SHELTON—When Mina Lawrence was growing up in Hong Kong, her parents taught her the importance of reading sacred scripture, of fasting and of praying … to the gods.
She came from a religious family that regularly went to the Hindu temple, where they read the Vedas, burned incense and supplicated different gods and goddesses, depending upon their needs—good health, prosperity, and protection.
Looking back, Mina realizes that throughout her early life she was being pursued by the One True God. She heard, she listened, but she hesitated, partly out of concern for her family and what they would think of their daughter leaving the religion they loved for Christianity, which among Asians is considered a Western religion for white people.
Mina, who is a controller at a medical imaging company in Shelton, her husband John and son Jared are members of St. Joseph Church in Shelton. Hers is a story of God’s persistent love … and pursuit.
Growing up, she lived with her parents and grandparents, who were devout Hindus, and throughout their home were pictures of different gods … to whom they would pray and burn incense.
“My first awareness of God as a higher power was watching my grandparents pray to the deities,” she recalled. “It made me realize there is something higher up there and when you wanted something, you could go to them.”
“When I was 5, my grandmother asked me to pray for a baby brother,” she recalled. “I used to be afraid of these gods and goddesses because some of them had many heads and arms, and I would be terrified looking at them.” When her mother had a baby boy, she believed her prayers had been answered.
Her grandparents had emigrated to Hong Kong from India in the early 1930s, where her mother, the second of four daughters, was born. They encouraged Mina, her older sister and younger brother to pray often. If they wanted to know the future, they would go to the priest in the temple who would read their horoscopes and use astronomy and math to predict events. Her first contact with Christianity came when it was time to enter secondary school because, she said, the best education was offered by Catholic schools.
“In elementary school, we all went to public schools, but my older sister wanted to go to one of the best in the city. She started telling my parents about it and she got into the Maryknoll Sisters School in tenth grade.”
Mina later entered the lottery and prayed she, too, would be admitted. Her prayers were answered and she entered seventh grade in an all-girls Maryknoll school, where she was required to take religious education and attend Mass although she did not receive Communion.
“The environment was very Catholic and there was a lovely chapel and a beautiful statue of Mother Mary in the foyer, and one of the nuns would lead Catholic girls in the rosary.”
It was there that she came to understand the difference between Christianity and Hinduism. It was there, too, that she learned to pray the Our Father and Hail Mary.
“I loved religious education class,” she said. “God seemed so human and personal to me, not a deity with so many heads and arms. But I don’t think I got the whole message even though I was drawn to it. I still went to the temple with my family, but I knew deep inside my heart that I wanted to convert, but I didn’t have the courage to tell my parents.”
In her heart, she wanted to receive Communion and pray the rosary but knew she couldn’t unless she converted.
When her grandfather, who was a religious and giving man, passed away in his early 70s, Mina confronted questions about God and the purpose of life for the first time. She was 15.
“I started to think about life and death and faith,” she said. “I put aside my thoughts of converting and decided to learn more about Hinduism, and I began reading different books, including the Hindu sacred scriptures—the Vedas.” She learned about karma, reincarnation and the epic stories of Hinduism.
In her pursuit of knowledge, she came upon the teaching that every god, every deity, leads you to the One God. This thought settled her … for a time. She also became more committed to the rituals of Hinduism, prayer, horoscopes and fasting. Nevertheless, she always prayed the Our Father at bedtime because she “felt her prayers were going somewhere and there was a sense of intimacy and assurance.”
“Every time I passed by a church, I would hear this little voice deep inside of me that would say, ‘You need to go in there and pray,’” she recalled. “But I would ignore that voice. I never went in. I was too wrapped up in my life at the time.”
Her mother, who had rheumatic heart disease from a young age, needed surgery to replace a valve, but she resisted because a Hindu priest had once told her that should would die.
But her fears went deeper. She believed bad karma in her previous life caused her health problems, and she was worried that after death she would have to suffer again in the next life.
Inspired by what she had been taught about Christ’s infinite love and mercy, Mina told her mother that she shouldn’t be tormented by the fear of punishment after death.
“I told her, ‘God won’t make you suffer. Why would God do that? He is loving,’” she said.
Unfortunately, her mother died in 1992 of heart failure before she was able to have the surgery.
“At that time, I got more into Hinduism than ever before,” Mina says. “After she passed away, I continued to pray and burn incense. Even though I was being called, the time wasn’t right although I knew in my heart I had to become a Christian one day.”
About this time, her cousin Rita returned from Ireland, where she had been studying, and announced she had converted to Christianity. She told Mina, her sister Joyce and their cousin Geeta that Jesus is the One True God. During the discussion between the Christian convert and three Hindu women, they said the Hindu god Krishna is as true as Jesus.
“Deep inside me questions started to arise about the One True God,” Mina said. “Whenever I prayed, I always asked God to reveal himself to me because I wanted to know the One True God. Today I know that God answered me because as He says in the Bible, ‘If you seek me, you will find me.’”
Then, something happened that would change her life completely.
She met a young man named John Lawrence who worked in information technology and was moving to the United States … and he was Catholic.
“We both discovered we had similar values, but I didn’t think it was going to work out,” Mina said. “He asked if we got married and had kids what would their faith be, and I told him Catholic. Shortly afterward, he proposed to me.”
They were married in 1993 and moved to the United States.
As Mina says, “It was a new life for me in a new country away from home.” The first place they lived was a suburb of Detroit, and her religious life took a new direction. John had a picture of Christ in the living room and a crucifix in the bedroom.
“I told my husband I wanted to go to church with him every week, and I loved it,” she said. “I wouldn’t take Communion because I wasn’t baptized. Then, one day a priest from India gave the homily, and I thought that there must have been something very powerful for him to become a Catholic priest. He talked about mercy of God, and it moved me. I connected all the dots about my mother and what Christ did for us on the cross.”
She entered the RCIA program and in 1995 was baptized a Roman Catholic at St. Patrick Church in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. In 1999, they moved to Connecticut and started worshiping at St. Lawrence Church and eventually moved to St. Joseph’s, where she joined a charismatic prayer group and became a lector.
“When I told my father, he said it was good that we both went to church on Sunday to worship, and when he visited America, he came with us,” she said. “Sometimes I think, ‘Who am I that Christ should call me like he did.’ I am so fortunate.”
Today, she strongly believes we are called to evangelize and share the Christian message with our family and friends.
“It is very important to continue the work of Christ on Earth, and I want to share the Good News with my family members and friends and pray that He will show them the way.”
She also points out that the four young women who 25 years ago were discussing the search for the One True God are all Christians today. God was leading them to himself all along.
(The following profile is part of a series on converts to the Catholic faith, which explores the spiritual path that has led people to the Church and the profound changes that have occurred in their lives.)