Interview: Dr. Samuel Thomas on Challenges, Opposition Faced by Orphanage Ministry in India

In an interview on Oct. 17 with The Christian Post, Dr. Sam discussed the ministries and missions of Hopegivers International in relation to the recent religious legal debates and conflicts that have brought to light in India.

Hopegivers International, a ministry founded in the northwestern Indian state, is close to reaching its goal of providing homes for 10,000 orphaned and abandoned children in India by Dec. 31, 2005. Although more than two months remain in the year, Hopegivers is already caring for 8,958 children among its 87 orphanages throughout India.

Dr. Samuel Thomas, who was involved in a recent anti-conversion bill proposal in Rajasthan and the recent Indian Supreme Court hearing on equal rights for Dalit Christians, currently serves as president of Hopegivers International. “Dr. Sam” – as he prefers to be called – also has extensive experience with Christian persecution in India, having faced personal assassination threats and witnessed the martyring of Hopegivers staff while spreading the Gospel in India.

In an interview on Oct. 17 with The Christian Post, Dr. Sam discussed the ministries and missions of Hopegivers International in relation to the recent religious legal debates and conflicts that have brought to light in India. The following are excerpts taken from the interview:

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I know that one of Hopegivers ministries is Christian orphanages. What are the names of some of the orphanages and where are they located?

New Delhi is the name of one orphanage and it is located in the city of Chawala. Then the biggest one with over 2,300 students is located in Raibura, outside the city limits of Kota, in the state of Rajasthan.

How is Hopegivers orphanages different than other orphanages or children ministries?

What differentiate Hopegivers from any other ministry is that we are not an organization that goes into the communities of India or communities of the world and just goes into the ghettos and slums and have a 2 hour educational program everyday. We don’t just give them cookies, crackers, soup, or porridge with all the vitamins and then send them back to the ghettos, back to the streets. We don’t do that. We literally rescue the children and bring them on campus; we have dorms for them; we take care of them seven days a week 24 hours a day. So this is not an environment where they go back to the world, then come back for an education and to the Lord and then go back again. No, we really nurture them physically and spiritually.

Also, the big thing about Hopegivers is that we bring hope from the inside out. What that means is that we don’t have the foreign missionaries of any nation going into another nation and staying there and trying to bring hope from the outside in. We encourage the indigenous, native children, the children who know the culture, the taste, the smell to become the leaders.

When do the children enter the orphanages and how are they educated?

We have children who come to the orphanages from when they are 30 minutes old to children who enter the orphanages at the age of 14. Now why 14? We actually limit the age to 10 because after 10 they already have bad habits and we don’t have the finances to do all the rehab.

So most of the children are what I like to call “pre-Christians” rather than “non-Christians.” I like to claim the children as Christians with faith. So regardless of the religious background of the child – Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, or Atheism – the child has been orphaned and abandoned and someone has brought him/her to our orphanage.

We train the children from when they are 2 ½ years old. At that age they start kindergarten and by the time they are 16 they graduate from high we base their educational curriculum according to whatever state the orphanage is in. Their education also consists of Christian teachings, prayers and Bible studies with morning and afternoon prayers and Bible lessons every evening at the orphanages.

Ninety-seven percent of our children are ending up in full time ministry…and that is the reason they want to pass the anti-conversion law.

Can you further explain why a Christian orphanage would cause the Indian government to propose anti-conversion laws?

Why are Christianity and orphanages hated today? Is it because the average person in India does not want to rescue children from poverty? That is not the problem; every human heart has a tenderness inside it that says I want to rescue children. Then why do they persecute us?

According to the constitution of India, a person has the right to choose and to follow the religion of his liking, yet they are bringing the anti-conversion laws which would prohibit me from sharing Christ to the orphans. Why?

Let’s suppose Hopegivers is taking care of high caste orphans and abandoned children. I can promise you that I would never have to come to a foreign country and ask for one penny because India is the third largest growing in economy today. But why do I come here and there asking for donations for the children in our orphanages in India? The reason why is because the people back home they do not want Hopegivers to rescue children from the Dalits, untouchable background, and make them equal leaders to the high caste or even better then them. That is why they hate us…

What is your long-term goal for Hopegivers orphanages and what change do you see resulting from the presence of these orphanages?

Our goal is to take care of 1 million children by the year 2020. People sometimes laugh at my vision – that is good. Whenever people laugh at my vision it reminds me that it is a God-sized vision – dream as big as your God is. The reason why we want to rescue a million children is because I hope that in our lifetime, before you and I go to be with the Lord, I hope to say that 1 million children have been cared for by this ministry. Because once it is done, even the smartest or the most foolish of the “pre-Christians” would say that only God could have done this. That is why you have to dream big, not for your glory, not to promote yourself, but to promote the God that we serve.

So today we have 8,958 children and we are trying to reach 10,000 by the 31st of December. We will get them; that is not the question. It is not that the kids do not want to come but that we do not have enough sponsors. Today, 8,958 children are in the orphanages and only 1,000 children according to our office in Columbus, Ga., are sponsored with $30/month.

Why do you support almost nine times the amount of children you have funding for?

The reason for that is, imagine being the president of an organization like this where you get calls all the time, “Brother Thomas, we have 18 children for the last 2 days standing in front of the orphanage, they want to get inside. We are already overpacked. We have fed them, gave them blankets and ask them to go on, but they are not leaving. What should I do?”

Now tell me, should I tell the leaders in India, “Guys please just hang on, don’t take them in. I’m going to the American churches, I’m going to churches in England, I’m going to churches in Germany and as I get the sponsors then you bring the kids in?” That is how you run a human ministry. But this is God’s work; these are His children. I don’t have the guts to say to any child that comes to the gates and doesn’t want to go, I don’t have the galls to say, “Don’t think we can take you because we don’t have a sponsor” because that could be the next mother Theresa, that could be Billy Graham, that could be C.T. Studd. If there is one thing I don’t want to hear in my lifetime it is ever an orphan growing up and becoming something and saying, “See? Hopegivers rejected me but this is what I have become.”

I don’t want that to happen. I want that every child should have the right because of Hopegivers to go to school, to be fed, to be clothed. I just want the children to feel that there is a ministry out there that cares. That is why I am looking for 10,000 people who would say, for a dollar a day, I want to save a child in India. But if an individual says, “How can I help this enormous problem to be solve?” I would respond that you can save one starfish; you can save one child.

Do you have any additional comments?

I would like the American people to know, as an Indian, Samuel Thomas is grateful to the United States of America. I will tell you why. This is the only country that values human lives. Regardless of the religion, regardless of the caste, regardless of the background, anytime a tsunami, Katrina anytime something happens, your country all gathers in one accord and does everything to help them. Who would have helped? Look at your president, he says give the money for the tsunami it will be tax deducted. I don’t know of any president who would do that. But I am grateful. The media portrays America as the policeman for the world … I give my salute to Americans who value lives and who help orphans and abandon children and rescues them to make them leaders of the nation.

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