It was a long ride. The heat of the summer sun seemed to seep under their skin. Murmu and his two young companions got off their bicycles and sat under the large Bunyan tree at the entrance to village Danteshwari. “Just one more month and then the rain will come” Murmu thought as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. He knew it was more than a hope, for the last two years the monsoon had failed. One of the boys offered him a bottle of water. As he drank he thought of the severe water scarcity in that part of Chhatisgarh. Women often walk three miles to get a pot of water.
After a short rest they prayed for their ministry in the village. This is the first visit to the village. The previous night they had been praying for a long time. The perplexing question was “how to present the Gospel to a people living in abject poverty?” As they entered the village they saw an old couple sitting in the hot sun doing something. They went closer to see what the couple was doing. The first thing that struck Murmu was that they were not old, may be in their late thirties. But poverty had sapped their bodies and gave them the shriveled look. They were spreading mango kernels for drying. Murmu asked them why they are drying the kernels. The women stopped and looked at him. Those sunken and sad eyes would haunt Murmu for many days to come. “Preparing our dinner” she said.
To say that India is poor country is an under statement. One has to see the villages and urban slums to fathom the depth of poverty. According to definitions the World Bank has adopted a low-income developing country is one with a per capita income below $400. In India the per capita income in 1985 was $270. This statistics will pale into insignificance when you see groups of people eating gruel made out of dried mango kernels – hold your breath – once a day! ‘Poverty’ may remain a subject for academic discussion till you see the poor.
For Murmu it was a revelation. He had never seen the actual ‘face’ of poverty. The previous summer the news papers reported that 16 people died of hunger. The Home Minister in the Parliament reported that those people did not die of ‘hunger’ but because they ate ‘mango kernel’. And the nation sighed in relief. Nobody ever asked why they ate mango kernel. The shriveled couple sitting in front of him in the hot sun ‘preparing’ their dinner showed the real face of Indian poverty, a face beyond statistics, and complacent statements in national Parliament. His pain increased when he learned that they have actually invested their previous day’s ‘wages’ – five rupees – on those mango kernels.
The reality of poverty kicked up an important question in his mind: “what is the Good news?” To his dismay he realized that any attempt to help the poor in Chhatisgarh materially will attract adverse reaction from the ‘Hindutva’ forces. Chhatisgarh, previously a part of Madhya Pradesh, had enacted the “Anti-conversion Law” way back in 1973. The ‘Hindutva’ forces would rather keep the poor as poor than allowing them to receive material help from Christians. For them religious conversion is far more ugly than empty stomachs. There is opposition from another quarter – the Marxist Radicals, who call themselves “The Maoist Revolutionaries”. These ‘revolutionaries’ roam around the countryside in groups to curb any form of exploitation by the rich or the Government officials. They consider the Christian work also as a form of exploitation. Christian workers with funds for the poor would certainly attract their attention.
In the face of these two strong forces nothing is left with the concerned mission worker than an impotent desperation. Only in this desperation the liberating power of the Gospel makes much meaning. They challenge all the forces of evil in the name of Christ. The evangelists continue to proclaim the Gospel in difficult situations. On a number of occasions they have provided food for the hungry. There is a request from the local people to start a Family Knit Program (FKP) in which the children will be provided two meals a day and free education. Here the evangelists depend on nothing other than the power of the Holy Spirit.