A quiet movement has been happening.
In 1970, after one hundred and fifty years of missionary activity, the number of Christians in Odissa state was a mere two thousand. But then a miracle happened!
Two indigenous church planting movements reached out to the Saura people, and today there are almost 200,000 baptized believers; 60% of the population! Almost every one of the small villages in the valleys and on the steep hills of Saura has a church.
One of India’s dwindling jungle tribes, the Saura are forgotten by the government… and ignored by other organizations. Their villages are difficult to reach, hidden in the mountains, and connected by steep, criss-crossing paths.
I travelled along these paths to the small Saura village of Gotalpadar where fifty-two families lived. As we entered the village, I met a man named Krishna.
Barefoot and wearing a ragged t-shirt, Krishna explained how desperate the last two years had been. In 2017, the rains did not come; the streams dried up and the rice crops failed. Thousands of people left the villages to find whatever work they could in the closest cities. But work for the Saura people was very limited. In their desperation, they were taken advantage of and paid next to nothing.
The next year, two cyclones hit before harvest, destroying all the crops. Seeing no possible way out, many farmers in Odissa state committed suicide, and their families had to fend for themselves. It seemed utterly hopeless.
During this tumultuous time, Tearfund began working with local churches to meet the intense physical needs of the region, regardless of caste or religion.
The early results were very encouraging! Krishna showed me the incredible results of his work. He had two fields; one was planted using traditional farming and didn’t show a single cob of corn. The other, using conservation agriculture, displayed every stalk with a cob.
But what I saw next that was even more impressive.
After visiting the fields, I spoke to Krishna’s wife, Taarini. I was amazed as she told me something that we had never witnessed before at Tearfund. Every woman in the entire village was part of a savings group!
These groups are giving new life to these desperate villages. Every month for two years, the women in the village come together to save a bit of money. These savings eventually formed a loan fund which was used to start and grow cashew nut businesses.
“My group of 15 has saved 59,350 rupees ($1,115). We are wealthy! I now can even send my children to school. No longer do they have to leave because I don’t have school fees,” Taarini says.
To date, five hundred and fifteen farmers have been trained in conservation agriculture techniques such as minimum tillage, soil cover, and weed management, techniques that will double and trip their yields after just one year. They are also receiving new seed variations and saplings to replace the plants damaged by the cyclones. All of the training is being done through and with the local churches in twenty-seven villages.
One pastor we spoke to said “This training has led to a change in everyone’s lifestyle. It’s an attitude change. We saw ourselves as victims of poverty, but now we help each other. Villages without the savings groups are dead villages… every village needs these.”
The transformation we are witnessing is incredible—Christ is moving within these communities!
Before I left, Krishna and his pastor took me to their small church in the middle of the village. There were no benches and everyone had to sit on the floor. It was too small to fit everyone, and they are going to build a bigger one but are praying for a good year of crop production.
Thank you for your ongoing support to help people like Krishna and Taarini.