It’s Vacation Bible school time in a rented school room for a group of kids from Rangpuri slum in Delhi. They are brought here every morning for a week by bus and then sent home with a sack lunch full of healthy food that they will most likely have to share with their entire family. The familiar sounds of Sunday school songs combined with the energy of the corresponding actions is contagious even in the sweltering heat. Anuja is teaching them the story of creation today. Once they are separated into groups and sent on to the next activity, we met a boy named Dheeraj.
Dheeraj has the deepest, most soulful eyes. He sits in his rumpled school uniform and leans forward with intentionality as he tells us his story. A story that is becoming entirely too familiar and yet is equally heart-wrenching and unjustifiable. A story of a family who came to the city of Delhi from a small village with the hope of finding work in order to survive. But as in the other stories, they realize that there really is no work. So they piece together a home with all of the sticks and plastic sheeting that they can find in the trash and attempt to create a life for the 6 of them. There were many nights that the only way they would eat is if his father would bring home food that he found discarded on the side of the road. Otherwise, they went to bed hungry. His dad begins collecting trash to hopefully sell and his mom begins to clean homes. But mom is also sick, very, very sick, and there is no possibility of getting any sort of help for her. As Dheeraj speaks of her, his eyes show the depth of hurt and desperation he has from growing up watching her suffer. In this environment, the place they call home, there is an atmosphere of hopelessness because the common belief system tells them that they belong here and that karma dictates their life story.
And then Anuja shows up at his door one day.
She speaks with Dheeraj’s parents about a school that she is starting with the Hope Venture right there in Rangpuri called “Satya Jyoti” which means “truth and light”. They consider the possibility of sending their youngest son to this new school, but can’t fathom how they would afford the supplies he might need. Anuja assures them that all that he will need for school, including a backpack will be supplied. So, at five years old Dheeraj has been given the opportunity to change his story as he heads to school.
At this point in the conversation his eyes brighten and his stunning smile comes into view as he talks about school. Dheeraj is now fourteen years old and has been at the very top of his class every year since first grade. Most recently he scored a 586 out of 600 on the national standardized test. He is sitting straight up now with his chin high as he tell us of his plans to continue on to college to become a doctor. Deeraj’s eyes then cloud up again as he shares that his first goal is to come back to Rangpuri to help heal his sick mother. Spending his childhood helplessly watching her struggle with pain and sickness with no way to help her has given him the drive to do something about it. The education he has received and his high test scores make this is a real possibility for him.
He now has hope.
Think about that for a second. What would his life have looked like if Anuja hadn’t shown up at his door when he was five? What if Satya Jyoti didn’t exist? What if people like us didn’t care that there are people living like Deeraj and his family and wanted to do something about it?
But we did.
And we gave.
And we prayed that those in India would find the hope of Jesus through this education.
And it changed Dheeraj’s life forever.