Jesus’ Kingdom of God
Posted June 6, 2011on:
How is Pravaham building, practicing, and experiencing Jesus’ Kingdom of God among the oppressed and marginalized rural poor in South India? This is the question we tried to answer through a Photographic Exhibition and DVD screening of Graduation 2009. Photos of this event, which was held yesterday at IPC, are available online. Below are some of my reflections.
Christie’s pictures and moving testimony showed us that Jesus’ kingdom of God is being built at Pravaham on the strong foundation of our Triune God’s love and justice for all his children. All of us are created in the image of God and each one of us is his dearly beloved child. Still, in rural south India not every baby girl is welcomed into the family and not every family accepted into the village society. Pravaham, founded in 1993 by Rev. Dr. Ananda Rao Samuel, a former Moderator and Bishop of the Church of South India, models the awesome truth that God’s love though is available to everybody. Using their inheritance and with the consent of his children, Uncle bought the land to establish God’s vision of a Community of Peace and Justice as revealed by Amos 5: 24: Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness as a mighty stream. Uncle’s act of buying the 6 acres of land among the remote and rural poor and establishing it as Pravaham: A Community of Peace and Justice reminds me of Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price in Matthew 13: 45-46, where the rich merchant sells all that he has to buy a single pearl of immeasurable value. Sadly, 5 years after Uncle’s death, it looked like Pravaham was to vanish. But then, God called his daughter, my friend, Lucy. Supported and encouraged by her husband and family, Lucy gave up her career and began God’s work at Pravaham. Today, almost 7 years later, she continues to run Pravaham voluntarily. Lucy takes no salary or travel expenses for the work she does. Obedience to God’s vision to rebuild and renew Pravaham is what drives Lucy. Pravaham means “everflowing stream” and under Lucy, Pravaham’s works of love, mercy, and justice flow richly, freely, and include: Tamil-Nadu Open University approved vocational education certificate programs for high school dropouts, health clinics, evening tuition centers for the school children (all grades) in the surrounding villages, and model school outreach whereby elementary and middle school children are brought to the Pravaham campus for a day of nutritional meals, fun, and games. The Pravaham community is made up of a handful of staff, their families and about 20 to 30 students (number varies every year).
Pravaham’s motto is: A community that lives to enlighten, Receives to enable, With God as its source, Christ as its model, And People as partners. Lucy and her staff have joyfully claimed the identity of the living Christ and model this for the students. Initial practices they teach can be summed up in the old saying: Cleanliness is next to godliness 🙂. That is, the girls are taught basic hygiene and participate in communal devotions before anything else. Many of the young women, ages ranging from 15 – 24, who enter the community receive love and acceptance for the very first time in their lives. Next, a daily routine of spiritual and vocational study along with manual labor, chores, service and recreation is encouraged. Finally, Lucy skilfully shares her vivacious enjoyment of life and love of God and his creations through liturgical and other traditions. One such tradition is the annual Graduation and Inauguration celebration. This is a worship service as well as an awards ceremony for the graduating students. It is also a social event welcoming new students and bidding goodbye to the graduates. We watched the video of this ceremony, which had been specially edited for the Missions team by Nancy Chong. This event is Pravaham’s grandest, joyful shout to the world that God is living in their midst, present, active, in the everyday reality of the community. Held once a year usually in August or September, the graduating students, are dressed in white saris. White signifies their cleansing, purification and rebirth as new creations in Christ. They sing a promise to walk with Jesus all the days of their lives and they light their candles from a symbolic lamp of Christ. They pass the light on to the new students coming into the program, who are dressed in pink and white salwar-kameez uniforms.
Another of the everyday realities is that while Pravaham is a garden setting of peace and tranquility like the original Eden, real serpents and scorpions, dangerous animals, live there too. Yet, God’s promises of protection covers this community with abundant grace and mercy.
Christie’s photos document the students’ growing grace, expressions you can see in their faces that comes from the experience of living in Jesus’ Kingdom of God. In the photos, I could see their expressions changed from when the girls first came in and when they graduated from Pravaham a year later. The original bio pictures, taken when they were new, show only a few of the incoming students smiling. Some looked sullen, many were expressionless, and others even looked angry. But by the time they graduate everybody is smiling and the faces shine with joy and peace. Last year Christie had experimented by taking art supplies for the students. We were able to see the artwork each student created. Most of the artwork was rudimentary, primitive and broke my heart because they had never used even such simple art materials before. Finally, we also saw the picture board story of Priya, an elementary education (teacher training) student and the first one in a new program area. At the end of the year, Priya stood first among 500 students who took the Teacher Training certificate program exam of the TamilNadu Open University. For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, Priya’s story is a powerful affirmation of the experience of God’s kingdom at Pravaham.
We lunched al fresco in perfect SoCal weather and the food scintillated in the sunlight like brightly colored jewels, a visual bounty and tasty treat. The fresh fruit platter was stunning (Olivers) and the bowl of watermelon refreshing (Austins). Delicious, healthy salads, and other foods (Chongs, Kameyas, Rashoff, Stillwagon, Siakis, Boyd, Clinard, Partibles, Carriers, Farkishs, Wei, Kreutzen, Major, LaCount, Foo, Bullocks, Yamaguchi) were plentiful and much appreciated. I am just sorry that I can’t remember the names of all the dishes :(. Wanting to test my energy levels and Indian culinary skills I cooked Butter Chicken Masala, Coromandel Shrimp (wild-caught from the Indian ocean), Spicy Fried Potatoes and Cauliflower, Basmati Rice Pilaf with Chicken, Basmati Rice Vegetable Pilaf, Cucumber-Tomatoes-Onion in Yogurt (Patchadi), Vivikam (sweet idlis) and Hummus. Trader Joe Naan and plain white basmati rice complemented the home made dishes along with mild samosas and tamarind chutney (Nappolys) and tiny spicy samosas (Dietzes).
One thing I cannot and will not forget is the turnout; I was deeply touched by everybody who was there, that they made time out of busy schedules. I love that families came together with their kids as I deeply miss the loss of the multi-generational family get-togethers of my childhood. Rohan was sweet and helped by offering soan papads to everybody. It was also very touching to see how the kids made a beeline for the poster that we were going to sign for Priya! These are very special kingdom people and I will hold them close to my heart forever.
Earlier in worship, Pastor Scott kicked off a brand new sermon series called Desiring the Kingdom. He reminded us of our reality, that Jesus came to call us into the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which we are restored to wholeness, peace, and tranquility. As I reflect on yesterday’s events, I am filled with gratitude to God for Lucy, Arlene and Senthil back in my life so meaningfully and powerfully. I am also filled with love and gratitude for the incredible faith community that God has given me now. I offer to my heavenly Father God the niggling critical little voice that finds my flaws and chastises me for not providing a formal overview of Pravaham yesterday. The Holy Spirit brings me comfort and memories of our times together, in worship and service, Bible study, fun and creativity, fixing and polishing off plenty of good food! I too live in God’s kingdom, and am being slowly but surely being restored to wholeness. Thank you, Jesus, man-God, my Savior of the world. Thank you, special IPCers! Thank you Christie and John, Nancy and Wendell for all your hard work. You are not only voices for the faraway voiceless, you serve them and us too. You have made Pravaham come alive for us. God bless you.