At Home With The Kumars
I have just spent a week in India visiting some potential partners/projects on behalf of Anglican Aid.
Three days were spent in the home of a Dr Kumar and his wife Nimmie in a small coastal “village” called Payakaraopeta with a population of 50,000 people. Across a large, fast flowing, khaki colour river is a bigger 70,000 people “town” called Tuni.
These twin towns, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, are half way between Kolkota and Chennai on India’s east coast and Bay of Bengal. They are home to Telugu speaking people, very hot curry eaters, and fanatical watchers of the local Tollywood (Telugu language) movies and a cricketer called Tendulker.
Dr Kumar is the founder-director of an indigenous ministry called Eye Openers and is himself a qualified eye surgeon. Eye Openers operates out of his amply proportioned three-story home. The ground floor consists of a reception room, consulting rooms, operating theatre, dispensary and a twenty-bed hospital.
The middle floor is made up of staff accommodation and the Kumar’s home. Six bedrooms (often filled with visiting village pastors from surrounding plateaus and valleys) large kitchen, laundry, living and dining areas make up their simply furnished, multi-purpose home. Often the Kumar’s will vacate their bedroom and sleep on a makeshift stretcher in the laundry to host an overflow of guests.
The top floor houses more staff, including the Eye Openers school principal, and a meeting area for the several church gatherings, bible college classes and conferences that are held each week.
Eye Openers Ministry is multi-focal. As one of the few doctors for this large population, and the only operating eye surgeon for over a million people in the wider district, Dr Kumar’s skills are called upon for a large number of medical problems. At the heart of his medical work he performs several hundred “Fred Hollows” type surgeries a year. He also runs regular medical clinics in up-country villages where tens of thousands of peasant farmers and day-labourers have absolutely no other access to a doctor of any description.
An English Medium Christian school is run on a leased block next door to the main building. Then, using the same facility, an after-school study centre operates from 5pm to 7pm for children from the local government schools to help literacy levels so that kids don’t fall through the cracks of an educational system in crisis. These children are also fed an evening meal, for many the only nutrition they receive each day.
A bible college trains pastors for the 50 churches that Eye Openers has planted. They are spread throughout a mountainous geographical area the size of the Sydney Diocese, difficult to access during the monsoon season, and there is a pastor appointed to each church.
Bible Widows is yet another ministry of the bible training facility. Christian widows are supported and trained to visit the homes of those of their Hindu neighbours who are also widowed, to offer them comfort, friendship and an opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Many children at risk are supported in community based care arrangements and Dr Kumar is hoping to establish a thirty-bed orphanage for those not able to be supported in the community.
It was a whirlwind three days at the end of the Indian monsoon season. I accompanied two friends, Mitch and David, from an Anglican parish in Tamworth. I spoke at the pastor’s conference, preached at church meetings and attended a village medical clinic.
At the village clinic we sang, I preached and prayed, and then three queues quickly formed. One for Dr Kumar to diagnose general medical ailments, a second for David (who is a Tamworth ophthalmologist) to diagnose eye complaints, and a third for Mitch and I to pray individually for the hundred men, women and children who had gathered in the small church building that night.
The young, who spoke English, requested prayer for their families, their education and for their future life in serving Jesus. The frail-aged fifty to seventy year-olds, who spoke no English, just looked at us with such pain, and longing deeply etched in their grey, almost blind cataracted or sunken bloodshot eyes. These eyes spoke a language that needed no translation.
Dr Kumar was always on the move. No sooner had he finished interpreting my talk at the pastor’s conference, than he disappeared downstairs to scrub up for the day’s first eye surgery, followed by seeing a long line of patients who had been queuing and patiently waiting since early morning for a consultation. That night we sang for much longer than usual, waiting for the doctor to complete his final cataract surgery and come up to the rooftop to interpret my preaching at the evening meeting.
I was dumbstruck by many things during my brief encounter with this cricket and curry loving culture. Not least was the observation that, apart from my travelling companions, I did not see one WWW (Wealthy White Western) person in the three days I walked the streets of the villages or travelled the district. Not one western tourist, NGO worker or missionary could be spotted in this vast sea of humanity.
But, most of all, I was awe-struck by the grace of Jesus flowing through these indigenous Indian Christians. Living on the smell of nothing, yet spreading the sweet aroma of Jesus.
Again and again, my vision was blurred as I kept blinking back the tears, not from the curries or the steaming humidity, but from the sight of so much suffering and the sheer joy of seeing God’s grace at work.
Jesus is opening eyes through the ministry of Eye Openers in India as many Dalits and other low caste “less than a dollar-a-day” day-labourers are responding to his life-giving Gospel and many more are receiving sight-giving surgery.