Many attendees at the Side by Side Symposium in Bangalore, India had the opportunity to meet with local Christian ministry leaders. This is one of their stories.
As a young man, Raja’s job required him to travel around the busy downtown streets of Bangalore on his motorized rickshaw. While maneuvering in and out of chaotic traffic, Raja always had one worried eye on a disturbing sight at the side of the road—the homeless human beings lying helpless and alone on the sidewalks.
Sometimes it would be a woman nursing her baby; sometimes she would be cooking a little food over a makeshift fire on the sidewalk. Often it would be a man, just lying there waiting to die. Or perhaps he was already dead. Day after day Raja noticed and grieved. “Help me find a way to show them your love, O Jesus,” became his constant prayer. And little by little God enabled him to answer his own prayer.
At first Raja picked up one or two homeless people in his motor-rick and cared for them under his small carport. Eventually a Christian organization, Campus Crusade, gave him the land and facility where we visited him. Two police officers became his allies, helping him identify and transport others who were homeless. A van became the ambulance to bring them to their new home.
Joshua Raja, as he is now called, loves and cares for two hundred people in this facility. For many it is a hospice, and a few die—with dignity—each month. Others soon take their place in what has become known as “The New Ark.”
Church groups willingly give Joshua Raja their money, but few have the stamina to stay and help with the work. I understand why. The facility is rustic and crowded. I saw about two dozen people lounging around the front yard or on a cement patio. Another visitor spoke with a child who was the daughter of the founder/director. The family lives there too.
Living on the streets takes its toll on Joshua’s guests. Many seemed mentally ill or disabled in some way. Yet I also recall some making eye contact, as though welcoming love and acceptance. It was a confirmation of trust restored in fellow human beings; a confirmation of Joshua Raja’s genuine love for his “family.”
The eight or nine of us unannounced visitors were welcomed into a small office with just enough room for two donated desks and the folding chairs that were hastily brought in for us. Unfazed by the fact that we had not made an appointment, Joshua Raja said he would introduce the ministry with a video. Wham! We were hit with a wave of images and a narrated script that told the stories of homeless people who were carried into Joshua Raja’s van and brought “home” to the New Ark. Each person was cared for, washed, and clothed.
The pictures of wounds, sometimes untreated for so long that maggots were eating away at the flesh, some down to the bone, were so disturbing to me that I averted my eyes. My eyes stayed fixed, though, on a segment showing a deranged woman running down the street naked. As she became more subdued by kindness and was brought to her new home, Joshua Raja washed her wounds as well.
One of her toes had become infected because of a ring on it that signified a marriage. Though he tried to heal it with daily dressings, he was unsuccessful. The video showed him amputating part of her toe to save the foot. Later the video showed her happily learning to walk again. Each “before” story of homelessness and illness was followed by the “after” images of health and healing, of hope and belonging.
I have not seen the work of Mother Teresa up close. But now I have seen the work of “Father” Joshua Raja—a self-sacrificial work of love on behalf of the most marginalized in society, in the name of Jesus. “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these….” Humbly I admitted to myself that I could not do such work. Silently I thanked God for the Mother Theresas and the Joshua Rajas who can, and do.
In true western style I found myself in an internal dialog asking all the skeptical questions: How can he do it with no medical training? Is it safe? Is it legal? What are his real motivations? What ego trip? What financial gain? He has, in fact received some recognition from city officials for his work. They have promised to give him larger facilities, and he imagines a home in the future for a thousand homeless people.
But a self-centered ego trip is not what motivates Joshua Raja. Smiling slightly, he calls himself a donkey for Jesus. Although identifying with his work is out of my mental reach, I have no doubt that the joy in his face is genuine as he describes serving “the least of these.” In his own strength or for personal gain, he could not do what he does day after day. We witnessed a demonstration of one who gave up everything to follow Jesus; one who loves his neighbor as himself; one who welcomes the stranger into his own home and to his own table.
What added credibility to the genuineness of his motivation was the vulnerability with which he admitted that there are times when he feels overwhelmed and depressed. His number one prayer request was for perseverance during times of discouragement. I found myself praying not only for that, but also for times of respite and Sabbath rest, not only for him but also for his wife and children whom I did not meet.
“Why do you do it?” one of the policemen kept asking him. To this Hindu brother he confided that he was a Christian and that he does it out of love for Jesus, the “god” he serves. The policeman nodded with understanding. “Yes, only Christians would do that.”