A small woman in her 50s, Atosi seems like she’s always been a firecracker. She has passionate opinions, a strong sense of determination, and warm, bright, expressive eyes. As I listen to her story, I imagine her as a little baby in a distant town of India, the youngest among four siblings, a daughter not planned. Her mother, one of the only working women in town, went back to her teaching job when Atosi was only 3 months old—a rare phenomenon. A helper, who was taking care of her during the day, kept stealing the milk set aside for little Atosi. The ache of unsatisfied appetite made her develop a habit of thumb sucking for years to come; a habit that brought her much shame and negative attention from her family and others around.
As a little girl, Atosi hated that her mother worked and often compared her with “normal” mothers who stayed at home to take care of their children. She was dead-set on getting married, becoming a housewife and mother, and never working outside the home. She dreamed of a quiet, simple life. But God, having a good sense of humor, made it so that Atosi’s older sisters were not married yet by the time she finished school. Since it would have been culturally inappropriate for her to get married before them, she had to get a job. Her plans for life were not working out as she had imagined.
Atosi’s extroverted personality, her energetic, active demeanor, and her free ways—like being the only girl riding a scooter in town—made people label her as a manly woman. She didn’t fit society’s gender box for girls. She enjoyed her government job, but the dream of her heart was still marriage. As the years passed, there were several prospects, but things never worked out for one reason or another, and Atosi stayed single rather than marrying a man who would like her income more than her. By this time she felt a good deal of pressure and humiliation from her family members and relatives. Even though she wanted to get married, she was blamed and shamed and gossiped about for not being able to do so.
The third time she wanted to commit suicide was on a severely rainy day. Atosi was taking the bus home from work and as they crossed a river swollen with water, she decided in numb hopelessness to go back there later to end her life. When she stepped out of her house, she heard a voice: “Atosi, what are you doing?” She remembered the Lord’s prayer, and the powerful words bounced her heart back. God spoke to her, “Forgive all these people who hurt you and mocked you.” She took a clean sheet of paper and wrote down the names of all the people she needed to forgive. She kept her hand on those names as God counseled her all night. “Even if people don’t like you, I love you, you are mine.” She received His forgiveness and was able to forgive those who hurt her.
The next morning she felt like a changed person. Gradually she started initiating toward the people in her community who excluded her and started talking to those who mocked her, she got involved in church life, and slowly depression and hatred started lifting from her heart. She forgave her mother and started to understand her perspectives, her life, her choices, too. God was redeeming her family.
After a few days of silence, fasting and prayer in 2002, she sensed God anointing her for a different task, a new purpose. With over 16 years of government work Atosi was able to retire with a full pension—this meant that she would be financially taken care of for the rest of her life without a husband and could pursue other work.
She got a master’s degree in theological studies and has worked as a teacher, preacher and gender policy writer. But more than her work and her accomplishments, she has enjoyed learning about her Father’s love for her— strong, spirited personality and all—and sharing that testimony with others. Despite her early dreams of marriage and motherhood and despite the Indian view on women, she has deeply understood that her value comes from Christ and not other people, not men, not her marital status. This truth brought her freedom and courage to live. She is learning to appreciate the way God made her and to develop and use her gifts and talents for the benefit of others.
Recently, some relatives started spreading their opinion about Atosi behind her back—how she must be having affairs because women can’t live alone, and how women shouldn’t be teaching and preaching, and how she should get married and be saved by childbearing. This deeply hurt her but she has kept going, affirmed in her self-worth by God, confident in the work He laid before her. She now works for Ending Gendercide, educating church communities about God’s view on women, especially related to violence. She is excited about learning more to be able to help other women like herself—women who have been limited and victimized by society’s view on who they should be—live to their fullest to the glory of God.
Oh, and she is pursuing a PhD in biblical studies.