Archive for the tag “India”

A pastor’s dream comes true: Feeding his family

Harper McKay writes for CommissionStories.com:

pigsPaulus Maharaj* had a dream. It was a dream that brought him up close and personal to one of the dirtiest, smelliest jobs in the world — raising pigs.

The smells of rotten, day-old food and festering animal waste would turn even the strongest of stomachs. But for Paulus and a handful of rural Indian pastors, they are the smells of progress, smells that mean their families and communities can better support themselves. That’s what Paulus’ dream was all about, and Southern Baptists’ gifts through the World Hunger Fund** made that dream a reality.

It all began when Paulus took time away from the overcrowded city streets of his hometown to visit the wide-open spaces of village life. A pastor and teacher, Paulus wanted to encourage other pastors he had the opportunity to train. What he saw in their homes left a lasting impression.

“The pastors, their children eat only rice. They can’t afford even milk or vegetables and fruit,” Paulus says. “Many pastors are not able to send their children to school.”

People in this area of India typically need no less than 5,000 rupees per month (a little over $80) to feed and support their families. The pastors Paulus saw were making less than 2,000 rupees a month ($30), if that much.

Most of the pastors relied on their already poor congregations — other villagers like themselves. Depending mostly on crops that struggled to grow in the hard, dusty soil or on livestock prone to sickness and malnourishment, these church members simply could not afford to give much to their pastors.

Paulus knew the pastors’ ministries and families would continue to suffer unless they had help.

“I said to myself, how can I help these people?” Paulus recalls. “I was thinking, what is the best way to keep their ministries going, to help them maintain financial stability without depending on outside income?”

A Thanksgiving Day discovery

Paulus’ dream took an interesting turn as he searched at the local vet school for a Thanksgiving turkey for a visiting American friend. There Paulus heard the deep grunts of a much less attractive animal.

As it happened, the vet school specialized in pig husbandry. The school had scores of stalls packed with the biggest, fattest mama pigs he’d seen in some time, many with squealing babies following closely — a stark comparison to the stunted, sickly pigs he’d seen in most villages. He saw so many breeds — black ones, brown ones, spotted ones, some with large snouts, some with narrow, some with sleek bodies, some with wrinkled.

An idea flickered.

“Someone had told me about raising pigs before, but I didn’t think it would work,” says Paulus. “At the school I came to know that it could be the easiest and best way to support the pastors and their families and help them be self-supported.”

His dream began to take wings — or rather hooves.

Training begins

Paulus researched pig husbandry and became convinced it was just what the rural pastors needed. Soon, Paulus and IMB representative Clifton Melek* developed a plan to provide pig husbandry training to rural pastors. One thing was lacking — seed money to get the project off and running.

Baptist Global Response, through the World Hunger Fund, was able to answer their call for help and provide funds.

At first, many pastors hesitated. Did they really want to wake up at dawn every day and collect rancid leftovers to feed their pigs? Was it worth wafting smells and endless squealing and grunting just steps from their houses? What would their neighbors think?

After an awareness day that included a tour of the vet school, 20 pastors decided to participate. For 15 days at the vet school, they learned the basics of raising pigs — feeding, providing shelter, administering immunizations and performing basic medical care.

The pastors received this training plus two starter pigs through the World Hunger Fund. They went back to their villages ready to succeed.

Prodigal pastors

But for most pastors, things got off to a rocky start. Surprisingly, a lot of opposition came from church members’ interpretation of a familiar Bible story — the prodigal son. They associated caring for pigs with backsliding.

No one wanted their pastors trudging through pig waste in their most tattered clothing. No one wanted their pastors cleaning stalls covered in mud and swarming with flies. To think of the prodigal son wanting to eat the rancid, discarded food that pigs slop up in seconds was repulsive. How could pastors have time for this and for ministry?

“People mocked me at first,” says Kanai Hembrom,* a pastor who received training. “They laughed at me and said to me, ‘What happened to you? Have you lost your mind?’”

Pastor Sontash Roraon* also faced opposition from church members. “They started commenting that this pastor who used to be taking care of the church members is now taking care of pigs,” he says.

During monthly meetings with the pastors, Paulus heard about the opposition and began to wonder if the program would succeed. “I was discouraged, and I asked God, ‘God, [if] it is you who gave me this thought and vision, why is this happening?’”

Gateway to ministry

Over a year has gone by, and church members and neighbors have changed their tune. Within months, many of the pigs had five to six babies, increasing the pastors’ wealth to at least 25,000 rupees ($400)  — more than 10 times what they need to care for their families for one month. By the time the pigs were ready to sell in the market (a matter of months), each pig could earn the pastors up to 10,000 rupees (about $160).

Rather than hindering ministry, pig farming has opened up new ways for pastors to serve their church members.

“One church member came to me because he owed 40,000 rupees in 15 days and could not pay it,” explains Sontash Roraon. “I went and sold two pigs and was able to give him 20,000 that day.”

Doors once tightly shut have opened.

Neighbors noticed how pastors’ lives were improving because of the pigs, which grew faster than any they had seen before. They were healthy, robust and quickly sold to vendors.

“The people who are very poor are looking at me and saying, ‘If this man can get this kind of income, why can’t we?’” says Sontash. “A few of [my neighbors] have already requested for me to provide baby pigs for them to begin raising.”

Several pastors have been able to share their expertise and build relationships to share the Gospel with people who have not heard it before.

Kanai Hembrom has done so well with his pigs that he is known by many as the “pig doctor.” He is now called upon to administer vaccines and help other farmers whose animals become sick.

Kanai says happily, “I feel like this is the grace of God that I can go to the communities and do these treatments … As my pigs increase, so do my churches.”

Passing the blessing

The impact of the World Hunger Fund goes beyond the 20 pastors initially trained. After their farms begin to flourish, each is expected to train and provide two pigs to a “Timothy,” who will then start his own pig farm. Many pastors have already begun to invest in other farmers and break the hunger cycle in their areas.

Sontash plans to pass on his expertise and starter pigs to unemployed youths in his community who have little education and find it hard to feed themselves. “I just considered that this is a great return I can give to my community so they can be blessed by my work,” he says.

Dreams come true

Paulus is grateful to God for His provision. “It was God’s direction leading me to be connected with these pastors. It was God who put this desire in my heart,” he reflects. “All glory goes to God.”

Without support from the World Hunger Fund through BGR, this program would still be just a dream. The funds given reach far beyond the original 20 pastors to include their families, neighbors and other communities. Paulus hopes to continue training pastors who will go into other locations and reach out to those who need it.

“Thank you BGR and World Hunger Fund for making my dreams come true to help the pastors have income that is self-sustaining,” he says through a huge smile. “Dhanyavaad!”

*Name changed

**The World Hunger Fund is now Global Hunger Relief.

Must we engage social concerns?

Should biblical Christians engage social concerns? Is helping the poor or pursuing social justice for the oppressed an integral part of the Christian mission? Or should believers simply focus on an individual’s ext-life destiny and share only a verbal witness?

William WardToo many Christians are reluctant to engage justice issues. Some have deep misgivings about the doctrine and methods of some social justice activists. Others are not convinced the mission of the church includes anything more than “mercy ministries.” A few aren’t even willing to go that far.  ;^)

Ryan West, a PhD candidate at Southern Seminary and national LoveLoud coordinator for the North American Mission Board, points out in a new two-part blog post at andrewfullercenter.org that believers must consider the issue not only from the angle of the biblical witness, as Russell Moore and Tim Keller have done well, but that history must be consulted as well.

In his short series, entitled Should Baptists Care About Social Concerns?, West offers up the example of William Ward, a member of the famous Serampore Trio in Bengal, India, and a leading missiologist of his day (1769-1823). During 20-plus years as a missionary in India, Ward had to cope with the horrific atrocities of Bengali society: infanticide, euthanasia of the elderly, beheadings to placate Hindu gods, and widespread prostitution, as West lists them.

West writes: “[Ward’s] approach to undermine such evils was two-fold. He sought to take appropriate action and to ensure that the gospel permeated all of India’s society. These two forms of response were based on a fundamental conviction: lasting social change would occur only when the gospel took root within a culture.”

In sermons  delivered on a three-year preaching tour of America and Britain, Ward sought to mobilize Christian women “to respond to the message with benevolence and action,” West writes.

“By raising awareness concerning the abuse of women in India, Ward believed he would ‘ultimately secure an amelioration’ of their suffering. Allowing Indian women to continue as prisoners and slaves would be unimaginable in Ward’s mind once he preached this sermon. … After offering a gruesome account of families killing women by burying their mothers alive, he urged the women of Britain and America to unite and make the case of Indian women their common cause.”

At the same time, Ward never expected significant social change in India apart from the gospel taking root, West points out.

“In his earlier years, Ward proved to be a radical activist that nearly escaped imprisonment twice. Political upheaval modeled on the French Revolution was his ideal during the 1790’s,” West writes. “His conversion and subsequent development over several decades of ministry in India brought about a much different approach to such concerns by the time he preached these sermons. For the seasoned Ward, lasting social change would only occur if the gospel permeated a society.”

By the end of his career, Ward had become a “gospel activist”: “Biblical Christians could not be concerned with their neighbors’ eternal condition without caring for their immediate needs,” West writes. “Biblical Christians had no choice but to pursue biblical justice through the means of social action coupled with anchoring a society in biblical beliefs.”

Contemporary Baptists, West concludes, also “must address the physical, social, and mental needs evident in the surrounding culture … rescuing women from sex trafficking, loving—and possibly adopting—children abandoned to foster care or absentee parents, and speak out against the horrors of abortion and systemic oppression.  To ignore these matters is irresponsible and unloving.  Such responses would prove equally irresponsible and unloving, however, if Baptists do not seek to establish gospel wisdom in these conversations.  Lasting social change will only come through individuals who experience the grace and peace of Jesus Christ.”

Learn more about NAMB’s LoveLoud initiative by clicking here.

A touch of hope

Touch is almost unknown among the untouchables on India’s streets.

Touch is almost unknown among the untouchables on India’s streets.

By Will Stuart

A child died during the night.

The next morning Auto T. Raja lays a clean white sheet on the floor of an empty room in the Children’s Hostel and places the frail, spent body on it. He cleans dried spittle from her mouth, straightens her clothing and then cradles the body while winding the sheet about it.

Little is known of this little one. Small for her age — maybe 3 — one of India’s throwaway people, she was found wandering the streets of Bangalore. No one knows who left her there — or why. No one claimed her then; there will be no one to claim her body now.

She lived among 40 other castoff children at Raja’s Home of Hope for nearly a year until tuberculosis took her. They called her Sharon.

Outside the hostel, Raja sweeps 8-month-old Aaron into his arms. Raja nuzzles him and plants kisses about his face. The child grins and grabs for Raja’s ears.

Nearby, Marica — the child’s mother — watches. She mops the tiled courtyard at the entrance of the hostel and grins at the two of them as Raja swings Aaron back and forth in his arms.

Marica is a pretty teenager. She came here late in her pregnancy, after life — and abuse — on the streets. She has elected to stay, help care for the other children and raise Aaron here.

For now.

Untouchable. Disposable.

Untouchable. Disposable.

Life and death

Life and death are intimates here. So are other beginnings and endings. The hostel is part of Home of Hope, which Raja began by bringing one man into his home 16 years ago. Now three facilities house and care for 450 people: one for children, another for women and a third for men.

“Some will be here for a couple hours, others days or weeks or more,” says Raja. “All deserve great dignity in life and death, and comfort. That is my aim.”

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Dignity is a hard commodity on India’s streets. Comfort is seldom an option. Those who live there come by choice — a proclivity for drugs or alcohol and easy money to obtain them — or chance — a child who is the one that becomes too many for a family to feed, a teenager dragged into the sex trade, an elderly adult whose children decide they can no longer care for, the mentally imbalanced and broken. The list and reasons seem endless.

Whatever the reason, it is hard and cruel. They are untouchable without regard to caste. Disposable — relegated to the dustbin of their society, to wander the streets or sit on the side of the road until they die.

Raja is no stranger to the streets. There was a rage in him as a child that led him there. He became a thief and a bully. By the time he was a teenager, he had left home with a fourth grade education to sleep in railroad stations and sewer pipes, and along the side of the road with dogs.

His misadventures became so painful for his parents, they prayed that he would just die during one and end them. By 16 he was in prison in a city far from home.

It was there he encountered Christ.

Bread

When Raja rescued Shanti, she was being raped nearly every day.

When Raja rescued Shanti, she was being raped nearly every day.

Across the dirt road that runs by the hostel, past a dusty patch of garden and the catchment — newly dug to capture monsoon rains still months away — someone else has died at the women’s shelter.

It is not an unusual event. Of the 5,000 people who have passed through Home of Hope over the years, half of them have died. Residents at the women’s shelter sit under a canopied patio as the body is carried past and laid next to Sharon’s body in the back of an ambulance, for transport to a crematorium.

Children from the hostel clamor into the front with the driver to be dropped off at school along the way.

The sun is up. It is already hot. Breakfast is late this morning. Some of the women are making chapati (Indian flatbread). It takes time. They roll out the dough and fry enough for the 240 women and 170 residents in the men’s shelter, a 10-minute walk across the fields.

They wait patiently. Chapati is a treat. It will go well with their breakfast of rice and curried vegetables.

Raja walks into the kitchen. There is enough chapati for the women. He sends several of the women off for breakfast, picks up a spatula and finishes frying more for the men.

“In 16 years we have never missed a meal,” says Raja. “Not one. The Lord has blessed.”

Later this day a Hindu couple will stop by and offload huge vats of rice and curry for lunch. On another day a class from a Christian college will bring cases of fruit and cookies. The vast majority of Raja’s support comes from the Indian people, like this couple and these students, plus businessmen who give large and small sums of money.

Home of Hope is a large operation involving tons of rice each month, medical supplies, clothing, bedding … the list to make this effort logistically supportable seems endless. Water alone costs $600 a month.

Raja has been recognized for his efforts with a number of awards, including a Mother Theresa award from the Indian government. He was also accused of proselytizing and jailed briefly after a television reporter asked how he began doing this and he responded: “It all began when I accepted Christ.”

Eight-month-old Aaron was born at Home of Hope.

Eight-month-old Aaron was born at Home of Hope.

New life

When Raja accepted Christ in prison, he asked for a sign. “Lord,” he recalls saying, “show me You are real.”

Within days his parents located him, arrived in that distant city and paid for his release. It was one last chance, and with his newfound faith he was determined to do it right. He borrowed 1,000 rupees from his parents to obtain a license to drive an auto rickshaw.

Driving the rickshaw earned him the nickname Auto Raja. He married and began to settle down. But as Raja drove the streets of Bangalore, “The Lord would turn my head left and right,” he says, and he saw the people lying along the side of the road.

The sight haunted him. He began to ask questions of himself. “Didn’t the Lord say something about loving your neighbor? Aren’t these my neighbors? Didn’t the Lord say something about doing unto the least of these? Are there any ‘least-er’ than these?”

One day he brought one of the street people home.

When breakfast is over, Raja grabs several bottles of coconut oil. As he walks among the women he squirts it into their hair and rubs it into their scalp. They spend much of their day outside and the sun dries out their skin.

It is also a chance for Raja to evaluate them, to see if there are any changes mentally or physically, if there are lice or any new problems to address.

“A shepherd needs to know his flock,” he says.

He moves from one to another, stopping briefly to massage their scalp. Others follow, hands stretched out for the healing lotion. Some of the women seem almost to swoon at his touch, as if touch is rare and precious, and healing.

And it is.

“What is this?” says Raja. One woman has a blue rubber glove pulled partially over her right hand. Another glove strapped about it. A plastic fork protrudes from the cuff, fashioned like some sort of splint.

All thoughts of lotion dissipate. Raja pulls at the glove. The woman screams, flails and tries to jerk away. He holds her arm tight and clasps the other between his legs. “Oh, my God!” he says and begins calling for help.

The woman has found a ring and forced it onto her index finger. It is too small and cutting off circulation. The finger is huge and black and beginning to smell. It is so enlarged, where the ring pinches swollen flesh is just a crease.

Raja swings her into his arms and carries her toward the dispensary where two volunteer physicians are holding clinic. The physicians quickly numb the finger. Raja snaps off the ring with a small cutter.

The finger begins to regain its color.

The first woman

“It was my own son.”

“It was my own son.”

Outside the dispensary Shanti wanders over to Raja and buries her head in his shoulder. She is petite and pretty with a fine-boned face that holds a ready smile. Shanti has lived at Home of Hope for 16 years. She was the first woman Raja brought from the streets.

She had been dragged into some bushes. She was being raped and crying out for help when Raja heard her. He would later learn this was nearly an everyday occurrence. People would stand nearby listening to her cries, until the day Raja arrived.

When he rushed into the brush to rescue her, the men disappeared.

When Raja began bringing men home, everyone thought he was crazy. At one point, eight men from the streets were living with him and his family in their small house. There were times when his wife had enough, and when Raja was gone on his rickshaw, would give the men money and tell them to leave.

But Raja persisted and his wife began to see this work as a calling. By the time Shanti arrived, Home of Hope had moved into a small building of its own, housing 12 men and Shanti.

From there it grew to the current three facilities. His wife and five children live in an apartment on the second floor above one of the dormitories at the women’s residence.

The burdens to maintain all this are tremendous: food measured in tons; a staff of 40; volunteer nurses and doctors; cajoling hospitals and others for medical care, ointments, medicines, clothing, bedding — and no one is ever turned away.

“When I am in the flesh,” says Raja, “I despair and wonder how this will work or where the money will come from. I think: this is impossible. When I am in the Spirit, the Lord provides. Except for Christ’s love, this mission in naught.

“It is a matter of obedience.”

It is another day. A hospital releases a woman to Home of Hope. She has no family. There is no one to take care of her while she recovers. It is here or the street. A police van brings an elderly woman, confused and found wandering the streets.

Over at the men’s shelter, an elderly man finds his way there. His son has turned him out of his house. There is not enough money to feed you and my children, the son explained.

She nests among her possessions.

She nests among her possessions.

A tsunami of need

Raja takes an ambulance and drives the streets of Bangalore. It is early. Already there are people on the streets, dropped by their families to beg. Others have a more permanent air.

Toward the center of town a woman nests along a road in a clutter of plastic, woven bags and blankets. She is layered in enough clothing to survive an arctic winter, yet the temperature already inches toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A small fire burns within reach. Her arms and face are slathered with ash for protection from the sun.

Someone has given her a cooked chicken and she shares it with a feral dog.

Raja approaches. He offers her shelter. She is belligerent, somewhat panicked and declines. Raja says he will come again. He will watch her and monitor how she is doing. At some point she will need his help.

Further on, men lie on streets under an open sky, sleeping off a drunk. In the center of town, down an alley bracketed by machine shops and men tearing apart electric motors for recyclable metals, Raja visits with Joseph.

Raja has known him five years and brings tea for him to drink. Joseph lives behind an abandoned truck next to a burn pile where trash is strewn. He has recently suffered a stroke. His left arm and leg no longer function, yet Joseph is still unwilling to move to the men’s shelter.

He makes good money, he says — watching the shops along the alley at night — at least enough for the drink he craves.

Raja’s mobile phone rings. A woman has collapsed along a street not far from here.

He learns she has laid there for five days before anyone called for help. She is jaundiced, barely responsive and blind. There is no evidence she was blind when she collapsed. It is a mystery what happened to her and who she is.

A crowd gathers. They are here to watch. It takes cajoling before two men step forward to help Raja load her into the ambulance. Back at the women’s shelter, she will be evaluated, fed and rehydrated before being taken to a hospital for further help.

There is no end to this. A tsunami of need constantly washes against and threatens to overwhelm the capacity of Home of Hope. Yet no one is ever turned aside. There is never a question of capacity.

Raja’s dream is to live among a thousand people. “I want to live and die among them,” he says. “They are God’s children. They are my family.”

You can make a difference in a dozen ways for people in desperate need through Baptist Global Response.

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