The Risk of Embrace
Actions of Vinay Samuel Speak Loudly in India’s
INDIA, THE WORLD’S largest democracy, is a wildly colorful mélange
of culture, language, religion and political persuasion. On the one
hand, lavish wealth; on the other, brutal poverty. Extravagant expressions
of joy commingle with signs of utter despair.
Nowhere is this perhaps more evident than in Bangalore, capital city
of the Indian state of Karnataka. Called “India’s Silicon
Valley” and “Fashion Capital of India,” Bangalore
is the country’s fifth-largest city and said to be the fastest
growing in Asia. But along with these proud statistics comes a crushing
truth: More than one million of the city’s six million people live
in an estimated 800 slums. Many barely survive on less than $1 a day.
It is here that an Indian-born, Cambridge-educated Anglican priest named
Vinay Samuel and his wife, Colleen, make their personal stands for the
cause of Christ. For four months of the year, they deliver the message
of the abundant Christian life to the slums. “That’s what
Christ came to bring,” says Vinay, “a multi-dimensional life
that encompasses the whole person — body, mind and spirit.”
If theirs were merely an intellectual message, the Samuels would have
been dismissed decades ago. A majority of the slum-dwellers are dalits,
or outcastes. They suffer from poor nutrition and a multitude of diseases.
At every turn, they are cheated, harassed and socially alienated. Their
children are often slave laborers working long hours under dangerous
conditions for only a few cents per day. Dalit women are subject to rape,
bride-burning and repeated forced abortions. Illiteracy, suicide, infanticide… the
litany of abuse and injustice is as long as it is awful.
But the gospel of Jesus Christ, says Vinay, empowers. For 35 years, he
has been an outspoken proponent of the abundant life in Bangalore, both
as pastor of St. John’s Church in the heart of the slums and through
Divya Shanthi (Peace of God) Ministries. Schools, orphanages, community
health work and community churches — the whole of life — receive
priority treatment from the workers of Divya Shanthi.
Born in Hyderabad, India, of Christian parents, Vinay graduated from
Union Biblical Seminary in Pune, India, before commencing studies at
Cambridge. Today, his and Colleen’s work among the lower castes
also includes unionizing downtrodden quarry workers and offering a theological
education by extension program serving 18,000 Indian students.
To live peacefully among the primarily Hindu and Muslim poor, says Vinay,
requires “the risk of embrace.” It means building covenant
relationships with other religions and ethnicities. It means becoming
an agent of empowerment.
Vinay, Colleen and their ministry workers risked that kind of engagement
by helping start a lending bank in the slums of Bangalore. “The
solution to poverty cannot be mere welfare,” says Vinay, “but
entrepreneurial enterprise.” Loans are provided to young people
to start businesses, and self-help groups are established where people
can learn about savings and the nature of capital.
“No lending without saving,” is Vinay’s enthusiastic assessment
of the loan plan. “It’s encouraging a different attitude.
It’s demonstrating that money is not merely about consumption,
but about acquiring capital. And so what they save is matched, and they
begin to build something that lasts.” There are now 65,000 beneficiaries
among Bangalore’s poorest of the poor. Another lending program
benefits 100,000 low-income working people who have some collateral with
which to secure a loan.
Over time, a number of the people who are empowered in this way are attracted
to the religious faith of those helping them rise above their poverty.
Vinay, who works with Catholics and Protestants to develop enterprise
solutions in what he calls a gospel strategy of “nation-building,” reports
that conversion to Christianity among out-caste people, particularly
in northern India, has grown dramatically of late.
While he won’t for security reasons quote the figures or identify
his sources, Vinay makes a bold assessment of the trend. “The present
rate of conversion is significantly higher than anything since modern
missions began to work in northern India over 200 years ago.” In
the largest Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, alone, it is estimated that
in 10 years, 10 percent of the population will be Christian.
“This is God’s sovereign work,” Vinay underscores, noting
that the gospel represents liberation from an oppressive caste system
into a profoundly personal religious identity. Literacy, health care
and advocacy education are providing the dalits with a greater degree
of political solidarity and sense of purpose.
When not in Bangalore, Vinay takes his work to Britain and the United
States. He founded the Oxford Center for Mission Studies and the International
Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Theologians, where he spends a third
of the year working in a graduate program for scholars from developing
nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The remaining third of the
year, he joins other Christian leaders in Washington, D.C., to engage
in strategic thinking in support of religious freedom.
It is a full life for the father of four, but one free of regret. “Christ
first embraced me,” says Vinay. “To embrace others not like
myself expands my world and my joy.”
— BY CLINT KELLY
— PHOTO BY DANIEL SHEEHAN
Back to the top
Back to Home
From the President
Cultivating hope in the face of chaos is vital today. "This is the time
for a Christian university to dig down deep into its formative foundations … and
decide quite clearly what bread we have to offer,” says President Philip
Volumes of Volumes
SPU Library resources will top 22 million items in 2003. Starting this summer,
materials can be ordered online from the new “Orca” catalog through
the Orbis Cascade Alliance. [Campus]
Homecoming 2003: The Weekend
From fast-paced hoops to class reunions where former classmates reconnected,
Homecoming 2003 was a picture-perfect weekend. See the action here. [Alumni]
The World of Teng Chiu
Seattle’s Frye Museum spotlights an art collection owned by an SPU professor
and her husband. Chinese artist Teng Chiu’s work has largely been forgotten,
but Joanna Poznanska is helping to reintroduce him to the West. [Faculty]
Playing With Joy
After an incredible season, the unbeaten Falcon women’s
basketball team lost the championship game but won the hearts
of the Puget Sound fans. [Athletics]
“The soldier and chaplain are each unique callings fulfilled by those who
respond to the call of the nation and to the call of God,” says Chaplain
(Major General) Gaylord T. Gunhus, U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains.