A Second Chance at BYU-Hawaii
January 30, 2017
Imagine being one of 14 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a city of 4.5 million people—and the only youth too. Imagine keeping your faith a secret, even from your own family, for fear of derision. And imagine being penalized by society for your decision to serve a full-time mission. This was the experience of Soumya Kumbhakar, a BYU–Hawaii student from Kolkata, India.
Soumya (pronounced “SHO-mo”) grew up in a family rooted in Hinduism and was not exposed to Christianity as a child. When Soumya was 12 years old, his uncle (who had met with LDS missionaries and been baptized while working in Japan) introduced him to the Church. Initially Soumya’s uncle was afraid to tell anyone about his new religion for fear of upsetting his Hindu family. However, he shared his testimony with Soumya because they enjoyed a close relationship and because he felt Soumya would be receptive to the gospel.
“My uncle took me to church one day, and I started going with him every Sunday after that,” Soumya says. “At first I loved going because of the good food they had after church. Eventually my uncle helped me understand the gospel. I felt good, and I learned how to pray and to feel the Spirit. I got baptized after two years of going to church.”
Like his uncle, Soumya was also afraid to tell others about his faith. He concealed his church attendance and baptism from his parents; his uncle signed the permission form that allowed him to be baptized as a minor. “It was just me and my uncle going secretly to church,” he says.
When Soumya turned 16, he finally told his parents about the Church. “I told my mom first because she is very close to me,” he says. “I told her that I joined the Church, and that I believe in it. She was okay with it, but not my father. He was not happy with it at all. He believes in Hinduism very strongly, and he didn’t want me to leave our tradition.” Notwithstanding his father’s antagonism, Soumya persisted in his faith and activity in the Church.
Right Decision, Tough Consequence
After Soumya finished high school, he began studying business at the University of Calcutta, one of India’s top-tier colleges. He also went on exchanges with full-time missionaries from New Delhi whenever they visited his branch. “I loved the missionaries and going out with them as they knocked on doors,” Soumya says, “so I thought about going on a mission.”
The desire to serve grew in Soumya’s heart until, once again, he chose to follow his faith and break with cultural norms and family expectations. He put in his missionary application and was called to serve in the India Bangalore Mission. This time both Soumya’s mother and father were upset with his decision. “They were totally against it,” he says. “I went to a very good university studying business. It was very hard to get into that university. My father thought I was doing nothing for my future career. But in my heart I knew the Spirit was telling me to serve.”
Soumya served faithfully for two years and was blessed spiritually, but when he returned home from his mission, the University of Calcutta would not allow him to reenroll. “They would not accept a student who stopped studying for two years,” Soumya explains. “It’s that way all over India.”
With that door closed to him, Soumya returned to the Bangalore area and spoke to a friend from his mission, who helped him get a job in sales. Around that time he also reconnected with and courted a girl whom he had dated before his mission. “She comes from a Hindu family, but I saw her as a potential Church member,” Soumya says. “And I think she is really cute,” he adds bashfully, “so we got married.”
After getting married and working for two years, Soumya realized how hard it would be to support a family without a college degree. His wife encouraged him to go back to school and finish his education, but he thought it wasn’t possible. “I really wanted to study more, but I didn’t know how to do it,” he says.
Deferred Blessings at BYU–Hawaii
As Soumya prayerfully sought answers to know how he could best support his family, he heard about BYU–Hawaii from other members of the Church: “They talked about a Church college where somebody can learn and grow in a good environment and also serve the Lord, and they encouraged me to apply.”
Soumya was excited about the prospect of studying at BYU–Hawaii, but he was not sure how he could afford it. Then he learned about I-WORK, the university’s work-study financial-aid program for international students. “I was not economically stable enough to bring my wife and me to the U.S. to finish my education,” Soumya says. “But because of the I-WORK program, I have been able to come to BYU–Hawaii and continue my studies. It is a great blessing in my life.”
Soumya is now studying accounting and is happy to have the opportunity to earn a college degree and build his faith. “BYU–Hawaii is helping me have the Spirit always, to pray all the time, and to have priorities that help my family grow together,” Soumya says. “I’m serving as a ward mission leader, and I’m learning a lot about Church leadership. . . . When I go back home, I feel that I will be prepared to help people in India understand the gospel—how Jesus Christ loves them and how His atonement can help them to come closer to God and be blessed with their family.”
A Forever Family
Perhaps the greatest blessing that has come from Soumya’s time at BYU–Hawaii has been the eternal impact on his family.
“I think this campus has a strong spirit that helped my wife join the Church just two months after we came here,” Soumya says. “The hymns helped her feel the Spirit. She really loves singing hymns, and she listens to them every day. And she made good friends who taught her that family can be together for eternity. That helped her to believe that there is a God and to feel closer to Him. Now she serves as a compassionate service coordinator in our ward.”
Soumya and his wife also had a baby girl, who was 4 months old when they were all sealed together in the Laie Hawaii Temple. “That was a huge blessing for me, for my family, and for our future families,” Soumya says.
Soumya expresses gratitude for the I-WORK program, which is largely funded by charitable gifts from generous donors to the university: “I’d like to say to the donors that I am so thankful to them for helping me get an education and bringing my family closer together.”