Tribal enemies kidnapped and killed Esther’s dad when she was three-years-old. The incident burns in her memory.
On a hot summer day, her father, a village farmer, tended to his rice paddies like he did every day.
Militants – enemies of her people – came up behind him, grabbed him, and took him captive. They brought her father back to Esther’s village and in a show of force and intimidation, they tied him to a tree, and tortured him to death. The memory scars Esther, now age 7 – and it changed the course of her family’s life.
With no one to support them, her mother eloped with another man, abandoning Esther and her sister. Her older sister carried the toddler from house to house begging for food. A visiting pastor took them to a Christian orphanage.
Anita is 11 years old. Her father abandoned her and her older sister a few years ago. Her older sister, old enough to marry, brought Anita into her new family. Having a change of heart, the father tracked them down, and began to harass them. Over time the harassment developed into abuse, and eventually he burned down the sister’s home. Now homeless, the elder sister was forced to place Anita in an orphanage.
The abandonment, abuse and hardship caused by Anita’s father created a well of hatred in her heart. She despised the word “father” – she never wanted to see his face again.
The grandmother dropped off her three grandchildren – Vikas, Amisha, and Vinit –at the orphanage. Apparently, the trio’s father had run away after their mother killed herself. One evening Vinit mentioned to one of Club leaders that he’d like to buy a gun. He said he wanted to go back to his house and kill his uncles and grandparents. The leader first thought Vinit hated his family for rejecting him.
The leader continued to ask questions to understand Vinit’s sorrow, and he was stunned by what the 7 year old said next. Before the siblings arrived at the orphanage they witnessed their mother being burned alive over a dowry dispute. The grandmother lied to the orphanage. Each day the siblings battled thoughts of their mother crying for help in pain, the flames etched in their minds. While Vinit, Vikas, and Amisha look like any other children on the surface, they harbor strong, destructive emotions.
The burdens these children carry are pure poison. Forgiveness is a foreign concept to them yet one they must embrace for the sake of relationships and the health of their own body, mind, and soul. It is key to any foundation involving healing.
The J127 Club curriculum contains 8-10 specific lessons on forgiveness, and 25-30 other lessons that address it in some form.
As in every teaching, activity, and sharing time, the Holy Spirit is given plenty of room to act within a child’s heart. We openly acknowledge the heartache, the injury and the grave injustice. Then they learn that God asks us to forgive because He readily forgives us in our own transgressions… His love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). The children begin to see that forgiveness benefits them and sets them free. It’s both a choice and process for these kids, but one that leads to freedom.
Esther loves her dad, and harbored anger toward those who murdered him. After Club time addressing bitterness, she made a decision to forgive those that took her father’s life. In the wake of this decision, her heart filled with joy. She wanted to tell the tribe that killed her dad about God’s love and forgiveness – she wanted to shout her freedom from the rooftops!
And the amazing part of this story? Before Good Friday, a pastor at the orphanage took Esther to a Youth and Women Convention where she stood up in front of hundreds of people and shared her testimony. In part, she said,
Today I stand in front of you without my father, because your people killed him. I was left an orphan; this is not my fault. I stand here today to tell you that I have forgiven you all, and I want to make peace. I bring the message of the love and forgiveness of God.
Esther’s message changed lives; people cried in every corner of the hall. The power of forgiveness through the Holy Spirit brought souls to Jesus.
Anita learned about the concept of forgiveness in the Joy Club. She now knows God forgives us and we should forgive others, no matter how much they’ve hurt us. This verse means a great deal to her: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” Colossians 3:13.
Anita thought about these issues in her heart for some time, and then told Auntie and Uncle that she decided to forgive her father. She feels free in her heart, and even says she could face her father again without hatred or bitterness.
Vinit and his siblings are just beginning their journey to forgive. The Club leader has found the curriculum on forgiveness to be invaluable. Club time has enabled the siblings to feel safe to express emotions and to trust people in the wake of seeing such betrayal. Please pray these children will learn to forgive the people who killed their mother.
Stories such as Esther’s, Anita’s, and Vinit’s are commonplace. In some ways they’re like all children: they must forgive one another for a hurtful word or action. And in other ways, they’re releasing injuries that would topple most people.
Please consider giving a gift to support J127 Clubs in India, and join the cause to prepare the hearts of this next generation.
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.