Purpose of the Visit.
After some years of correspondence – and invitations - I desired to meet Ravi Kumar and wife Ruth Evangeline; latterly I also corresponded with Raj Kumar Sandramallar and wife Margaret. They had asked me to find others to help them financially - hence the importance of a visit.
The base town was Dowlaishwaram, on the Godavari River, just south of Rajahmundry, a major centre about 9 hours train journey west of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. [‘Google Maps’ - it is Dowleswaram.]
My primary hosts were Ravi Kumar and his wife Ruth. They have twin 11 year old sons, Robert and Richard. Dr. Ravi has a Uni. Degree in homeopathic science and uses this skill two days per week at a clinic he conducts at his home in Anaparthy, about 30 minutes drive west of Dowlaishwaram. Ravi desires to be governed by the Scriptures rather than by prevailing customs.
Raj Kumar Sandramallar, his wife Margaret and their son Sam live in the ground-level apartment of a two storey building in Dowlaishwaram. Upstairs is an apartment used for visitor accommodation. This is where I lived for much of the 24 days in India, along with Ravi, Ruth and their sons.
Next door, in a separate but tightly coupled building, on the first floor, is a spacious prayer hall (9m x 6m, plus dais area). Truly an “upper room”. It is the headquarters of Raj’s “India Missions for Christ”. It is not associated with any denomination, although Raj’s theological training has been with the Church of Christ, USA. [Or was it “Churches of Christ”?]
Raj is the pastor and has a Sunday School with 70 names on the roll.
In Andhra Pradesh there is a push by the Telanga activists for a separate state to be declared. These folk make their point by causing disruptions to train services and other amenities.
Hinduism represents 80% of the Indian population of 1.2 billion, Muslims 13 %, and Christians account for 2.5%. In every village there is at least one Hindu shrine or temple to one of the hundreds of gods and goddesses. These are well kept, while most other buildings look tired.
Roads. Other than national highways, these had become horror stretches in many areas. The monsoon rains and heavy trucks had broken them up. Many of our trips to the villages were done in a light-weight people mover – a virtual box on small wheels. I sat in the middle of a padded bench seat, hanging on to the underside of the seat with one hand and holding a bottle of water in the other while we bucked and bounced and picked our way along the road, dodging - and falling into - cavernous potholes. Rodeo riders have only to stay on their mount for eight seconds; we had to endure this for up to two hours. I laughed a lot at our predicament.
Why does the driver always deem the wrong side of the road to be the least bumpy? The roads are shared by pedestrians, bicycles with enormous loads of vegetation, motor cycles, three-wheel taxis, ox carts, cattle, and elephantine, lumbering Leyland trucks. Each driver of a motorized vehicle announces his presence by sounding the horn at everything in sight, and even at things not in sight; not once, but with multiple toots, blasts or even musical arrangements.
By the time we reached our destination, it seemed that every thought you had in your head was shaken out. As we were often late, the audience had been singing hymns, so we were ushered to the front and I had to speak immediately, for a full hour; nothing less. If less, I had to start another subject. In one place, after I had spoken twice with a few minutes break in between, the head man asked me to go on again!
October is on average the wettest month here, the end of the monsoon season, but this year rain was absent – just heat, humidity and dust. God’s goodness.
Meetings. For the first three days, evening meetings were held in the open air. A canopy was erected and floor matting was arranged on an empty piece of land at Rapaka. Amplifiers were brought in and some food provided for those needing it.
Lighting was rigged up, but power was cut during the addresses. Power cuts are a regular feature in the region. Candles were handed out. The darkness and the candles caused me to change my message to some degree.
I recalled the first hymn my mother taught me:
“Jesus bids us shine with a clear pure light,
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness w-e-e must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.”
I was asked to speak in all kinds of places, including the open air, on verandahs, in houses, and on a housetop. I slept on their beds, ate their food and shared the limited facilities. And played cricket with the youngsters. My bowling style was still OK, but the accuracy and pitch decidedly erratic!
They told me that in this I differed from the “great ones” who come from the western nations. It is said that they stay in five star hotels in the big cities, hold two meetings in a large venue, spend a day shopping, then fly out.
Remote Villages and Tribal Villages. These latter, I was told, are villages that are not fully controlled by the government, but by “Naxalists”, or those linked with the communist party. Outwardly they seemed the same to me.
Of recent years, the government has provided villages with concrete roadways and electricity. Power cuts of two hour duration were common, twice daily, in both towns and villages. Drainage and sewerage facilities are still sadly lacking in these villages. Each village has a well. People go there early to clean their teeth. They drift around the well brushing their teeth for ten minutes before breakfast.
Health Service. Brother Ravi Kumar and his wife Ruth visit a number of these outlying villages. As well as providing spiritual support, he sets up a free health “clinic” for them. After I had spoken to the gathering in a prayer hall, Ravi brought out his box of medicines – diuretics, a swag of Pfizer capsules and numerous other medications – along with a blood pressure tester and stethoscope. The patients line up for a free consultation and medicines.
To get up into this prayer hall was quite a feat. After mounting four or five steps – each with a high rise, people had to step over a threshold while bending double to “duck under” the low thatched roofline. No full-height walls in this hall.
I told him that he was cheating a bit. Anyone who could get into this hall for medication was basically very fit and was going to recover anyway! One lady of 95 managed it with the aid of a walking stick. She was quite agile.
Ravi and Ruth also visit a couple afflicted with leprosy; all of their five children have died with the disease. At Christmas time, Ravi and Ruth gather some Christians together and provide them with a family atmosphere, and fellowship.
Orphans. At present Ruth and Ravi are responsible for the welfare – food, lodging, clothing and education - of over 60 children. There are 13 girls and about 50 boys, 8 to 18 years of age in a village called Rapaka, some 1 ½ hours north of Dowlaishwaram. They are supported by others – including a local pastor Solomon, and his wife. This couple house the girls.
Indira. This little girl is now about five years old. When she was two or three, she underwent major surgery on her lower legs/ankles/feet, to enable her to walk. It was a great joy to see her running around the village. She will not become an Olympic runner, but she is very happy and able to play normally.
She and her two brothers need ongoing medical support for an asthmatic condition. Sadly, farm labourers in this area earn little more than $1 per day. Her father wants to go to the Persian Gulf to earn a better wage. He was warned to have someone study the contract carefully before signing up.
College” for Young Men. Ravi gathers about 16 young men, preparing them with Christian teaching for further service, as the Lord may call. It involves regular Bible studies and “field” work.
Women and children predominate at gatherings. I originally had in mind introducing the concept of public Bible study involving the brothers all contributing - sharing and asking questions. But the fewness of the men dampened that idea. I have benefitted from that structure all my life. See also the Lord as a boy of twelve, sitting among the teachers in Luke 2:46-47.
All sit cross-legged on the floor, males and females separately. Sisters draw their sari over the head during prayer. There was an obvious earnestness among the sisters – a mere reference to a verse resulted in them searching for it in their Telugu language Bibles. Some of the older ones are illiterate. Their ability to sit – or even sleep - for long periods on a thin mat on concrete is quite amazing. Every time I slept on a double bed, two people were sleeping on the floor somewhere.
They love noise. Amplifiers are used even in the humblest of halls. When they use amplifiers (aimed at the neighbours) the speaker raises his voice – as though noise means power – which of course it doesn’t. Power is in the word applied to the heart and conscience by the Spirit. Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my word like a fire, says Jehovah; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
While waiting for people to assemble, it is common for those present to sing hymns ‘a capella’, [without music]. This lovely custom is often spoilt by some lad pounding on a set of three drums, succeeding only in drowning out the singing.
As an aside - it occurred to me that some drummers in churches could have no link with the Lord whatever, and yet purport to be contributing to the worship of God.
- Seeing Indira, born with deformed legs, now happy and running.
- Meeting the orphan children at Rapaka.
- Meeting the two couples with whom I had been corresponding.
- Seeing the large Sunday school at Dowlaishwaram.
- After speaking to a gathering on a verandah in a remote village, a lad of
14 came up to me and expressed his appreciation of the word, in English.
Opportunities for our Support. There are several areas that deserve our prayers and practical support. I am willing to pass on funds, or show how to send it directly to those concerned. There are no “organisational overheads”.
The orphan children at Rapaka. To house, feed, clothe and educate each child costs $40-$45/month [depending on exchange rates]. There are building problems and also severe drainage problems. The heavy rains produce deep mud – much more than ankle deep - outside the buildings. Locals – including Hindu folk – contribute food items; but this by itself does not guarantee a balanced diet. There is a need for some capital as well as the ongoing support.
Indira; the five year old and her two brothers need ongoing medical help for chest problems. Her next brother is not growing as he should, and appears unwell.
In Rapaka, there is a young spastic girl, Sameepa. She has no father and needs full-time care. There is a need for about $200/month for ongoing support.
Kidney transplant. I was asked by my hosts to mention the following case. A 65 year-old sister, Ratnamma, in a remote village [Cheyyerru], needs a kidney transplant. She has only one kidney and it is damaged. Her husband, a farm labourer, earns about $1 per day. The cost of the whole transplant operation, hospital, etc. is estimated at $6,000. I spoke with her; she has some English.
Raj and Maragaret visit the sick in hospital and some of the outlying villages. They want to expand their services to include a home for orphans and needy.
Ravi and Ruth rent a very small two room dwelling. Ravi uses a motor cycle for his travel. They have no TV, no fridge, nor any “frills” whatever. They work very hard – perhaps too hard – in the Lord’s service. I feel for the boys and the lack of space as they enter high school next year.
For more detailed information, contact M.M. at: email@example.com,
or at PO Box 275A, Fairfield Heights, NSW, Australia 2165.
MM October 2011