BORN into a Catholic family, Cheryl Balwani was always concerned from the time she was a child about where she would spend her eternity. As she grew up and met people from different faiths, she started questioning the authenticity of the Bible and wondered how God could send ‘nice people’ to hell just because they didn’t believe in Jesus Christ and acknowledge Him to be the only living God. She started exploring various religions besides occultism and astrology only to realize they were all wrong paths. She realized no matter how many good deeds one does, every person has a sinful nature inherent in him which cannot be cleansed by mere religion, rituals, prayer, meditation, yoga or doing more good deeds. When she realized only Jesus can save a person, if he chooses Him as his personal Lord and Saviour and obeys His word, she became a born-again Christian eight years ago. Cheryl has recently released a delightful collection of seven Gospel songs titled ‘The Right Path’. The album targets both non-believers and believers in their quest to find meaning in their lives. THE CHRISTIAN MESSENGER met Cheryl Balwani, the upcoming Gospel singer, at her Mumbai residence recently. Excerpts from the interview:

You seemed to have been radically different as a child. Not all children ponder about death, life and eternity. Why do you think you were so contemplative on these matters as a child?

I was a shy and reserved child. I had inhibitions on mixing freely with people because I used to stammer. Therefore, I kept to myself most of the time and felt lonely. The only person I could connect to and share everything with was God. I remember that I would talk to God about everything. I got contemplative and was keen about knowing what happened in eternity. Questions on eternity always crossed my mind.

When did you start exploring various religions? When did you became a born-again Christian?

From 1993 onwards, I started exploring various religions. I became a born-again Christian in 2001.

You come from a Roman Catholic family. How did your family and the Catholic church react when you became a born-again Christian?

When I became a born-again Christian, I was already married to my husband who is a Sindhi Hindu. Before my marriage my parents were concerned that I would lose touch with my religion as I was getting married to a non-Christian. I became a born-again Christian a few years after I got married. When I told my parents that I was leaving the Catholic Church and going to a new church, my parents were disappointed. However, after some time they accepted it and as my father says, "It’s your relationship with God that counts more, so it doesn’t really matter which denomination you are in." My parents and siblings are still Catholics. As for the Catholic church, I wasn’t close to anyone there. So they didn’t even know that I had left their church.

Tell us about your trysts with new age religion, occult and astrology.

When I accepted New Age, it seemed to be the truth to me. I had rejected the Bible as I thought it was too narrow-minded in its approach as far as the concept of God and salvation were concerned. I realized later that New Age isn’t the Truth. These are just alternative ways which give people some kind of comfort and truth in their lives, but it's not the Truth. It will lead you away from God for sure. I also got into astrology and occultism. I even started reading these cult books which talked about life after death. Astrology and occultism are indeed the wrong things to put your faith into. There is a huge ‘spiritual’ realm which is ruled by Satan and his demons. That’s the way Satan gets to people. I believe that if you get involved in occultism and astrology, you open the doorway to Satan to enter your life. You see many strange things happening then. That’s why the Bible warns us not to get into it at all. They all ultimately confused me and I realized there couldn’t be one God saying so many different things.

What has been your spiritual experience after you were saved?

After I got saved and baptized, God put in me a desire to read His Word, the Holy Bible. I was hungry to know everything it said, and I had so many questions. But He gradually revealed to me all the answers to them too. He also put in me a desire to obey what He said, so that I could be blessed in every area of my life. With His help I gave up a lot of wrong thinking, ideas, rituals, practices of prayer etc, which were not in line with the Bible. I became conscious of every little thing which would displease the Lord, and found so much joy just living this life for Him.

How do you think your album will help the believers?

My CD will definitely help the believers as I am of the opinion that every believer is at a certain stage of his spiritual growth with the Lord. When I was saved, I didn’t have all the answers myself. I had many questions and doubts. I was getting answers alright but I was also getting other kind of material which negated those answers.
So a lot of doubts were created. There are many people in the believing community who have doubts and confusions about their faith like I once had. All the answers that we are seeking are in the Word. If they haven’t found them yet, then the CD will definitely help them find it from the Word of God.

What has been the response to your album so far?

A non-Christian gentleman listened to the songs in the CD when he was very ill. He had not heard Jesus being preached till he listened to the CD. He wanted to know more about Jesus and was trying to go to a church after he listened to my songs. Christians who listened to the songs told me they have been blessed through my CD.
Some of them commented that the introduction was too long. A few others said perhaps I should consider releasing another CD with just the songs.

Who are your favourite Gospel singers?

I really don’t have any favourites. I just have a collection of various Gospel songs on my ipod. A few Gospel bands and singers I like are the Celebrant singers, Hillsong and Martha Munizzi.

Your husband is Hindu. What did he have to say about your CD? How is your son growing up with the Lord?

My husband and I went through a rough patch after I became a Christian. I’ve made many lifestyle changes since then. We have had a lot of fights and quarrels over religion. Earlier, I would go with him to the temple and bow down to idols and do puja at home. When I stopped doing that, initially it was a major issue with him.
He has known me for a long time and I guess it was natural for him to behave in that way. Now, he doesn’t mind in letting me be a Christian as long as I don’t talk to him about it. My husband heard a few songs from the CD and didn’t say anything. I am praying for my husband to know God just as I do, so that he too can be saved.
My son is just four. I encourage him to pray and talk to God all the time. I am building him up with the Lord. I take him to church on Sundays sometimes. I never force him to go to church if he is unwilling, maybe asleep or busy playing.

Do you still do playback singing for Bollywood films?

Most of the film songs I have done is the chorus singing. I have done just one Bollywood track, as a duo. As of now, I have not been convicted in my spirit to sever my Bollywood connection. But I certainly have a conviction on the kind of songs I sing. I was part of a girl band called ‘Caliche’. It was India’s first girl band group. After I got pregnant, I left ‘Caliche’ and I got into a band called ‘Soul Fusion’. I am still a part of it. We do a lot of pop commercial fusion music and alternate pop. I do this kind of singing as a means of earning my own living, as I do not want to make a living on my Gospel songs.

What's the inspiration behind the songs? Do you set apart time regularly to write songs or do the words come anytime, anywhere?

My inspiration for my songs is the Holy Spirit. I pray a lot on how I should sing and on what topics I should cover. Every time, I pray I get a certain message. I write according to the message I get. I set aside time very early in the morning as people are still sleeping during that time and I can work undisturbed. That’s when I write the songs and record them. There have also been occasions when the words of the songs come to me any time during the day.

What are your future projects?

I am planning to launch a Hindi version of my CD. As I am led by the Lord, I’ll do whatever He needs me to do.

How important are prayer and praise and worship in one’s life?

Prayer, praise and worship are the three most important things in anyone’s life. If you make God a priority in your life, everything else is taken care of. I believe that if you believe in Him and seek to live in his righteousness, He really blesses you and takes care of everything in your life. Your communication with Him and praise and worship of Him should be a part of your daily lifestyle. You should be grateful to Him in your everyday life. It depends on what you focus on. If you focus on negativity, only negative things will happen to you. You should make it a rule to focus on the positive aspects. When you realize God, you actually get to know Him and keep on praising and thanking Him.

To know more about Cheryl Balwani, visit her website www.WordofGodinSongs.com. Write to her at email address: cheryl@wordofgodinsongs.com/ cherylbalwani@rediffmail.com

By Pallavi Bhattacharya in Mumbai

The Christian Messenger