It was a hot afternoon in Nadi, Fiji, and Raj Kumari was dripping from the combined effects of perspiration and water sloshing out of her tin washtub. Diwali, a Hindu holy day, was at hand, and Raj had spent the day scrubbing and cleaning so she would be ready for visits from family members and friends. In the midst of her preparations, Raj answered a knock at her door to find two Latter-day Saint missionaries, who were looking for her next-door neighbor. Since the neighbor had gone out of town for the day, Raj invited the elders in for a cool drink.
Soon Raj’s husband, Kubendra (commonly known as Keshwa * ), came home from work and joined his wife and the two missionaries in a discussion about Jesus Christ and his church. Raj’s uncle had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints several years earlier, so she was aware of LDS beliefs and was able to answer many of the missionaries’ questions. “They were really interested that I knew so much,” remembers Sister Keshwa, “and they asked if we could spare some time for a lesson.” Keshwa and Raj agreed, and asked the elders to return that evening. The missionaries taught the couple every night for the next week; then Raj and Keshwa accepted the challenge to be baptized.
Approximately half of Fiji’s population is of Indian descent; their ancestors were indentured servants the British brought from India to work in the sugarcane fields. Raj’s ancestors were among this group, and she had been raised as a Hindu—but she had always respected other religions. She had attended prayers and services of several Indian and Christian sects and had been impressed by the good she saw in each. But when the time came for her to convert to Christianity, she struggled. “It was hard to leave, because I was born in Hinduism,” she recalls. “It reminded me of the way I felt when I left my father’s house after my marriage and was no longer a member of his family.”
The night before her baptism, Raj felt great emotional turmoil. She believed that this new church was true—but how could she leave the beliefs that she had held all her life? Keshwa was working through the night, so after Raj put their three children—Ravendra (then eight years old), Amol (four), and Pramol (two)—to bed, she lay alone in her room, crying and praying for much of the night. Finally, about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, she fell asleep.
As she slept, she had a dream that settled her fears. In her dream, she saw a picture of the Hindu goddess Laksmi, much like the picture to which she had prayed throughout her life. As Raj watched, one of her cousins threw a stone and broke the picture. Raj cried. But then she heard a voice. She turned and saw the missionary who would baptize her the next day. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Look at the picture now.” Raj turned back to see that it had changed into one of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
That night, Raj Kumari received a spiritual witness that generations before, the Hindus had invented Laksmi to take the place of a real woman—the mother of the son of God. The Hindu people had thus lost the knowledge of Jesus Christ and his atonement.
Raj awoke feeling fresh, peaceful, and thrilled with her newfound testimony of Jesus Christ. She and Keshwa were baptized that day—29 January 1983.
Raj’s family accepted the couple’s conversion; they respected Christianity and had never denied their children the opportunity to worship as they wished. But Keshwa’s family felt differently. They were devout Hindus with a temple at their home; they felt betrayed by the decision their son and daughter-in-law had made.
Three years later, during a time of political turmoil in Fiji, Keshwa lost his job. The family struggled to survive financially while he searched for work. “We used the money in our savings account, and we sold the car we had worked so hard to buy,” says Sister Keshwa. “We sold everything to manage. But because of the love of the Lord, we didn’t starve. We knew he would help us find a way.”
When the couple had exhausted their resources, they moved in with Keshwa’s parents in Ba, a city about seventy kilometers east of Nadi. Whenever missionaries from the Ba Branch came to visit, Keshwa’s family threw stones or dirty water at them and spat on them to drive them away. Finally, Keshwa’s parents told the couple that if they did not deny The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they would have to leave the house.
“But we didn’t leave the gospel,” Sister Keshwa says. “We continued going to church and following the commandments. When my in-laws saw that we weren’t going to change, they locked the door and asked us to move. But we still love them.”
Since the family had no money to buy food or pay rent, Sister Keshwa’s father went against Indian custom and allowed his daughter and her family to return to his home in nearby Tavua. He gave the family a plot of land on his farm and helped them to build a one-room tin house. “This is a small house,” says Sister Keshwa, “but we are happy here. We left a big house in Ba—it had eight rooms and all the facilities—but we were not happy there because we were not allowed to worship in the way we know is right.”
As his unemployment stretched from months into years, Keshwa became more and more discouraged. For two and a half years he did all in his ability to get a job—without success. He lost hope and quit attending church.
Finally his wife approached him with a plan. “I know one way you can get a job,” she said.
“How?” he asked.
“Try to be in church with me every Sunday,” she replied, “and the Lord will find you a way.”
After Keshwa had attended meetings for two Sundays, fourteen-year-old Ravendra came home from school on a Monday afternoon and told his mother that he had heard about an opening for a painter with a local construction company. “Can Dad do that?” he wondered.
Keshwa immediately went to his wife’s parents’ home and phoned the company. The contractor awarded him the job and asked him to start work the following day. When Keshwa had worked for the contractor for only six weeks, he received a call from a supervisor at the gold mine in the neighboring town of Vatukoula. Keshwa had been asking the man for a job for nearly two years. “Tomorrow at 7:00, please come with your driver’s license. We have a truck that needs a driver.”
“I told him it would all work out if he had faith in the Lord,” says Sister Keshwa.
Brother and Sister Keshwa are now looking forward to being sealed to each other and their children. They hope to make the trip to the temple late this year, along with Sister Keshwa’s sister and her family, who have now been baptized as well. Sister Keshwa serves as Relief Society president in the Tavua Branch—a calling she has held twice before, once in the Nadi Ward and once in the Ba Branch.
“We are so grateful to be members of the Church,” she says. “We know that the Lord loves us. If we pray and ask the Lord to help, he answers. And we know that he feels the same about all his children. If you cry from your heart, you will be heard.”
Traditionally, Indians do not use surnames, so a man and his wife do not have a common name. However, to cut down on confusion, Raj Kumari has adopted her husband’s nickname and is known as Sister Keshwa to Church members.