This article was originally published in the June 2015 edition of ITMI Monthly.
by Summer Kelley, Steve Evers
It’s hard being a woman in India. Women are expected to be quiet and respectful, never speaking out or disagreeing. But it gets worse.
The disrespect, violation of rights and utter degradation women experience in India are unthinkable. This disregard of life and value is seen in the occurrence of female infanticide.
Adam Jones of the Gendercide Watch said female infanticide was, “arguably the most brutal and destructive manifestation of anti-female bias that pervades “patriarchal societies.”
It can be tough to pinpoint exact numbers because many infants in third world countries die due to poor conditions, but there is no doubt, female infanticide is fairly common in parts of India. Studies have even concluded, “female infanticide is rampant,” in certain locations. (Karlekar, 1995) (Jones, A, 2013)
Women are considered burdens and treated as property. Even by their own families. Many Indian women don’t feel safe in public. By going out, a woman is taking a real risk that she’ll be groped. (Gupta, 2014)
This dehumanizing also leads to sexual abuse, assault and harassment without consequence or guilt.
Eighty-percent of the women in New Delhi, India, said they have been at least sexually harassed or worse. (101 East, 2012) Four-fifths of women in New Delhi fear for their safety on the streets. (NDTV, 2012)(Ghosh, 2012)
And these statistics are more likely representative of affluent women from the upper castes. Incidents in the lower caste are far less likely to be reported because of police corruption or lack of law enforcement presence. (Ghosh, 2012)
A widow in a lower caste, for example, is mostly considered a burden. If her means of provision is gone, she’ll move in with extended family.
She’d be the last possible candidate in competition for any open positions - even if by some miracle she had the skills necessary. Her inability to add monetary value to the family translates into having no value as a person.
She is virtually ignored in her home. Even her own children will likely come to regard her as invisible and worthless as they observe how the other adults around them treat her.
So, what does it look like for these women to live as a preview of God’s Kingdom over and against Indian culture? To demonstrate as well as declare that we are all created good and highly valued by God? To break through caste lines, because Jesus really did come for all? To live as if the ground really is level at the foot of the cross?
ITMI partners and church planters, Paul and Molly[last name undisclosed for security], are changing Indian culture in their church in four ways.
ITMI partners, Paul and Molly in India.
Molly, an American woman, was given a vivacious, gregarious and some might even say boisterous personality. Years ago, she left her family in Arizona to minister to women in India. Particularly near and dear to her heart were the unwanted girl babies being left and killed in Southern India.
ITMI partner, Molly, offers herself for the sake of women in India.
While serving in India, she met and married Paul, an Indian believer whose whole family is involved in ministry from all angles. Paul’s father was a pastor, and his family had started multiple outreaches to the undervalued lower caste in India, including a thriving sports ministry and other outreaches for youth.
Like Jesus binding all His cosmic greatness into the confines of a human body to reach and save His people, in an obviously smaller, yet significant way, Molly chose to reign in her God-given personality in order to minister in India.
She willfully lays down her own rights as an American woman to become like those she wants to reach. She incarcerates her people-loving free spirit in favor of head wraps, measured and sometime silent compliance and difficult language barriers.
But as a pastor’s wife, she is still expected to carry much of the pastoral care for the women in the congregation. The sometimes painful challenge for Molly is that she fluent only in English and much of the lower caste citizens only speak the local Tamil language.
Before and after services, Molly is often asked by a line of widow women from the church- in the Tamil language - to pray with and for them over a specific and sometimes horrific needs.
Molly praying with a woman of her church.
This is an important aspect of Molly’s role as a pastor’s wife, most likely due to Hindu cultural beliefs, somewhat still being unlearned by these ladies, that infiltrate the fabric of Indian society; those in authority are more highly regarded and valued by whatever powers that be.
These same women often share later with Molly’s mother-in-law how the Holy Spirit clearly spoke to them, and gave them answers about the very challenges they asked Molly – in Tamil - to pray about as she prayed in - English!
What a blessing for these undervalued women to know that God is working and overcoming language barriers for their benefit. That they matter to Him.
Declaring and Demonstrating Unity and Biblical Value
Paul and Molly’s church, Harvest Bible Chapel, has a higher than expected percentage of widows. Many lower caste men perish due to squalor conditions and lack of health care for the lower caste, deaths from the harrowing traffic of the crowded, unruly streets of India, or suicide due to the hopelessness of their life as members of lower castes
Paul and Molly’s church, Harvest Bible Chapel, has a higher than expected percentage of widows.
There are far more suicides than people want to talk about.
Paul strategically works at pulling down the cultural untruths from the pulpit and other teaching programs, but as we can all attest, changing the way of thinking of the 1.3 billion Indian people, that have been ingrained by culture for so long, can take much time and much repetition.
Only God can change hearts and minds. Paul and Molly are working hard to ensure the culture of their church is a place where all are valued over and in stark contrast to the unloving labels of their intensely discriminating culture.
Valuing Anything They Have to Offer
Paul and Molly welcome and encourage the contributions of all - whatever they may be. For example, the uneducated widows in a lower caste who face ostracization and dismissal of value from everyone - even their own family - are eager to offer something of value to the church.
Often this is using what they know - cooking and cleaning - to serve. While this may sound outlandish to an American ear, this is one way these women can be shown that they matter. What they have to offer matters.
Creating Jobs for Lower Caste Widows
Indian traffic patterns, self-contained neighborhood layouts, and high volume of pedestrian traffic make the small corner grocery store a mainstay of Indian culture. ITMI wants to help Paul open a grocery store, for outreach and where many of the widows could work, earning income. This would not only build their skills but allow them to contribute to their families.
Changing their status from unvalued to contributors would cause the real-world experience of these women to more closely match the true value placed on them by the God who sent His only, valued Son to die in their place.
Please continue to pray for Paul and Molly as the persecution of Christians and ministry are escalating on a weekly basis. Much of the good work that Paul and Molly do must be carried out “under the radar” due to irrational and sometimes violent actions of those that oppose Jesus and what Jesus calls us to do.
Also pray for their church as they are trying to acquire and refurbish a new church building, capable of holding the growing number of Indians who find sweet rest and hope within the walls of this alive and unique spiritual lighthouse.
Thank you again for your willingness to put your fingerprints all over this special couple and special ministry.
Paul and Molly send their heartfelt love and appreciation…as well as their invitation to be one of their partners.
101 East. (Producer). (2012, April 27). 101 East - Unintended consequences: India’s rape crisis. [ Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2012/04/201242482823627221.html
NDTV (2010, July 09). 80 percent women fear for safety in Delhi: Survey. NDTV. Retrieved from http://www.ndtv.com/cities/80-percent-women-fear-for-safety-in-delhi-survey-423224
Gupta, Nishita. (2014, July 28). 7 Reasons Why It’s Hard Being a Girl in India. Swoopwhoop.com. Retrieved May 19 2015, from http://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/india-girl-problems/.
Ghosh, Palash. (2012, May 12). The Government Knows if You'll Pay Taxes Early or Wait Until the Last Minute. Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-08/the-government-knows-if-youll-pay-taxes-early-or-wait-til-the-last-minute#r=hpt-ls
Karlekar, Malavika. (1995, March). The girl child in India: does she have any rights?. Canadian Woman Studies.
Jones, A. (2013). Case Study: Female Infanticide. Gendercide Watch. Retrieved from http://www.gendercide.org/case_infanticide.html.
Summer Kelley is a writer living in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and three kids. She’s had the honor and privilege of telling ITMI’s stories since 2006. She’s a homeschooling mom and a T-shirt and jeans aficionado who likes all things simple. When she’s not writing or homeschooling, you can find her honing her skills as what some might call a "suburban survivalist" as she learns to thrive in the suburbs with 3 kids. As a productivity and organizing enthusiast, she may or may not spend hours attempting to use technology to "save time.” Summer loves reading, the outdoors and Coca-Cola Classic from the fountain.
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 12 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.