She wasn’t always called Aunty.
Her grandfather named her Romawii, which means “beautiful treasure” in her native language of Mizo. Her grandfather was one of the first Christians in her northeastern India homeland, and he delighted in traveling to villages to share the love of Jesus. Aunty says God blessed him for his work by giving the family one of the first homes with a real tin roof. It was her grandfather’s faith that inspired Aunty to leave all that was familiar to find her heart’s passion. That passion led her to children—the children who would call her Aunty, a term of the fondest affection and trust.
“In my life, I have to believe that I am doing what God has called me to do. I don’t have a lot to be proud about—education or wealth. But God has always been with me and given me favor.”
Aunty is a reserved, gracious woman in her 70s who cares far more about the fine details and comfort of others than she does about herself. I first fell in love with her while watching her worship with her children as the sun rose over the foothills of the Himalayas.
I walked into her living room, and found afternoon light shining through lace curtains, a stack of Bibles on a side table, and a fragrance reminiscent of attics filled with treasures. She motioned for me to sit. “You might be very tired—you traveled yesterday whole day. Are you get good night’s rest? Sit anywhere you like.” I sat down in the chair closest to the front door, and she frowned. She motioned again—this time for me to come closer, to a sofa near her so we could hear each other over the laughter of the children outside, a consistent soundtrack to the day. “I love the sound of their laughter and singing,” she said in broken English. “My heart is filled of joy.”
Because of her family’s Christian heritage, Aunty was well acquainted with the fire of faith. But she wasn’t expecting the fires of persecution to burn so strongly.
In her early 30s, she traveled more than one thousand miles by herself from the state of Mizoram in India to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir to preach. The first few years were quiet, then she and her team were attacked by a Muslim sect that was hostile to the teachings of Jesus. “We would often be beaten up, our books were burnt, and our bicycles smashed and damaged.” Aunty and her friends began praying about how best to serve the community and live out their love of Christ without hostility, and she felt called by God to open a home for children under the age of six. She wanted to provide sanctuary and a little hope.
As we sat together, she paused for a moment and then looked at me intently. “I never worry for my future. God is with me all the time. When He asked me to start the home, we had no money and no support. But we had Him.”
When House of Grace was first founded, villagers were afraid of the home, saying they would rather have children starve to death than risk being ostracized by their community for living with Christians.
“We began to pray fervently that the Lord would give us children. One afternoon as we were still praying, there was a knock on the door. I opened the door softly since the others were still praying. A man was there; he told me he had heard about our home and wondered if we had space to take in children from his hometown in Ladakh.”
Three days later, Aunty and her staff traveled to Ladakh to meet the children. “When we arrived, there were lots of children and their parents waiting for us. The parents told us, ‘Madamji, please hurry and take our children. We need to get to work or else we will not have money to buy food for even today.’ We had not enough room for all the children, so we said we would take those who were youngest first.” Even then, Aunty had no way of transporting the children back to House of Grace. So she prayed again that God would provide. There was another knock at the door. The next day Aunty and 18 children traveled in a donated tourist bus to their new home.
The children’s home quickly grew as word got out about its quality of care. But not everyone was happy about a Christian children’s home in a Buddhist state. Members of the Buddhist Leaders Association demanded the home be closed and the 54 Ladakhi children be returned to their hometown. “We traveled with the children back to their homeland and sat in the center of the town as the claims against us were read. The Buddhist Leaders Association secretary said that the children in the home preferred the gospel to the teachings of the Dalai Lama, which could destroy Buddhism in their village. It was decided that the children had to be removed from the home to protect Ladakh from Christianity.”
Aunty and her staff returned to an empty House of Grace. Beds were untouched, food was in the pantry, and she wept for her children. As she prayed, she recalled Isaiah 49:20: “You will again hear the children who were born bereaved say, ‘The place is too crowded for me; make room for me to settle’” (CEB). And slowly, House of Grace became home for other orphaned and vulnerable children from different states.
In 1990, border terrorism escalated, and the safety of the children became an issue, so House of Grace moved four hundred miles to the south, to a quiet hillside village in the foothills of the Himalayas. Aunty opened Rainbow School, a place to educate not only the children in her home but those in the village as well. Both Hindus and Christians welcomed the children and their caregivers, and even the president of India met with Aunty and the children and gave his blessing on the good work being done. The acceptance was fresh breath to Aunty, but she still grieved the loss of her Ladakhi children.
What she didn’t know was that a small group of those children had learned from her courage, and they were on their way to find her. Joy, one of the original House of Grace children who now serves as director for the home, knew she had to return. “My friend and I talked often about how we wanted to return to Aunty. She had shown us love and care, and there was something about it that was true and real. We had to do our morning prayers, so we would bow down before Buddha and pray to Jesus. Those prayers gave us bravery, and we decided to plan our escape.” Six children found their way back to Aunty, many with parents who risked their own lives for the sake of their children.
What Aunty has learned about the fire of faith and the power of courage she passes on to the 80 children who call House of Grace their true home these days. There is no such thing as “aging out” in Aunty’s eyes, and there’s rarely a day when college students or young professionals aren’t visiting the home. Her philosophy of care for the children at House of Grace and for the students at Rainbow School is steeped in grace and love, and she is revered by every staff member and child.
Her advice for raising children is summed up in three words: fear the Lord. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” she shared with a smile. “Those who fear the Lord will flee from sin. Whatever we can do, we do. We share grace and love. We adopt the children in our hearts. We cannot force anything, and so we pray. I want my children not to be nominal Christians. My hope is that they’ll all be strong. I know that may not be a reality, but it is my hope. I pray they remember all they’ve learned. I pray they’ll see they can’t find the true God in Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Islam. They will one day return to their villages and face all sorts of things. We want them to remain faithful. It makes me happy when I am told, ‘We face big problems, but we have decided to face our problems with God and prayer. We choose Christ.’”
Aunty’s now retired from House of Grace, but she remains a very strong presence at both the home and the school. She believes in dreaming big—and this woman in her 70s has no intention of quitting. Her ministry efforts have expanded far beyond the walls of House of Grace. “We are working to see how we might look after poor families, those who cannot go to college. We asked ourselves how we might develop a training center, with computers, so we can teach life skills and basic labor training to make them less vulnerable. In India, trafficking is strong. Children are purchased, and the traffickers deceive the parents by telling them that they will take the children to a good school. The children are then sold into slavery—primarily sexual slavery. We must give women strength.”
I looked at the demure woman on the sofa next to me and, for a moment, I imagined the sweet scent of faith’s fire perfuming her. “I have times I am sad or afraid, but then I see what God is doing. And now I am helping women to understand their rights. And that gives me hope. I am not an expert, but God is with me. The children feel I am their mother, and the women are feeling that too. And that’s why so many women come to learn. They want help. They want someone who will fight for them. We are learning and we are doing. We have to walk for this kind of thing—we have to step and step again in our faith. Some people don’t want to hear that because they just want things. But we have learned that we have to live our faith. We raise our faith by learning and by doing.”
Excerpted from One Woman Can Change the World
mage by Ronnie Mosley