Two important influences shaped conference manager Sudhira Sewsunker's early years – the skin disease vitiligo, which turned parts of her brown skin snow white, and her family's staunch Hinduism.
Her skin problems transformed 7-year-old Sudhs from an active, outgoing tom boy who oozed confidence, into an ashamed recluse who hid from visitors in her room and poured herself into prayers and religious service.
Later, Sudhs, by her own admission, became a party animal who indulged in her "fair share of sin".
"There were days when I partied a full month and barely had any sleep but still managed to work. My anger reached new levels and I could flip from being calm to a raging lunatic. I was an unforgiving person indeed, if you had hurt me in any way, I would plot revenge and then write you out of my life. Pride for me was my worst enemy and I never knew how to ask for help," Sudhs explains.
She had had very little exposure to Christianity, but in 2013 Sudhs changed jobs and started working with Ankia Roux, who happened to be an ardent follower of Jesus.
Sudhs tells the story:
"One day I was at Ankia's desk during lunch and I saw a page which was written in Afrikaans. I picked it up to read with the aim of making fun of Afrikaans, as I just scraped through it in school. Little did I know that it was the Sunday school lesson she was preparing. As I tried to pronounce weird Afrikaans words, Ankia explained what it meant.
"We never spoke about it again until one day I called Ankia at home and asked her if she would take me to her church to pray for my sick aunt (the temple was too far for me to go to). I think Ankia was shocked but she agreed and the next day we went to the church to pray for my aunt who was going to be taken off life support.
"It was strange going into a church," Sudhs remembers. "I didn't know what I should pray for or who to pray to. Ankia made it clear that I should pray to Jesus and no one else. I thought, 'Hey, no water off my back, just want my aunt not to die.'
"We returned to the office shortly after we prayed and an hour later my mum called to inform me my aunt had opened her eyes and claimed Jesus had come to her and told her to awake! This was all very odd since only Ankia, Jesus and myself had known I was going to church. I was truly amazed and thought 'wow!'
"A few weeks later Ankia gave me a book by Angus Buchan, called Starting the Journey. She said to me 'Here is a book on my religion, read it and feel free to give me a book on your Hindu beliefs'. I couldn't be rude, so I took the book. A few days later I read it and at the back was the Salvation Prayer. In the following days Ankia had to field a lot of questions I had about the Bible and Jesus."
Sudhs continues: "I did not decide to become a Christian - God decided for me. The miracles I witnessed personally and the crazy dreams that ensued became overwhelming. It is true that God draws you near. I recall the night before Ascension Day in 2016 I decided I was done with dabbling in the Christian faith and couldn't possibly change my religion. In the service at Church that week I was furious that I had to forsake my family to follow Christ and knew my family would not take it well.
"That night, I had the most vivid dream: the ground opened up and I was immersed in fire and there were strange creatures pulling me in. I screamed and shouted for help. Only my left hand and head were above the lava-like fire. A cool, calm and collected voice hovered above me. A Man dressed in white and glittering like nothing I have seen before, extended His arm and said, 'Do you choose now to follow Me?' I yelled out 'Yes Jesus, I will follow you' and He pulled me out of the fire.
"Since that day I haven't looked back and I believe with all my heart that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life."
At the end of October that year, Sudhs was publically baptised (immersed in water) as an outward confirmation of the inner decision she came to that day. "While I was a practicing Christian before that, that is the day I comprehensively gave my life to Jesus," she confirms.
Sudhs admits that although her spirit was willing to live for Jesus, her flesh was weak and change came slowly. "There is a constant fight to give in to temptation. There have been many days when I have to consciously remind myself 'you are a Christian'," she says. "It isn't some switch that you can flip and say here I am a born-again Christian. Some days when I want to burn a building down or tell someone exactly what I think of them, I am reminded to react differently and honour the commandment of 'love thy neighbour'.
"On most days I am a lot calmer though and I have become a forgiving person, which I didn't think was possible. God definitely has increased my faith to enable me to love people better," Sudhs shares.
She is so grateful that she had an honest, God-fearing Christian in Ankia to guide her in her search for truth and she prays that others who are seeking might have the same blessing.
"My prayer is for all who hear Jesus knocking to open their hearts, no matter what the sacrifice or consequences. You need to forsake all and follow Him. Christianity gives you an opportunity to have a one-on-one relationship with God. God is perfect, yet He continues to love His imperfect children perfectly."
Sudhs' catch cry is: "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain" from the Bible verse Philippians 1:21.•