A couple of days ago, a few of us from India Rural Evangelical Fellowship (IREF) took a train trip to the booming metropolis of Chennai (formerly Madras) to pick up two medical teams that were flying in to hold a clinic at IREF. Their arrival times were staggered, so we holed up at a local YWCA guesthouse and waited.

A van from IREF also made the trek in order to pick up everybody’s luggage and drive it back to Repalle, the city where IREF is located. The driver brought two older college boys with him from IREF to help load and unload the bags.

I helped them load the first few and decided to take them upstairs to grab the remaining bags.

As we got on the elevator, the two guys tried their best to hide their excitement. But one of them wasn’t so successful, and a child-like squeal slipped out. Their eyes were wide and filled with wonder as they looked around the old, cramped elevator soaking in all that filled their senses.

This was the first time they’d ever been on an elevator, and based on their reaction, you’d have thought it was Space Mountain at Disney World. I sensed the wonder and insisted they push the buttons and work the doors. The squeals continued.

Wow…a different world.

These two college boys were in for a surprise that day in Chennai.

Rural India

I’m enveloped by poverty here at IREF, located in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh. The surrounding towns and villages are filled with folks eking out an existence any way they can manage. More often than not, it includes back-breaking manual labor from dawn ‘til dusk, and agriculture plays a pivotal role. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find any combines, silos or industrial equipment to get the job done. It’s all depends on “good ol’ fashioned” manpower.

The business reports on our nightly news tell us that India is moving up in the global scene. India and China are cited as the emerging economic superpowers. We’re told how rapidly the middle-class is growing. We’re told how many of our jobs are being outsourced to these locations. I have no doubt this is true in certain respects, due to the sheer population size of these two countries, but the brush these news agencies use to paint the picture is way too broad.

Despite news reports, much of India is still struggling with poverty.

While the population of the India is just over 1.2 billion, 40% of those people are living in poverty. And I don’t mean the can’t-necessarily-afford-designer-clothes-and-must-use-government-assistance poverty of the First World. I mean the walking-barefoot-and-living-in-a-house-with-a-palm-branch-roof-and-dirt-floors poverty of the Majority World. I mean they’re living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. This is the reality for nearly half-a-billion people here in India.

IREF Realities

This is also the reality for every child that enters the doors of IREF. Every single one of the kids that walks through the gates of the school’s campus is coming from poverty. This stipulation is a vital component of the larger mission here at IREF, and Scripture is the reason why.

Not only are we called to provide refuge for the poor, the orphans and the “fatherless,” but we’re also called to provide compassion, dignity and equality.

Most students come from rural villages here in southern India, where dirt floors and palm-leaf roofs are the norm.

The education provided to the kids around here is crucial to that mandate. The old cliché holds true – knowledge is power! And these kids are being given something they couldn’t get anywhere else…hope for a better future, opportunity for more and most importantly, a foundation of faith.


I was invited to attend an event being thrown for the outgoing college seniors the other day. And during the scheduled itinerary, a few outgoing students got up to speak the rest of the student population.

“I thought at 10th grade I could get out of here,” explained Sai Harish, who’s been at IREF since 4th grade. “But God had other plans. I never thought I’d go to college, but I thought I might as well take the (10th grade vocation) test and see what happens. I took it and passed.

“I always heard about God’s love since I came here, but I never experienced it,” he said, amid tears. “But I finally understood it. I experienced it.”

He’ll graduate in March with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and he’s now empowered with great hope, not only for his own future but for the generations that follow behind him. The cycle of poverty has been broken. An essential turn has been made.

Being here at IREF, seeing the kids, knowing their backgrounds, seeing their minds blossom and their hearts impassioned for God, I’m quickly drawn to the passage in I Corinthians 1:26-29.

All it takes is for one student to break the cycle and change the pattern for the generations that follow.

26Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him.

These kids may come from poverty. They may come from rural towns and villages in India that have no elevator. In the eyes of some, they may be the lowly and despised. But they’re being given the tools to reverse the worldly paradigms! And God is using IREF to make it happen!!

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Next Steps
    • At 20 years old, those boys had never been in an elevator. Marinate on that for a bit. More importantly, think about all you take for granted, and thank God for your blessings.
    • IREF has ongoing needs and child sponsorship is a great way to get involved. Frankly, I’d love for 1,000 kids to get sponsored, but I’ll settle for 100. I want you to think about sponsoring a kid. They need it more than you know. Here’s how.
    • Pray for the ongoing efforts of IREF. Their work is endless and absolutely vital. Pray for strength for the staff. Pray for open hearts for the students.
    • 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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  1. Chuck Gross said... 


    February 15th, 2012 at 10:03 am  

    Stephen, thanks for giving me another look into a world that is as alien as a Martian. Thanks for being bold and stepping out to experience and report back. Through you, God is talking to me.
    Until He Returns
    Chuck Gross
    Advisory Board
    Safe Families for Children Central Indiana

  2. Roxi said... 


    February 19th, 2012 at 6:32 pm  

    Stephen, Thank goodness for the staff and supporters of IREF. It is awesome to think that these children now have a chance to go out in to the world both educated and empowered. IREF is breaking the cycle of poverty one step at a time, on child at a time.
    Once again, your article gives me hope for our world because of organizations like IREF.
    Keep on sharing! You are all in my prayers.

  3. Dave Rod said... 


    February 20th, 2012 at 2:02 pm  

    Thank you Stephen for the clarification. Lots of talk about poverty here in the US but this shines a light on the truth:

    “And I don’t mean the can’t-necessarily-afford-designer-clothes-and-must-use-government-assistance poverty of the First World. I mean the walking-barefoot-and-living-in-a-house-with-a-palm-branch-roof-and-dirt-floors poverty of the Majority World. I mean they’re living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day.”

  4. Emmy said... 


    February 20th, 2012 at 10:26 pm  

    This article provides a lot of thoughts to mull over. It is inspiring to hear of testimonys of kids being shown love and recognizing that it was God’s sovereignty at hand.

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