Imagine this. You are reaching the end of your life. Your health is beginning to decline and your children are no longer willing to look after you. There is no Welfare State to offer any meaningful help.
So? Your children take you along to the Central Railway Station and leave you there on the street to fend for yourself.
Too old to work, and too frail to be ‘proactive’ in your begging, you are reduced to sitting there in the hope of receiving enough charity to make it through the day.
The truth is that some people do not have to imagine such a situation – it is their actual experience. In India, it is not uncommon for children, unwilling or unable to look after their parents, to literally dump them on the street.
Besides these cases, a similar fate awaits those with the misfortune to have no near relatives to care for them when they are unable to look after themselves. The street becomes their home and begging the only means of survival.
Thus many elderly and frail people have finished up on the streets of Chennai in Madras. But during a recent visit there, a group from UK were able to see at first hand a ministry that extends the love of Christ to such people.
Those concerned were Pastor Richard Mayhew (Uxbridge Road Tabernacle, Shepherds Bush) with his wife Gwen, Pastor Peter Andrews (Ridley Hall Evangelical Church, Battersea), and Pastor Chris Hand (Crich Baptist Church, Derbyshire).
Known in Tamil as Vuyiroli (‘Light of Life’) the ministry is led by Mr P. Rajkumar, an Assistant Pastor at the Kilpauk Baptist Church in Chennai where Samuel Devanesam is pastor.
Samuel is known to many supporters of Grace Baptist Mission. With the help of an extraordinarily hard-working and devoted team, Rajkumar rescues elderly people found begging on the streets and takes them to one of two refuges located in the city centre.
Attempts are made to contact relatives to persuade them to shoulder their responsibilities. Until such contact is made, however, these aged and often very frail people, some of whom have mental problems, are fed, clothed and given a bed at Vuyiroli.
Care workers are on hand to provide showers, cook food and look after basic medical needs. Often, of course, the people have to stay at Vuyiroli long-term, as relatives cannot be traced or, if found, are not interested in helping.
Besides the concern shown for physical welfare, the work also has a clear evangelistic emphasis; the residents are regularly encouraged to seek the Lord. Some have become Christians as a result and read their Bibles and pray daily.
Since 1999, some 85 elderly people have been helped in one way or another by this ministry. Some have been reunited with their children and others have been found residential care.
Yet others have actually died while being cared for, and Vuyiroli has provided decent burial for them.
New facility sought
At present 18 people are being looked after, but the accommodation is very cramped and expansion in situ is not a feasible option.
While the city-centre refuges are well located to serve as reception centres, Vuyiroli’s longer-term aim is to obtain land at the edge of the city where a new and more suitable facility can be built.
This would offer greatly enhanced medical care and provide vastly superior accommodation for long-stay residents. The plan is to care for up to 300 people – so great is the need in Chennai.
A further aspect of the vision is to help those affected by AIDS, another problem of escalating proportions in India.
Those involved in the ministry have a proven track record of accountability, competence and genuine compassion, but obviously finance is a vital issue.
The ministry is unable at present to develop beyond its present modest level, let alone to realise the vision for land and a new building. It is, however, a work that can be heartily commended to others and which deserves interest and support.
If this is a ministry that you and your church would like to know more about, you can obtain further information about SARTI (Scheme to Advance Reformation Truth in India) from Pastor Peter Andrews, 94, Thurleigh Road, Balham, London, SW12 8TT.
A video has been made about the work, which can be borrowed from Pastor Richard Mayhew, 23, Steventon Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 0SU.