Mervin Cathian grew up in Mauritius on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. Growing up with a Hindu background, his childhood was very difficult. His alcoholic father abused him and his mother. “Life in my house was like hell on earth,” he says. When his father drank, he became a different person, and everyone spoke in whispers to avoid upsetting him. Mervin was beaten for no understandable reason, so he began to question why things were so unfair.
He believes that God is always present in people’s lives, even if they aren’t aware of it. Though he didn’t know anything about God, he didn’t understand why his mother was praying to the idols in the temple. She told him he had to bow down to the idols. “ No, I’m not going to do that, why should I do that?” He admits all the questions and his refusal to just go along with the rituals of the culture around him were difficult on his mother, but that questioning ended up leading him to God.
Mervin tried to understand why his father was the way he was. He learned that his father lost his mother when he was only nine, and wasn’t able to see her be buried. His father was still carrying hurt from his childhood. He realized that his parents were broken, doing the best with what they had, and that he could not rely on them.
His life was an isolated one. “Even if I had holidays, I didn’t like holidays. I preferred to go to school, because there I had friends, it was my getaway.” There his teachers treated him like everyone else.
Mervin’s quest to understand the reasons why things were the way they were continued. He believes that God does not dictate things to us. Instead He explains things to us, for our understanding.
He met his future wife Kristina at college, who was from a Catholic background and was shocked at how different they were with the Hindu processions and practices he had from his background. Mervin admits that he didn’t really believe in the religion, but he still attended the temple out of respect for others and their right to choose how they worshiped, something that continues to guide him.
When he was seventeen, His father noticed that Mervin was not participating in worship despite attending the temple. He slapped Mervin across the face, and this time Mervin would no longer take it. “I turn to the other side of my cheek and say, ‘Slap me again.’” He knew that his father struggled to express his emotions and understood why this was happening, but still believed that he had a right to set his own boundaries. This is what he calls ‘intelligent rebellion’, being able to hold those boundaries without being violent. Though he was still afraid of his father, he had decided that he wasn’t going to back down anymore. “When I stood up, I regained power over my life.” His father backed down.
When victims of abuse don’t stand up and speak out, the power of the abuser over the abused will never go away. Mervin is certain of this, and certain the boldness he received came from God.
Stepping out of his controlled childhood and making his own choices was difficult for Mervin, but he adamantly maintains that someone’s situation is not an excuse for or justification of their actions. The power of choice is something we have all been given by God. And no matter where we are, God can give us hope to guide us to a new and better life.
Mervin found solace in drawing and painting, and did his undergraduate in fine arts. He expressed his desire for choice and freedom through his art. While studying in college, he met Kristina, and together they explored various religions and philosophies, still searching for a better life. Mervin believes that it’s good for young people to search and question what their faith and purpose in life is, because they can better appreciate what blessings God and the church have for them. “There is no other god like the God we serve.”
In anticipation of getting married, Kristina asked him to convert to Catholicism, which he was willing to accept. He had already developed a good opinion of Christianity by attending prayer meetings with a neighbor, and observing how their house had a different sense of joy than he’d ever seen.
Mervin asked his neighbor about finding a place of belonging, and was considering attending the Catholic church. But God stepped in again. Kristina was questioning a friend who was formerly Catholic and became Adventist. She was impressed by his use of the Bible. Mervin asked what the friend was doing one Sabbath, upon hearing that he was going to church he decided to tag along. “I went and the first message I got was the Prodigal Son.” He was amazed by the love of a father, impressed to see the love of God the Father. “I’d never heard about a God like that.” He continued to study the Bible, and with the Holy Spirit working on his heart, for the first time he found his God.
Together Mervin and Kristina participated in Bible studies and were both baptized into the Adventist church. When he began attending church, his mother expected him to move in time, just like the other things he’d tried while searching for the truth. It was difficult to leave behind his traditions and culture surrounding Hinduism, but incredibly his father was supportive of Mervin’s baptism. In fact, he wanted to come and attend. Mervin believes that when he stood up to his father he was able to make a difference in both of their lives. His father didn’t come to church, but he stopped drinking and smoking- he was undoubtedly a changed man. When his father died, the two of them no longer had any grudge against each other, and Mervin is sure he’ll see him again in heaven. “Forgiveness is possible with God’s help.” Mervin declares.
Working at an international high school with many wealthy students, Mervin learned how to share God with them despite being in a secular setting. They weren’t able to talk about God openly and they really wanted to be able to go deep with them on the issue. When the conference president met with Mervin, he realized his enthusiasm for others and suggested that he attend seminary.
Not being familiar with Adventist opportunities, Mervin had to look them up and ended up at Andrews University. Though the story of how they got to America is one too long to share now, it is evident that God led every step of the way. “All my life I thought I was alone, but I was never alone.”
Continuing his studies in religious education, he aimed to become a youth minister. “I know how difficult it can be, and they need support and guidance in this difficult stage in their lives.” Seeing how God had reached out to him and transformed his own life, Mervin wants to spread the good news of God’s transforming power that has the power to change anyone, no matter where they are at.
Mervin Caithan is currently studying for his MDiv at Andrews University.
Listen to the full podcast at: https://villagesda.org/podcast/