Harvest of Tragedy: How Can We Respond?

As a writer, I often find myself writing a piece and then sending it off… into what seems like a void. Did my thoughts resonate? Did people actually read it? Sometimes I never know.

So you can imagine my surprise when we saw immediate responses from our readers to my recent blog post about the epidemic of suicides among farmers in India. We received several great questions and comments from our readers, and my colleague, Lindsay, was even invited to do a radio interview with Mission Network News about the topic. Some readers asked what factors were contributing to farmer suicides. Others questioned how agricultural processes contributed to this devastating phenomenon. But most importantly, our readers asked how Mission India was addressing this situation specifically. It was a dialogue that left our team both challenged to talk more in-depth about this topic and excited about spreading the news of what Mission India does in the lives of so many individuals.

As Lindsay shared in her interview, India’s farmers face two significant physical challenges: the unpredictable weather patterns that strike India, and the exorbitant costs for both seed and land. The first – weather patterns and crop fragility – is an issue that is out of the hands of the people. Most individuals who farm realize that an unpredictable climate comes with the territory. But when an undereducated person tends the land and these tragedies strike, they all too often react with fear, superstition, and desperation.

Through education and church involvement, our goal is to meet individuals in their initial reactions, help dispel superstition, and share the Good News of Christ and the tangible ways the church can support their efforts.

Binita’s land was devastated by torrential rains. Help came from an unexpected source – a Mission India church planting partner.

What does that look like in practice? Our ministry partners in India’s northeastern region shared the story of a woman named Binita who was devastated when her village was hit by torrential rains that lasted for days. This left her small tract of land completely destroyed. Her only hope rested in her prayers to the many gods of her ancestors. And even though she was highly regarded in her village because of her knowledge of rituals, Binita’s sacrifices and prayers were left unanswered. She was left destitute and hopeless – not even her own son would provide for her.

But then Binita found help in an unexpected place – an evangelist training with a Mission India partner as a Church Planter introduced her to the radical idea that God was a real force in her life; that miracles were alive in our loving Christ; and that the fellowship of believers was stronger than she could imagine.

When she was introduced to the idea of love, worth, and community, Binita began seeking peace over profit and faith over worry. Through her changed focus, she was able to continue in her work and encourage others around her. Through this example, her son and his family also came to know the power of faith. Now they work side by side with many others to build a brighter future in both their farming practices and their spiritual pursuits.

Erina’s husband is a farmer who could barely eke out a living for their family. She couldn’t help by getting a job because she was illiterate. Today, Erina runs a successful micro-business using the skills she gained through her Adult Literacy class.

In addition to the unpredictable weather, India’s caste system creates a monetary paradigm that is designed to keep the farmers from making a profit or owning land. Combining uncertainty in the financial environment – along with the unpredictability of the weather – you have a situation that looks more like gambling than employment.

Another story from India involved a young woman named Erina whose husband only made 50 cents per day as a farmer. She longed for an education, but she had no options as a low caste, poor female. Without an ability to read bus or street signs, Erina could not travel to nearby villages where there was more work. She couldn’t contribute to her own family’s survival because she could not leave the confines of her own village.

Like so many other farming families, Erina and her husband were left with no profits. In a hopeful effort to survive, they again borrowed money for seed and rental fees in the next season. Erina’s desires for education and changing her family’s situation were lost to the never-ending cycle of poverty. No matter how hard they worked, they were left at the mercy of those who held the purse strings.

In this situation, Mission India’s Adult Literacy program helped ease the burden Erina experienced. After participating in the yearlong course, she was able to attain a fifth grade education in reading, writing, and math. Erina heard for the first time that it was wise to save instead of borrow. She was encouraged by her teacher to be creative and meet the needs of the people around her. With her new skills, she started her own small business making paper bags out of discarded newspapers. Erina’s business was so successful that she was able to make a profit of nearly 2,000 rupees (about $32) right away!

Not only is this program a tangible way Mission India is bringing hope to the farming families of India, but it is also a way to empower others to invest in their own communities. Not only has Erina helped her family open new possibilities for their farm, she has also invited her husband and daughter to know and participate in the church. And Erina has become a joyful giver at her church, because she is so thankful for all God has blessed her with. This is the true value of what happens every day across the small farming communities of India.

At Mission India, we rejoice that these stories do – indeed – have happy endings. Through the life-changing work of many native pastors, literacy teachers, and church members, the lives of many farmers are being transformed.  As we approach our own season of harvest in North America, please help us continue this conversation with churches, neighbors, and family. Help us educate the minds and hearts of those in India who need it most. For the farmers touched by Mission India’s partners, God’s harvest can truly be abundant.