January 18, 2019

Once a stranger in America, native of India finds his faith home in Indiana

By John Shaughnessy

Jay VennapusaIf he had given into his fears, it would all be different for Jay Vennapusa.

He would likely be back in India, the homeland he left in 2014, the homeland he seriously considered returning to a short while later because he felt so alone and such a stranger in the United States.

Instead, he still lives in this country. And during the SEEK2019 conference in Indianapolis on Jan. 3-7, the 26-year-old Vennapusa was among the more than 17,000 young people from around the world who had come together with the goal of exploring and deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ.

It was a choice that made him smile, being there with “so many young people saying ‘yes’ to Christ.” It was a choice that also made him remember the days of his fears.

“When I came here from India, I did not know a single person in the United States except my cousin,” recalled Vennapusa, who arrived in the United States to earn a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. “My whole family is back in India. I thought of going back because I was so scared.

“At that point, I felt Christ was calling me, drawing me closer.”

That feeling became even stronger when he came in contact with two people he met at the college’s Newman Center, a center for students of the Catholic faith—the faith in which he was raised.

“I saw young people on fire for Christ,” he recalled about his college days as he sat on a bench in the Indiana Convention Center where the SEEK conference was held. “They cared and considered me as one of their brothers. They held me accountable in my spiritual life. That’s when I started practicing my faith. Going to church is one thing. Practicing your faith is another. That’s when I started encountering Christ.”

That relationship has continued to grow since he graduated with his master’s degree in 2016 and was hired by Cummins Inc., in Columbus. There, he has become a member of St. Bartholomew Parish and has found a home in the young adult Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

His involvement in the IndyCatholic community began by playing volleyball in the program’s young adult intramural program. Then he started attending spiritual retreats, and the connection has continued.

“I left the vibrant community in Peoria and found it in Indy,” he said. “Once again, I have people who hold me accountable for my faith. I see people who care for each other, who ask, ‘How can I pray for you?’ They try to uplift you. They ask me, ‘How is your relationship with Jesus?’ These are words I’ve never heard before. I have this through this strong IndyCatholic community.”

He describes this young adult community as “people our age who are not afraid of who they are,” people who are open about sharing how God permeates their lives. It’s helped him do the same.

“I don’t think I would have received so many blessings if I didn’t take my faith life so seriously,” he said. “Without this faith life, I would be lost. I wouldn’t have these genuine friendships or a community that cares about each other.”

That reality today makes him think of how far he has come from his time of fear five years ago—and how different people have helped lead him to a deeper relationship with Christ.

“I’m a complete stranger here. I’m not even the same color,” he said about his arrival in this country. “Now, I’m receiving the same unconditional love that Christ gives to all of us. It makes me want to share the same unconditional love that I’m receiving from Christ.” †


Related story: Young adults embrace opportunity to deepen faith at SEEK2019

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