Nagu is a 10-year-old boy who lives in Vjaywada, India. His father searches the drains for scraps of iron, and on a good day he makes the equivalent of $1 U.S. dollar. On days when he finds no iron, the family doesn’t eat. Nagu has hope in the midst of these dire conditions because of his faith. He is a budding evangelist and loves singing to the Lord.
Najaraju is 12 years old and unable to attend school. He recently lost his brother and sister to disease and struggles to understand their deaths. His father collects garbage door to door and delivers it to a dump. Narajaru fishes from early morning to evening to help feed his family. He loves stories about Jesus that he hears in the J127 club. He often brings his questions about suffering to Joyson, his pastor.
Eleven year-old Yekula and her sisters work as rag pickers in the drainage ditches near their village. They pocket or sell anything of worth. Her home life is not happy. Yekula’s mother recently left her father for another man. Her father remarried a woman with her own children. Yekula recently made an important decision: She accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
What do these three children have in common? Hope in a dark, hopeless area. All three children belong to a primitive Hindu tribe called the Yanadi, who are one of the lowest castes in India. Historically this people group worked as rural farmers collecting hay and wood from forest areas. The city dwellers—who include Nagu, Najaraju, and Yekula—live in a slum along a dirty canal. They work as rag pickers and street cleaners, and they are assigned to pull dead bodies out of rivers and canals.
The Yanadis tribe is rife with rampant alcoholism, drug use, crime, and hopelessness. Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are common since the mosquito population is particularly thick near the canal. Mud thatched huts offer little protection from the elements. There is no electricity or running water.
Hope is also is in short supply because of the predominant Hindu belief of Karma. From the earliest age, a child is taught that his destiny has been determined by the good and bad he did in a previous life. Within this paradigm, change or bettering one’s circumstances is virtually impossible. A child is told she deserves misery, but perhaps with great effort she can attain a better life on the next go around.
Joyson and Priscilla, a Christian couple native to the area, serve as bearers of hope to this community. The Yanadi encounter Jesus through a feeding program they run as well as through a club that uses uses David C Cook’s Children-at-Risk curriculum, the Yanadi encounter Jesus. The Children-at-Risk curriculum fosters spiritual formation, character development, and life skills. It’s designed for children who’ve known trauma such as hunger, death and suffering—or who are at risk of exploitation and abuse. Teacher training equips lay leaders to work with these children across India and in 24 other countries.
Joyson and Pricilla are not alone in their mission to this community. They belong to the Glory Church, a congregation of about 200 people. Joyson and Priscilla’s testimonies of working with these children—including the many who’ve given their lives to Christ—stirred the congregation to get involved. Originally, the club and feeding area was held on open ground in the center of the settlement. The church has now rented a room so they can meet in all kinds of weather and without incident. They also celebrated Christmas with the children, collecting money to provide clothes, plates, and glasses to each child.
Faith in Jesus brings about hope and speaks dignity to people caught in the mire. The Lord sees people of infinite value and worth. Change for the better is not only possible, it’s inevitable when the Holy Spirit lives within you. There is joy springing up among the Yanadi people, and Joyson, Priscilla, the Glory Church, and children like Yekula, Nagu and Najaraju, carry the light. Please pray for all involved, and for continued transformation among the Yanadi tribe.
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.