and passports approved, and ending up in the wrong city.
"It was all because of God's grace," she said Tuesday afternoon, speaking from the Felicity and Perpetua House at Peoples Church, which has hosted her this week. "I am his child and he knows what has to be done. I believe very much that everything happens for our own good."
The Rev. Veronica, as she's known, traversed her travel difficulties as several people came to her aid, including the porter who helped her for more than an hour while he could have been making money and lent her his cell phone as she spoke with different airlines; the taxi driver who helped connect her with her Greyhound bus; and the Montana truck driver who shared his cell phone and helped her load and unload luggage.
"I had nice experiences though it sounds a little difficult," she said.
The pastor was invited to come to the U.S. for the first time this summer to attend the 2014 Triennial Gathering for Women of the ELCA. That event will be held this weekend in Charlotte, N.C. She flies out of Fargo, N.D., today but has spent the last three days with Peoples Church Rev. Bob Kelly and his congregation.
The Peoples Church, is a multicultural mission church that emphasizes outreach to people living in poverty. It is a church that spoke to Rev. Angela, as she said many people have a misconception about America, that everyone here is wealthy and living quite comfortably.
Rev. Angela, a single mother with a 13-year-old son, recently accepted the position as the women's project coordinator for the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church of India, which consists of six synods with approximately 4,000 parishes.
The parishes are led by male pastors, but ordained women serve integral roles, frequently going out to meet with women of other faiths who want to hear the Gospel.
"Not all the male pastors are able to meet people like that because there are some restrictions from the families and they also are not very comfortable to share their experiences with male pastors," the pastor explained. "So the Bible Women, they enter these families' (homes) through the kitchen doorways, they try to make friends with them, meet them often during the week, try to share the Gospel and especially share their own testimony."
Many of the churches are not economically strong. The Northwestern Minnesota Synod of tHE ELCA helps support the AELC and its programs, yet of the 4,000 parishes it has, Sathuri said perhaps 300 to 400 of them are self-supporting. Most struggle and are located in poor communities.
"There is not much they can offer in the form of money but whatever they make use of in their homes as provisions," she said of church-goers. "Some of them, they bring rice as an offering, some bring vegetables, some bring the fruits that they grow on their trees."
There are female supervisors who are all ordained who oversee groups of eight to 10 Bible Women. Because the supervisors are ordained, they perform the ceremonies and minister to new converts, such as offering them communion.
For Sathuri, her role as women's project coordinator will be to work with the coordinators and supervisors. She obtained her master's degree in divinity in 2001 and earlier this year obtained her master's of theology. She received a scholarship from the Lutheran World Federation as she sought her master's in theology, and as a result, she has pledged to work for the church for at least two years, thankful for her opportunities.
"My hope is someday we will have the privilege as serving the church as full-time pastors," she said.
Seven years ago, an ELCA contingent from the U.S. spent two weeks with the AELC, learning about the church, its programs and missions. Sathuri doesn't know exactly what led to those individuals to think of her now, but they sent an invitation through her bishop, asking if they could host her for the triennial gathering.
"It is not a usual thing for most of the women who work in the church, that we get an opportunity to go out of the country, this was an exception," said Sathuri, making her first trip to the U.S.
The pastor said she only agreed to come once she knew the bishop, and her church, were in support. After she accepted the invitation, she was named to her new position.
When asked if this trip will help her in that new role, she said she believes it will.
"I'm waiting to see what (the triennium) will be like," she said. "I think it will be a great experience."