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Christian Children in India - III

Christian Children in India - III

Author: Joseph Gathia
Publication: Indian Currents
Date: July 14 - 20, 2008

Introduction: Focus on Serving the Weak

The goodwill and determination of poor Christians constitute limitless resources that cannot be suppressed by highhanded manners. They cannot be treated as slaves by following politics of a Church turned an empire.

By turning away failed students, a Christian missionary school violated the teachings of Christ of serving the frail and the weak. Schools should work for the advancement of weak students rather than just serve the interests of bright pupils.

By doing what it has done -- turning away those who have failed, the very same people whom the world calls low and despised - this particular missionary school has turned the teaching of Jesus on its head. By retaining students who are already bright and intelligent and turning away the rest to the mercy of mediocre schools, which may accept them, it has gone the way of any other commercially-run school. Again to quote Jesus Christ, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick." I guess that the bright students of the school are capable of doing pretty well on their own and the school's assistance may make them do better. But the ones who are failing, falling behind and unable to cope with, are the ones who may have succeeded had the school chosen to retain them and help them.

In early 1980s I visited Ralegoan Siddi when Anna Hazara had just returned to his village after retiring from the Indian army. I again met him after twenty years. He mentioned to me that his school takes the weak students that have been discarded by other schools. Enrolling almost all the rural youth, delinquents and those who have failed repeatedly in their previous schools. By picking up those whom even the church-run schools discarded, Anna Hazare is doing what Jesus would have approved of.

The question is why Christian schools are deviating from the teachings of Jesus Christ? I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention excellent work done in this field by some Jesuits. I salute them.

Now coming back to the issue of admission of Christian children in Christian educational institutions, we have good example of Jamia Hamdard University in Delhi to follow. The campus has a distinctly Muslim touch. It teaches modern subjects but also has an impressive array of courses relating to Islamic theology, Persian, Arabic, Unani medicine and other facets of liberal Islamic culture.

We experience today that many church-run institutions follow very little of Christ's teachings. What makes it a minority institution is that some Bishop, priest, or church official heads the board of management. The Bible is seldom referred to or opened. When the church is persecuted from time to time, it is common to hear that many eminent people attended such and such Christian school. Well they might have done so but the moot question is whether they were exposed to the teachings of Jesus in their student days or it just happened that the school happened to be run by some religious order or denomination but beyond these legal niceties, it ran, as any secular institution would do.

The bottom line to determine a minority institution - be it linguistic, religious, or ethnic - is to examine the minority values and cultures imparted there. If after studying in a Christian school for ten years or more, a child comes out with negligible knowledge of the church, then in what way is the establishment representative of the Christians? They are no more than commercial institutes with Christian names.

Ten-Point Programme

For better future of Christian children (or for that matter all the deprived children) a Ten-Point Programme is suggested below:

1. All Christian children seeking admission must be admitted in Christian Schools. Any Christian school violating this norm should lose its minority status.

2. Several hostels run by the Church in India have been closed down. This has led to great hardship for the poor parents and particularly for the girls in rural areas. In next five years, every diocese should have at least one hostel.

3. In North India, there are very few Christian institutions of higher learning. In each state one medical college, one engineering college and one management institute should be established for the Christian children. In management committee, the local Christians (as it is done in a number of Protestant denominations) must be included. The ownership of the property must be vested in the local people's committee.

4. Special efforts must be made to introduce multiculturalism among Christian children and respect for other religion must be integral part of teaching in our schools.

5. Christians with Dalit and tribal origin must be given priority in managing the Christian educational institutions. Some 50% job in Christian educational and healthcare institutions should be reserved for the Christians.

6. Regional training centres to prepare Christian children for examinations like Civil Service and Allied services should be started.

7. Special programme should be undertaken to promote understanding among Christian children from different regions. Currently there is very little interaction between Christian children from North and South.

8. No Christian child should become a child worker. Church must undertake this special programme on a war footing. Particular focus should be on tribal girls who are exploited as domestic servants.

9. Cases of children affected by AIDS/HIV from Christian families have been reported from Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and North Eastern region. An all-denomination committee for rehabilitation of such children must be formed. There are number of single parent children among Christian community. Children from single parent family face several problems. Children's Ministry must start special project to help them. Donor agencies such as Foster Parents Plan International and Christian Children's Fund from the US, EZE, Misereor (Catholic Bishops Fund for Overseas Development) and KNH from Germany and Caritas International must pool their resources to promote children's rights in India.

10. In India, Christianity has to live side by side with other faiths. This challenges us to teach the Christian faith in the context of plurality of faiths. Living within a modern, secular and pluralistic society one is bound to be confronted with people of different belief systems and different life styles. In the Indian pluralistic context our educational institutions need to equip Christian children to cope with real issues of cultural diversity and to live harmoniously with people of other religious beliefs. Efforts should be made to foster communication between people of other faiths, cultures and experiences.

Epilogue

Jesus opened a path to enlightenment that is still viable today. Nevertheless, Christians have developed doubt about his message. Evidently, some are beginning to wake up to the fact that their children are no longer receiving true education, but are being clandestinely recruited to sick social movements threatening to tear families apart.

It is no wonder most young men are not be found in church pews. The church has left them to the "evils of society" to fend for themselves, while church youth groups largely focus on entertainment. Apparently, far too many church leaders are involved in politics. The greatest danger facing the evangelical church is not the destruction of its values, but the distraction of its focus. In reality, the destruction of both church values and church focus is the problem. Could it be that physical "possessions," both church and individual, have become more important than our children?

It would be dishonest of me to remain silent after hearing the discrimination of poor Christian children in the schools run by the Church organisations. I have listened to the argument put forward by self declared Christian leaders which reminds me of what Jesus said. "Many false prophets would come in my name."

It is time that Church resources are used to help poor Christian families stand on their feet.

(Concluded)

(josephgathia@yahoo.co.in)


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