Mother Hyny (1914-2004)
By Anu Nousiainen
When Aune Hyny arrived in India back in the 1950s, she soon found herself sheltering eight orphans, whom she fed, whose clothes she washed, and whom she slept among. Today, a week after her death, Aune Hyny's legacy to India is seven orphanages, providing a home to 500 children. To these children Aune Hyny was, and remains, a saint - one that believed in Jesus, and in discipline.
Bombay, India, February 1951:
A nation that recently gained its independence is drowning with problems. A fear grows in Europe that the overwhelming poverty will soon nudge the whole country into the arms of the communists. Agriculture is incapable of providing enough food to feed the hungry people. Four out of five Indians are illiterate.
Such is the country where 36-year-old Aune Hyny, unmarried, without children, arrives from the village of Hynynkylä in Pyhäjärvi, Finland. India's ambassador in London, the sister of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, has granted Hyny a missionary visa.
Such visas are becoming increasingly difficult to get. This portends India's 1953 announcement that it will deport all foreign missionaries.
Aune Hyny's sea voyage from London, where she has been to a Bible college and to study English, lasts almost three weeks. It is an exciting journey. Her table company on the ship includes a young American actress. Her name is Elizabeth Taylor.
Hyny utilises the time at sea by studying the Telugu language alphabets. To Hyny the letters look like lace. Telugu is spoken on the east coast of India, around the Bay of Bengal.
That is where Hyny is heading. To a city called Machilipatnam.
In the hot and buzzing Bombay, Aune Hyny somehow manages to come across a bearer, who helps to heave Hyny's heavy trunk to the railway station.
Aune Hyny cannot get over it! She is finally in India! This is where she has longed for, ever since that decisive evening meeting at the Oulu Pentecostal Church in Finland, where she received her mission call. In one moment the Lord sealed India and its people in Aune Hyny's heart.
On the train Hyny travels in the third class. The wearisome train ride lasts for days. The train stops frequently. The carriages are packed with people. Voices. Smells.
Finally the train arrives at Machilipatnam, where Aune Hyny immediately takes the reins of an orphanage with 14 children, established by another Finn, Armas Halonen.
Halonen himself goes to America, leaving Aune to deal with her orphans. Hyny's first term in India lasts for seven years.
In 1958 Aune travels back home to Hynynkylä for a short holiday. Speaking Finnish again is a bit of an effort. Her hair has become thinner, and her skin has a yellowish tone to it. Aune's mother is terrified: "You will not go back there! Look at you! You've even lost your hair!"
And yet, Aune soon returns to her beloved India.
Machilipatnam (Masula for short among Finnish mission workers), late 1950s:
It is hot, far too hot. Sweat keeps dripping from every pore and restless nights spent tossing about on soggy sheets offer little rest.
There is no electricity, only old kerosene lamps. When it gets dark the mosquitoes arrive. They spread malaria. There are also poisonous snakes, not to mention the ants that eat everything in their path.
During the monsoon the bumpy roads turn into slurry. The only means of transportation are bullocks and rickshaws. Only the rich can afford a bicycle.
Aune Hyny rents a house and starts her own children's home. She takes in eight small orphans and writes to the Oulu Pentecostal Church: "Place them before the congregation and bless them."
She is not just the headmistress of the orphanage. She cares for every child as her own.
She does everything herself: cooks, cleans, does the laundry, bathes the children, medicates them, sleeps among them.
And she prays.
Every so often she tours the neighbouring villages and talks to the Indian people about her God. Gradually the number of children increases. "Misamma" becomes "Ammagaru", honoured mother.
Life is meagre, there's very little money. Hyny is provident, to the point of being stingy at times. Rice is served only once a day.
She sets up a hen-house, the first one of its kind in Machilipatnam. The children get to eat eggs!
Soon a fish pond follows - only to be quickly filled in after four of the girls nearly drown in it.
Far away in Pyhäjärvi , Aune's parents pass away, and the big farm is divided between the four children. Aune sells her part and builds a new house for her orphanage. The year is 1964. Aune is already 50 years old, but her mission in India is only warming up.
She sets up a primary school that is also attended by children from the surrounding community.
The setting is humble. The whole class studies from a single book. But Aune teaches her children subjects that even the children of wealthier families can't afford: music and the arts.
Years roll by and the first ones of Aune's children mature to college age. One becomes a police officer, another a pastor, a third one a headmaster.
In time they start spreading the Gospel alongside their mother, while establishing new orphanages.
Hyny takes part in organising her children's marriages. Soon little Aunes, named after the Ammagaru, start crowding the city streets in ever-growing numbers.
Hyny now speaks fluent Telugu and enjoys the spicy Indian food. Sporadic cravings for Finnish food she satisfies by reading a Finnish cookery book.
Autumnal tropical cyclones with devastating tidal waves leave more orphans. But the members of Hyny's congregation also experience miracles. Prayers are answered, Gifts of the Spirit are at work: people prophesy, a blind person's eyesight is restored, a leper is healed, a child who has become mute regains his speech. More congregations are founded.
Finnish Pentecostal churches send helpers. After all, Aune Hyny is one of their missionaries. (Today the umbrella organisation is called Fida International.) The missionaries traditionally work independently, but nobody has been more independent than Aune Hyny.
She and she alone captains Hynylä, a community that has sprung up in Machilipatnam, steadily and with devotion to a set purpose.
"She was such a hard worker. Often we disagreed on various questions, such as choice of the right person, but we didn't want to start quarrelling", says Fida's Head of Development Cooperation, Harri Hakola in describing the organisation's relationship with Hyny.
Hyny never asks for money from Finland.
"Once we erred to ask her where she got her funding from", recalls Fida's Vice Executive Director Rauno Mikkonen. "She said that every time she has needed money, she has locked herself in her room and started praying to God. She lay there in her praying position until she received the assurance that the request had been heard."
Fida receives some funding for the orphanages from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, but Hyny is not interested in drawing up reports for Finnish bureaucrats. She rather relies on God.
But it is not easy. Ever more often the children find their mother in her praying position, lying face down with hands covering her head.
"When I was 12, I often heard deep sobbing, moaning and wailing. I didn't understand it. Only when I got older I realised that it was Mother grieving and asking God for help and for blessings for all the orphans", writes C. Thomas Abraham in a commemorative publication that is being produced to honour Hyny's 50 years in India.
"When we asked for money for school fees, she said she would give it to us. Later we found out that she did not eat that day", recalls Kasturi Yesurathnam Maddala.
"I was childishly curious and spied on her outside her room. Mother was on her knees with tears in her eyes asking Jesus to provide her with the money. School fees were always paid on time."
Once the children wanted to surprise Ammagaru with a meat dish, for which they asked for two rupees. Hyny was adamant: "If I buy meat for two rupees, it will be enough just for me alone. But if I buy bananas instead, there will be enough for all the children to enjoy."
As a parent Aune is tough. She brings up the children in Hynylä in the same manner that children were brought up during World War II in Finland.
"She punished us mercilessly", remembers M. Satyanarayana, who will become a police inspector. "She is synonymous with discipline."
Aune feels children should learn to do all kinds of work. That kind of a person does well in life.
Aune does not miss Finland. At least she never says she does. She rarely takes holidays to travel to the country of her origin.
Satyanarayana tells how only later he perceived how far Ammagaru had come, and all that she had turned her back on to follow her calling. "I felt very sad."
In Finland the 1980s upswing turns into the recession of the 1990s. In Machilipatnam Ammagaru's reputation grows, but in Finland few people outside the Pentecostal churches still know about Aune Hyny.
But it is partly her fault as well. She dreads publicity.
Machilipatnam is still not easily accessible. When journalists Rauli Virtanen and Rita Strömmer travelled there in the late autumn of 2003, they had to fly to Chennai, take a night train to Vijayawada, and then drive for another three or four hours.
Hyny has not been informed in advance of the arrival of the reporters. Those close to her want at least one documentary of her for future generations. These are critical times: Hyny is 89 years old and she has started suffering from blackouts.
The programme of Aune Hyny's life is aired by the Finnish Broadcasting Company's (YLE) Channel 2 in February 2004. For the first time a wider audience in Finland hears about this remarkable person. The vibrant laughter of an aged woman dressed in a sari fills sitting rooms across Finland.
"This girl is a worn-out rag", Aune Hyny says.
Machilipatnam, May 2004:
It has been 53 years since Aune Hyny, the girl from Pyhäjärvi Finland, first arrived in India.
In Haini School's one to ten grades, some 1,500 children receive education. Some of the children come from Hyny's orphanages. The Indian Government has approved the school's syllabus, and teaching is free.
The Government subsidises the school by contributing towards the teachers' salaries. The rest of the expenses are paid by donations and sponsorships from Finland.
Aune Hyny's seven single-sex orphanages provide shelter for 500 girls and boys. Their operations are entirely funded by sponsorships.
Following Hyny's initiative, Fida International now also provides development cooperation to local fishing villages.
Aune Hyny's return to Finland is not being discussed. She is believed to have wanted to be buried in Machilipatnam, or Masula.
On May 19th, 2004, Machilipatnam celebrates Ammagaru's 90th birthday. A precious congratulatory card has arrived from Finland - directly from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erkki Tuomioja. The church hall is filled with friends, local pastors and members of the congregation.
Nine days later Aune Hyny lies on her death-bed. She discusses with nurse Marja Viitanen to make sure she is allowed to die at home. In the afternoon she fades away, exhausted by pneumonia. "Like a campfire", Viitanen says.
The departed is then washed and dressed in a turquoise sari, and the glass-covered coffin is placed in the church she once had built. Thousands of people visit the church during the 24-hour period that the doors are kept open.
The funeral procession then moves slowly through the city where a multitude of people join in.
When passing by the gate of Hynylä, people of Machilipatnam pay their respects to Ammagaru, the same way that they worship their numerous Hindu gods.
To the people of Machilipatnam, Aune Hyny, a girl from Pyhäjärvi, has become a saint, an honour Ammagaru herself could happily have done without.
To support Aune Hyny's orphanages in India, please contact Fida International (web address given below). Rauli Virtanen's documentary in Finnish can be viewed at www.yle.fi/a2/arkisto.html.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 6.6.2004
More on this subject:
FACTFILE: Old-school missionary work
ANU NOUSIAINEN / Helsingin Sanomat