The next morning, we declined an offer of a car transport to school, instead preferring to walk the familiar streets. Along the way, we recognized several familiar faces. We laughed when we realized a car honking at us was really an affectionate greeting from (click the "Read More" link on the right to continue reading)
“Welcome home, Jim, Sir! Welcome home, Susie Mam!” The teachers were standing at the inside gate with open arms and huge smiles – quite an extraordinary event in a culture that does not hug or even touch. Last summer, I tried hard not to impose too many Americanisms on them, but as we developed strong, authentic relationships with these women I love, I could not help reaching out and folding them in my arms. This morning, they greeted us with love and we shared hugs and kisses on the cheek with one another. They seemed genuinely happy to welcome us home.
Next came the children. Justin returned with a van filled with children, many of them among the poorest of the poor. Some had survived the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, having been carried in their mothers’ arms through the swirling water. The younger ones had only heard the tales of their fathers who had clung to trees to keep from being swept away. All knew the devastating impact it had on their village when all the fishing boats and nets were lost at sea. It had been that catastrophic event that had been a defining moment in their lives. A few years earlier, John Christian had established Acts of Mercy, a small humanitarian nonprofit organization 50 km away in Chennai. But on the morning of Dec. 26, 2004, the news of the nearby tsunami reached John and in an instant, he knew this was a defining moment for his ministry. For when the waters receded enough for roads to the fishing village of Koklimedu to be cleared, it was John Christian who arrived first and offered the survivors their first drink of clean water in 10 days. He brought food and he brought medical supplies. Most importantly, he brought the healing power of Jesus. John prayed to Jesus, the great Comforter and Physician. They were healed. Some believed. Some were uncertain. All were grateful.
With tsunami relief donations from around the world, Acts of Mercy quickly focused on the plight of widows and children in the regions devastated by the tsunami. The following year, Achiever Academy was opened with 39 children, ages 3-5 with plans to add a grade level each year. Today, 130 children attend Achiever Academy in grades pre-K –5th. Some students receive scholarships, with their expenses funded by both local and international donors/sponsors.
Much of the hopelessness of the poor in India is deeply rooted in the oppression of the caste system. Though officially abolished by the government decades ago, this culture is chained to its past, bound by strong traditions passed from generation to generation. Achiever Academy holds the belief that by blending the social classes, children who grow up working, playing, and worshipping together will respect their friends from different castes. In America, we learned long ago that segregation was morally wrong and harmful to all ethnic groups; Achiever Academy is leading the way to this same truth in India today.
In just 6 short years, Achiever Academy has become recognized throughout a large region as the premier school, highly regarded as the only English-medium school in this region. Indians firmly believe that if their children are to compete in a global community and have a better life, they must speak English. As we walk in the village, Achiever parents express appreciation for the school and its high standards. Frequently, other villagers bring their children to the school, pleading for them to be admitted. Amid the dirt and garbage and darkness here in Mahab, there is warmth and light surrounding Achiever Academy. It’s a happy, safe haven for all who enter. Here is great education. Here is great kindness. Here is great joy. Here is our King.
Achiever Academy is a Christian school. Each morning, children and teachers sing songs of worship with great joy. They laugh, they dance, they sing the Indian national anthem, they pledge to honor their parents and respect their teachers. They close their morning assembly each day by praying the same Lord’s Prayer that we do. Two years ago, I visited Achiever Academy and as we prayed for the children, I was overwhelmed by a strong feeling that, just like Ester in the Bible, the children of Achiever Academy have been chosen by God “for such a time as this.” With all my heart, I believe that it is through these children, that their parents, and perhaps the entire village, will have an opportunity to know Jesus.
And so, for this reason, I care passionately that Achiever Academy develops the very highest of academic standards. For as it does, the villagers will continue to fight to get their children into this school. The parents will send their children for the English. And as each student arrives, he will meet Jesus. From this school, the Good News will go forth throughout this village and beyond.
Oh yes, there is a special Light surrounding Achiever Academy. We saw it in their faces that first morning, as we laughed and sang songs of worship with the children. We heard it in their voices as they remembered my favorite song and sang it in our honor. We are reminded of it each time we see the beautiful paper roses they handcrafted as a special gift for us. It’s the Light that welcomed Jim and I home. Someday, we will dance in heaven with Deepaka and Mokesh and Gurumoorthy and all the other children who sang with us this morning. On that day, we will give them big hugs once again and reciprocate their warm greeting to us: “Welcome Home, dear friend. Welcome Home.”
“He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:14-16
From my home in India to yours,
Addendum: Achiever Academy is but one ministry of Acts of Mercy. In future blog entries, we will be sharing more about Happy Homes, the Vayaloor Widows Rehabilitation Village, and Sparrows of Splendor, the widows’ vocational training program.