Guest interview: Leanne Govender
In getting to know Leanne, it is her gentle and quiet spirit and kindness of speech that shine brightly.
As a mom and a woman in the workplace, she epitomises Proverbs 31: 25 in that ‘strength and dignity are her clothing and she laughs at the days to come’ because of her identity in Christ.
She is passionate about pursuing the beautiful and biblical view of true womanhood and femininity.
Please give us a broad overview of your childhood.
As a child, I was raised in a loving home with both my parents. My dad was over-protective as I was the only daughter. I have two brothers; one older and one younger.
We were raised in a humble home.
My parents were both employed and I was tasked with caring for my younger brother and general household chores. Growing up, our parents provided what they could and we had to share the little we had. We always had a meal, clothes, hot water and a warm place to sleep. It was a simple life. There were good times and bad, but we never went without.
I loved my life, our home and my family.
As I reflect now, after the passing of my dad, I recognise that love more clearly. But I also see it now through the eyes of a believer in Christ.
What cultural, religious or traditional experiences stand out for you growing up in a Hindu family?
The cultural facet of an Indian community is a myriad of colour and celebration.
Everything is a celebration.
Growing up in a Hindu family, we celebrated but we were not orthodox. We did what we needed to when it was required. It was stressed that what we do in this life will impact us in the life to come. There was strong emphasis on re-incarnation, which even then was bizarre to me, but now, as a believer, it borders on insanity.
The one area that stands out so prominently for me is that once a year we would wear new clothes and take part in a ritual of being bathed in oil (not literally). This would be followed by an annual visit to the temple. Leaving our shoes at the entrance, we would walk around the building a few times, stopping at certain points to raise our hands in prayer to a statue. The stops were countless because there is a ‘god’ for everything.
Hindu philosophy is that what you put in, you get out. If you perform all the rituals, your path to heaven will be straightened.
One other experience that outshines all is when a young girl comes of age. She goes to a priest who opens a book and tells her how her life will progress from that point on. For your life to go the right way you have to perform certain rituals. I sadly had no choice, despite my objections.
For my smooth transition into womanhood I had to eat saltless food for 9 days, get up at dawn, bath and make my way to the temple. Once there, I had to walk around a tree for 9 days ensuring that I walked and counted 109 circles around the tree, barefoot. It seemed pointless to me, but I obeyed. My onlooker everyday was my dad.
Now, as a believer, it is sad to see so many young women fooled and pressured into believing this empty promise rooted in rituals.
Growing up, were you exposed to Christianity and if so, in what context or format?
As I look back, in God’s sovereignty and providence, I was surrounded by Christian families and teachers whom God had strategically placed in my life, who offered me advice from Scripture. As an adult, I see how He used all these people and it affords me a brief understanding of His grace.
I had neighbours who would often invite me to church. I loved it. I learnt so much from them but my family never came along. I had to still honour and obey my parents and only went along with their permission.
It has taken many years for me to appreciate how God used these people in my life and it was such a joy to reconnect with them in 2015. I now can now testify as to how God used them and continues to use my past as a humble reminder of where I came from. I am so thankful.
Please share your testimony of how God saved you.
As the only daughter in a Hindu home, I was very sheltered and my dad was very strict.
He had values and a moral standing about many things. I am thankful, as this taught me much and protected me.
At school, one of my friends was a ‘Christian’ boy whom my father did not approve of until he had met his parents. This meeting took place and Duncan and I began our relationship.
In 1998 Duncan and I got engaged and we were married in 2001. As we were having a church wedding, I had to explain to my parents that I would have to change many things out of respect for my husband. They needed to realise that I would no longer participate in any of their Hindu rituals. They accepted and respected this and never pressured me.
For me, however, it was a struggle. Hinduism is all I had known and suddenly it had stopped. Duncan was not religious at all. He did not go to church. Growing up, his family had gone out of obligation and duty.
After purchasing our first home, we lived next door to an elderly woman. She invited us to an Easter service at her church. Duncan and I accepted and from that day, we became regular attendees. I signed up for Ladies Bible Studies. As I look back, I see how the Lord was working. I was hungry to learn more and longed for a sense of peace and belonging.
I loved attending church and on many Sundays would go by myself. One Sunday, when I was 8 months pregnant with our daughter, I sat in the foyer of the church to keep from passing out from the heat. The Pastor was faithfully preaching on the role of women; the value God places on women compared to how the world views women. The world drives women toward feminism, whereas God calls women to Biblical femininity.
Tears poured down my face throughout the entire sermon. The Pastor then highlighted that God chose a women to bear his son; an ordinary young woman who awoke that morning without a clue that she would bear the Saviour of the world.
The pregnant part I could relate to, and I sat there thinking I could barely understand what Mary must have felt. Then I heard the Pastor’s words: ‘She had to watch her son die for her and everyone, for all our sins.’ All I could think was, ‘What Love! Who would do that for me, for my husband, my children and my family? Who would die for me?’
I remember thinking how selfish I was; I would not give up my child. How selfless was God. Then the Pastor’s wife sang ‘Mary did you know.’
The lyrics so moved me and pierced my heart and I felt like I was looking at myself. I pleaded with God to forgive me of my sin, confessing faith in the saving grace that was bestowed on me through the death and resurrection of His precious Son, Jesus Christ, my Saviour. I remember feeling so disgusted with my sinful heart, knowing that I had killed the spotless Lamb of God with my wretched ways. I realised my desperate need of this Saviour.
Those moments at the back of the church felt like forever but it is a time I go back to often. I recall weeping inconsolably after having the scales lifted from my eyes and experiencing God’s forgiveness and peace.
As a Christian, what challenges have you faced with regard to Hindu family and friends?
My entire family are still Hindu.
I have to admit that it’s heart-breaking to watch them perform their meaningless Hindu rituals. It has no substance and they do it because it’s all they know. That is the only challenge I have faced. They have ears but they don’t hear.
We continue to pray for them though. The Lord is faithful and just and His will is also perfect.
I have not been shunned or disowned. In fact my family simply love spending time with us because they ‘experience a sense of calm and peace.’ This we know is only the work of our God.
Are there any Hindu cultural traditions that you as a family have kept or still celebrate?
Being a believer in Christ and fellowshipping with other like-minded believers has brought us much joy. Being a part of the body of Christ has brought us to a home at the feet of our Lord.
What advice would you give to Christians in sharing the Gospel with Hindu friends or Family?
Persevere! Hindu belief is steeped in ritual. Hindus will tell you it’s all they know. They seek logic in most of what the tradition is based on.
Pray! As mentioned, my family are all still Hindu. I pray and seek God’s wisdom in my conversations with them and to guide me in my actions when around them. The Lord provides opportunities to share.
Question! I have questioned many of my Hindu friends and family as to the reasons why they do this or that.
Their answer is always the same, ‘It’s all we know.’ They do not realise they are in bondage to a man-made system. So I take them back to Scripture. God’s Word will not return void,
Are there any distinctive struggles you have faced in a multicultural church and how can we, in the church, can be more sensitive to discipling Christians from a Hindu background?
Since my coming to faith the Lord has provided me with a church family that I am so thankful for. They accept me completely. The body of Christ has changed my life and that of my family. That is what we need to keep on doing, no matter the cultural or religious backgrounds of those who come to Christ. We are one in Him.
Leanne was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg, KZN. In 1999 she relocated to Johannesburg.
She is married to Duncan and they have 2 children; Declan and Gabby.
She is a Governance, Reporting and Communications Manager with a passion to encourage and enable her work colleagues.
She loves cooking and baking. Her love for baking began as a result of not being able to afford birthday cakes for her kids. Cooking for other brings her great joy. Her choice reading material is the Puritans. The verses that ground her are Romans 8:28 and 1 John 4:4.