Thursday, February 28, 2013

Christ in their midst

Prayers at the Chapel
When we went to the Balagram, the children were getting ready for worship. I later saw them at the chapel during the evening prayers. They were all alert and attentive, participating in the songs and prayers even though it was in Malayalam. Achen had told me that over time they had gotten used to the "Manglish" transliteration of the service.

Also they have Holy Qurbana in Hindi and English quite often when the kids are able to participate more fully.

I could not help thinking - how great a service in Christian witnessing the Balagram was providing. The children here are not Christians, nor are they baptized as Christians. They belong to different religions, the religions of their parents, whom they go to meet once a year atleast. But here at the Balagram, they are exposed to Christian living, along with Christian giving. The children are not made to feel left outside because they are not Christians. They are in no way co-erced to become Christians, but they see witnesses of Christ in the achen there, in the staff members there. In all these, the children get to see Christ and they experience Christ's love. The children are exposed to love, care and reverance for the Lord, and the God of the Balagram which is Christ.

The eternal prayer warriors of the Balagram
I am thinking, after they become adults and are able to take decisions on their own, if any of them would choose to accept Christ and would want to be baptized, that situation would be considered on a case by case basis considering the choice of the individual and whats best for the individual and his family. And if this did not happen, nothing changes in the relationship of love between the individual and the Balagram. But conversion is not an agenda in this work of mission. As Mar Osthathios, the founder of the Balagram always preached, it is "sharing Christ" and sharing Christ's love that the Balagram is engaged in. Just like Christ reached out to those isolated from society, just like he comforted and healed those who were oppressed, so does the Balagram.

I came back with a very different understanding about mission work and gospel work from my Balagram experience (and indeed from my experiences at all the other mission projects I visited). I felt, this is indeed the right way for mission in India. (and it may be different in the US, Europe and other places) In a land with different faiths of great heritage, where each faith is so spiritually rich in its offerings for a fulfilling life, and in a land where poverty and sicknesses are so great, this is perhaps the only right way to witness Christ, to become like Christ would be among the poor and downtrodden and to love them and care for them unconditionally, exactly like the Balagram is doing. I am proud to be part of the Church that is engaged in mission in this manner.

(as written by Mathew Samuel(Sunil) a visitor to the Balagram in January 2013)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Seminarians come for training

Bro. Vineeth
We met with Brother Vineeth while we were at the Balagram. Bro. Vineeth was a student of the Nagpur Theological Seminary and had come to the Balagram as part of their training. He would stay there for about a month before going back to the Seminary.

When I called up and spoke with Fr. Raju this week (Feb 2013) I was told that Bro. Vineeth had gone back to the Seminary but two more students were expected in the coming month. Achen said that more than any specific training or assistance they would engage in at the Balagram, this was an opportunity for the students to watch the functioning of the Balagram and such institutions at close quarters, (to watch the working of 'faith in action' I thought, from up close) so that later in life they could make a well informed choice if they decide to take up such tasks as part of their ministry. Very apt thinking I thought - and not only for seminarians - this could be very useful experience for us lay people as well.

(as written by Mathew Samuel(Sunil) a visitor to the Balagram in January 2013)

Balagram - the home

Binoy standing at the entrance.
The main entrance to the Balagram has a coutryard for assembly. Fr. Raju's office and room are on the far right  as we enter on the ground floor. There are different rooms for use for the staff and the children.

There are two guest rooms on the first floor, one of which, achen arranged to open for us while we were there. I also found a few bunk beds of the children in the adjacent rooms.


The dining hall is on the far end on the ground floor. There is very nice chapel on the first floor. The small local congregation in the area come to worship often at the chapel.

In the backyard were the vegetable gardens and the stable for livestock. Surrounding the Balagram was the land used for cultivation.

(as written by Mathew Samuel(Sunil) a visitor to the Balagram in January 2013)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Balagram - the children

happy kids at the Balagram
As we entered the Balagram we saw several kids in the hallway, a few of them in a hurry as they were getting ready for the Holy Qurbana that evening. All had happy faces and greeted us warmly. There is a bell in the front entrance courtyard - achen rang it it and all the kids of the Balagram assembled to meet us.

little Aryan
36 children find their home here. They study in the MGM school run by the Bhilai Mission which is nearby. They had just returned from school and were now getting ready for the prayers in the evening. (Moonu Nombu(three day fast) was getting over that day).

A nice opportunity to interact with them
We had already met Peter, who was in BCom Final year, now we met Aryan, who was the youngest, now in Nursery, along with all the others. All the kids were chirpy and excited to talk to us. We had a chat for a little bit, I asked them if they enjoyed the prayers and they nodded, I asked them if they liked it in English,Hindi or Malayalam, and they were unanimous in their reply - "Malayalam". Perhaps the language has its magic, I thought, as none of them were Malayalees.

These kids would stay in the Balagram throughout the year. They have learnt to participate in the prayers and the life of the staff there and had learnt Malayalam as well along the way.
 In a year for about 10-15 days the children are sent to be with their parents as per Government stipulation. These kids are originally from different places in India.One look at the kids' faces told me, they love this place! And from the conversation with Raju achen I gathered, he loves them like his own. They are a family here.

(as written by Mathew Samuel(Sunil) a visitor to the Balagram in January 2013)

The Balagram - farming

wheat crop
The Balagram uses the 2 acre land that it has to cultivate crops that it uses for its sustenance. When we went there they were growing wheat on the farms. After the wheat is harvested, 'cheru payar' (Moong daal) is sown. Achen said they need to do maximum cultivation in the land to meet the needs of the children at the Balagram. When the 'cheru payar' cultivation is done the land is very hot, so they have to supply maximum water to grow the crop. Once the cheru payar is harvested, the land is then sown with soya beans.

vegetable garden

(as written by Mathew Samuel(Sunil) a visitor to the Balagram in January 2013)
stable at the far end
Besides there is a vegetable garden where we have different vegetables grown and used in the Balagram. There is small stable where cattle is raised. Raju achen showed us around the place and gave us a history of the place, how they had lost considerable land to government constructions closeby, how he had pleaded with the authorities to release the land they have currently for the maintenance of the Balagram, how certain good individuals had helped them etc. It all seemed to me to be story of how God was miraculously working out ways for the Balagram to grow and flourish against all odds. Praise and glory always belongs to the Lord!.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A warm welcome by Peter - Balagram at Itarsi

As my cousin Binoy and I stepped out of the jeep that had brought us to the Balagram in Itarsi, we were greeted by a clean shaven young man. Binoy knew him from previous visits "Peter, kaise ho!" Binoy greeted him.

Peter was very warm and welcoming. He spoke in Hindi, but he could understand Malayalam well, as he was the oldest member of the Balagram. This year he is writing his final year B. Com Examination, which means this year they have a reason for celebration - the Balagram will soon have its first graduate!

Rev. Fr. Raju Vattiyanickal
Peter led us to Fr. Raju Vattiyanickal's room. We were introduced to achen who met us at the reception adjoining his office. Achen later graciously showed us around the place. We listened to conversations as achen gave instructions to Peter in Malayalam who responded back in Hindi and both understood each other pretty well. Language is never a barrier when there is the courage of the will, I thought.

(as written by Mathew Samuel(Sunil) a visitor to the Balagram in January 2013)