When Pastor Indira Newallo takes the podium at The Apostles’ Ministries (TAM) in Longdenville, Chaguanas, she preaches from a place of experience and wisdom. The people she counsels in her women’s ministry, “Her Essence Revealed”, open their lives to her because her story is not unlike theirs.
Disobedience to God, “toxic relationships” and other adversities had forced her life to spiral downwards, but renewed faith and a determination to “put God first” brought her back.
Newallo and her then nine-year-old daughter were kidnapped at gunpoint some 13 years ago while returning to her mother’s house to head back out to a family dinner after choir practice at church. At the time, she had a matter regarding the custody of her daughter in the High Court.
During that same period, she also spent one night at the Women’s Prison in Golden Grove on an allegation which was later dismissed. The prison being “crowded” at the time with both local and foreign women, Newallo spent the night with inmates who had been awaiting trials for serious crimes.
Open showers and toilets, “hot sugar water” as tea and hops with something she could not remember, formed part of her stay. She remained awake all night out of fear and ended up listening to the stories of her two cellmates. She could not help but observe their holy books of various religions. They held on to the sacred literature for hope, Newallo thought as she reflected on the disobedience and wavering faith in God that had brought her to her fate. Later, one of the women would be freed.
Newallo would realise that she too had not been abandoned; a divine hand was orchestrating her new season.
“Good can come out of a bad situation. If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be in ministry, I would have asked if you were talking to the right person,” Newallo, 52, said in a recent Guardian Media interview.
“Eighteen years ago, my lawyer invited me to church and that was my first introduction to TAM. That first day, there were two foreign guest speakers and that man, Pastor Thornley, prophesied to me that God would use my voice again for his glory. After that, I re-dedicated my life to God. I got fully involved.”
Newallo said her greatest awareness of God had come many years before, at the age of 16 when a friend of one of her sisters invited her to do missionary work for a month in Colombia. She set about eagerly living for God and attending church, but having grown up in a strict Hindu home with eight other siblings, by her early 20s, she was more concerned with her freedom and the liming, parties and bad company that came along with it.
By age 34, Newallo was reeling from a “rough” marriage and divorce. Realising that she was becoming overwhelmed by circumstances, her lawyer intervened, inviting her to his church. Drawing on her earlier years of being “on fire” for God, she immersed herself in the work of TAM, a Full Gospel church in Longdenville.
“I never missed a meeting and that is what helped me grow; build strength, character.
“Your whole perspective changes because you get teaching on a Tuesday night, Friday night and Sunday morning service,” she said.
She had moved to an annex on her mother’s property with her daughter, Thais, and balanced being a member of TAM’s worship team with being owner of her hair and beauty salon, Studio 52.
About two years later, she and Thais were staring down the guns and a cutlass of kidnappers. She had just finished singing the song, “Mighty to Save” at choir practice and believes this is one reason she and her daughter were released unharmed. She would be aware of a divine force guiding her the night she spent in prison too.
In 2009, she married TAM’s pastor and cricketer-turned-cricketing coach, Kirk Newallo.
“It was never a date between him and me. It was always a group of people and it had to be God because…I never thought of getting married to a pastor,” she revealed amidst peals of laughter.
“He is incredible. He was one of the best listeners. When you are speaking to him, it’s like you have his full attention…an excellent listener. I think that kind of drew me to him. The things that he shared, his wisdom, his love for God was wow…There was a peace that he carried,” she said.
Called “lucky” by many other women, the pastor said rather than by luck, transformation came through actively placing her faith in God, showing love to others without judgment and obeying God’s timing. It can happen for others, the down-to-earth Newallo insisted.
She continued to be part of the worship team–nine years in all–aided by formal vocal training in Cunupia as she was the most “musically challenged” of the group. They would sing and worship wherever they were called; Christmas functions at the Divali Nagar, being one of those places.
“It was a challenge for me musically, but I poured my whole heart and soul into it. When it was time to worship on a Sunday morning or a Tuesday night, sometimes if I had to fast or spend time praying, I would do it because when you worship you want to impact other people’s lives.
“It might be one line that would touch someone’s heart to bring some sort of comfort because people go through lots that they don’t tell you, but you minister to them in song.”
Encouraged by her husband, eventually she transitioned into pastoral teaching.
“Every year I increased. I went to Bible school and got a diploma in Theology, did courses in grief recovery and I’m certified in marriage counselling.”
Her training brings healing, restoration, and wholeness to people who have emotional baggage by showing them that to be freed of burdens and come into wholeness, one must let go of the past, she said.
She and Pastor Kirk, lead marriage counselling where they emphasise transparency and forgiveness in marriage and offer free workshops at least once a year for church members, who also bring others seeking guidance in their relationships.
“We always say if you have a strong family, you have a strong church, a strong community and a strong nation. We want to see healthy, functional couples, a healthy family life.”
Some have become members of their church through such counselling.
“They say this is the pastor that helped me. They see this church, see something different and want to come.”
Though she believes that marriages are “most under attack” at present, Newallo counsels a variety of people; from teens and young adults to single parents and mature people. Their issues range from financial needs to different types of abuse and desires to harm themselves. The church also currently assists Venezuelan nationals, some of whom have joined their congregation.
“We are a presence-oriented church. We really believe in the presence of God,” Newallo said.
Newallo said she uses her business as an extension of her ministry. She has run the popular Studio 52 salon for 35 years.
“You get an opportunity to pray for people, counsel people, empower people. I use it as a forum,” said the pastor who feels like she is “accomplishing the best part of her destiny” currently.
She is proud that her entire family has come to know the Lord. She credits her 79-year-old mother with being a source of strength to her and with keeping the large family together at all costs.
“We call her “Unity” because she insists that the family must never be divided.
“My mother is a really humble yet strong and powerful woman. She is like my best friend. That’s how I wanted it to be with my daughter and me.”
Newallo said despite some of the past trauma in their lives, her daughter, whom she described as “beautiful and talented” and “her heartbeat and joy” has emerged well. She is now 23 and works with her mother at the salon and had worked in the children’s ministry of their church up to two years ago.
“Her father was a good father to her. He made sure she went to the best schools and was well-provided-for. We had our differences, but she was our priority.”
Before the COVID-19-closure of borders, Thais was preparing to leave for school abroad to attain her certification in make-up and microblading, Newallo said.
Though Newallo feels that this time has brought a real test for the message of the church, since the COVID-19 pandemic, TAM has had a greater online presence and has seen a larger audience. The church continues to conduct three services per week.
After noting that some were experiencing increased “tension” due to being stuck in close quarters during this lockdown period, Newallo decided to do talks on having a good attitude and creating an atmosphere of peace, and on the inevitability of change.
“Like in everything else, nothing bad lasts forever. We are in a season. As bad as COVID-19 is, we will not remain in one position. This is where trust in God comes in,” she said.
In one of her online sermons, she said change happens without us and despite us and we must find the maturity to transition. In the history of the church, often in a time of chaos, there is revival, she said.