Becoming India's "Untouchable" and Beloved

Rachel Chimits

Freedom led to an act of kindness that brought a community together in the most unexpected way.

Hinduism has approximately 33 million gods, and nearly every aspect of nature or people’s life has a god or goddess associated with it. 

In addition to nitya, daily mantras and offerings, good Hindus must observe naimittika, festivals that require special offerings or observances. As a family experiences trouble or someone becomes ill, kamya are costly demonstrations of faith—a pilgrimage to special shrines or bathing in the Ganges River—to garner good favor with specific gods. 

All of this can put immense pressure on a faithful Hindu, particularly the financial burden for those who are in poverty. 

For Priya*, the constant striving was exhausting. 

All of her efforts through childhood into adulthood were to achieve moksha, escape from the bondage of reincarnation where the soul finally achieves oblivion. 

Her only hope was that all her hard work would allow her ‘self’ to be erased when she died.

Escaping the Cycle

Priya and her husband happened to enter a church and listened to the sermon about the eternal hope Jesus offers. No constant anxiety about the balance of good and bad deeds. No interminable cycle of life and death. 

Both she and her husband quickly accepted Christ as their only God. 

The neighbors, however, weren’t excited about Priya’s change of heart. The pressure to convert back to Hinduism became intense with Priya running into vicious gossip about her and her family. 

“At times,” she confessed, “I wanted to give up and become Hindu again.”

Her church encouraged her, and she found fellowship with other believers who were also being persecuted.  

One day, Priya’s heart was struck by Matthew 22:35-40 where a religious leader asks Jesus what the Bible’s greatest commandment is and Jesus responds, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart’ ... And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Instead of feeling pressured into obligatory good deeds to earn moksha, Priya began thinking long and hard about what her neighbors needed.

How might they truly feel God’s love? 

Breaking Caste Rules

World Challenge partners came to Priya’s church and talked about different ways a life with God changes every part of how people keep their homes, treat one another, and take care of their neighborhoods.  

Priya began praying and talked with her daughter about ways they could help their neighbors. She’d noticed that the drainage between the houses was very poor. Full of mud and garbage, the drains weren’t working most of the time. A rotten odor filled the air; flies and mosquitoes formed thick clouds over the muck. People regularly became ill from mosquito bites.

Cleaning these drains, though, would be a job for a dalit, an untouchable, the very lowest caste. It would be unthinkable for someone from a higher caste to lower themselves to such work. 

On a Sunday evening after the Church, Priya and her daughter started cleaning the filthy drainage ditches and grates.  

“I heard neighbors laughing at us and saying we had gone crazy,” she said. “But when we finished, it looked so much better.” 

A week later, as Priya and her daughter went out for their Sunday cleaning, suddenly a neighbor joined them in the ditches. Then another and another came out of their houses, not to laugh or jeer anymore, but to bend down beside Priya and help.

Freeing People to Love

Priya’s neighborhood now has 73 women who form groups and volunteer to keep the community clean. 

As a result of cleaner streets, fewer people are getting sick and families are now gathering on their porches and outside their homes in the evening to talk and relax. 

“I am so happy with this heart-touching change in my community.” Priya beams as she adds, “Because of the work, people from two different families have started coming to the local church.”

What began as a single act of humility has changed the face of an entire neighborhood. 

God’s work in Priya’s community is far from finished, though. Please pray that others will discover God’s power to set them free to love their neighbors.

World Challenge partners are working hard with local churches to help communities see how God loves everyone equally, especially those who are often neglected or even actively shunned by society like widows. If you would like to support ministry work in India and around the world, visit our secure donation page and direct your gift to ‘missions.’

*Not real name. For our ministry partners’ security, we don’t release names or locations in highly sensitive areas.