By: Rev. Dr. H.M. Songate
The first formal training I had attended on Urban ministry was in October 1985 in Chennai. Dr. Roger Hedlund and Rev. Dr. Albert were the main trainers. That was the first time that I was exposed to the concept of urban ministry. It was a great eye opener for an amateur like me. Urbanization was already a concern for people who are involved in such type of ministry in cities since the 80’s. It was believed that about 1500 people migrated in to Mumbai daily during those periods. Later on, my further study training at various levels in urban set up had further helped me cleared my doubts thus giving me more confidence in my ministry among the urban poor.
However, it was my encounter with the Late Dr. Desmond Borough, who holds two PHD degrees and a great champion of urban ministries, was the one who had changed my paradigm completely. He being an economist and specialized in social sector services, was one of the sub-planning committee members on economics development for several years in the country’s 5 year plans. I do also have an opportunity and privilege of being a member of such committee for the region for the 12the 5-year plan in 2011. During one of our trainings he narrated about a slum story which had touched us and moved us deeply. In one of the Independence day celebrations in Bombay, the then Maharastra chief minister Mr. Sharad Pawar had invited Dr. Desmond to speak on the occasion behalf. He had gone to the Independence day celebration in a bicycle. On the way, he passed through the famous Mumbai slum. Then, on his way he saw a man struggling to tie polythene over a small bamboo hut while his wife and a sick child was drenched by the rain. He stopped by and helped the man! Then he found out that the child was sick with high fever. When he asked them whether they have any medicine, the wife showed him a medical prescription from the nearby government health centre. They do not have any medicine or food for the day. Dr. Desmond took his bicycle and run towards a pharmacy and bought some medicines and left them. The chief minister and the people were waiting for him under heavy rain! He told the crowd, fully wet and narrated why he had come late and why he need to go back to see whether the seek child was still alive! He said, “The people were stunned”! I am stunned too in that training hall, so was all the other trainees. I saw many of the elderly people in our group cried. I could not hold back my tears too but was too ashamed to be seen by others. When he came back to the slum dwellers’ family, amazingly the child was okay! The couple had asked him who he was. They asked him “Are you Jesus?” He told them he is not Jesus but His disciple! Then, the husband told him “Sir, we too wanted to be Jesus’ disciple like you?” They became a firm believer later!
Many of us had recommitted our lives to God that day to be an agent of change and be able to make a difference in the lives of others like Dr. Desmond. That commitment had changed my life and my attitude towards the urban poor forever. Jesus said “Whatever, you do to the least of these people in my name; you are doing it to me”. Since then, I struggle on with all my limitations, to be a friend of the friendless, the shelter less and the downtrodden people. You too can make a difference in the lives of urban poor and slum dwellers. As a result of this little experience and tears of shame in 1985, God had talked to me to initiate a slum project in Guwahati in 1995. It was my friend and my boss Mr. Suresh Kumar who had encouraged me to go ahead though there was no funding commitment. We started by faith and I cannot recall how many times we were cheated by the people whom we wanted to serve! I will never forget my committed staff Ms. Rosemary Kikon and Ms. Mydangsree Boro who dare to do what others dare not do! Teaching dirty children near a railway tract in an open area! Sometimes we are like circus workers! But their commitment, hard work and vision paid off. Due to fund scrunch we had to organize 24 Hour famine (fasting) and have a procession holding placards, banners, leaflets with some church members and many slum dwellers. The youngest boy who donated Rs.8/- that day is a medical final year student now! I am grateful to all those who had given us money the Ao Baptist church in Kohima, Hmar Christian Fellowship, Guwahati, the Zomi Christian fellowship, GBC, CNI church members, even shopkeepers who are non Christians. I cannot recount today all those people who had generously contributed towards this small initiative. It pays to obey His call!
I am told that today, the Guwahati Street children project of World Vision is a multi crore budget catering to the needs of hundreds of slum dwellers. My committed staffs were blessed by God too. Ms. Rosemary settled with a fine believer husband from Germany and the last time I heard about them was that they are hoping between Hongkong and Germany studying and doing ministry. Ms. Mydangshree is also settled and continuing her good ministry in Udalguri, Assam. The project had impacted hundreds of young people since 1996. Many were trained in mechanics, driving, tailoring, etc. Several young people regularly join the VBS and believe me, many of the street children students became toppers! Befriending street children is a challenge but rewards of satisfaction always waited us. It had impacted us too.
Guwahati is the biggest city in the North East region with about two million people. There are so many ministry opportunities and openings. The Christian percentage in Guwahati would be around 0.67%! The Guwahati Church Forum (GCF) is also actively involves in urban ministry for more than a decade now. The GCF had organized a pre Christmas programs in Big Bazaar, Pantaloon, Vishal, etc on 22 and 23rd December 2013 through sharing the word of God, singing carol songs and giving away bible tracts in Hindi and Assamese. Amazingly, let me repeat, amazingly everybody appreciated the pre Christmas programs! Praise be His name! It is my prayer that God would bring in more people like the late Dr. Desmond who had impacted me and many friends around India. You can also befriend street children today and thus become a blessing to many! I would like to recall here about the story of Okshana, the dog girl. Many of you might have read her story either in magazines, books or from National geographic channels and magazines. This little girl-child lived in an erstwhile Soviet Union in the mid eighties, now part of Ukraine. She lived with an alcoholic mother who is more abusive than her father. She always lived in terrible fear of being abused all the time. Finally, at the age of just 4 years, she started living among the street dogs in her neighbourhood. Her father eventually died and her mother never cared to find her out. Two nuns finally took her to an orphanage. But she already imitated to live like a dog- eating like dogs, barking at people, eating books, etc. Finally, she had to be chained in the orphanage. As she could no longer be corrected and controlled in the orphanage, she was taken to another town in a correctional home. She still behaves like a dog even at the age of 14. Finally, she was able to talk and mingle with other inmates and started to live like human being almost after 20 years of struggle in three different homes. The resources and time invested by all those nuns and institutions for about 2 decades finally paid off. How many Okshanas would be around us today in India!
It reminds me of that small booklet “Why I left the IAS” and “It pays to lose” written by Rev R Hmar. It truly pays to lose, the shame, the pains, the mocking for being a friend of the unwanted. Do you have a room for an extra child in your life?