by Rosemary Sherrod
Based on an interview with Gregg D. Garner
Why are you focused on the NCR?
The National Capital Region (NCR) of India extends over 19 regions, with a combined population of 45 million people, including the major city of Delhi. For the India regional team, this is our area of concentration.
The NCR offers our team something unique to India—it provides a universal experience. People from all over the country come to the NCR, which affords us the opportunity to learn history, develop relationships, advance language learning, and familiarize ourselves with Indian culture. Unlike less cosmopolitan regions of India, the English language is commonly spoken by large numbers of nationals residing in the area and Western culture is more widely accepted.
As a team, we readily admit that the foreignness of India and issues with India’s many languages can make us dependent on language and cultural interpreters. For this reason, the NCR gives us the opportunity to develop our [linguistic] competency so that we can work, make decisions, and communicate in the native language.
The NCR is the place that our team is becoming familiar with the people, the language, the culture, and the systemic issues that plague India, in order to serve, not by utilizing power or dominance associated with our Western status, but by patiently learning and interacting with the multi-cultural people of the NCR.
How did your work in India begin?
An old man in Kenya, a 25-year-old Gregg Garner, and a confirming word about India came together one day in 2002. While in Kenya, Garner was working on a village project with an older man named Kamundi. This elderly Kenyan felt compelled by the Lord to share a dream he had with Gregg. Although never having met or seen an Indian person, Kamundi confidently related his experience: “I dreamed about Indian people and they were saying, ‘Don’t forget us in India.’” Kamundi’s words were delivered with expectancy, and Gregg received them as confirmation from the Lord, who had impressed on him years earlier that he should go to India.
Before moving forward, Gregg prayed earnestly for nearly a year, asking God to direct him to just the right person in India to help with this work. Soon afterward, at a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, he met Asheer Vadaam Rampugu who connected Gregg with his brother-in-law, Yona Babu. Babu lived and ministered in northeast India.
In 2004, after a five-day Bible conference in Kenya, Garner went to India and met Yona Babu. It was on a mountaintop with Babu that Garner first shared about God's plan for people, and his son Jesus, with a group of high caste Indian people. That day marked the beginning of a relationship with Babu that has lasted for many years and also the beginning of the G.O.D. International's India regional team.
How was the team formed, and how did they grow?
After Gregg returned from his time with Babu, a team of people committed to serving in India began to form. Our initial approach was to familiarize ourselves with India, which is no small task.
Our team traveled throughout Northern India discovering diverse people groups, languages, and cultures. At the same time, we became acquainted with issues of discrimination, oppression, and injustice in a world where large segments of the population are treated as less than human. The team saw firsthand the dehumanization associated with the textile industry, human trafficking, labor practices (including child labor), unethical land acquisition, forced migration, slum development, illiteracy, health care, elderly care, maternal and infant care, and more.
Although the needs were great and the people few, the mandate was clear: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19-20).
Knowing that the Lord has commanded us to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” we were prepared to love and serve the people in India, in particular the poor, oppressed and marginalized. As genuine as the team’s commitment to God and the people of India was, a lack of leadership stalled our efforts, and for several years the India team lacked vision and the ability to organize our efforts for this work.
However, there has since been a shift in leadership, and in December of 2012, Garner brought the team to the NCR and helped us regain our vision, determine a new place of concentration, and prepare for the work ahead of us. With new leadership, the team has been able to implement all the education, training, and experiences we have had in order to be a resource to the people of India. There is a genuine sense of excitement and momentum plunging the team forward in its efforts to see the poor of India thrive.
What Are You Doing Now?
One issue that presents itself naturally in the urban areas of the NCR is employment. As cities sprawl and land developers either take ancestral lands, deplete them of natural resources (including water), or redirect the flood plains so that villages are washed away, India’s rural poor migrate to the city in search of work. What was once a social issue is now a systemic problem, as there are scarce employment opportunities for the myriad of India’s poor searching for a means of living.
Evidence of the lack of opportunity in the job market is the corresponding lack of diverse enterprise. Common on India’s crowded streets is the sight of too many people, selling the same product or service, competing for the same market. Whether rickshaws drivers or street vendors, the market is saturated and consequently, the income is meager—most Indians make less than $2 per day.
There have been missionary and development organizations that have attempted to resolve the crisis of unemployment by "throwing money at the problem" or creating a market for Western import/export (employing poor and uneducated women to make bracelets, greeting cards, or baskets). No one will dispute the immediate, albeit short-lived, result of these ventures. However, our team is not following these popular paradigm, but working toward innovatively creating jobs and businesses that will directly benefit the people of the local area by offering employment and viable services. Business development is one area that the India team holds at the forefront as we develop skills and competencies that will enable us to transform the locality in which we will be living, working, and serving.
There is no single issue that adversely affects all of India, nor is there a single solution. In addition to business development, the members of the India team are educated, trained and experienced in areas of childbirth education, literacy, children’s education, public health, sustainable housing, agriculture, and social services, including widow and orphan care. When asked what resources we have to enable us to deal with so many areas of need, we talk about our human resources. It is the people on the team who are the true resource who have, and continue to take the time to learn, develop competency, and assume responsibility in their implementation of these things learned, so that they can participate with God in working for India.
What is Your Approach?
We approach this work, not as if we are competing in a sprint, but in a marathon. As our story testifies, we are not taking shortcuts because we are preoccupied with appearing successful or having a resume of activity to show our supporters. Instead, we desire to be characterized by patience, endurance, consistency and perseverance.
Our approach is not simply to transform the social environment of today’s poor and marginalized, but to work for the generations to come—making social changes that outlast our physical presence. We begin this by refusing to give in to the unrealistic expectations or prescribed progress indicators of traditional missionary or development agencies. Instead, we strive to be as realistic as possible—confining our efforts to where we have local presence, focusing our work in areas in which we have experience and competency, limiting development to that which is both sustainable and replicable by the people themselves, and taking the time necessary to immerse ourselves in the lives of the people.
At the base of everything we do is education, which empowers the very people we serve so that they can critically assess their world, recognize the needs, and address them in ways that exemplify love and justice.