Campus Meet '96
Around 12 years back, during the Diwali holidays, a young man attended Campus Meet '96 in Nirmala College, Muvattupuzha in Kerala, India. His name is Binu Asokan - yes, that's me! I was a shy, introvert, struggling guy. Many in my college (Mar Athanasius College of Engg, Kerala) thought I was a bubbling personality, one of the coolest kinds - and that's what I wanted others to think too; but deep within I was hiding so many things - lack of satisfaction, confidence, hope, direction, etc.
I was very talented in many areas - whether it was sports or arts, and I had quite a few fans too. My jokes (many a time having double meanings and unclean words) too had fan following (unfortunately). But none of these fans or the closest "cool" friends knew what I was going through within. I had my 'first-love' relationship broken a year back then, since I found myself helpless when the girl (of my same age) told me that her parents were considering proposals for her; and I was very sure that it would take me at least 7-8 years more to get settled in life. We had then mutually decided not to continue with the relationship, since there were so much of uncertainties ahead of us, and we both did not want to put our parents in trouble because of us.
Again, in the recent times (then) I had some incidents of painful memory. I used to love my campus and friends so much, since that was the place where I got a lot of recognition and appreciation, and friends thought of me as a cool guy. I used to even have "hostel-sickness" (instead of "home-sickness") when I went my home on weekends. But now, the situation had changed. The wave of "students' politics" had swept over our batch, which used to be earlier known for its "batch spirit and unity". I, being a good sportsman, was elected that year as the Sports' Secretary of my College Hostel under the banner of the "red-flagged party" (each hostel had its own unions, and the elections were conducted on party basis). I then had to undergo a painful experience from my party because of my impartial opinions made in the Hostel Union meetings. Some of those decisions supported by me were questioned in the "party meetings" and I was asked to give an "explanation" for my decisions for which the party had a different & partial viewpoint. The most shocking part was that my own roommate - one of my closest buddies - was the one who raised his voice the most, pointing a finger at me, counting the "undisciplinary" decisions made by me. Many of my other dear friends watched the firing silently. My face fell, so did my heart. I started feeling uncomfortable and lonely in my campus, since the greatest thing I treasured - my "friends' circle" - was the one that had "betrayed" me.
Now it was not very accidental that I decided to attend the Campus Meet '96. There were certain incidents in my life, which drew me to the event. I had a friend, a classmate, named Hormise. He was not the closest friend, but was a very good, loving, caring, understanding friend. Once as we two were traveling in a bus, on our way back home for a weekend, Hormise enquired with me whether everything was alright or not. I replied - "Yes, everything is going alright." Hormise' approach was very encouraging, and then he said - "I once heard that you and some of your friends were involved in [some particular activity] in your hostel, and I was a little worried about you, and that night I went on my knees and prayed for you!" I was shocked!! 'What was there in my [activity] that he felt I needed prayers?' I felt something different about this. 'Either this Hormise was crazy, or... he might be right, but then there might be many things that I might not know.' I also felt that Hormise was a person with whom I felt more comfortable than all the other buddies and "cool guys" I knew. There was something special about him!! I later learnt that Hormise was a part of a Catholic group called Jesus Youth, which had a small prayer group for the students of our college, and that Hormise was a firm believer in God. One day, while I was feeling disturbed and uncomfortable about certain things that were worrying me, I invited Hormise to go to Church with me (now, I am from a Hindu background. I used to be fascinated by the Hindu mythological stories which my grandmother used to narrate when I was very young. I knew more such stories than most of the urban guys of my generation. When the 'love-break' happened a year back, I had given a try to find solace and comfort by visiting a nearby temple frequently, but it was not of much help, apart from a satisfaction and hope that some day things would be OK). Hormise obliged, and we went to St. George's Cathedral on his bike. I did not know how and what to do in a Church, so I decided to do what Hormise would do. When Hormise knelt down and made the sign of the Cross, I too did so; when he sat on a bench, I too did. I was watching him very carefully. After around 20 minutes or so, Hormise stood up and came outside. I, the follower, did my part too. Hormise invited me to sit near the steps, and was all prepared to listen to what I had to say. Now I slowly opened up, with a lot of reluctance, that I needed a big change. It was not so easy for me, for I had not exactly figured out what was troubling me the most. Then, at the end of this sharing, Hormise asked me whether he shall pray for me. I was more than happy to let that happen. I was to witness something that I never expected in my whole life. I watched Hormise speaking to his dearest friend - Jesus Christ - as if He were very much present right there. To him, Jesus was a familiar person, to whom he had a chat with very often. He surrendered all the struggles and pain of mine, acknowledging that Jesus was the only person who loves me the most, and the one who knows and understands me more than any other person in this world, and the one who can solve all the problems of my life!!! Tears started flowing from my eyes. I could sense a divine presence that slowly turned my burdened heart into a free and light one. I experienced a deep sense of relief and hope. Both of us returned to our hostels. I thanked Hormise for his time and patience. Though I experienced peace and comfort, I was a long way from believing that it was really God's presence that made the difference. I thought that it could be a good psychological experience only. But I had a sincere appreciation for Hormise and his "Christian faith" that can lead to such psychological effects!!! Later, there happened a retreat for our college. Hormise invited me, but I was not much interested to attend.
It was during this time that the "Hostel Elections" happened. It was a time of celebration for me, and retreat had no place in my agenda. But since the post-election "party-dose" turned out to be a bitter cup for me, I remembered the "psychological experience" with Hormise, and waited for the next opportunity to attend a Jesus Youth programme. That opportunity came in the shape of Campus Meet '96. Jim and Tojan, some of the prayer group members showed me the brochure of the event, and I was deeply impressed!! The theme verse of the event was - "In Him was life and that life was the light of all men." (John 1:4). These words somehow penetrated my heart and disturbed me. I thought - "'In Him was life... even I have life. What's so special about 'His life'? Yeah, His life was the light of all men, but mine is in deep darkness!" I longed to understand more about this life, and if possible, to experience it (if what this verse claimed was true). I made a decision to go for the programme. Since then, whenever I saw the posters and brochure of this event, I felt that I was getting closer to what my heart was yearning for - GOD. My confidence grew when I spent a few minutes a day at Jim's room, when Jim would open the Bible for me. Always, Jim used to receive portions that he had underlined during his retreats - the words of healing and comfort, assurances of His powerful presence with us. Jim used to say, "I had marked these portions during my retreats so that I could locate them easily. But usually when I open the Bible I don't get these passages. But when you are with me, I always get such beautiful messages. I am sure God is speaking this specially to you!!" Such words were truly those of hope and encouragement. Jim had also shared with me his retreat experiences, inner healing, and the physical healing of his ear that used to have a pus problem on which doctors had given up.
I came to Campus Meet along with the college prayer group members. I saw that the whole atmosphere was so beautiful and different from the kind of pleasures of the world that I was after. When I entered the hall, I saw around 700 youngsters singing along with the Music Ministry and praising God!! Something I could never even imagine!! So many youth assembled there have no shame in acknowledging the existence of God!!! In this programme, I was touched by the testimonies of several youths who shared their God experiences, and I wished that even I could have so many beautiful experiences of God's intervention in my life. The praise & worship, adoration, group dynamics, video presentations, skits and interaction with so many people, all was so new and wonderful to me. It was also a time when I heard from my friends that to lead a life acceptable before God, we need to be holy, and forsake all the ways, habits, words, attitudes, companions, etc. that do not conform to His will.
It was a tough lesson for me, for I knew that I was not holy, and was not sure if I could bid goodbye to many of my ways and habits. But I somehow felt that if God demands holiness from me, He would also strengthen me enough to do what it required to meet the demand. I made some firm decisions in the presence of the LORD. When we were back from the event, I started to attend the college prayer meeting at Vimalagiri High School, had daily rosary with Tojan and had frequent interactions with Hormise & other prayer group members.
Now the college prayer group had been planning for a one day retreat for the college, and they had a daily intercession meeting in Vimalagiri. Hormise invited me to join that, and one evening I went for the same. By this time I had learnt to say the Rosary. We used to say 3 Rosaries together. By the time we finished one Rosary, I started to experience something strange. My hands started feeling cold, and soon I felt something like electricity passing through me. It was real, it was soothing, and I later learnt that it was the Spirit of God manifesting in my body in a tangible way. I felt revitalized, and from that day onwards, I got strength to overcome several of the temptations of the evil one that once used to drag me to bad habits, bad talk and bad lifestyle. My faith was dramatically confirmed, and I have not had the slightest doubt till now that it was God's hand that touched me and did the work in me.
The year and a half I spent in my campus after that was a time of transformation and growth. The formation I received in the prayer group was awesome. It was as if God gave me a Crash Course on faith, not compromising on the syllabus!!! I grew in faith, hope, love, character, understanding, wisdom, hope, confidence, direction, inner-healing and much more! Maybe if you look at me today, you may not find anything so special, but still if you compare me with the old Binu I used to be, i.e. Binu in my BC and now in my AD, there is a far cry between both!! I am sure. The support and formation I received from my campus prayer group has helped me to continue in faith all through these years. In 2001, five years after coming to faith, I felt the strong calling from God to receive Sacraments, which got confirmed by the advice of my spiritual elders. I presented my case before my parents, who tried all their means to dissuade me from my decision. They said - "You will be considered a second class citizen in the Church! You will not get a girl to marry!!" But, by the grace of God and the special intercession of St. Martin de Porres, my Patron Saint, I defended my case firmly and calmly, and my relatives gave up. I even said - "If I do not get a girl to marry because of my decision, I would rather not marry, than give up my decision to receive the Sacraments!" Thus, on 8th September 2002 I became a part of the Catholic Church. Two years later, my parents took the initiative of finding a girl for me from similar backgrounds, and they realized that not only am I considered as a first class citizen of the Church, but also that there are several people out there who are like me. I got married in the year 2004 to Neethu, and now we have three sons.