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The Furthest Reaches
Reflections on Trip to Ladakh Region in Kashmir, India
by Mike Douris
Posted on Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The world is a dangerous place with conflict and belief systems that cause unresolvable conflicts that affect millions of people throughout the world. We are living with that reality as we watch the news of the war on terror and the consequences of economic chaos. For the most part we listen and watch with concern and horror as these events play out on our TV screens.

Uma Shankardas, director of Orphan Outreach in India (pictured above from left to right), Cristin Cox, Board Member Blair Pogue, and I (center left) took a journey to one such area of the world — the remote region of Ladakh in Kashmir, the northernmost state of India to see first hand where most of the children who are served by Dar-Ul-Fazil (House of Grace) come from. Dar-Ul-Fazl (DUF) was originally started in Srinagar the summer capital of Kashmir (Jammu being the winter capital). DUF was moved in the midst of the India – Pakistan war to the state of Himachal Pradesh, just south of Kashmir, to a little village called Shuru, which is located just outside the city of Manali.

Kashmir has been in conflict since the formation of India and Pakistan. The northwest corner of the state is controlled by Pakistan and the northeast corner is occupied by China. The 50-year cease-fire agreement with China expired in July 2012 just before we arrived and we witnessed troops being moved to the line of control on the China occupied area. We also heard artillery fire at the Pakistan line of control as we camped near that area. Many of the terrorist training camps are in the Pakistani occupied area of Kashmir. Osama Bin Laden was killed not far from this region in Pakistan.

Kashmir is split with Muslims in the northwest, Buddhist in the northeast and Hindus in the south. One thing all three religions share in common is their hatred of Christianity — not only because of its challenge to their faith but also its challenge to their culture. Christianity is also a symbol of the west, which creates inseparable political associations.

I am providing this backdrop because it is so important to understanding the ministry of DUF — the heart of Aunty the founder — and the lives of the children she serves.

Aunty started her ministry spreading the gospel to Muslims in Kashmir. She was maligned, persecuted and almost killed. When her leg was broken in an attack, she was told that if she continued to evangelize Muslims, she would be killed. As is her way (it is in her spiritual DNA) - she got down on her knees and prayed for the Lord to give her direction. The Lord heard her prayer and led her to start a ministry to serve orphans.

It was through providence she heard there were many children in need of care in Leh in the region of Ladakh so off she went with no resources except the Lord’s direction.

(photo by Cristin Cox)

Many amazing provisions were made by the Lord and she was led to take a group of children from Leh to Srinagar to start the home. It was not long after the founding of the home that the Ladakh Buddhist Association sent monks to Srinagar to take the children back to Ladakh forcibly and to place them in a Buddhist boarding school to re-educate them. Aunty still remembers that time with tears in her eyes as she went back into the home to see it empty of the children she loved so much.

The Lord blessed in the midst of the persecution.

Families from Ladakh continued to send their children to the home and before long she was serving many children again, but because the war was making it very unsafe for the children and knowing that the Buddhist could come back to the home she decided to move the home to Manali. A good number of the children managed to run away from the Buddhist boarding school in Ladakh and found their way back to Aunty even after she moved to Manali. One of those children was Joy, who is now the assistant director of DUF.

We had the privilege to not only visit Leh and the surrounding areas in Kashmir but to meet the 30 children (pictured above) who moved back to Leh after graduating from DUF.  We flew Aunty to Leh to join us in a reunion dinner at the hotel. It was an amazing evening to see what affection the children have for Aunty and to see how much she loves the children. All she could do during her speech at the dinner was tell them how proud she was of all they had accomplished and how grateful she was of the testimony of God’s grace in their lives.

(above) Two graduates of DUF who live and work in Leh. One of our drivers on the left and the Director of personnel at the hotel we stayed at on the right.

One graduate who was not there had to flee the country because of his witness for Christ.  In August of 2010 a massive cloudburst occurred in Ladakh, which dumped a years worth of rain in 30 minutes and severally damaged 71 cities and killed more than 200 people.  One of the DUF graduates organized and assisted Christian groups that came into the area to offer relief. The Ladakh Buddhist Association took great exception to this and made significant threats towards the DUF graduate and fearing for his life he fled Leh to Delhi and eventually had to leave India to live in South Korea, the birthplace of his wife.

This hostility towards Christianity is a great challenge for Christians in this area of the world where a deep connection to faith and culture exist.

Christianity challenges not only a faith that is revered because of its historical connections to the beginnings of Buddhism but also challenges the culture of the relatively small population of the Ladakh region in Kashmir. There is a fear that if Christianity makes any significant impact—because of the small population—it could destroy the historical culture of the area. It is here that 30 graduates of DUF, most of which have accepted Christ as their savior, live, work and raise their families. It is our hope that we can facilitate spiritual, as well as other types of support for them and the other graduates of DUF, as they spread throughout India and become a testimony for Christ’s love.

There is so much that we learned on this trip as we (in a more significant way) got to know and serve with Aunty and her staff and got to know the children of DUF.  Our first lesson was the faith of these amazingly courageous and dedicated Christians. We serve in the comfort of a country that has been amazingly blessed with material blessings and is relatively free of persecution of Christianity. They serve in a county that is openly hostile to Christianity and they at times put their lives on the line in their service. They sacrifice so much of the material opportunities and luxuries this world can offer for the privilege of serving Him — considering everything worthless compared to the blessings of knowing Him and doing His will.

Second, we talk in Christian circles about the “10/40 Window” as the most unreached people groups in the world. Kashmir and northern India could be considered the most unreached of the unreached of that window. Yet here is a single woman who with no apparent resources—bible in hand—faithfully saying to the Lord, “Here I am.”  And the Lord used her in a great way in one of the most difficult parts of the world to reach hundreds of children for Christ who are now adults proclaiming His grace and His Name—amazing by any standard!

 Kashmir and northern India could be considered the most unreached of the unreached of that window. Yet here is a single woman who with no apparent resources — bible in hand — faithfully saying to the Lord, “Here I am.”

This experience also made me rethink my concept of the 10/40 Window. We have the perception that cultures in this window have not heard the gospel and though there are many who have not—I would say that the large majority have heard and because of generational cultural commitment to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or any other faith has rejected Christ and are in many cases openly hostile to Christianity. The opportunity to serve in this environment and be light in the midst of darkness cannot be overestimated nor can the challenges of those who serve in this very volatile area of the world. Many people in these areas have never met nor have ever known a Christian and we know when there is a credible witness through word and deeds God can change lives.

Finally, there is so much to share about what the Lord taught us on this trip but I would conclude by saying I just praise the Lord for leading us to DUF and allowing us the privilege to walk alongside these faithful Christians.

With that leading comes much responsibility as in a very real way we are an answer to the faithful prayers of the staff and children at DUF. Therefore, we carry the burden of being faithful to allow the Lord to use us for His glory in this very special ministry the Lord raised up through the faith of Aunty and all who serve with her.

As in all that we do—may God get the glory and praise for all He will do for His name to the furthest reaches of the world.

(Blair Pogue playing with the children at DUF, photograph by Cristin Cox)

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