India: Developing a lifework of learning, leading and teaching

When Sabina first realized God’s purpose for her life, she was 16 years old and a new believer. The year was 1978 when she, along with her twin sister, a younger brother, younger sister and parents, all gave their lives to the Lord, as a family. They were all baptized in water together and were anointed in the Spirit at the same time. Being in the faith together as a family helped them grow at an equal pace and gave them the sense of having an even standing in the Spirit. Each knew their relationship with God and their own call in His presence.

Her family became regulars in their local Lutheran Church and later began attending other Pentecostal churches close by. Every Sunday evening they held meetings in their home, inviting different pastors to minister. It was a time of growth in their new life in Christ, learning various teachings which gave them exposure to an overview of the Bible. Yet Sabina and her family felt something was missing.

“Most pentecostal churches would always tell you: You’re saved. You’re baptized in the Spirit. You’re operating in the gifts of the Spirit. You are giving tithes. You are attending services. What more do you want?” Sabina recalled. “They didn’t have the answer to: ‘Beyond these, what?’ We were hungry. We were thirsting after God and asking, "what’s next? What’s next?”

As they grew in their faith, there came a recognition that some people were not teaching the correct and full truth, but there were others whom God brought into their home who laid a solid foundation in their lives. To see leaders walking so close with God and having an intimacy with Him set a hunger in Sabina’s heart.

“My passion from the beginning was the Word of God,” Sabina said. “I was enamored with the Word of God.”

There came a time, just a few months after they were saved, that some ministers of God were staying in their house for meetings. One of them prophesied over her. “What he told me was very crystal clear: ‘You are called to be a teacher of the Word of God’,’’ she said. “I didn’t know what that was, but it resonated within me because I was already in love with the Word of God.”

Sabina immersed herself in reading scripture and decided that if she was going to be a teacher of the Word of God, then she must be thorough in the Word of God. “My greatest delight was to spend time in the Word,” she said, "and I would use my college vacations and holidays for reading, researching and meditating in the Word. I didn't leave even one book out, for everything is His Scripture!"

She had a regular meeting with the Lord, giving a tithe of her time, 2 hours split into morning and evening hours. After worship, she would spend the morning time reading from the New Testament and the evening time reading from the Old Testament. Her family made scripture reading and family prayer a priority each evening, and every member of the family would have one night of the week to share the Word of God.

“My turn was Monday, my twin sister’s Tuesday, my brother's Wednesday, my younger sister's Thursday, my mom’s Friday, and Dad’s Saturday," she said. She would come home from school each day and spend her evening hour with the Lord asking Him to give her a revelation to share. She remembers her first revelation was from 3 John 2: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (NKJV), and her first full-blown sermon outline was from Matthew chapter 1, about the five women in the genealogy of Christ.

She delved deeply into the Word and studied every book of the Bible, even Leviticus and Numbers, in detail, meditating and writing to gain a thorough understanding. "Reading was a family hobby and so every month my parents would invest a portion of the family income in setting up a library of Bible aids. Our home had commentaries, word study, lexicons, concordances as well as books by well-known saints. I would use all of these to gain a deep understanding of the Word," she said. Later on, when they began a house church, her dad who led the group, gave her opportunities to share the Word when she would ask for permission to speak what God had revealed to her.

As she looks back on her early development, numerous people and circumstances aided in the establishment of her faith as she waited for the time when her purpose of being a teacher of the Word of God would be fulfilled. She testifies to the truth of the promise in Matthew 5, Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. "God delights in satisfying those who seek Him, and I am who I am because of His care for me," she reports with joy.

After her marriage and the birth of her two older children, Sabina and her husband with their kids began attending New Life Assemblies of God Church in Chennai, India. Raising her children in the faith became her priority, and while she fretted over her children knowing God, Sabina took heart watching the pastor’s family and was encouraged as the head pastor’s son, Chadwick Mohan, became associate pastor.

“Looking around you would see parents following Christ, but their children would not,” she said. "With Ps Mohan and his family, I saw a transfer of faith, which was my goal for my family. Since I was part of the English Church, I began observing his son Ps Chadwick and saw people I could follow and learn from. I saw a man going through the paces with God and after some time I could see the depth and deposit of God in his life.”

After her third child was born, Sabina quit working to stay home with her son while still waiting to see how God would use her in teaching the Word. Her love for learning was fanned by her husband Immanuel who urged her to continue her studies, and provided means to pursue her master’s degree in counseling. Her involvement in her church extended to writing for and being part of the editorial team of a bilingual women’s magazine put out by the women's wing of South India AG. She also helped the church produce devotionals that people could use during their prayer times.

Around this time, she felt the Lord was calling her into church ministry and she said “Yes” to Him but she waited for her husband to give his nod, before going to the leadership. After a wait of three months, he gave his full approval and consent, just after she completed her third magazine.

“I immediately rushed and told Pastor Chadwick, ‘I want to serve in the church’,” she said. “He asked me, what did I want to do, and I said, ‘I am called to be a teacher of the Word.’”

It was in April 2006 that Sabina became the first female member of the pastoral team of the English Church. Fulfilling her calling was not easy as she had a lot to learn. “I didn’t have diplomacy, nor tact, and when I came into the church I got pulverized,” she recalled, as after some time of doing whatever she could and serving wherever she could in the church, people complained about her. “I was straightforward and sharp, not knowing enough to mask or blunt my reactions.”

But Sabina took the criticism and the experience to grow, recognizing she needed to submit to the leadership and be willing to be humble. The first time she was given a chance to preach, being the first woman who was given the opportunity, she was told “You have the power to lock the door or open the door for other women,” she said. “I was like a key. I prayed in my heart that I would be the key that opened the door, not shut it!”

As Sabina took on more responsibilities and was coming into her own under Chadwick’s shepherding, a pastoral team of 12 leaders mentoring 12 others was created in the English Church. “We began a discussion around how to define the church: What is the church? Is it an organism or is it an organization? The team was split in their answers, so they began searching the Bible for answers and formed a basic module of understanding.”

Each of the 12 were able to teach their twelve this basic teaching and a community was formed. This first community grew in care and share but got stuck not knowing how to multiply or how to go further in teaching.

There was a realization among the members of the team there was no common teaching. “Each one taught the way they were taught or what they knew,” she said. “We were grounded in scripture, but we were not one-minded since there was no common philosophy of teaching. Mentoring was happening, but nothing to bind us together into oneness.”

In 2009, Chadwick came across BILD teaching when he became a part of the first team that did its doctoral program in partnership with the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. When Jeff Reed came to India and the BILD team took NLAG's pastoral team through the First Principles series, ideas that had been unclear became easier to grasp.

“My heart literally leaped during that time,” Sabina said, “as I saw the power of the socratic discussion. I became involved and strengthened in this new method of teaching the Word. A number of things blew my mind, but above all the concept of core and fringe made me grasp the enormous freedom we have in Christ.” It also gave her a handle on how to guide her children in faith and what to pass on to them so that they would follow Christ as she did.

She said after she was saved, she was restricted due to culture and fear. In India there are a lot of restrictions and do’s and don’ts, but through the First Principles lessons she experienced freedom in Christ.

“I was surprised,” she said. “I didn’t even know what the gospel really was, and I couldn’t put it together nor learn it the way the First Principles taught. It crystalized for me the pattern of sound teaching, and set me free to be myself , since I grasped the content and essence of the philosophy of Christ.”

As the church began their partnership with BILD, Sabina said there was a lot of growth and maturity since they began understanding and moving the church to be the family of God. “The small groups began to multiply and the church has grown with all of this,” she said. “The church now had a blueprint of what should be done, how it should be done and what to communicate as teaching. We went back to the early church and began to study the book of Acts in order to build the church.”

As the church was setting itself in order, the leadership teams were studying BILD materials in order to implement them in the church. “We were studying consistently, but there was no time for projects or guidance, since we were more concentrating on putting it into practice,” she said. "We were in the process of turning away from systematic theology and learning to adopt the biblical theology way of studying the scriptures."

In 2016, Sabina pulled herself out of active pastoral leadership and duties to sit at the feet of the Lord. “My bottle had become empty and needed filling,” she said. “I was like a race car racing full throttle and needed to step back to stock up.”

While she felt it was the Lord calling her to step back, her hunger for knowledge propelled her to continue learning. She studied the BILD leadership training curriculum and over the next several years completed many of the projects and submitted her competencies.

When BILD’s 2020 Fall Conference went online due to covid and restricted traveling, Sabina was excited. In the previous years when Chadwick and others attended in person, she had always wanted to go, but lacked the finances. "So to be able to attend online was huge, and I was thrilled that we were able to connect through Zoom,” she said.

The ability to login to workshops that were taking place around the world motivated her to continue working on her projects and because she had completed most of her competencies, Sabina spent time attending workshops in Europe and America. “I wanted to see how everyone else was doing,” she said, “and I wanted interaction with other nations and people from other places.”

To see church leaders from around the world in discussions together and hearing challenges they were facing was eye-opening to Sabina. “It was a blessing to be a part of this [larger network],” she said. “It really helped me gain perspective.”

She was also motivated to do her own work as she watched top leaders from different nations tackle issues, committed as they were to studying and learning together. “And not just doing it, but really completing it,” she said, "because the senior leaders were intentional as they guided those under their leadership. I was not a network leader, but they were happy to have me be part of the workshops in other countries and very open to my interaction in the process.”

She also gained insight in a workshop for LifeN led by Dr. Thinagaran Richard and Rev. J. Watson Selvasingh, fellow leaders of the Indian global resource team. “Dr. Thinagaran very graciously helped me with two of my projects,” she said. “Even though I am not in his network or church, he really guided me.”

Sabina worked hard during the conference to complete her projects and was surprised when she heard she was awarded for completing two projects. “For so long I had been slogging on my own with no input or motivation, and to get the award was, yes, it was great,” she said. It propelled her to speed up her project submission and she began fulfilling all the credits for her certificate of ministry.

Subsequently, Sabina was asked to be on the associate faculty at New Life AG. She currently assesses about 40 other church leaders’ work before they submit it for final approval to the BILD team.

“It is my greatest joy today, not just to study and earn my degree, but also to teach others the way to write and help them get theirs,” she said. She holds herself accountable in making sure their work reflects their understanding of the concepts of the materials and their ministry, and its implementation. Right now she sees a great need for strong leadership within the church and she finds a role in equipping them.

“I’m looking to see if there is a transformation,” she said. “Are they grasping what it actually means? Are they really understanding how we need to go back to [Acts]?”

Sabina is passionate about following the blueprint the New Testament has given for the church and making sure every leader whose work she assesses understands it as well. “If God has not given a pattern for the church, we don’t have to do it, but if He has given a pattern to Paul, just like through Moses, we need to do it according to the pattern,” she said.

To see how far her spiritual development has come from when she was 16, a new believer and receiving a prophecy to teach the Word of God, Sabina knows it all came to pass in God’s time. She admits that at one time she tried to fulfill it in her own way and strength, but now God in His wisdom has given her both the training and the acumen for it as well as the realization of His word to her.

“If He had given it to me then, I wouldn’t have had the content, the spiritual covering, the keen insight, the depth of experience, the wisdom of age and the sensitivity that a consistent walk with the Holy Spirit brings,” she said.

Her pursuit of lifelong learning continues today as she will continue on in the Antioch School to work for her master’s in ministry, and then her doctorate. She is also using her counseling degree to counsel married couples. “It’s become so much a part and parcel of me, and there’s so much content that I have now, that I can help, not just the church, but also the people of the world,” she said. “It’s a very joyous time that I can be used for the Lord. I am like a fine wine that has matured over time, ready to be used by Him to quench the thirst of this world!”