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Ministries

Gypsy & Tribal Empowerment

One of the first ministries Harvest Bridge supported was Gypsy and Tribal Empowerment (GATE). Started in the South Indian city of Chennai by our partner Priya*, GATE reaches gypsy and tribal peoples with the Gospel and demonstrates Christ’s love through holistic community development initiatives. Gypsies and tribals, generally considered to be below the lowest castes in India’s social hierarchy, suffer from inadequate housing, low-paying jobs and poor nutrition. This is because they are not viewed as fully human nor as full citizens by the government. GATE’s work includes helping these communities gain civil rights – helping them access land, education, job training, and proper water and electricity. 

Twenty gypsy and tribal communities, consisting of about 2,000 households, are served through GATE’s 13 local missionaries and volunteers. 13 years ago, in those 20 communities, the number of children in school could have been counted on one hand. Today, 75% of the children were attending school prior to COVID-19. Since 2008, 70% of the people have accepted Christ in the three main villages where GATE works. 

Give directly to the Gypsy and Tribal Empowerment fund:

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Stories

Nonexistent in India

Imagine having no type of ID, not even a birth certificate. In fact, no one in your family has any kind of identification. Without this ID, you cannot go to school, be hired at a business, open a bank account, receive legal protection, or any number of  other things. And imagine that without outside help you will never be able to get this identification becauseno one trusts your stigmatized caste. 

Just think of trying to break the cycle of poverty in those circumstances!

Priya*, president of GATE, aka Gypsy And Tribal Empowerment, recognizes this need. This strong woman has successfully helped many Gypsy and Tribal communities in Tamil Nadu, South India, secure personal identification. These communities are legitimately the lowest one can possibly be in the Indian Caste system, even below the Untouchable Dalit caste. 

It is an uphill battle, which requires long hours of wading through red tape, standing up to government officials, and helping illiterate families fill out paperwork. However, her success has helped Harvest Bridge establish ways to secure identification for other marginalized communities throughout India, and other South Asian countries. These will be taught to other Harvest Bridge partners who are fighting for the “nonexistent” individuals in their communities.

GATE was one of Harvest Bridge’s earliest supported ministries and has seen encouraging moves forward in over 20 Gypsy and Tribal communities.

 John, an 11 year old boy has been impacted by the education to which he now has access because of GATE’s advocacy.

“After regularly going to school, I have learned to be more disciplined. I have learned to dress and talk better, and to obey my  parents. My friends from the village and other areas help me study and I help them. I am more mature and confident. I will be able to be employed in the future, and that is what I like about school the most. My English teacher is my favorite and it is my favorite class. The teacher encourages me and does not beat me for being a Gypsy. If another boy did not want to go to school I would tell him to go so he could learn more; I would help him learn! Because of school I can talk about more things. I have taught my parents how to read the Bible and newspaper, and how to count money. GATE and Priya encouraged me to go to school. I want to be a doctor when I grow up so I can care for my village.  Please pray for my education”.

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Stories

The Lord Has Not Forgotten Me; I Cannot Forget Him

Kani was born in a small village in Southern India into a Hindu family; they were in one of the lowest castes, Dalit, sometimes known as the untouchables. She had an arranged marriage at 16 and by the age of 21 she already had four children. 

Her husband was an alcoholic and died soon after her fourth child was born. When he died nobody helped her, so she had to provide for her four children alone. She found a job gathering bricks to be used for construction. She could not send her children to school, but she was able to keep them fed and clothed.

Eventually her children were all old enough to work as well. It was then, that Kani’s brother in law, Murgan, offered to take the whole family in. This seemed like the best option for them, even though it was apparent he only wanted them now that the children could make money. 

It was also a hard situation for Kani because this brother in law had been asking her to marry him ever since his brother had died. Murgan was already married, but his wife was mentally handicapped, and he wanted Kani. Although it was difficult on her, she decided to stay until the children were older before she moved away.

When her oldest was 20, she was given the chance to move to the large city of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu. Her friend let her travel with her family as they moved, and promised that Kani could stay with them until she found a job. After a day of travel they arrived in Chennai, but it was made clear by her friend’s husband that Kani would not be allowed to stay with them and she was thrown out onto the street. She immediately started looking for a job and searching for food. She had always been a devout Hindu, so she also went to pray to the gods at a local temple. But the gods did not provide her guidance or peace, in fact, they had never given her peace. 

On the third day after reaching Chennai, Kani had still not found a job or even eaten anything. She waslaying on the side of the road, discouraged and weak, when a man stopped and told her about a church down the road that could help her. So he brought her to the church where she met Pastor James and his wife Victoria. They welcomed her and let her eat as much as she wanted and gave her clothes to wear.

Kani had heard as a child that Christians could come to God and ask Him for help. So after being overcome by the love and kindness of this pastor and his wife, she knelt down and prayed to God. She prayed for either a job in Chennai or a way to travel back to her hometown. That same day, Pastor James offered her a job at the church, saying that she could eat and sleep there as well! Kani accepted Christ that day, and realized she had peace in her life for the first time. Soon after, Pastor James also helped arrange a healthy marriage for Kani so that her brother in law would stop harassing her.A new life had begun.

12 years later, Kani has an 11 year old daughter, a good marriage, a job working in a public garden, and strong relationship with Jesus Christ. She also works with the Gypsy and Tribal Empowerment (GATE) ministry, by spreading the gospel to her fellow tribal people, and teaching them how to grow and sell their own food. She is a wonderful gardener, and has passed this on to many communities and families. Physical and spiritual lives have been saved due to her faithfulness and compassion in ministry.

However, living for Christ has not been easy. Her brother in law, Murgan, lied to her children about what kind of woman Kani was. He told them she had gone to Chennai to become a prostitute and that she didn’t really love them. Her children and extended family make fun of her Christian faith and are still unresponsive to the Gospel. They say that Hinduism is an inherited religion so how could she possibly become a Christian.  She tells them that “Jesus is the real God because He touched me when I was hurting. Come to Jesus and He will help you too”.

Five years ago the situation escalated when her brother in law went to the extreme in trying to kill Kani by having a witch doctor put a curse on her. She was attacked by an evil spirit, and the spiritual warfare caused her to lose her mind temporarily. She roamed the streets, treated her daughter badly, and would not eat, but she did drink and smoke. Her husband had to tie her legs to the bed so that she didn’t go out and hurt herself. For a month, Pastor James would come and pray for her, and finally the spirit stopped tormenting her and she regained her mind. This was when Kani dedicated her life to ministry with GATE, as a way to thank the Lord.

When asked how she remains faithful to the Lord, even in her trials, Kani says that “the Lord has not forgotten her, so she cannot forget Him“. She says that when the people curse her for sharing the gospel she is able to remain patient because she knows that one day they will change. 

She asks prayer for her family’s salvation, especially Murgan, as well as the salvation of the Tribal people she works with. She is getting older and so she asks for prayer to stay healthy so she can continue to serve.

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Stories

Pastor Jacob’s Testimony

Pastor Jacob is a man with kind eyes and encouraging smile. He is a pastor of one church, and is an overseeing pastor for two other churches. He is also a pastor to the Gypsy peoples in his area of Tamil Nadu, India. 

The Gypsies are a hard people to work with. They can be harsh, unappreciative, and even violent. But Pastor Jacob has great patience and compassion for these men, women and children. This comes from his own past of wandering, a time in his life when people may have had a hard time being compassionate toward him.

Nine years ago, Pastor Jacob was simply named Jacob. He and his wife, Ruth, had two sons and one daughter; he had a very good government job, and was a devout Hindu. But in one day, his whole world fell apart. While playing, his 12 year old daughter fell into a well and was killed. 

Jacob and his wife fell into a deep depression and withdrew from the world by leaving his job to wander from place to place together, while the rest of their children were left to live in a hostel.

He was searching everywhere for meaning, comfort, and especially peace. His Hindu beliefs were not providing any guidance in his search. This wandering continued for three years, and Jacob and his wife Ruth were ready to commit suicide together. 

That was until his brother, who had recently accepted Christ, reached out to him and told him about the pastor of his Church, Pastor James Pandian, Harvest Bridge’s Indian director. For a whole year, Jacob went to the church services every week and met with Pastor James.

God worked in his heart through this time, and finally Jacob accepted Jesus Christ! Adding to this joy, his whole family also accepted Christ! He and his family found meaning, comfort, and peace in the blood and sacrifice of the Savior, Jesus. 

He returned to his government job and became a real husband and father again to his two sons, and soon, another daughter. He also began pastor training and within two years of God changing his heart, he became a pastor.

Pastor Jacob now maintains his government job, as well as his pastoral work at his three churches, and his work with the Gypsies. God used the pain of his daughter’s death and those three years of wandering to give him the sympathy, love, and patience to serve God and others in his ministry.

His ministry among Gypsy villages as been blessed by God. Many have come to Christ as Pastor Jacob has reached out to them through educational programs, job training, organizing medical camps, and Bible study. This portion of his ministry is through GATE and we are blessed to have him and his wife Ruth loving those who are the most unloved of Indian society.

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“If everything in the earth is the Lord’s, then so am I!”

Arun* was an idol worshiper; a Hindu, living in Tamil Nadu, India. In addition to being an alcoholic, he was also a heavy smoker and opium user. Almost all his money as an auto rickshaw driver went to these pastimes, as well as his gambling addiction. His wife and two young children suffered much from his lifestyle. Many people shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but Arun never listened. 

His health began to decline and, at age 35, he contracted typhoid fever. Now, even more people told him about the Gospel and said that Jesus could heal him. 

But he was suspicious of this foreign god. He also thought that Jesus was just another Catholic saint. But after six months of his illness, Arun finally decided to try church. When he stepped into the service, he saw how lively the worship was, and knew there was something different about this religion.

God gave him peace during the service, but even after going three days in a row, he did not accept Jesus. However, the day after the third service, he transported an elderly pastor in his auto rickshaw. When they stopped at the pastor’s church, Arun decided to follow him inside. There, the pastor was setting up a table filled with Bibles and Christian books. Even though his literacy was poor due to his third grade education, Arun asked the pastor if he could have one of the books.The pastor gave him a Bible.

Arun had never read the Bible, and assumed it would be like the Hindu stories he had read as a child. But as soon as he opened to Psalm 24, he knew he had been wrong. The first verse said “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness. The world and those who dwell in it”. Arun thought, “If everything in the earth is the Lord’s, then so am I!”

He decided to read the whole book, though, before committing to anything. Because of his poor literacy, business of work, illness, and bad habits, it took him a year to reach Exodus 20:3 – “You shall have no gods other than me”

As soon as he read this, he knew God was speaking to him, and Arun accepted Jesus Christ that day. Immediately he felt the fever leave him, and knew he had freedom from his addictions!

That day God also told him to share the Gospel with others. Although he continued his auto rickshaw driving for another nine years, he also began ministry to the poorest of the poor-Tribals, Gypsies, and lepers. He has now been doing ministry for 25 years. 

Over the years he has faced many kinds of persecution. He has been beaten with rods and fists, has been thrown out of villages and meeting places, and his gospel tracts have been torn up; he says that he never worries about these things.

Five years ago, after preaching at Harvest Bridge’s Indian coordinator, Pastor Jairaj’s* church, he asked if there were any ministry opportunities he could take part in. Pastor James told Arun about his daughter, Priya’s*, ministry, Gypsy and Tribal Empowerment (GATE). 

After a couple months of prayer from both Arun and Priya, he became the pastor for one of the poorest Gypsy villages, a leprosy center with about 70 families on the outskirts of Chennai, the fourth largest city in India. Some of the first people he led to Christ were, Abraham, Anna, and their daughter Mary and her family.

For Arun, the most difficult part of ministry to the Tribal villagers is their constant expectation of material gifts. However, he says that “I accept the problems, and God gives me the Spirit of Peace”.

Arun asks prayer for the needs of the people in the villages he ministers to, and for his family, especially that all four of his children will have good marriages.

*Names changed for safety

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Stories

The Long Road to Baptism- Healed From More Than Leprosy

Raja was born into a Hindu family in a very poor Tribal village in Chennai India in the late 1950s. His father died when he was young and so, early on, it was just him and his mother. They were too poor for him to go to school, so he began gathering and reselling trash with his mother when he was five years old

When he was 23, his mother began looking for a girl to arrange a marriage with. It was a happy time in Raja’s life when he was soon engaged and began preparing for marriage. However, only three months into his engagement, he started finding white leprosy spots

He tried to hide the leprosy, but this became impossible when he started to lose his fingers six months later. The girl’s family found out and quickly stopped the impending marriage

He and his mother were incredibly sad, and they wondered if Raja would ever marry. On top of this, other than his mother, Raja’s friends and family began to disown him. He could no longer visit their homes or touch their things. At this time, they moved to another Tribal village where other lepers also lived.

Sadly, when he was 30, his mother passed away. Now he was alone, without the one person who had always loved him. As he was collecting trash one day, soon after his mother’s death, he sat down and began seriously considering suicide

As he sat in despair, a man approached him and asked why he was crying on the side of the road. Raja explained his situation to the man, and received an unexpected reply.The man said that he was Hindu, but that his wife had recently become a Christian. He told him about the lepers that Jesus healed in the Bible and that if he went to church, maybe he could be healed too. Raja desperately wanted to go to church, but he was far too ashamed and scared that he would be thrown out because of his leprosy. 

A few months later, several pastors came to his village to evangelize. He started asking them questions about this Jesus he had so recently heard about. The pastor reminded him of the story of the lepers, and told him more about who Jesus was. However, after they left, Raja was still too fearful to attend church.

A year later, he met a woman, Muniammal, who also had leprosy, and they decided to get married. They had agreed not to have children, because they did not want to risk their child contracting leprosy in their care. However, Muniammal became pregnant within their first year of marriage. 

Raja, remembering that Jesus could perform miracles, told his wife that they needed to pray over this child. When their daughter was born, she was perfectly healthy, and she never contracted leprosy, even before they received treatment for their disease. They named her Mary. 

Although they still knew very little of Jesus, and were still afraid to go to church, they began worshipping Jesus and praying to Him each day. This continued for over 25 years, until four years ago, a pastor named Arun came to their village.

Raja began asking him endless questions about Jesus and God, and asked once more about the story of the lepers.  He asked, “God really touched the man?” “Yes, He did” was the reply from Arun. 

Finally, after hearing Jesus’ name and worshiping for 25 years, Raja and his wife and daughter were baptized.

He and his wife took the Biblical names of Abraham and Anna. Now they attend a nearby church with their daughter, her husband, and their granddaughter, Selvi. 

He says, “if man’s love shown to our family is so great, how much greater is God’s love?”

Abraham’s life has been incredibly difficult, but he finds peace and joy in Jesus Christ. Please be in prayer for this faithful man and his family.