India - Freeing the Dalits

In 1963, the first OM team travelled overland from Europe to India, sharing the good news along the way.

Over the next 30 years, OM teams used personal witness, literature distribution and correspondence courses to reflect God’s love across all of India.

By the late 1980’s, it became evident to Indian leadership that it was no longer enough to address a person’s spiritual state apart from the physical, economic, social and political state of Indian culture. OM needed to respond to the country’s hundreds of millions of poor and marginalized people, specifically the lowest caste of Indian society: the Dalit-Bahujan people, or “untouchables”.

The Dalits need eternal and earthly salvation

“The cry of the Dalits and other poor, marginalized people of India is for freedom,” said Joseph D’Souza, Moderator Bishop of Good Shepherd Church of India. “This earnest plea is an appeal for massive social, moral and spiritual change. It is a call to rid their world of the oppression of caste ideology. It is a demand for simple human dignity in response to the current realities of modern slavery, the oppression of women, economic discrimination and rampant poverty.”

In 2001, in partnership with others, the OM Good Shepherd ministry took steps to make transformational changes in communities through medical clinics, primary schools in English, adult literacy classes, vocational and business training and more, toward the goal of alleviating poverty among the Dalit people. Everything was done in the name of Christ, and new Christian communities reproduced quickly.

Education is key

Early on, it was clear that education for Dalit children would be key to breaking the cycle of poverty and oppression that held an entire people group to the lowest rung of Indian society with no chance of improving. Good Shepherd Schools would be a solution. Its schools are run by believers, students are from a Dalit background and lessons are in English.  

Ruth is in the fourth grade at a Good Shepherd School. Although bigamy is illegal in India, Ruth and her family suffered from her father’s poor marital choices. Poverty and illiteracy only worsened the situation for Ruth, her mother and her two siblings. When Ruth’s father abandoned them a few years ago, they were left nearly destitute, although her mother earned a small income working as a maid in neighbors’ homes.

Ruth was recently diagnosed with tuberculosis but is getting life-saving medication free from government hospitals and she is steadily recovering. She’s a good student.  All of this gives her and her mother hope for a better future than they could have imagined otherwise.

Today, over 90 percent of Good Shepherd Schools graduates continue to professional or university courses. Over 100 schools teach some 26,000 students from the Dalit background.

Far from the red-light district

Bhindya* grew up in the red-light district of Mumbai, India’s economic hub. Her mother was gone frequently, and she was cared for by other ladies in her mother’s absence. But these women also disappeared for days at a time, leaving their own children and Bhindya to be cared for by other women. At the time, Bhindya didn’t question why the lane on which she lived, or the entire neighborhood in the notorious downtown district, was home to only women and girls, while men only briefly visited.

Five years ago, at age 10, Bhindya was taken into Pratigya Shelter in Hyderabad, one of two Good Shepherd Healthcare Initiative rehabilitation centers that help women and girls leave a life of prostitution and break the cycle of human trafficking. Here, she received nutritious meals and maintained a daily routine of study, play and devotions.

Today, Bhindya is a tenth grader at a Good Shepherd School and at the top of her class. Unlike her mother, whom she lost to HIV, Bhindya has hope of a meaningful future far from the red-light district. The rehabilitation centers are just one facet of the Good Shepherd Healthcare Initiative, a reputable healthcare system operating in over 80 locations to help some of the nearly 250 million people with little or no access to proper healthcare. In addition, the program combats and raises awareness of HIV/AIDS, human trafficking and sex slavery, which affects hundreds of thousands of women in the country. 

A growing church movement and autonomy

“We are known today as a fast-growing, transforming church movement, fully engaged in justice and advocacy.” - Joseph D’Souza

In 2003, OM began an indigenous church movement, Good Shepherd Church of India (GSCI), to disciple believers, engage in holistic ministry and reproduce fellowships around the country.

“We are known today as a fast-growing, transforming church movement, fully engaged in justice and advocacy, in freeing children through English-medium schools, in health initiatives and anti-human trafficking, in economic empowerment and in the training of leaders,” D’Souza said.

The church movement already has 4,000 churches, led by 1,300 pastors. While transformational activities include feeding programs, educational courses and economic development initiatives, the main focus remains discipling individuals in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

With the growth of the movement, it became apparent that decades of prayer for a nation-wide indigenous church was being answered.  Although OM India is no longer under OM International’s official structure, OM USA continues to support Good Shepherd / OM India and the important work that has gone on since 1964.

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