They sleep side by side on the cement floor, as many as 59 in one room. What they own individually could barely fill a shoebox. Yet they are the richest children I have ever met, and their smiles light up the room. Our American kids with their iPhones in hand, wearing the latest designer jeans, and eager to get their first car when it’s time to drive, are woefully impoverished in comparison.
This is one of the reasons I go to India every year, just completing my 18th ministry trip there since 1993. The founder of the ministry I work with, a man named Yesupadam, is based in the city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Raised an untouchable, he almost died of malnutrition as a boy, eventually becoming so embittered with the caste system that he signed his name in blood and became a Maoist Communist at age 11.
By the time Yesupadam was in his 20’s, he was a staunch atheist, a violent man, and an alcoholic. But he had an epiphany of Jesus, encountered God’s love, and became a committed Christian. Since then, this former untouchable has established several orphanages, built a children’s school, several pastor’s schools, an old folks homes, a nursing school, a junior college, a training center for the disabled, and one hospital so far. (Plans are currently underway for a larger hospital that will also function as a medical training center. Contributions are warmly welcomed.)
Grads from the pastor’s schools have planted 1,000 new churches in previously unreached tribal areas (think mountains and jungles and tigers and monkeys), often at great personal danger. Not a few of them have been beaten. Some have been martyred. (I have met some of the widows, and they remain totally committed in their faith and have forgiven their husband’s murderers.)
On this last trip, a medical doctor accompanied me, doing some medical work for the kids. He is also a videographer, and he offered to do a documentary of our days there, which included spending time with the kids in the children’s home, a total of 59 girls and 81 boys ranging from four to 15. I wish every person in America – especially our young people – would have the opportunity to meet these precious little ones.
Some of them have lost both parents. Others have only one parent who is unable to support them. (In some cases the one parent was ostracized by his or her Hindu family upon becoming a Christian, leaving them in even greater financial distress.) Some of them are children of pastors in the tribal regions, where there is no formal education available, where disease is often rampant, and where it is very difficult to raise a family.
All the kids, including the very youngest, start their day with prayer from 5:00-5:30 AM, washing up from 5:30-6:00, then doing Bible study from 6:00-6:30. With this, they stand head and shoulders above many (or most?) of the ministers in America in terms of daily spiritual disciplines.
They attend the ministry’s school, a school which has become so highly regarded by the local government that official testing is done there for students in the region, and many of the kids have gone on to higher education upon graduation. Quite a few are now engineers and nurses, others are studying to become doctors, and some have become pastors. And every single child who was raised in the children’s home has continued in their faith to this day.
I spent some time talking with the teenage girls one night while the younger ones were already asleep on the cement. They were bilingual (Telugu and English), and with their long braided hair and totally modest, brightly beautiful Indian dress, they were the picture of innocence. Is there any place in the world that could be farther from Jersey Shore? Could you find a greater contrast between them and the Teen Mom reality TV show?
Each child has a cubby hole on the wall, in which are all their possessions, including clothes. Yet you will never meet a more joyful bunch of kids, nor will you find any that are more content.
Unlike many children in India, they get three good meals a day, they get love and care and nurture, they get solid academics combined with solid biblical teaching, and they learn what really matters most in life. They are so much more rich than most of us.
One of the teenage boys told me with a great big smile that he had been living there – sleeping on that same cement floor in another room – for ten years now, and you just know that his future is as bright as the glimmer in his eyes.
Our American kids, sleeping in their comfortable beds, awash in the latest technology, and enjoying the latest episode of Glee, should be downright envious.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with a nice bed and a soft pillow, there’s something woefully wrong with the superficiality and carnality of our culture. Let’s learn some lessons from these super-blessed Indian orphans. As Jesus once said, “Life is not measured by how much you own.” (Luke 12:15, NLT)
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.