Twenty-two-year-old Magashwari had just finished washing the clothes of an upper caste family in Southern India in exchange for a few coins they tossed her way.
Because of her blindness, she’d been told and treated like she didn’t matter by her family and society for so long that she believed it.
As for her lower caste family, it wasn’t that they didn’t care for her, but they had been swimming in the waters of their caste-based society for so long that they’d accepted the lie that as lower caste members, they have lower value and that blind Magashwari had even less.
And they’d treated her that way - maybe without even considering the hopelessness she’d been driven to.
Rejected. Isolated. Hopeless. Blind. Purposeless. This was the theme song of her life. (Read the rest of Magashwari's story here.)
It's not just the disabled and poverty-stricken that are cast out.
Women in general, even from affluent castes, 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.
Its worse for women of lower castes. A widow in a lower caste, for example, will 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.
But the list of those devalued and cast out by the caste system doesn't end with women and widows. Anyone in a lower caste can be treated this way.
According to the CIA World Fact Book,
"...India has many challenges that it has yet to fully address, including poverty, corruption, violence and discrimination against women and girls, an inefficient power generation and distribution system,...decades-long civil litigation dockets,...limited non-agricultural employment opportunities, ...inadequate availability of quality basic and higher education..."
Poverty in India.
The Church: Facing Opposition from Within and Without
India's estimated population of 1,251,695,584 people are reportedly 79.8% Hindu, 14.2% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, and 1.7% Sikh, with there remaining 2% being other religions or unspecified. (CIA World Factbook)
God's people in India are in the minority. Being a Christian automatically moves you into the lower levels of the caste system. The church faces opposition, and its individuals are stripped of many rights. The persecution and challenges they face loom large.
The church in India, as everywhere, faces struggles from within, as well.
The culture we are immersed in always affects God's people, and the church in India is no different. The Hindu culture they are surrounded by and come from affects the church's life and practices.
For example, it can be a long process for believers to shake the caste mentality. Believers can revert back to old habits of competing for worth among themselves. In this mindset, the ultimate "winner" is the pastor. That means that Indian pastors may lead like Hindu leaders without thinking anything of it.
An Indian pastor may not have a Bible or training available to him, so many don't even know the humility and servanthood Jesus has called him to as a leader. He may believe he has more value than the others in his congregation. In fact, its not unusual for a pastor to travel with an entourage who does his bidding and treat him as a mini-celebrity.
Overall, Hindu culture and its belief in reincarnation maintains a lower value of life than we see in the Bible. This is seen in the apathetic response to the suffering of the poor, the poor treatment of women, but also in the practice of female infanticide.
Hindu culture requires the parents of a daughter to be married to supply a dowry, turning marriage into a business transaction that leads to difficult financial decisions and hardships for the parents of daughters. This leads to female infanticide as a common occurrence in southern India. According to UNICEF, "up to 50 million girls and women are missing from India's population as a result of systematic gender discrimination."
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/.
"India." Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 6 Jan. 2016. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.
Paul and Molly with all of their 23 children!
Paul and Molly are raising 19 girls who were rescued from families that could not keep them as their own daughters.
The girls live in a home specially constructed for them with Paul's Aunt and Uncle, who act like grandparents for them. The girls attend school and pray each night. They enjoy trips to the beach and other family outings with Paul and Molly, who spend as much time as they can with the girls.
Paul and Molly's girls pray every night.
Paul teaches one of his girls to ride a bike.
Harvest Bible Chapel
Paul and Molly shepherd and disciple a community of Indian believers. Harvest Bible Chapel grew to about 400 people in its first two years.
This was in the midst of local Hindu opposition blocking the door to their meeting place and attempting to conduct gatherings while a Hindu temple across the street broadcasted recorded prayers through its room-sized sound system for no other reason than to prevent Harvest Bible Chapel from their service.
When they were finally able to relocate, 50 radical Hindus were ready to fight at the door on the first Sunday.
But through all this, Harvest Bible Chapel meets regularly in prayer cells, reaches out to women, widows and those cast aside, and learns about God's Word together.
When Harvest Bible Chapel started meeting here, about 50 extreme Hindus protested on the doorstep.
A Harvest Bible Chapel prayer cell.
Molly doesn't speak Tamil, which is the language of the rest of the church. But the Spirit still uses her to provide encouragement for the women of HBC.
Molly prays with Harvest Bible Chapel women after services.
Ministry Corner Market
Harvest Bible Chapel is made up of many widows, many of whom are overlooked and devalued by those around them. Paul and Molly realized they could help the real-world experience of these women reflect God's kingdom if they were able to earn an income.
They opened a small corner market that creates jobs for widows and unmarried women.
Molly with several of the market's staff.
Paul equips and disciples pastors from all over southern India, helping them see the cultural lies they may have been teaching and acting on as truth, so that they can rightly handle God's Word and use it to equip their people to make disciples in their communities.
Paul translated the SALT material into Tamil, and uses it to train pastors from all over southern India how to lead their churches in a way that's faithful to Biblical teachings.
The response to these trainings has been overwhelming. Many times, pastors call daily after the conferences to request discipleship and more training. Some even share, "I didn't realize I was teaching heresy!"
Paul trains Indian pastors on Biblical leadership.
Sports Outreach to Underprivileged Youth
Paul, who grew up playing "football" (soccer), has discovered that encouraging others to use their gifts and talents in sports to bring glory to God has been one of the most effective ways to disciple and have opportunities to declare and demonstrate the gospel in his community.
Sports provide a great tool that has broken all barriers of color, caste, economy and education.
Through dedicating sports and everything related to them to Jesus' kingdom and allowing Him to be Lord of them, Paul and his brother have shared the good news they know with many in their community.
As young people feel respected, valued and cared for, they are eager to learn more about this Jesus whom Paul and Molly love.
They don't "use" sports to get young people to come to their church or strip them of their culture and customs. Through the vehicle of sports, they answer questions and discuss ideas through a Biblical worldview and develop mentoring relationships.
Paul shares Jesus and life lessons with boys from the slums.
ITMI made many boys happy by sponsoring jerseys for a tournament.
Steve Evers demonstrating our need to lean on Jesus as he presents the gospel.
Paul plays with the sports leaders against the winning tournament team.
Excited to be participating in the soccer events.
Skits demonstrate life lessons that point to Jesus.
Opportunity to respond to Jesus.
Paul with a man who was saved and discipled (red shirt on the left) through the sports ministry who is now reaching other soccer players.
Paul grew up in the very slums where he and Molly minister now.
His family, originally Hindu worshipers, came to know Jesus one by one after his mother came to faith. His father became a pastor of a local body of believers and the whole family came to Jesus...except Paul.
Paul was a "football" (Americans call this game "soccer") player. He was sure his athleticism would save him from the slums. He wanted nothing to do with religion.
He still wanted to eat the one meal per day his family could afford to eat. So, when Paul's mom made a house rule that only those who attended church could eat, Paul participated.
Paul's parents started the church in the upper level of their tiny slum home, even though this meant the boys' "bedroom" was actually a hallway.
Eventually, Paul saw where his own abilities fell short and realized his own need for a true Savior. He later attended the local Bible school and then began to co-pastor with his father.
Molly grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, then came to India as a "peacemaking worker".
Her calling was to minister to women and girls, especially helping rescue the many baby girls that are abandoned or killed because a girl's dowry is an insurmountable financial burden to a family from the slums, often leading to extreme hardship and financial ruin.
Paul and Molly met when Molly needed a translator to share the gospel. Once they realized their shared passion and desires, the rest was history...
- Disciple and pastor Harvest Bible Chapel, teaching them to live as a community that demonstrates and declares the gospel that ultimately, God's Word would be made known in India.
- Reach the poor, alienated and socially outcast with the truth about their true identity in Jesus.
- Disciple children - their own 22 as well as youth from the slums and streets - to live lives that are formed by the story of Jesus and built on a relationship with Him.
- Funding to provide for their 19 girls' living expenses and improvements to the property.
- Monthly support for their own family's living expenses.
- $220 per month to run the sports ministry.
- $330 per month to run their ministry to street children.
- Kingdom-minded workers who want to make an impact in India enough to face persecution and abandon notoriety.
- ITMI to provide oversight and US awareness.
- Paul's family of national ministry workers.
It was a short video, and was a tad grainy, but it showed clearly what challenges the people of rural India, and as a matter of fact, the rest of the world live under.The video was sent to me by our partner Paul in India. If we could show you the video it would show…
“Now, where would you send your splendid choir? To a big concert hall maybe? Or a palace, perhaps? God sent his to a little hillside, outside a little town, in the middle of the night.” The words of the Christmas story as written by Sally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible grabbed most of my attention. (The rest, I necessarily allowed to remain on the task of driving.) Through my driver’s side window, I caught a fleeting glimpse of…
“Today was really an eye opener,” Steve wrote from India. “I have never – even in all my travels in Africa, seen anything like what I saw today. I thought to myself, ‘…what has Paul gotten me into?’ “
It was pure chaos. On a warm summer night in southern India, ITMI’s Paul and his wife, Molly, were in the heart of one of the toughest slums in the city with their 23 children. Youth of all ages from the slum in southern India were shouting at the makeshift stage, their hands waving high in the air. There were thousands of them, packed into every crevice and cranny. On a previous occasion in this same slum, leaders from Paul’s church invited the locals to a similar outreach. It ended with a gang of youth threatening to throw stones at them! But this time…it was different.
Each unit in these numbers represents a life. A life that is highly valued by his or her Creator. A combination of physical attributes, personality, convictions, thoughts, feelings and spirit that is delighted in by the One who lovingly orchestrated each part to create the masterpiece that is each person. If the number were ONE, that is worth celebrating joyfully! So, multiply that joy by each number as you read them and join us in celebrating the lives He is touching…
It was Christmas morning. The people of Paul and Molly’s church, Harvest Bible Chapel were together for a Christmas breakfast and service. The family of God called happy greetings to one another as they enjoyed breakfast together. Laughter filled the room. Smiles were everywhere.