At the peak of her modeling career, Amrit Ahluwalia was making $20,000 for a day’s work. She was the highest-paid model in North India, where she’d risen to stardom. She appeared in a chart-topping music video in her country, received multiple offers to act in movies, often acted on TV, and felt like she was in complete control of her career.
She started modeling after winning Miss Teen 2009 for North India, and she spent her last year of high school playing soccer with a national-level team before winning Miss Chandigarh in 2013. Chandigarh is the capital city of Punjab, a state in North India.
When she wasn’t playing soccer or modeling, Ahluwalia studied at Punjab University, one of India’s top universities, where she worked on a diploma in fashion design and a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She speaks fluent English, Punjabi, Hindi, and French, and did well in her studies.
Although Ahluwalia’s focus was to honor her parents’ wishes for her to complete college, she put all movie offers on hold, but fully intended to sign onto them as soon as she completed her degree program.
When she received results from her final year of college, which determined whether or not she would graduate, she realized she had failed a basic subject, and according to the Indian education system, would need to retake her final year. Her ego was smarting, and she was about to give up on her education and start her acting career.
But that night, God unexpectedly gripped Ahluwalia’s heart.
Until she was about 16, the only “god” Ahluwalia knew was that of the Sikh religion. Sikhism is a relatively new religion (circa. 18th century), and the eighth-largest religion in the world. Followers claim their religion is monotheistic, but they also worship 10 “gurus,” or spiritual messengers, who lead to god, Ahluwalia explained. As a child, she was forced to attend worship in the Sikh temple and pray to their gods. She described her Sikh family at the time as pharisaical.
Even though she grew up in an affluent part of India, Ahluwalia’s childhood was riddled with struggles. She worshipped Sikh gurus, seeking answers to her difficult life from them.
“I had bowed down in front of so many gods. I had asked them, ‘please take away our troubles. Please, why do we suffer so much?’ I would have so many questions, and I never felt like they answered me.”
One day, at the invitation of some friends, her mother attended a prayer meeting. As a devout Sikh, she had never heard the gospel. Yet during the meeting, she felt compelled to pray. “I want to know who the true God is,” she prayed, receiving a vision of Jesus and feeling a profound sense of peace come over her. She believed the gospel.
At the time, Ahluwalia’s father lived and worked in another part of the country. Their marriage had crumbled. After Ahluwalia’s mother became a Christian, she picked up the phone and called her husband.
He had been set up to take the fall for his boss’ embezzlement of company funds, and he was at the end of his rope, not knowing where to turn next. “You should pray to Jesus,” Ahluwalia’s formerly Sikh mother said to her Sikh father. Later that night, he was awoken by an unexpected phone call around 4 a.m., the time Sikhs traditionally recite their chants and prayers. Recalling what his wife had said to him, he prayed to Jesus Christ instead.
“He said, ‘Jesus, if you’re there, you know I’m stuck and I’m going to jail. I don’t know what will happen to my kids. Please help me if you can,’” said Ahluwalia.
Soon after, his boss called and told him that something was compelling him to let Ahluwalia’s father go, and that he would take full responsibility for his own embezzlement. Soon after, her father converted to Christianity.
“You know how in the Bible we see God changes the hearts of people?” Ahluwalia said. “I have seen the Bible lived out. I’m still seeing it today. It’s amazing. It’s so real to me.”
After witnessing her parents’ conversion, their restored marriage, and experiencing God’s work in her family, Ahluwalia wanted to follow Christ too. She began to read the Bible and understood God’s character as a God who keeps his promises. She forsook the other gods, and like her parents, chose to follow the true God of the Bible.
During her modeling career, Ahluwalia refused to participate in the typical modeling lifestyle, avoiding situations that made her uncomfortable, choosing what she wore for photo shoots, and declining anything that compromised her conscience. Her faith was important to her.
Then, she received that failing grade report at the end of what she thought would be her last year of college. She was confused. She was disappointed. She was ready to give up on her college degree and — her parents’ wishes notwithstanding — start acting in all the movies she had put off. Then, she heard a voice.
“The only thing he said was ‘Leave modeling and pursue my kingdom,’” she recounted. She looked around the room, wondering where the authoritative, loving, fatherly voice came from. She knew it was God. She began to experience the depths of her sinfulness over the next several days, even seeing what she identified as a video reel of her sins replaying in her mind. She knew there were critical steps she had to take in order to be faithful to the Lord.
“I knew he died for our sins, but you know, it never made sense to me — my depravity,” she said. “That was the day it was so clear to me and that was when I realized I need Jesus so badly. More than anything else.”
Although she knew she could use her modeling career as a platform for the gospel, God began revealing to her ways that she was making herself and her career an idol.
She broke contracts, had to fire people, and saw her kingdom as a movie and modeling icon crumble. She spent the next year finishing her psychology degree, learning to live with less money than she ever had to in her adult life, and seeking the Lord’s will for what was next.
She continued attending a house church with her parents, and waited for the Lord’s direction. “During that time I found a lot of comfort from the Bible,” she said.
“I didn’t know what God was calling me to do. What does pursuing his kingdom mean?” Ahluwalia asked herself. She determined during that season that faithfulness meant attending church, helping those around her, and using her psychology degree to counsel.
After coming to the United States for a time, and through the patient counsel of people in her Washington D.C. church, she felt led to “seek God’s kingdom” by moving to Southern Seminary to study counseling.
Since joining Southern, Ahluwalia has developed a mentoring relationship with several professors, especially Gregg R. Allison and Eric Johnson. They have helped her become a better counselor and minister effectively, she said. Michael and Cynthia Smith have served as her American parents during her nearly three years, and Ahluwalia credits them with helping her difficult transition to American culture.
This month, Ahluwalia will graduate with a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Southern and will start working as a pastoral care resident in the faith and missions area at Norton Healthcare. She hopes to leave behind an awareness of Sikhism, and the idea that each person is unique and must use their gifts to serve him.
“Studying biblical counseling under Southern professors has really helped me with counseling people not only at my church, but from all over the world,” she said. “My time here has given me more than I expected.”