A quiet movement has been happening. In 1970, after 150 years of missionary activity, the number of Christians in Odissa state was a mere 2000. But then a miracle happened.
Two indigenous church planting movements reached out to the Saura people and today – almost 200,000 are 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 52 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 is very limited. In their desperation they were taken advantage of and paid next to nothing.
The next year, two cyclones hit before harvest. They destroyed all the crops they had to live on. Seeing no possible way out, many farmers in Odissa state committed suicide. Leaving their families to fend for themselves. It seemed utterly hopeless.
In 2017, Tearfund started working with local churches among the Saura people to meet the intense physical needs of the region–regardless of caste or religion. We are providing training to help them grow more food and build wealth so that the Saura can finally break free from the curse of poverty.
And the early results are very encouraging.
Krishna showed me the incredible results of his work. There were two fields. One field, planted using traditional farming, didn’t show a single cob of corn. The other, using conservation agriculture, every stalk had a cob on it.
But it was what I saw next that was even more impressive.
After seeing 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, 515 farmers have been trained in conservation agriculture techniques minimum tillage, soil cover, and weed management 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 and which are stronger and more product.
All of the training is being done through and with the local churches in 27 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… and Christ is moving within these communities!
Before I left, Krishna and his pastor took me to their small humble church in the middle of the village. There were no benches, everyone had to sit on the floor. It was too small to fit everyone. They are going to build a bigger one, but are praying for a good year of crop production.
Thank you for your ongoing support. It means so much.