I love India.

Granted, I’ve only been here a week, but it’s now on my short list of favorite locations. Vivid colors are all around, the scent of spices fills the air and the Indian hospitality is unparalleled. Oh, and did I mention the lumbering white cows that walk the streets at will?

Last week, after spending 36 hours in airplanes and airports, I finally arrived in India. A group from India Rural Evangelical Fellowship (IREF) picked me up from the airport and drove me back to the main property. Just as we were pulling up to the entrance, our vehicle stopped short by a hundred yards or so.

My arrival, just before I was mobbed by all the kiddos.

“This is where we get out,” said the IREF staffer.

I was thoroughly confused and completely exhausted. After my long journey, all I wanted was a shower and someplace horizontal to sleep.

“Uuumm, you’re wanting me to hoof it the rest of the way, with my heavy backpack strapped on too?” I thought to myself, being the idiot I so often am.

As I exited the vehicle, the street in front of us was nowhere to be seen amid the bodies that filled it. Exhaustion? What exhaustion…

After meeting Rev. Rebba at the gate, I was graced with two flowered garlands.

Hundreds of boys of all ages filled the narrow road on all sides. The younger ones swarmed all around me, grabbing my hands and arms, smiling from ear to ear and giving me their best English greetings. The older kids smiled warmly too, but the self-consciousness of adolescence prevented the same candid outburst of enthusiasm. A few did take it upon themselves to clear the younger boys out of the way since their zeal nearly took me off my feet.

When we finally arrived at the front gates, I was greeted by Rev. Emmanuel Rebba, who runs IREF along with his wife, Deevena, and countless staffers. Next to him were two young girls, each holding a giant floral garland. I bent over as they placed them around my neck. We left the boys behind as we stepped inside the entrance gates. Hundreds and hundreds of girls filled the courtyard, and all eyes were on me.

They showed a more restrained enthusiasm than the young boys did, and due to gender customs, none made any attempts at physical greetings. But as I walked through the parting crowd, sparkling eyes and sheepish smiles surrounded me. They too offered English greetings, despite their insecurities.

The girls gather for evening devotions, which is followed by dinner and two hours of study time.

I was overcome by the scene, and all my fatigue melted away in an instant. Never in my life have I felt such an affectionate reception by so many. It was truly a special moment I won’t soon forget.

Roots

My first week in India has quickly become a blur. Just when I think I’m getting a handle on all that’s being done here by IREF, I see more. This organization is making ripples that travel far, and God is at the center of it all.

IREF was started by Rev. Rebba’s father, Prasada Rao Rebba, who had a momentous conversion experience back in 1950. After dedicating his life to God, he felt compelled to start walking from village to village here in rural India. He would share his faith with anyone who would listen, and soon, the seeds he planted began to grow. Others joined him in his Cause, and small flocks of believers began to form in some of the surrounding villages.

Change through Education

These humble beginnings have evolved over the years, and education now plays a pivotal role in IREF’s multi-faceted mission.

By the early 1980’s, Prasada Rao and his wife had brought a handful of orphans to live under their roof. They educated them spiritually and academically. As they reached middle-school age, the Rebbas realized they couldn’t let the kids return to government schooling, where Hinduism is still taught. So they decided to start their own schooling.

Nowadays, what started as small school for a handful of orphans has turned into an entire school system for well over a thousand, and nearly 30% of that population is still without mother or father. While many may not have biological parents, they have found family here.

Every single one of these kids comes from poverty, and one of every three is an orphan. IREF is providing hope despite the obstacles.

“Emmanuel, he is my father,” I’ve heard a few say. “Deevena, she is my mother.”

Hope is Alive

When I’m inside the walls of IREF, I have to keep reminding myself that I’m in India…that many aspects of Indian culture are still dominated by the caste system (despite it being “outlawed,” but I’ll get into that later)…that opportunities are scarce for so many.

The work of IREF is a decisive counter to these cultural norms. The folks here are educating generations of Indian kids to think differently about God, about themselves and about their place in this world. They are empowering lives, inside and outside the classroom.

You can see the Light shining through in these kids’ eyes. They are seeing the world in new and exciting ways. They have hope beyond the confines of the caste into which they were born. They have dreams that reach beyond a life of arduous labor that awaits so many others.

IREF is truly changing lives, and I’m honored to tell their stories in the coming weeks. I just hope I can keep track of them all, because every time I turn around, I hear another that blows my mind.

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Next Steps
    • First of all, thank God for his many blessings, starting with the very place you were born. Thank him for freedom and for opportunity. We are truly blessed.
    • The work IREF is doing with orphans (or the “fatherless” as the Bible so often says) and with the poor is truly inspiring. We are called to do the same as Christians. Check out Laura’s articles from last fall, which show a few ways you can make that happen.
    • IREF can always use others coming alongside them in their fight against injustice here in India A great way to do that is by sponsoring one of the kids they’re helping. I’m not asking you to do that now, but I am asking you to pray about it.
    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. Emmy said... 

    Reply

    February 8th, 2012 at 11:26 pm  

    Great starter article!I cant wait to hear more about your trip.

  2. Trey Wilkinson said... 

    Reply

    February 10th, 2012 at 4:05 pm  

    Stephen,
    Glad to hear your explorations have opened a whole new world to you. Sounds like you’re enjoying the education and the ride. I enjoy reading about it. Take care and keep in touch.

    Trey

    • Steve-O said... 

      Reply

      February 12th, 2012 at 10:43 pm  

      Thanks Trey, it’s definitely showed another side to our worldly realities..
      Hope all’s well your way!

  3. Ceri said... 

    Reply

    February 11th, 2012 at 12:54 am  

    I think one thing about poverty is that it eats into a person’s identity until even their spirit becomes the lack and squalor that surrounds them. Imagine the freedom that would come upon one of these little orphans when they come to know & understand the identity that Christ offers them! Starting with education of Christ & the education of books with these little one is an amazing ministry.

    I love the colours of the pictures too!

    • Steve-O said... 

      Reply

      February 12th, 2012 at 10:45 pm  

      You, more than most, can attest to that reality Ceri. And to see the change in mind and spirit (and thus body too) of these kids is SO cool!

  4. Roxi Scully said... 

    Reply

    February 12th, 2012 at 10:28 pm  

    Stephen,
    I really enjoyed reading your article. What an amazing welcoming party you had on your arrival. That will be an experience you will remember the rest of your life. The pictures are so heartwarming. The children have such happy faces! These children are truly blessed to be living in such a loving Christian environment. As you said in your article, IREF is truly changing lives. I look forward to your future stories.

    Take care.

    • Steve-O said... 

      Reply

      February 12th, 2012 at 11:04 pm  

      It really was an entrance I’ll never forget, and I’m glad I have pictures of the occasion too! :)
      And yes, IREF is making SO many ripples of change in this area of India. It truly is remarkable..
      Thanks for your ongoing support as well, Roxi.

  5. Uncle John said... 

    Reply

    April 11th, 2012 at 2:42 pm  

    Steve, your writing skills, insights and compassionate spirit spill over to your readers, infecting them with the same hope for your subjects that the Master has. Keep up the good writing.

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