Millions of children in India are stuck in a “slumdog” life of poverty, child labor, malnutrition, and illiteracy—all perpetuated by a Hindu caste system and beliefs that discriminate against lower social classes. What could possibly change that?
“Vacation Bible School,” says Padma Kumar, a pastor’s wife in Secunderabad, India, who sees idolatry as “a curse that has been eating away the children and the inheritance.” Yet she has seen many children start living for Christ because of the VBS programs she holds year-round in schools, churches, tents, and homes. “There are many children who need to be reached, so my target is, every year I must reach 10,000 kids with the VBS program,” Padma says. And she’s doing it, thanks in part to VBS materials supplied by Gospel Literature Services, a GARBC ministry.
Padma regards VBS as the gateway to help orphans and street children find hope and a future through Jesus Christ. To that end, she and her husband, Mohan, run Jehovah Jireh Baptist Ministries, the umbrella organization for their church, two orphanages, a Bible college, VBS programs, and funds to give impoverished children an education and a stable place to live. “VBS does have an impact,” she says.
For years Padma prayed for better visuals and Vacation Bible School resources that would help her present the gospel to children not only in the city where her husband pastors Jehovah Jireh Baptist Church, but also in the villages and bush areas far beyond. The Indian VBS books she was using were costly and often outdated. “Old books printed in 1947 were reprinted again and again, and the lesson portions were not prepared properly,” she says. Padma resorted to cutting pictures out of old calendars and newspaper advertisements to create makeshift flannelgraph. “Many times I used to cry and work until 2 a.m. to make copies and outlines and carbon copies to give to the children,” she says.
That all changed in 2004 when Mohan attended a GARBC conference and registered Jehovah Jireh Baptist Ministries for fellowship with the International Partnership of Fundamental Baptist Ministries. There he met Dr. Mark Jackson, who supplied them with about 500 VBS books produced by Regular Baptist Press. The VBS theme, “Castle Kids—Choosing to Serve the King,” was a royal success, and many children trusted Christ for salvation.
Padma has looked forward to shipments of Regular Baptist Press’s VBS materials ever since. Whether she runs a VBS program in a church, under a rented tent, or in a government school (as the “moral instruction teacher”), Padma is grateful for the colorful visuals, crafts, and student workbooks that help children visualize the gospel.
One challenge in India is that the children think Jesus is simply one of their 330 million Hindu gods. “I tell them their gods died, but Jesus rose from the dead,” says Padma. “ ‘Why do you think He rose from the dead?’ I ask them. ‘Because He’s a real God! He came from Heaven, and He will take us to Heaven.’ ”
The Kumars’ two college-age children, Nissi, 18, and Ebenezer, 20, help with the ministry as they are able, teaching classes, singing action songs, and playing drums. When they travel to a village, Padma sometimes starts singing songs with a tambourine. She tells the gathering children to come to her five-day VBS and to bring five friends in order to receive a candy bar. “Some children bring 10 different friends each day!” Needless to say, she goes through a lot of candy bars.
Padma often uses her own pocket money to buy prizes, such as hair bands, toys, even dresses. She also keeps a thermometer with her in case children are sick, and she even buys medicine for poor parents to give to their children. The families are grateful. “They hold me and cry,” Padma says.
Some children are reached not a moment too soon. When a 5-year-old girl named Kajal received the Lord as her Savior and told Padma that she had not eaten for five days until she came to VBS, Padma decided to visit Kajal’s family that night. After Padma knocked repeatedly and begged them to open the door, the mother finally opened it. Lying on the floor were Kajal and her four sisters covered in gasoline. The desperate mother, a prostitute who had a week-old baby and a husband with HIV, was about to light the girls on fire because they had been fighting over a small piece of bread and she had no food to feed them.
Instead, Padma took the five girls into her home, fed them, and paid their school fees. She also witnessed to the mother, Marinamma, who soon trusted Christ and gave up prostitution to work as a maid for some families. Marinamma has AIDS, but Padma buys her vitamins and medicine to keep the disease at bay. And Kajal loves to sing and help out in Sunday School.
Padma currently takes responsibility for 78 saved children like Kajal and her sisters, placing them in Christian homes to insulate them from the sinful influences around them until they grow stronger in the Lord.
In fact, Padma has a burden to reach 10 children in each of the 24 counties in her state of Andhra Pradesh. Her goal is to place them in selective pastors’ homes and pay for their education and care. After extended prayer, Padma sensed that just as God assured Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if He found 10 righteous people there, God will not destroy the Indian counties if 10 righteous children live in them. Thus, Padma decided to find sponsors for 240 Indian children, so she recently traveled to the United States for three months to tell Christians about the need.
A Father for Padma
Padma Kumar grew up in a strong Hindu family where everyone worshiped idols. Her mother was a nurse, and her father was the only doctor for 42 villages, which made him highly respected. But her family saw a different side. Too often Padma saw her dad fly into a drunken rage and beat her mother. Padma would break coconuts to her Hindu gods and pray to the goddesses in a plea to get her dad to stop drinking and beating her mother, but to no avail. One year during the holidays, Padma came home from boarding school and saw her mom covered in bruises. “I couldn’t tolerate it,” Padma recalls.
During her dad’s seven-day drinking binge, Padma suggested he take a nap. This infuriated him in a culture where many women are not allowed to speak a word even to their husbands. He chased Padma with a knife, but Padma ran out the door and threatened him. “If you come and touch me, I’ll push you into the pit and kill you,” she said, pointing to a deep pit where scorpions and snakes lived.
Her father backed off, and that night, Padma and her mother and younger brothers left home. They walked eight kilometers, caught a ride with a farmer for 10 kilometers to a railway station, then traveled more than 700 kilometers to their destination: a small rented room near one of their uncles. Soon Padma’s mom found out she had cancer. Worried that she would leave her children as orphans, she asked Padma to go to church with her.
“No way,” said Padma. “I don’t want to become a Christian; Jesus is a low-caste people’s god.” When her mom was told she had only three months to live, Padma relented and went to church with her.
Padma sat in the back, thinking about what her dad used to teach her: “There is no god. We have to eat, drink, and die.”
Maybe my dad is right, she thought. Every day I break coconuts to the gods and no god hears my prayers. Maybe there is no god to hear me. Just then the pastor began to preach and said, “Fools think there is no God at all.” Padma was stunned. Then another question came to her mind: What is God? The pastor, reading from the Bible, said, “God is love.” Was the pastor reading her mind?
Listening to the pastor, Padma thought, I want a God Who wants me more than anything. The pastor said, “There’s a God Who loves you and came from Heaven, and He died for your sins. Accept Him as your Father, and He will be your Father.”
Padma was convinced. She wanted God to be her Father, and that day she became a Christian. It was the first day she remembers smiling. And her mom, who also trusted Christ, lived for another 30 years. In recent years, her father has also become a believer.
Dedicated to Children
Padma earned a college degree in pharmacy but did not end up working in that field because God called her into Christian service. When she asked the Lord what ministry she should do, He reminded her of the words in Matthew 18:14. “It is not the will of your Father . . . that one of these little ones should perish.”
Taking those words to heart, Padma was trained and hired by Child Evangelism Fellowship in 1983, with a starting salary equivalent to $4 a month. “I used to pray for everything, even for a safety pin,” says Padma, who worked for CEF for eight years. “God supplied everything; He’s so faithful.”
After Padma married Mohan, they began Children for Christ Ministries, an evangelistic ministry. As children trusted in Christ, the Kumars soon realized that India’s caste mentality affects even the churches, which were apathetic about following up with the children. “The churches did not care about them,” says Padma. The children started drifting off to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other heretical or compromising churches, she says, so “the Lord put a burden on us to start a fundamental Bible-believing church, which we started with three people.” Her husband founded Jehovah Jireh Baptist Ministries in 1994 and later began a Bible college, which includes child evangelism training.
Last year they trained more than 300 pastors and teachers how to run a VBS program at a local church. “If we do the work ourselves, we can only reach so many people, but if we train up more people, it will be multiplied,” says Padma. They also travel to rural areas and villages to hold 15-day teaching seminars. Those who complete the training, including a VBS requirement, receive a certificate.
One single pastoral student in their Bible college balked at the VBS portion of his studies. “Why do I have to do VBS? I don’t want to teach children.”
“Then you are hating God’s heart,” Padma replied.
When the student was not given his certificate, he finally agreed to take the classes. As a result, he went home and started a children’s class. When the children’s parents started coming, he started a church! “Now he knows the value of the children,” says Padma with a grin.
Though Padma used to agree with those who considered Christianity a religion for lower castes, Padma knows it is valuable for all. “The Hindu gods did not die for sins, but I know Christ died for me,” she says. “In Hinduism, the gods ask for offerings, and even now some people sacrifice their children, but our God came as an offering.”
Ironically, Padma and Mohan both come from high castes (“We are like kings,” she explains), but they do not regret giving up their privileged Hindu status to join the ranks of Moses, “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Hebrews 11:26). When other Hindus are skeptical and assume Padma became a Christian so she would receive money from American Christians, she gives them her testimony and something else to think about. “I say I became a Christian so I would be with the King of Kings,” she says with a smile. “It’s a promotion, not degrading.”
Linda Piepenbrink is an editor for Regular Baptist Press. To contact the Kumars, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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