I was fortunate to visit Puri and Pentakota again in January, with my dear friend Rev Debbie Kirk. It is always tough travelling so far, and as cheaply as possible, but always worth the effort and the expense. We have never visited without being truly blessed in many ways.

We are always made very welcome and stay with our dear friends Rev Surrendra and Bulbal Mohanty so I will start the update with them.

Over many years they had established both a boys home, and a girls home, which were very successful. Lost of children, with either no parents, or one parent, had spent up to ten years at the homes, leaving with good education, good values and a good standard of living. Some went back to their own tribal villages where they in turn change the lives of their own people, be sharing their education and life skills. Many went on to obtain good employment, some became teachers and so on.

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All this came to an abrupt end when Mohanty was forced to send all but those children who were from Puri, back to their own remote villages. The reason for this was that a rule which had been ignored for years, was suddenly enforced. Legally he was not permitted to give non local children accommodation. You can imagine how devastating and heartbreaking this was for the children themselves, and for Mohanty and Bulbal, who were their surrogate parents.

Puri Puri Puri

Debbie and I visited the empty homes which had an eerie, disturbing presence within them. We both were moved by sadness and loss. Mohanty shared with us his desire to start a ministry with children who live in two slums, he wanted to help them and educate them, but had no money to do this. All we could do was pray, support him and promise to do all that we could to help, promising no funds, but just to raise awareness.

Puri Puri Puri

We visited one of the slums, close to the railway, where he was going to encourage parents to bring their children to him. It was horrendous, children even naked with enlarged bellies, due to malnutrition. We couldn’t stay long as we were being watched, it wasn’t safe. The men watching might think that we are making a film and demand money from us etc. Such is life in India.

Puri Puri Puri

By the Grace of God and drawing on Gods own strength somehow Mohanty and Bulbal have managed to start a kindergarten since March, and it is full of children already benefitting by having somewhere safe, clean and loving to go.  Mohanty said that they did not know how to wash, to eat properly or to get on together, but they do now.

Puri Puri Puri

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUPPORT THIS MINISTRY PLEASE CONTACT ME.

Puri Church.

Debbie and I both led worship, fellowship at the church, although the visit was brief they make us work while we are there. The people who attend are just like people who attend our churches here. The worship is very similar, very traditional but with long, long prayers, and even longer sermons… The church members are quite conservative theologically, very hard working, and mostly well educated. Many are Dalit and low caste, very few of higher caste. Sadly women do not always get the same opportunities in the church as men, although one woman has had a successful ministry there. The women hold back from conversation when men are present, but at Women’s Fellowship, they are just like us and love a chat.

We had to attend a church council meeting, to sort out a donation which the diocese had held on to, and thankfully I was able to sign a paper to prove that the donation was definitely intended for Puri Church. I do not pretend to understand the way that church finance works in India, all I know is that it is much more difficult than our own system.

Our circuit very kindly supported the work and ministry of Puri Church for five years. We no longer support them financially but I hope that we do in prayer. This church now has good sanitation, even showers, for everyone who attends. Prior to our partnership the bushes were used for ‘powdering our noses.’ We were able to assist with some missional activities too, and small donations of food to those in hospital who would not eat unless charity provided a meal. All things come to an end, but we helped and made a difference while we could. Obviously the need continues, if you would like to donate please contact me.

Pentakota Church and School.

It is always a joy to visit this wonderful community of people. They are mainly Dalit, Telegu fishermen and women. Over the years they have migrated to this area, so most of them do not speak the language of Puri, which is Ori. These are very poor, many over the age of twenty years cannot read or write, but a lot of their children can. The church runs its own school, within the same room. The teachers are not trained, at present Rev K Rao’s wife teaches, as well as two other local ladies. The church cannot afford to pay a trained teacher. There was one, we met him often, but he left once he married, due to needing a better wage.

Every day except Sunday, the men, and lots of women too, will go out in their tiny boats to fish. They leave at about 4am, after Rev Rao has prayed with them. Whatever they catch, they sell, if they have a small catch, they have a small meal. Their little homes are so tiny, they have little materially, yet they have so much spiritually. They really are devout in their faith, they ooze Christ. They help each other, they take meals to the sick and care for the dying. They are so close to the edge of the ocean, at any time, a wave could wipe away their homes. This really is life on the edge.

On Sundays worship can last up to three hours. It is very noisy, very busy with people arriving at all times. And it is amazing, though most of the time we cannot understand a word that is being spoken. We preach there, with the assistance of an interpreter.

Every evening the woman, and a few men, meet in each other’s one room homes, to worship, to sing, pray and one who can read scripture will read to the rest.

I took them equipment for the school, and over a thousand pounds from my Cornish churches, which helps to provide midday meals and uniforms for the children. On the Sunday I took two jars of sweets, for the children after worship. I did not expect adults to queue up for a couple of sweets, but they did. One elderly lady took two and held them to her chest, it made me very emotional to think of such a small thing making her so happy. It is difficult not to cry at times but the more tears that I shed the more determined I am to continue to help them. You may wonder why I feel so much for the Dalits but I have known about them for all of my life. (My great aunt was a missionary in South India, and is buried there.) They are part of my life, and knowing them and visiting them has made my life more balanced, enhanced my faith, and deepened my spirituality.

Life continues to be difficult for the very poor all over India, but especially in the North where the majority of Dalits and lower caste people live. As with UK the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, but still there is no comparison with the level of poverty in UK and India. I am told that soon there will be more billionaires in India than any other country in the world.  This may or may not be true, but there are a lot of them now! The problem is that the caste system is so old, and so deeply imbedded in India culture, that I fear nothing will ever change. Gandi himself challenged it head on – look at just how long ago that was. Thankfully Rev David Haslam, retired Methodist minister, continues to challenge the injustice of Dalit discrimination still. There is plenty on the web if you are interested in his activity.

There are some very kind, compassionate, wealthy people too. This time Debbie and I attended a Rotary Club meeting in Puri. It was interesting and encouraging to find out just how much the group are doing about injustice and poverty, and making great improvements in this huge town. Mainly in the areas of sanitation, and also litter, which is everywhere. They have put volunteer cleaners on the road of Puri beach, and litter bins.

Debbie and I quickly get used to seeing emaciated locals walking slowly around the hot, dusty streets, ribs bare, arms and legs the size of my wrist.  Many are fortunate to have one meal a day, many do not, and there are beggars everywhere. It is the children who beg who upset me the most, I just cannot bear passing them by which we are asked to do. They should be in school but have been either sent out to beg by parents, or are orphans who are forced to beg for an unscrupulous person, somewhere in the background. Sometimes I give, going against all advice, and then I must accept that I have encouraged really bad practice.

At the same time, I quickly feel embarrassed and ashamed for being my size, Debbie is slimmer than me, and looks so much better than I, in a sari. (Watch this space though because I am determined to shed more weight yet, and this might make the long journeys more comfortable for me.)

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Quote Towards One Mission Engagement with the World Church Daleep Mukarji

May 2017 Plymouth and Exeter Synod at Ridgeway.

The Indian Reality

• India is a complex society and country of contrasts…. it is an emerging global economic power, thriving democracy with disparity, illiteracy, severe poverty, malnutrition and marginalisation in some places .

Many are very rich too!

• Poverty, inequality, power dynamics, corruption, place of women, the caste system and begging can upset many who visit

• Christians are a minority in India (about 2.5%) and in the north mostly (up to 80%) people from lower castes/ tribal communities

• Today India is becoming almost a “Hindu state”.