BWA Awards India's 'Living Saint' Top Rights Award

The Baptist World Alliance awarded an Indian woman who cares for lepers, children infected with HIV/AIDS, and female sex workers its top human rights award this past weekend.

Leena Lavanya Kumari of Narasaraopet in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh, India, accepted the 2009 Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award on the last day of the BWA annual gathering in Ede, Netherlands.

The ministry leader, described as "a living saint steeped in prayer and a love for the scriptures," operates Serve Trust Ministries, which provides a home for the elders, lepers, HIV/AIDS-infected children and adults, and an HIV/AIDS counseling center.

Lavanya also runs and oversees a computer training center for unemployed females and poor youth, an elementary school for children living in poverty-stricken areas of Narasaraopet, and training programs for female sex workers and their daughters in the nearby town of Chilakaluripet. The training programs aim to help the adult females leave the industry and prevent the young girls from entering it.

In addition to humanitarian works, Lavanya is a human rights activist who fights against dowry burning and sati – the burning of a widow upon their husband's funeral pyre.

The woman dubbed by some as the Baptist version of Mother Theresa also happens to be the granddaughter of a former BWA vice president and seminary professor, and has helped found over 40 Baptist churches in India.

The Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award, named after the former general secretary of the BWA and his wife, is given annually for significant and effective activities that secure, protect, restore or preserve human rights as they are stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or in other declarations on human rights.

Any individual who is a member of a Baptist church belonging to a Baptist World Alliance member body is eligible for the award.