The Cornwall Alliance is very excited to welcome aboard Vijay Jayaraj as our new Research Associate for Developing Countries. Like many of Cornwall’s staff, Vijay will telecommute from his home, but unlike other staff, Vijay’s home is not in the United States—it’s in India! Vijay is a Millennial, so, like me, connecting over technology is relatively easy. Vijay will be blogging for Earth Rising in addition to his other duties with the Cornwall Alliance. I emailed some questions to Vijay to help us get to know him better, below are his responses.
Where are you from, and where do you live now?
The picture to the right is the daily view from my home. 80’s style small shops. The road is used by cars, bikes and pedestrians. The town is a mix of very rich and middle class people—comprised of farm owners and business men, whose sons and daughters now work in the big cities of India, US, UK, Canada and Australia.
My town and the surrounding villages are hot spots for windmills. The picture below was taken 10 minutes away from my home. We currently receive 24 hours of uninterrupted power supply – but that’s thanks to the thermal (coal), hydroelectric and nuclear power plants. We also sell electricity to the neighboring states/provinces.
What was it like to grow up where you did?
I grew up in a couple of cities in India. I was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), then moved on to other places—cities such as Coimbatore, Madras (now Chennai), Bangalore, Delhi, etc. Life while growing up was a mixed bag of opportunities and lack of them. The country itself is highly populated, which makes every aspect of life to be very competitive. It is multi-cultural and diverse. Poverty was always in your face and there was nothing much you could do as a small boy. Unhygienic public places and poorly maintained waste disposal systems were a fact of life. Watching the West in Hollywood movies was totally unreal; it resembled the opposite of the environmental conditions over in India. But all was not bad—people were really friendly and there always existed a strong sense of community.
What was/is your family life like? Do you have siblings, or are you married?
My family consists of me and my parents. Just the three of us. I have no siblings and I am not married.
What is your field of study, and why did you choose that field? Elaborate on your choices.
I chose to specialize in Environmental Sciences. So, basically I am a student of science who happens to specialize in the various branches of environmental sciences such as the science of climate change, the impact of environmental changes on ecosystems, the related engineering aspect, the implications of ecosystem changes to development policies, and conservation of wildlife, etc.
The reason behind my choice is the natural interest in environmental science that I’ve had since I was a kid. During my childhood, I was captivated by the biological nature of the world around me. This led me to pursue biological sciences aggressively, and devote the majority of my time to it. I went on to do a graduate degree in environmental science from the United Kingdom. Today I am in a field which I love.
When did you become a Christian? Tell us a little bit about your conversion story.
My simple answer is—during my childhood. I grew up in a culture which was religiously diverse. India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Christianity also made its way to India in the first century AD. So I was exposed to various forms of Hinduism, a vibrant growing Christian church, and a sizable population of Muslims and Sikhs. The grace of the Lord found me when I watched His biography on television at age 12. The following months I had His presence constantly drawing myself to Him. What Paul saw on the road to Damascus, I felt in my heart. The decision was not difficult to make. It was an obvious truth that I had to embrace organically. There was no need-based decision making or any form of compulsion from external forces. If I were to be logically strict, there was no conversion in my life. Here is the logical sequence why I believe there was no conversion, rather a natural acknowledgement of the divinity of Christ, which I had since my beginning in my mother’s womb.
- From the earliest days of my childhood, I have always prayed to the God of the universe (without using any names).
- I did NOT pray or acknowledge the divinity of any other god/religion, including Christianity.
- God of the universe is the God of Bible (A universal truth upon which you and I agree).
- I Accepted the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ as Lord around age 12 – 13.
- Therefore, from the previous four premises, it logically follows that my acceptance/acknowledgement of the Lord, was an initiation/onset of my pre-existing faith, which the Lord had been directing me from my days in my mom’s womb.
What made you want to work for the Cornwall Alliance?
The commitment of the organization to Biblical truth, and how that truth relates to environmental management are the main reasons. I appreciate the morally sound approach towards science and human well-being that is foundational to Cornwall’s mission, as well as the focus on biblical stewardship, and on the need to care for the poor of the world. The quality of the advisory board was also a factor.
What issues are you passionate about?
I am passionate about people. I love people! I am passionate about taking the gospel to the people of the world, and I wish to serve as a good Samaritan through the gifts with which God has blessed me. From my walk with Christ so far, I’ve found that the Lord had enabled me to delve deeply into science, and the philosophy of science. So I am passionate about academics, specifically environmental science and its applications for decision making. I am also passionate about apologetics—the defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in the context of how it relates to science, other religions, and the associated historicity of the Bible.
What type of books do you like to read? Fiction? Non-fiction? Or both? What genres?
My reading predominantly consists of expositions on the scripture, life in Christ and about how those two topics relate to the culture around us. I enjoy the works of Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, CS Lewis, John Piper, John Lennox, William Lane Craig, and Ravi Zacharias to name a few. Lately I have enjoyed a number of real life stories, a stand out among which is a book called Kirabo—a story on adoption of an African boy by a woman from Canada. I also love books that shed light on ancient Indian culture, philosophy, and religion (including the Vedas). So I guess mostly Non-fiction. The only Fiction was The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
What book(s) had the biggest impact on your life?
I am sure that question presupposes the fact that the Bible is the most influential book in my life. Other than that, the book that had the biggest impact is Confessions by Augustine of Hippo. Other influential books include The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias, On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria, the biology book used during my high school, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy by Isaac Newton, and Desiring God and Future Grace by John Piper.
What person had the biggest impact on your life?
Surely this has to be Jesus. The person of Jesus Christ directly influences every area of my life—past, present and future. The impact is phenomenal and it cannot be summed up in a few sentences.
Outside of Jesus, can you name a person who has impacted your life?
The person who had the biggest impact on my life is Dr. Ravi Zacharias. I believe one of the most important virtues (apart from love) is a person’s ability to lead others to truth. In other words, a person’s ability to be a conduit of truth and grace. Ravi’s messages exposed me to the necessity of critical thinking, especially about my own worldview and metaphysical assumptions. It made me bold enough to challenge my own presuppositions about the truth of the gospels, the philosophy of science, the problem of evil, and other things that I held very dear to my heart. His ministry also gave me opportunities to meet other leading thinkers and scholars such as Dr. John Lennox (Oxford mathematician), Dr. William Lane Craig (Research professor of Philosophy) Dr. Abdu Murray (leading Attorney & Apologist) and Dr. Craig Evans (New Testament scholar). I had a lot of interactions with these men and consequently their works too had a significant impact on my intellect and faith. More than that, others in his ministry continue to invest in my life through various means. I am very grateful for their continued help in my life, and their teaching on how to love those who disagree with one’s own worldview. Essentially, his influence made me seek to be an unbiased pursuer of truth in science, as well as seek to study deeper about the reality of world around me.
What do you like to do for fun?
It depends on where I am. In Canada and the UK, I enjoyed visiting mountains, wildlife areas, coffee shops and holding impromptu meetings with a wide range of people. I also love traveling and taking pictures. In India, I visit local farms, meet friends, and visit the forests occasionally. I love long drives too. And cooking.
What is your favorite movie or TV show?
Friends is my favorite television series, and I am glad that the show was telecast in India. My favorite movies include the Narnia series and The Hobbit. My favorite actors are Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker.
What is your favorite food?
Which do you think would be more fun: Shark diving, bungee jumping, or sky diving?
Whoa! I’ve never tried any of those. I think I would prefer sky diving—jump from the heavens with my eyes closed, Selah!
What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
At age 20, I tried travelling in a bus—hanging on the footboard, near the door (my body was outside of the bus). To stay on I had to hold on to the body of the bus using my hands. This is a common sight during peak hours in many cities. Usually 10 to 15 people hang outside the bus while it travels chaotically at 50 miles per hour through traffic on narrow roads. There are no other options but to travel so, especially if boarding the bus at intermediate stops is necessary. All the buses arriving at the boarding station come fully packed with people and one cannot afford to wait for more than 2 hours.
Can you describe yourself to us?
I wear glasses with bold frames (but not in this picture), love coffee houses, love to travel, dress sharp, embrace the style of the Pacific north-west, and occasionally sport a beard. Sometimes people identify me as a typical hipster, but I guess it’s just a coincidence. I am extremely friendly towards people, and I like to make people laugh. Those are the immediate things people recognize me for. By far, the most interesting and unexpected thing people see in me is the diversity of my identity—an Indian boy with a sincere commitment to the philosophy of science, and exposure to world religions. Although there are many people out there with such attributes, they find me unique because of my depth in such matter.
We are super excited to welcome Vijay to the Cornwall team. We hope you will take the opportunity to welcome him too! If you have any questions for Vijay, leave them in the comments below.