West Bengal, India
As 2021 marches on, our GS team of staff and volunteers is praying for the world to open up again. While we wait, we invite you to explore with us the regions where our global ministry partners work. These places are unique and vibrant, each boasting their own special beauty. And the people? Well, we believe the people are extraordinary. And we think once you get to know them better, you will too. So we invite you to venture out with us virtually as we celebrate the people, places, and ministries God has called us to serve around the world.
ON THE MAP
Tucked into a northern corner of the Indian subcontinent, the state of West Bengal nestles snugly within dramatic surroundings. Along its northernmost edge, the Himalayas stretch out imposingly, forming a boundary which issues a siren’s call to mountain climbers and trekkers. Mount Everest is not far away from here and, carelessly straddling Nepal and China, can be seen from Darjeeling on a clear day. The lowlands and foothills sloping south are carpeted with tea gardens, sprawling plantations that produce some of the world’s finest tea.
The state’s southern border is formed by the Bay of Bengal, leaving its geography oddly shaped. Stretching some 200 miles edge to edge in the south, it’s a mere 10 miles across at its narrowest point. It’s here that the mighty Ganges River leisurely rolls through on its way to neighboring Bangladesh. Though it exits nearly as soon as it enters, the river and its tributaries leave the southern half of the state with a rich and fertile plain.
Added to its dramatic landscapes, West Bengal has other charms: signature spicy food, terrifying traffic patterns, and friendly, good-natured people. But oppression is an undeniable and widespread reality here too. The domination of Hinduism means many are born into low castes and some are relegated to life outside the caste system altogether. Be they Dalits (untouchable or low castes) or Adivasi (tribal and outcast), karma has sealed their fate in this life. With limited or no access to education, opportunities to climb out of poverty and the destiny assigned by karma are in most cases non-existent. These groups represent just over 25% of West Bengal’s population and discrimination in every realm of life is as socially acceptable as it is cruel. Yes, karma rules here, and few are those who will intervene and work to bring change.
In the north, the tea plantations have employed the Adivasi since the time of the British Empire, but the conditions are harsh, abuse is rife, and with workers earning just over two dollars a day, there’s little hope of ever climbing out of poverty. The tea companies exploit a generational labor cycle, meaning children, even should they earn an education, must continue as tea pickers or their aging parents face eviction from the homes they occupy on plantation property. With no other options, the cycle of oppression continues unabated generation after generation.
The situation is equally heartbreaking in the south, even with a bustling port city like Kolkata anchoring the urban landscape. Formerly the financial capital of the East India Company, much of Kolkata’s population lives below the poverty line, employed as domestic workers, day laborers, rickshaw pullers, hawkers, or beggars. With slum villages home to more than one-third the total population of the city, the unsanitary conditions, close quarters and tin and tarp housing monopolize once vacant areas along roads, canals, drains, and the port and railway lines. At least 23 of these communities have populations of over 10,000 people, and for many, these overcrowded and unsafe neighborhoods have been home for two or three generations.
But it is into this place where thousands of capricious gods dole out their cruel karma that the hope of the gospel issues its clearest call. It is the teachings of Jesus that offer a better way than the teachings of Hinduism. It is the way of Jesus that offers a rebirth into a life and destiny free of karma’s punishing assignments and into a Body where there is neither high caste or outcast. With a new name and a new identity, all are welcomed into the joy of their Creator and His Son, invited to dine at His table, recognized and valued for the masterpieces they are.
Founders of RAY Ministries and Alpha Mission School, Home and Jenny are firm believers in the idea that education can change everything. And it provides a perfect vehicle for presenting the way of Jesus to poor and marginalized families in their community, whether they be inside or outside the Hindu caste system. With education central to everything they do, Home and Jenny are spiritual entrepreneurs, finding creative ways to bring the hope and healing of Jesus into the hurting world around them. Both orphaned in childhood, they have taken in kids without families and sacrificially promote their holistic development, meeting physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs. They facilitate traditional youth camps and conferences, but have also established vocational training centers in computers and other skill sets to increase job opportunities and earning power. They regularly host pastor training and women’s conferences to reach the Adivasis of the tea plantations with the good news of the gospel. Five years ago they shared their dream with Global Sharing to expand their school, replicating it in Adivasi areas where access to education is non-existent. Today they are pushing deeper into those unreached tribal regions, and the mission school is in the works. And they continue to dream: a driving school or a beauty college could be next. Whatever it is, be assured they will weave the gospel and discipleship into every plan they make and every thing they do.
In the south of the state, Dorcus House serves widows and their children in an impoverished village near the port of Kolkata. Their intrepid leader Cornelia, shepherds over 80 widows living in the shadow of stacks of rusty shipping containers and the active rail lines that move them in and out. Many of the widows that live in this dangerous hamlet have grown old here, but some are quite young; child marriage sometimes makes widows out of children. Cornelia fills her week tirelessly doing home visitation, providing food rations, paying school fees, and running a small preschool. But the door at Dorcus House is also open for literacy classes and skills training, and even to help the widows launch small businesses. But most importantly, Cornelia has introduced the widows and their children to Jesus and the ways of her God, teaching them that they are made in His image and therefore valuable beyond measure. The protection she extends, the dignity she affirms, and the care she provides consistently point them back to the One who finds the sheep on the margins and welcomes them gladly into His fold.
Outside the city’s limits along Kolkata’s eastern edge, a young man named Nasir has faithfully established himself within a community of Muslims that bumps up against the Sundarban National Park. A slum village with few solid structures can offer little protection from the elements, and one that borders the natural habitat of Royal Bengal tigers, estuarine crocodiles, and other wild animals ratchets up the risks. Living conditions are dangerous and attacks by hungry animals frequent. Nasir has beautifully woven his medical training into his seminary training, and with his compassion for the hurting and his love for the lost, he embodies a loving Heavenly Father to those who cannot imagine a kind and loving God. His commitment to serve and disciple the least of these has given birth to a beautiful faith community. Under his shepherding and care, his little flock is beginning to thrive even as it resides in the midst of wolves.
Global Sharing is proud to partner with Nasir, Cornelia, and Home and Jenny, and to spread the word about all they’re doing in West Bengal to expand God’s Kingdom through holistic ministry. We strive to offer the encouragement of friendship, prayer support, and teams of volunteers to them as they continue to faithfully serve those God has put in their care. We are committed to helping where and how we can, as needs arise, and have most recently helped fund RAY Ministries' school launch and educational partnership with Heera, a co-laborer committed to reaching the unreached through a bible-based English language school among the Adivasis.
As our partners press on, whether in pioneering a new work of ministry or staying the course along well-trod paths, we will continue to tell their stories, support them how and when we can, and invite you to join us in walking in the way of Jesus with them.
For Home and Jenny, RAY Ministries and Alpha Mission School: clarity and perseverance as they continue to embrace sacrificial service and spiritual entrepreneurship, providing educational opportunities for all, and finding innovative ways to bring the gospel of grace to their community and beyond.
For Dorcus House and Cornelia as they serve the widows and orphans in the slum village near the port in Kolkata: protection, the ongoing meeting of practical needs and the successful launch of literacy plans and micro-enterprise.
For Nasir in the Sundarban slums that border the nature preserve: protection from wild animals, ongoing needs for physical healing, and the spiritual growth of the faith community he shepherds.
For all our Indian friends as they daily battle the COVID virus, poverty, oppression, and persecution.
Thank you for helping our Indian partners thrive. Thank you for praying for them and the people they serve. Thank you for seeing the challenges they face and being part of bringing change to this corner of the world. We press on with your help, and we press on because the hope and healing of Jesus is the only change that will last.
To receive our prayer email updates for our partners, click HERE.
To give to our Indian partners through Global Sharing, click HERE.
Thank you to all who have journeyed to India with us to serve our friends and partners there! We hope to visit them again when we are allowed to travel!