INDIA (BP) -- The smells of festering pig waste and rotting food would turn even the strongest of stomachs. But for Paulus Maharaj* and a handful of rural Indian pastors, they are the smells of progress to help their families and communities better support themselves.
It all began when Maharaj, a pastor and teacher, took time away from his hometown's overcrowded city streets to encourage pastors in the wide-open spaces of village life. What he saw in their homes, however, left a lasting impression.
"The pastors, their children eat only rice. They can't afford even milk or vegetables and fruit," Maharaj says. "Many pastors are not able to send their children to school."
People in this area of India typically need at least 5,000 rupees per month (a little over $80) to support their families. The pastors Maharaj saw were making less than 2,000 rupees a month ($30), if that much.
Most of the pastors relied on their already poor congregations -- other villagers like themselves. Relying mostly on crops that struggled to grow in the hard dusty soil or on livestock prone to sickness and malnourishment, the church members simply could not afford to give much to their pastors.
Maharaj knew the pastors' ministries and families would continue to suffer unless they had help.
"I said to myself, how can I help these people?" Maharaj recalls. "I was thinking, what is the best way to keep their ministries going, to help them maintain financial stability without depending on outside income?"
A Thanksgiving Day discovery
Maharaj's dream took an interesting turn as he searched at the local vet school for a Thanksgiving turkey for a visiting American friend. There Maharaj heard the deep grunts of a much less attractive animal.
As it happened, the vet school specialized in pig husbandry, raising many breeds -- black ones, brown ones, spotted ones. The school had scores of stalls packed with the biggest, fattest mama pigs he'd seen in some time, many with squealing babies following closely -- a stark comparison to the stunted, sickly pigs he'd seen in most villages.
An idea flickered.
"Someone had told me about raising pigs before, but I didn't think it would work," Maharaj recounts. "At the school I came to know that it could be the easiest and best way to support the pastors and their families and help them be self-supported."
His dream began to take wings -- or rather hooves.
Maharaj and IMB representative Clifton Melek* soon developed a plan to provide pig husbandry training to rural pastors. One thing was lacking -- seed money to get the project off and running.
The international relief organization Baptist Global Response, through Global Hunger Relief (also called the World Hunger Fund), was able to answer their call for help.
At first, many pastors hesitated. Did they really want to wake up at dawn to feed their pigs? Was it worth wafting smells and endless squealing and grunting just steps from their houses? What would their neighbors think?
After an awareness day that included a tour of the vet school, 20 pastors decided to participate. For 15 days at the vet school, they learned the basics of raising pigs -- feeding, providing shelter, administering immunizations and performing basic medical care.
The pastors also received two starter pigs through Global Hunger Relief and went back to their villages ready to succeed.
For most pastors, however, things got off to a rocky start. Surprisingly, a lot of opposition came from church members' interpretation of a familiar Bible story -- the prodigal son. They associated caring for pigs with backsliding.
No one wanted their pastors trudging through pig waste in their most tattered clothing. No one wanted their pastors cleaning stalls covered in mud and swarming with flies. To think of the prodigal son wanting to eat the rancid, discarded food that pigs slop up in seconds was repulsive. How could pastors have time for this and for ministry?
"People mocked me at first," says Kanai Hembrom*, a pastor who received training. "They laughed at me and said to me, 'What happened to you? Have you lost your mind?'"
Pastor Sontash Roraon* also faced opposition from church members. "They started commenting that this pastor who used to be taking care of the church members is now taking care of pigs," he recounts.
During monthly meetings with the pastors, Maharaj heard about the opposition and began to wonder if the program would succeed. "I was discouraged and I asked God, 'God, it is You who gave me this thought and vision, why is this happening?'"
Gateway to ministry
Over a year has gone by, and church members and neighbors have changed their tune. Within months, many of the pigs had five to six babies, increasing the pastors' wealth to at least 25,000 rupees ($400) a month -- more than 10 times what they need to care for their families. By the time the pigs were ready to sell in the market (a matter of months), each pig could earn the pastors up to 10,000 rupees (about $160).
Rather than hindering ministry, pig farming has opened up new ways for pastors to serve their church members.
"One church member came to me because he owed 40,000 rupees in 15 days and could not pay it," Sontash Roraon recounts. "I went and sold two pigs and was able to give him 20,000 that day."
Doors once tightly shut have opened.
Neighbors noticed how pastors' lives were improving because of the pigs, which grew faster than any they had seen before. They were healthy, robust and quickly sold to vendors.
"The people who are very poor are looking at me and saying, 'If this man can get this kind of income, why can't we?'" Sontash says. "A few of have already requested for me to provide baby pigs for them to begin raising."
Several pastors have been able to share their expertise and build relationships to share the Gospel with people who have not heard it before.
Kanai Hembrom has done so well with his pigs that he is known by many as the "pig doctor" and is now called upon to administer vaccines and help other farmers whose animals become sick.
Kanai says happily, "I feel like this is the grace of God that I can go to the communities and do these treatments.... As my pigs increase, so do my churches."
Passing the blessing
The impact of Global Hunger Relief goes beyond the 20 pastors who were initially trained. After their farms begin to flourish, each is expected to train and provide two pigs to a "Timothy," who will then start his own pig farm to help break the hunger cycle in their areas.
Sontash plans to pass on his expertise and starter pigs to unemployed youth in his community who have little education and find it hard to feed themselves. "I just considered that this is a great return I can give to my community so they can be blessed by my work," he says.
Maharaj is grateful to God for His provision. "It was God's direction leading me to be connected with these pastors. It was God who put this desire in my heart," he reflects. "All glory goes to God."
Without support from Global Hunger Relief/World Hunger Fund, this program would still be just a dream. The funds given reach far beyond the original 20 pastors to include their families, neighbors and other communities. Maharaj hopes to continue training pastors who will go into other locations and reach out to those who need it.
"Thank you BGR and World Hunger Fund for making my dreams come true to help the pastors have income that is self-sustaining," he says through a huge smile.
*Names changed. Harper McKay wrote this article for the International Mission Board. For more information about Global Hunger Relief/World Hunger Fund, visit http://www.worldhungerfund.com.
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