On Friday evening, the youngest daughter of the Matthew clan and I ventured to the outskirts of Calcutta. Our final destination was a slum in the middle of a small village.
In India, “slums” range from tents made from tarps erected over a dirt floor, to small homes made of mud bricks. The latter are usually 1 – 2 room homes, with each room being roughly eight or ten feet wide. So pretty small. In these circumstances the men of the families are often alcoholics and it’s not uncommon to hear of them abusing their wives and children. Most of the kids don’t attend school.
Four years ago, the Mathew family matriarch, Abigail, began doing door-to-door evangelism in this particular slum. In one particular area she asked who was in a room that was closed up. She began to open the door and immediately a foul stench came rushing out. And, after turning on a light, found a crippled young man laying in a bed.
His mother explained that he had leprosy and the rest of the slum feared it would spread. So they kept him in that room and they hadn’t opened the door in a year. They just slid food under his door like a solitary confinement cell in a medieval prison.
Abigail asked if they could bring him back to their house. The mom obliged and, after talking to John, they picked him up and took him home.
For two weeks they prayed for him, fasted, took him to the doctors, washed him and put medicine on his body. It turns out he didn’t have leprosy but he did indeed have psoriasis, which is incurable. In two weeks time, the lonely, crippled man with a skin disease was completely healed of psoriasis, healed partially in his legs so he could stand on his own, and gained a new family who loved him unconditionally.
The Mathews told him he could live with them indefinitely. He had other plans. In the two weeks he also was overcome with the love of God and decided he wanted to give his life to spreading the Good News of Jesus. He told the family that he wanted to go back to the slum he came from and help transform it with God’s love.
After going back, Rebekah Mathew would visit weekly to hold a church service for him and the kids he began to mentor. At first the rag tag group of kids were dirty, not going to school, not even wearing underwear. But the love of God began to capture their hearts too. One of them was even healed of tuberculosis. And as their lives were transformed, their alcoholic fathers stopped drinking, started taking care of the families’ needs more. The Mathews church traveled to the village and helped clean up the houses. The families in the slum started adding rooms to their tiny dwellings. In other words the Gospel took on flesh and transformed an entire community.
Now, four years later, as I arrive to the same community, I’m greeted by a clan of children who are neatly dressed and all attend school. The oldest, the one that had tuberculosis, is now 19 and she is in her freshman year of College. And all of them are passionate about the Jesus who changed their lives.
We sang worship songs and Rebekah and I each preached a message on holiness. We gave them some small gifts of cookies and pens and the kids gave me a gift of a pen they had bought themselves in preparation of me coming. It was even wrapped.
Here’s a video of the kids singing to Jesus in Bengali (it’s more of an audio clip because of poor lighting):
This whole experience moved me greatly. From the selfless love of the Mathews to the transformation of an entire community – the whole thing was incredible to learn about. This is the Gospel. This is the good news that Jesus preached when he said, “Blessed are the poor. For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
This type of transformation is at the heart of what I feel God calling his people to in Calcutta. It’s what I feel led to be part of. And I hope other Americans will feel the same as I share the story of the way God is moving there.
During a prayer session in August, Rebekah and I felt the Lord moving us toward starting a children’s home in Calcutta. The purpose would be to help those that are most disadvantaged in these situations be able to receive the basic needs and spiritual mentorship they long for. It also could potentially help girls who are otherwise at great risk of being victims from India’s growing rape epidemic. They could have a safe home.
Many slums haven’t been transformed yet. And many are actually just little more than forts made of sticks and sheets. Here’s one we drove by and observed briefly. It sits directly on the side of the road with piles of garbage on the opposite side. It was from a place like this that an 18-month old came into the emergency room where Sarah Mathew works. The toddler had been raped by a random person while the mother was attending to something important. These girls are not safe:
John told me the slum I visited with Rebekah was similar to this one when they began preaching the Gospel there four years ago.
I feel the Lord wants to help support this ministry to the “least of these.” Not only is there an unprecedented opportunity to have a large impact on some of the worst strongholds of poverty in one of the most impoverished areas on Earth, but there’s an amazing opportunity to bring new passionate followers of Jesus into the Kingdom. If there’s anything I’ve learned about poverty, it’s that it’s rich soil for the seeds of the Kingdom. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom.
Same with spiritual poverty. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Or anything that humbles, and grounds us enough for us to realize all the transient, fading hopes of this world – all the other “kingdoms” – are fruitless promises. Jesus talked about wealth as a distraction, a deceitful master. Clearly the poverty these people face is not good, but their openness is. And the heart-level transformation Jesus brings is what they need to transform their community – just as I witnessed that Friday evening with Rebekah.
A children’s home is not only an opportunity to invest in the ministry in the Calcutta slums, but it’s a way to invest in the discipleship of a few kids – the way Jesus did. He healed thousands but only discipled 12. The plan we worked out through a handful of meetings during my time in Calcutta is pretty simple, yet powerful. It centers on finding a three-story home where the Matthews could live on one floor, a floor for the girls and their caretakers, and a floor for the kitchen and a meeting place for the Mathews’ neighborhood church. The girls would live with strong believers, just as the disciples lived with Jesus. This is the type of ministry the Mathews do, and it’s evident in the story of the crippled man above, as well as other stories I haven’t had time to share yet.
Actually, the caretakers we’ve identified are a mom and daughter (who is 22), that went through the same transformative process of living with the Mathews for a year and a half. They too lived in a slum after the father sold them to another man and that man, in addition to trying to rape the daughter on several occasions, sold all their possessions – even their house – and left them with nothing.
If you’re poor, a woman or child in India, the odds are not in your favor. It wasn’t until modern times, through the urging of Christian missionaries, people stopped sacrificing their babies to the Ganges River or burning widows alive with their husbands’ bodies.
I’ll end this post with the last piece of our plan. The whole time we were visiting slums or meeting with people the Mathews are already sharing life with, we were watching for the girls who could use this help the most. If you’re like me, you value the transformative power that came to the slum in the story I shared above. You probably noticed it’s because the kids remained there that their transformation affected the community they live in. Physical conditions got better as their spiritual conditions did and vice-versa. It’s like an upward spiral.
But there are situations that call for a greater level of service. Within slums some are relatively worse off than others. It’s these kids we want to extend an opportunity to leave their slum to live in a children’s home. And some, like the 18-month-old, are vulnerable simply because the parents can’t possibly protect their children from all the dangers that come with living on the side of the road.
At very least, any girl in a slum who’s parents remain Hindu will insist that they arrange a marriage to a hindu man for her. This happened last year to one of the young girls who had become a passionate believer through the Mathews’ ministry. Culturally, the Mathews can’t do anything about it, unless they’ve been given care of the children. Then the expectation is on the ministry to help find a mate for the child. Not only would the kids have a choice in who they marry, but they could marry a Christian.
Friends, would you pray with me that God would bring about all the necessary elements to see this project come to life? We only need to raise $500/month to support 3 – 4 girls and their caretakers (who are themselves a ministry worth investing in, they’ve become powerful women in Jesus). But it’s not just money, it’s partnership. We want to partner with people who’s hearts are pulled towards these kids and this ministry. Maybe even a few people who are interested in taking a trip or two to India to advance the Gospel alongside us!