A Hopeless Cause

Posted Feb 29, 2012 by 2 Comments

If you have any young kids in your life that are near and dear to your heart, I want you to bring them to your mind’s eye.

They can be your sons or daughters, your nieces or nephews, your friends’ kids, whatever. Whoever they may be, picture them standing in front of you, looking up and smiling from ear to ear.

Now imagine that a group of teenagers comes and surrounds them on all sides. They’ve never met your little loved ones. They’ve never spoken with them. They don’t even know their names, for that matter.

The rural areas are filled with people without hope for the future.

Yet out of nowhere, the teens begin hurling insults at your youngsters.

“You’re no good!”
“You disgust me!”
“I’m better than you, and I always will be!”
“You’ll never amount to anything!”
“The very thought of you touching me, well, it makes me sick!”

This IREF student (far right) is from a small rural village, but he’s being given the tools to change the world, despite his low place on the social ladder.

As you stand by and watch, the teenagers belittle and insult your loved ones, and the abuse is unrelenting.

Outnumbered and overpowered, your little ones can do nothing to stop it. And before long, they’re hanging their heads, staring at the ground and fighting off tears…their psyches now broken under the weight of shame.

How are you feeling at the moment? Angry? Hurt? Protective? Outraged? Helpless? Maybe a part of you is even ready to knock some heads together?

Shameful Fallacies

I’d like to say this little analogy isn’t true, that it’s an exaggerated version of reality.

But in fact, it’s much worse. This very abuse is being absorbed daily on a massive scale here in India, especially in rural areas. Those more powerful are pounding this message of inferiority into the heads of millions here in India. The accompanying shame is now ingrained, and it goes back for generations.

Prasada Rao Rebba’s tradition of hope continues. Here, his son Rev. Francis Rebba (right) holds the mic for John Rebba, his grandson, who’s giving a message to rural believers.

In 1950, the Indian government officially outlawed caste discrimination (the system itself is still intact). No longer were people allowed to show prejudicial treatment to anyone based on caste. This law was largely written to protect the lowest classes and untouchables (classified by the government as “Dalits” nowadays).

But Indian culture wasn’t so quick to adopt the law’s intention, and to this day, the caste system is still an oppressive structure for millions of Dalits, especially for those living outside the big cities. There are still stigmas attached, and there are still prejudicial behaviors that follow.

I just read in the local newspaper about a Dalit who walked to work the other morning and drank from a farmer’s water jug. The farmer was so offended that this “lowly Dalit” drank from his jug he grabbed a sickle and nearly chopped the guy’s arm off.

Even some members of the Church are not immune. I recently heard the story of a nearby village that had two churches, despite the small size of the local population. The upper caste Christians refused to worship at the church of the lower caste, so they built their own.

Mind you, this is not the norm within the Christian community here in Andhra Pradesh, but it demonstrates the discrimination that still occurs throughout India, even within the Church.

Battle for Justice

India Rural Evangelical Fellowship (IREF) is doing all it can to combat this ongoing injustice, and it goes well beyond the classroom.

This pastor is shepherding a small, rural flock of believers.

Not only are they educating thousands of kids with a foundation of Truth, but they’re also supporting pastors that travel throughout the state of Andhra Pradesh, here in southern India. These pastors are dedicated to shining light into the darkness of oppression that remains in these rural areas.

As I mentioned in my first article, the seeds of IREF were planted by Prasada Rao Rebba in 1950. And those seeds were from the tree of Life. He walked from rural village to rural village telling all who would listen about his newfound Hope. He was an evangelist in the purest sense. And he brought a message that was in stark contrast to the bigotry of the surrounding culture.

No longer did people have to be defined by the caste into which they were born. No longer did they have to resign themselves to their lowly lot in life, to their status as “bottom rungs” of the social ladder.

For “…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galations 3:26,28)

This is a message of freedom, of unity and of hope. To be told that all are equal in the eyes of God is a novel notion for so many here in India.

A pastor prays for a woman during IREF’s annual Gospel Meeting, held on the grounds of the school campus every February. Thousands show up for the meetings.

That message Rev. Rebba took to villages over 60 years ago is the same message being brought to thousands more throughout the area by these pastors:

“In the kingdom of Christ, you are free from the bondage of oppression. You are valued. You are honored. You are loved.”

Churches are being planted throughout the state. Knowledge is being instilled, and foundations of faith are being built. And with this new faith comes an entirely new way of looking at the world around them. They may still be discriminated against by others (and they are!), but they can be freed from the yoke of shame. Truth is on their side and in their hearts.

Witness Change

In fact, this new view of the world is also why faith is such a vital component for the students at IREF.

“This is why we give them devotions in the morning and evening. This is why we start each class with prayer,” explained Rev. Emmanuel Rebba. “We are training hundreds of future evangelists!”

That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be walking from village to village, but they’ll be educated contributors to society who have been given a solid foundation of faith.

The church building may be small, but seeds are being planted.

For most, they’ll be the first of their families to see the world in a whole new way. The generations that follow them will be freed from the stigmas.

IREF is promoting the knowledge that we are all children of God, created equal, and free to follow any path we choose, using the God-given talents we possess. And they’re spreading this message on many fronts…in the villages, in the churches, in the classrooms and in the homes of students.

The seeds are being scattered far and wide, and from these seeds, the harvest is sure to grow.

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Next Steps
    • I want you to really think about the stigmas that accompany the caste system. If you were a Dalit, think about what this implicit message of hopelessness might do to your psyche. Think about the snowball effect this has had on generations of Indians.
    • If you think this message of hope, equality and freedom is important, you can support IREF’s effort by helping spread the word in southern India. Here’s how!
    • You can also sponsor an IREF student and help support this new generation of changemakers. Here’s how!
    • Pray for the ongoing work of IREF. Pray that God would continue to protect those that risk their lives doing this important work. It’s easy to think that persecution doesn’t exist anymore, but it does. While southern India is more open to Christianity, many places in this country are still opposed.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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Comments

  1. Derek Farr said... 

    Reply

    March 5th, 2012 at 12:22 pm  

    Great work. Excellent article.

  2. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    March 17th, 2012 at 6:18 pm  

    “The upper caste Christians refused to worship at the church of the lower caste, so they built their own.”

    “…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    “To be told that all are equal in the eyes of God is a novel notion for so many here in India.”

    Very powerful article Stephen. Unfortunately this prejudicial injustice is alive and well throughout the world. You need not look far to see it.

    God weeps when he holds a bullied child, a recovering addict, an abused spouse, someone who is “different”, someone “not like me”.

    Thank you IREF for speaking truth and showing Love.

    Thank you Stephen for showing us, reminding us, making us a little sad, a little uneasy, and giving us Hope.

    Matthew 5: 5 (NLT)

    God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.

    Peace to you friend.

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