Laurence East and his family live in Kelowna, BC, where he serves as the lead pastor of Metro Community Church. He also serves as the chair of the board of Child of Mine, a charitable organization whose mission is to partner with children’s homes in India to complement the vision of the homes: “raising future leaders to love and serve India”.
“India is one of the most diverse and sense-assaulting cultures on earth,” says Laurence. “Sound, smell, sight, taste, pace—there’s no blandness in anything.” He speaks about India with more authority than I’d expect from a white Kelowna pastor of British descent. It sounds exciting; but also a bit like a recipe for extreme culture shock. But for Laurence, India isn’t a land of foreign ways and language and people. It’s home.
“Hindi is my first language,” he says. “I still think in it. I often dream in it.” Laurence’s family has had roots in India for some 300 years, splitting time between homes and businesses there and in England. After walking away from his faith as a teenager, Laurence had a profound encounter with Christ, and knew at that moment that his life could never be about himself ever again. After spending years living in the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America, he felt the Lord calling him back to India. “It would be like God calling you to your hometown—to me it was the most natural thing.”
A HERITAGE OF DILIGENCE AND COMPASSION
Laurence elaborates on his family’s history. When his grandfather saw that there were no hospitals in the foothills of the Himalayas, North India, he built one. In his 40s, he had also noticed that the nearby hill tribes suffered regularly from snow blindness and cataracts—ailments which could be alleviated with proper medical care, if only they had access to a specialist. But with little to no funding or opportunities for career advancement, what doctor would move to North India? Laurence’s grandfather opted for the minimalist solution: giving up his own successful career as an engineer and going back to school to become an ophthalmic surgeon, so he could meet the needs of these people he was called to love and serve.
Many years later, Laurence’s father took over the hospital. Under his leadership, and an organisation called Emmanuel Hospital Association, one hospital grew into a network of 22 hospitals and 36 community health programs in North India.
A pattern emerges: once a need becomes apparent, it is met with diligence, self-sacrifice, and active love for one’s neighbours. “I grew up in the shadow of that heritage; that history,” Laurence reflects. It’s also a heritage of humility and repentance. “I grew up in a new era,” he says, “there was no colonial mindset at all like previous generations would have had.”
Laurence’s father lived out this change in a practical way that foreshadowed Child of Mine’s current ministry structure. “There were plenty of incredible leaders in India,” Laurence recalls. “Dad wasn’t some white boss of an organization in India—he would help facilitate growth, but there was always some kind of Indian national operating as CEO on the ground.”
A RESPECTFUL PARTNERSHIP
The Canadian Child of Mine team supports the ongoing work and calling of Shanti Niketan and Dar-ul-Fazl financially, by providing best practices or operational advice where it is needed and appreciated, and by sending teams of volunteers to assist with practical needs. But they don’t step in and try to take over management. Laurence speaks affectionately of the staff at the homes: “These are godly, seminary-trained, wonderful people. They love Jesus, they’re well-trained—they just lack financial support. They don’t have pensions or insurance or home leave or anything like that, and that’s something we can bring to the table.” It was devoted staff members like these who laid out the original vision for Shanti Niketan and Dar-ul-Fazl.
In 2008, two BC churches—Willow Park and Westside—felt led to search for a project to lend assistance to, and sensed that the Spirit was leading them to to North India.
“We visited many other projects, and Shanti Niketan and Dar-ul-Fazl stood out. We were impressed by their vision. It’s not our vision, it was theirs—they have a deep, deep belief that God has called them to raise up the future leaders of India’s church,” says Laurence. “They believe that their homes will be the places that churches are planted out of.” A bold goal, for sure.
“North India is the least reached region on earth,” Laurence says. “Ever heard of the 10/40 Window? Ten degrees north, and 40 degrees north, including North India, West Africa, and Eastern China. 97% of people who have never had an explanation of the gospel given to them live in that region.”
In North India, says Laurence, less than half of one percent of the population has ever heard of Jesus. “That number is growing due to satellite TV and internet, but it comes with a lot of inaccurate generalization.” He offers an example. “The first show that really gained traction in India on sat-TV in the 90s was Baywatch*. Many Indians assumed that because Pamela Anderson was white and blonde and American, she must be a follower of Jesus. They’d say, ‘Look at what she does. I don’t want any part of that.’ So more Indians have heard of Jesus now, but that doesn’t mean they’re hearing the gospel.”
Shanti Niketan and Dar-ul-Fazl are right in the middle of this unreached, often-misinformed region. In one of the least gospel-saturated places on earth, two homes with the vision of raising up the future leaders of India’s church host 80-100 kids each, providing food, education, guidance, and loving community to needy children.
The children’s homes can’t provide aid and service out of a vacuum. “The homes were functioning long before Child of Mine stepped in, but the support was really struggling,” Laurence explains. The generous contributions of partners from Westside, Metro Community, Willow Park—and now also Willingdon, Sunridge, MEI, and Kelowna Christian School—have allowed Child of Mine to take on more and more responsibility as they seek to serve Shanti Niketan and Dar-ul-Fazl well. The vision of the homes is to raise up leaders, which often necessitates further education; so Child of Mine has committed to paying for each child’s post-secondary schooling. Shanti Niketan and Dar-ul-Fazl have now had over 40 of their children graduate from university.
“One of the common misconceptions is that they’re all orphans. They’re not. Many of them have family members, but those families can’t support them because they’re too poor, or illiterate or whatever.”
Many children come to the homes from remote villages; from people groups who have never heard the gospel and aren’t open to outsiders teaching them a new worldview. Some come from regions that have been extremely hostile to Christian influence for decades, or even centuries. But young people who graduate from the homes sometimes feel called by God to go back to their own people and tell them who Jesus is and what He has done for them. In many cases, these are the only preachers who would ever be accepted by these remote tribes. Thus far, four churches have been planted through the ministry of Child of Mine graduates—many among unreached people groups. Lord willing, that is only the beginning.
Laurence brings us to the present. “Today those homes are flourishing and they’re doing really well. Both the physical buildings, but also the staff and the kids.”
Current needs of the ministry are largely financial: paying for the food, lodging, and education of so many children all the way through high school is a sizeable commitment, to say nothing of also sponsoring university education. “One indication of success is that we’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of graduates going to university. And we’ve committed to paying for their university education. Pretty exciting! But also a big challenge and a big burden.” It’s an opportunity to get involved, and to join the Child of Mine network. But the deeper opportunity lies in becoming part of the family.
“If there’s a catchphrase for Child of Mine, it would be ‘one family’. The kids, the staff at the homes in India, the graduates spread across the cities in North India: they all are firmly of the belief—and so are we, at the leadership of Child of Mine—that we are called to be one family. They really see us all across the world in Canada as their Canadian family, and so what we want to do is invite people into a unique relationship. This is not just a picture of a kid on a wall and you hope you might meet them one day or something. No, you get to go, you get to be on a team, you get to hug them and know them and hang out with them and correspond with them, and there’s a deep abiding relationship that forms with this understanding that we all love Jesus. We’re all about making much of Jesus, making Him known. And they’re all about making Jesus known in North India and we want to support that.
“So what can people do? We would love for people to partner. For the price of two lattes a month, you can support the work of the homes, and you can also get on a team and go out there and serve and do something practical. Now we’re looking for people to sponsor and get involved with graduates, too.
“Many people who go on teams to India or who are partners of Child of Mine go back again and again. And the reason is because they’re struck by this deep relational connection between us and the homes, and by this incredible expression of genuine faith and a simplicity that the kids live with, where they’re so happy with what God has given them even though they have almost nothing. It reorients our faith, and many of us come away from the homes feeling like we received far more than we gave.
“For example, James Peters—who is on our board—he’s led every construction team. I think he’s been to India 12 or 14 times. And James is one of these guys who’s like Mr. Canadian. He’s a meat-and-potatoes kind of… he’s about as white Saskatoon kind of boy you can get. He likes his food like, ultra-bland. But he fell in love with the homes and the kids. One of the girls at the homes who graduated—he and his wife and daughters have continued to support her as she’s moved on in life. And she now has a son of her own, and they regard him as a grandson. So every time he’s out in India, there’s this deep, ongoing relationship.”
JESUS CHANGES US
Laurence has to go. After all, this Child of Mine stuff that he is insanely passionate about is what he does in his spare time: he’s got to get back to pastoring a church that was planted with the goal of serving the most vulnerable residents of Kelowna—the poor, the homeless, the addicted, and others—by inviting them into loving, Christ-centred community. If you’re like me, you may be wondering how “on-mission” your life is relative to the incredible things Laurence and his partners in ministry are doing. But it comforts me to remember that this kind of missional mindset isn’t the result of Laurence’s own efforts. He simply met the risen Christ and knew his life had to be all about Jesus, forever. “I could never deny Him again,” he told me matter-of-factly. “I could lie to other people, but not to myself. I’d met the living Lord Jesus, so I couldn’t ever be the same.”
Forcing myself into a distant and unfamiliar mission field sounds extremely difficult. But seeking Jesus with all my heart? That I could get excited about. That I could pray into. And if the clear sight of Jesus takes me way out of my comfort zone, I know it’ll be worth it. May God grant it, and show Himself to us, and send us into the fields. Jesus Himself said they are ripe for harvest.
If you’d like to partner with Child of Mine, Shanti Niketan, and Dar-ul-Fazl in the kind of ongoing relationship Laurence talked about, or if you’re interested in volunteering on a short-term trip to India, check out childofmine.ca and wchurch.ca/india.
*“Was Baywatch really that bad?” you ask. Good question. It’s helpful to remember that Indian styles of dress have been quite modest for decades. A quick scan of a few travel guides to India reveals that for most regions, women are advised to cover up as far as the shoulders and knees in order to respect local tradition. In his book, Globalization in India, Ramanuj Ganguly comments on how film actresses are often perceived in the general public: “...discussions of actresses' private lives and moral choices are often [considered] entertaining, but still profoundly transgressing a moral economy that is distinctly South Asian in character. The lives of actresses are often perceived by middle-class film viewers as simultaneously glamorous and full of compromises of a sexual nature that are undesirable at best and morally repugnant at worst.” To some Indians, the end result of following Jesus appeared to be this sort of moral compromise.
In many parts of the world, it is unthinkable that a people would be able to separate its cultural values from its religious beliefs. In India’s conservative moral economy, Baywatch and other imported media made America—and as the locals understood it, Christianity—look morally bankrupt.
Chris Pulsifer attends the Vancouver campus and co-leads a Community Group. He also serves on the sound team at Westside and writes music for films.