The head of a Christian ministry working in Asia says even as floods sweep through many of India's communities, discrimination and persecution continue against that nation's poorest and least educated -- the outcaste Dalits -- making it difficult for many of the most needy individuals to get aid.
Flooding triggered by seasonal monsoons in India have recently left hundreds of Dalit villages swamped as a result of overflowing rivers and dams. Some areas received two years' worth of rainfall in three days; and in the Barmer District of Rajasthan, both high-caste families (the wealthy) and low-caste families (the poorest) -- the latter known as Dalits or untouchables -- were marooned on sand dunes.
When camps were set up for the displaced, however, members of higher castes chased Dalit families away, denying them food and clean drinking water. But K.P. Yohannan, founder and president of Gospel for Asia (GFA), says the Christian ministry's missionaries are reaching out to assist all victims of the floods, regardless of caste.
"We have given top priority to work among these Dalits during these times of flooding and crises," Yohannan notes. "Many hundreds of our workers are bringing food, clothes, and water and working among these people," he says.
Government officials in India had planned to pump standing water away from some Dalit villages, the GFA spokesman points out, but the officials had to abandon work due to strong opposition from high caste residents. He says the Dalits are often the last group to receive emergency assistance, and they often face discrimination when it comes to disaster aid and relief distribution.
Yohannan sees GFA's outreach to the Dalits as an opportunity, not only to help but to share the gospel with these people in a tangible, holistic way. "This gives us the opportunity to share with them that we do this because of Christ's love," he says, "and this has been a great joy for us."
The ministry leader says he has heard many reports from GFA missionaries of Dalits "saying things like, 'Nobody cared for us, and we didn't know what to do,' and 'thank you for coming and helping us.'"
While GFA does much in the areas of serving the poor and distributing aid, Yohannan says the ministry's primary aim is to plant churches among those who have never heard the Gospel. GFA trains and sends native missionaries who are already familiar with the language and culture, and who live at much the same level as the people they serve, thus removing many social barriers.
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