Pastor Samuel is threatened daily. His family is intimidated. He is beaten on occasion. His church has been burned to the ground. Yet this hero of the faith persists in standing in the gap children for children in one of the most spiritually dark places on earth.
The pastor lives in a rural village where life revolves around a large Hindu temple complex. The residents’ businesses cater to temple pilgrims. One form of commerce is prostitution. Devadasi is a practice whereby parents are paid to marry a daughter to a deity or a temple. Poor families are often forced to give up their girls. The “marriage” normally happens before a girl reaches puberty. These women are forever forbidden to enter into a real husband and wife union. They are virtual slaves to the temple hierarchy until they live beyond their usefulness.
Children of temple prostitutes are born into hopelessness. They have virtually no chance for a healthy childhood or a future apart from prostitution and crime. Devadasi has been banned since 1947, but similar to child brides and the caste system, the government is not in a place or has the will to enforce laws on the books.
Pastor Samuel and his wife Kalpana are the “auntie” and “uncle” who run the Grace Club. Aunties and Uncles are terms of respect and affection in India. The Grace Club is an after-school J127 Club serving children of prostitutes, beggars, and those in nearby leper colony. They meet in a one-room stone building located down a dirt alley. There are unwashed children everywhere, shacks jammed together, and camels, monkeys, water buffalo, and an assortment of skinny stray dogs wandering about the area. In a word, it’s chaotic.
In this three-year discipleship program, aunties and uncles shepherd children through lessons that instill character, teach spiritual formation, and impart life skills. The curriculum has been uniquely crafted for these children and the rigors they face in daily life.
Miracles abound everyday in this simple room. A girl gives her heart to the Lord. A boy learns ways to deal with his anger. A girl is trained to spot traffickers and other predators. A boy understands how to process grief in the wake of abandonment, suicide or a parent’s death from AIDS. The topics, and the way they’re presented, give children a foundation for a life long journey of faith. And the program allows ample room for the Holy Spirit to move in a child’s soul – to mend and to grow it. No other ministry we know of engages children on this level. Pastor “Uncle” Samuel and Auntie Kalpana provide the tangibles of family life, an important aspect of this program. Along with their son and daughter they model a healthy family unit. They love each child and offer a safe place for them to confess their troubles.
Take Divya. When she was 15 her grandmother (a pimp) forced her into prostitution. She refused to cooperate. One night men came to Divya’s home and brutally raped her. A few days later, when Divya didn’t show up for the program, Uncle Samuel stopped by her home. Divya told him about the incident. Pastor Samuel rescued her and worked closely with the police to get her to a boarding school in a village far enough away from danger.
Not everyone appreciates Pastor Samuel’s efforts to care for these kids. Extremists have tried to drive him off his property; they’ve destroyed his church; and he has been beaten several times. Yet he and his family persist. They provide a refuge for children desperate for hope. There’s a tangible spiritual darkness and oppression in this village. But in this simple stone room children are on their face before God. A bright flame of the Holy Spirit burns brightly in the center of this village.
Pastor Samuel says of J127,
It helps these children come out from the shadows of the flesh trade and corruption. The lessons help in building up the confidence of these little girls and boys. It is teaching them right from wrong. The program gives them a dream and a desire to break free from bondage and get a hold of everything noble and good.
We ask for your prayers for Pastor Samuel, Auntie Kalpana, and their family. Pray for God’s wisdom, and His power to move powerfully through them to the children and to the people of this village. Also, pray for the kids. Some of them are HIV-positive. Some are prostitutes. Some are promised to the temple. Pray for the Holy Spirit to move swiftly in their hearts, to protect them, and to give them a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).
If you have a burden for programs such as the Grace Club, please consider sponsoring a group of children. Your contribution will transform lives in some of the hardest hit places in India. Thank you!
Update: In 2018, David C Cook transferred oversight of the J127 clubs to an in-country partner which continues to shepherd and grow this program. By supporting David C Cook’s Life on Life curriculum, you will be helping support this program as well.