We work in South India. Exact locations have been withheld for the protection of people we minister to and with. Here is a snap shot of where we work.
About the tribal areas:
The Tribal areas are located in remote areas deep in the jungle forest. The topography varies from arid plains at the entrance of the forests to high mountainous cooler climates to lush dense forest filled valleys. These forest areas are part of the Federal Tiger Reserve Forests and protected by forest officers. The forest area we work in is 220 sq. miles and is home to around 140 villages. We work in 20 of these villages. There are thousands of sq. miles of tribal areas in the regions surrounding our area. Half of these villages have no road access to them. The roads that do lead to villages are often rudimentary at best. Our goal is to reach all 140 villages, and reach out to the surrounding tribal areas.
These areas are filled with varied of wildlife. In the reserved forest there are over 3,000 various types of deer and antelope. The jungle is filled with wild boars, wild bison (gaur), sloth bears, pythons, cobras, exotic birds, hyenas. In 2009, there were 10 Bengal Tigers in this area, soon after the area became a national tiger reserve. The last census was done in 2012 where 28 Bengal tigers were found. From local report that number has gone up quite a bit more. With the protection of tigers in place, there has been a rise in the population of leopards. Tigers tend to stick to the deep forest, while the leopards live along the outside of the Tribal areas. They have been spotted with in miles of the Hope Center. Another big danger in the forest is the Asian Elephant. These giant creatures have an aggressive nature, and have been known to attack and kill humans. This tribal region is home to around 1,000 wild elephants, and consists of the largest population of Asian elephants in the world. The wildlife in the jungles causes entering these areas to be risky, but the risk is worth the reward to be able to share the love of God with the people.
The tribal people in this region are farmers, shepherds, and hunter/gathers. They live off the land. Houses vary depending on what help the village has gotten from the government. The deeper in the Tribal Forest a village is, the more primitive they live. These basic houses are constructed with mud and sticks. Some villages have received help from the government and have one room concrete building. Both of these houses are generally small (often 18’ x 9’). Cooking is done outside, and there are not restroom facilities. Extended families often live in one house, and the house is often connected to where the livestock live. The Tribal villages operate as large family. The older generation caring for the youngest generation while the parents provide for the village. Those in the tribal areas have been mistreated by those “on the outside,” so they are often skeptical of new people. Girls are often married at a young age. The Tribal people have their own language which can vary from one village to another. Most speak the local state language as well. Education is not something that is readily available to everyone. If a child attends school in this area, it is often only until 5th grade. Part of their culture are great times of fun and gatherings. Our goal is to keep the culture of the tribal people intact, but give every opportunity for children to be educated.
Life expectancy for a typical tribal person is around 45 years old, and there is a high Infant Mortality Rate. Due to lack of proper nutrition and sanitation, preventable diseases are rampant. We have lost young children to appendicitis, tuberculosis, influenza, and other preventable diseases. Due to the high starch diet, diabetes is common and untreated resulting in limb amputations and death. Families can only afford meals a one or two times a day, and are often not very nutrient rich diets. Therefore, malnutrition and sickle cell anemia exist. The Tribal people often rely on their herbal medicines which have had mixed results. Many do not have access to medical care. Usually an older woman proceeds over the birth of a child, which is always in the home. Our goal is to help the tribal people to have access to medical care, proper sanitation, and good nutrition. We accomplish this by providing medical camps, hygiene supplies and education, and nutritious food.
The people are a mix of Animism and Hinduism. Each village has their own local temple and other holy places of worship. In many of the places we reach, it was the first time the area heard of Jesus. We conduct monthly meetings for these areas to share the love of God.
Though there are major church denominations in India, most pastors lead small, non-denominational, independent, house churches. There are many independent small organizations in India like ours. Most of these organizations pull from a certain geographic location. This leaves many small pastors who minister in outlying areas on their own. These areas are often away from the major highways and cities, making it hard for ministries to reach them. Others may be in a major city, but the location in that city is hostile towards Christians. Our desire has been to help poor pastors who have no other means of support and joining other organizations. Our churches range from the inner city to small tribal villages. Many of our churches are trend setting churches. They are the first church in their particular area.
Hinduism is the major religion of this area; 83% of people consider themselves Hindu. 12% of people are Muslim, and 4% are Christian. This leaves 1% of the people for all other religions.
Majority of churches in India are conducted in the pastor’s homes. This has been allowed for many years in India, but lately it has been causing issues with the radicals in areas. They would like to see no churches in India at all. To help them in this task, they are attempting to pass ordinances that stop churches from operating in homes. With 1.34 billion people in India, land is becoming scarce and expensive. Churches struggle to afford land and construction costs. This prevents them from building church buildings. Our state government passed a law that churches can still operate out of homes, but some local governments still try to prevent it. Many churches are just around 200 sq. ft., yet they accommodate around a 100 people. The church members will sit on bamboo mats on the floor: men on one side and women on the other (this is a cultural preference). Indians like to worship long and loud. It is possible for the whole neighborhood to hear the worshiping church. Most services last three hours. The church is mainly attended by the Dahlit (untouchable) daily wage workers. They give up a day’s wage to attend church, so they like to spend most of the day worshiping and being encouraged. Many churches do not have the facilities for children’s church, so special meetings for children and youth happen at other times.
Credit: Medind.nic.in, tribal.nic.in, Times of India