CHRISTMAS is fast approaching and many children in Ballymena are looking forward to getting toys or the latest Apple gadget from Santa.
Not every child or young person will enjoy the festive season though. For some, including those living in India, December 25th will be just another day living with the implications of abandonment, starvation or sexual exploitation.
Organisations like the Rays of Peace ministry provide a vital means of rescue, escape and hope for at least some of the youngsters who find themselves trapped in this awful situation.
On 14th January, ten Ballymena men and women from the Francina Foundation will travel to the charities orphanage in the Sasalu area to one of the four homes it runs through northern and southern India.
Leading this expectant group of travellers will be Lorraine McAlister, whose day job as an Outreach Worker in Ballymena, has given her real insight into the circumstances that the team will encounter.
Lorraine has been part of visiting mission parties to India before. Previous journeys have taken her to the Southern region of Kollegal. However, circumstances last year meant that it wasn’t possible to go back to that area.
However, God has now forged a link between the Francina Foundation and Pastor Mark Jaykumar, founder of the Rays of Peace Ministry (The Foundation is named after Mark’s late wife).
Revealing a little of Mark’s own story, Lorraine said: “His life began in misery. Mark was rejected and abandoned by his parents at three days old and raised by Christian missionaries. At the age of 15 they told him the true story of his birth and about how he came to be with them.
In obedience to the Lord, Mark made up his mind to take up the challenge to adopt and care for the abandoned and orphaned children in India. After completing a Theology degree he opened a home for abandoned children and today God has allowed him to fulfil his promise and dream”, she added.
During a two week stay in the orphanage at Sasalu, the crew from the Foundation will be undertaking a variety of maintenance tasks. They will also assess the building of a new toilet block and spend some time doing craft work, sharing Bible stories with the children there, being part of the ‘homework’ club and supporting the staff in the home.
Just as importantly, the visitors are seeking to raise £75,000 over the next few years to help with the construction of a home for girls and young women who have been rescued from a life working as Divadasis, (temple prostitutes) in places of worship to the Hindu goddess.
This project is led by Pastor Mark’s daughter, Jennifer, who at the age of 19 gave up the opportunity to study Medicine in America to care for these sexually exploited girls.
In understanding her calling from God, Jennifer visited 30 districts of the state of Karnataka, spending 12 hours of intercessory prayer in each district dedicating her work to God. To ensure complete transparency for her work she sought the help of sympathetic government officials and child charities.
Jennifer has managed to rescue a number of girls already, arranging for them to be placed in ‘safe houses’ with Pastors and families with children.
This ‘dangerous work’, is not without risk and continues to place the lives of Mark, Jennifer and their family open to real threat from the majority Hindu population.
Lorraine shared: “Pastor Mark has been kidnapped from the orphanage and almost beaten to death. His son-in-law and his nephew have been abducted and almost burned to death in two temples.”
The initial £32,000 that the Foundation are looking to raise will build the first floor of the refuge where rescued girls can experience physical, mental and emotional restoration.
As they join Mark and Jennifer in India, the travellers pray for God’s protection as they serve the persecuted Church.