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Meet “Uncle Uma”
by Julie Cramer
Posted on Monday, September 30, 2013
Born in Kotagiri, a small tea-growing town in the hills of Tamil Nadu state, Umashankar Shankardas should have grown up worshiping Hindu gods. His family’s last name literally means, “Servant of Shankar,” or “Shiva,” a primary Hindu god. He came from a family of priests, serving the major pilgrimage temples in the south of India.

Yet, his parents came to place their faith in Christ—and their conversion sent the family fleeing for refuge in Delhi.

“I recall our first home being in someone’s garage in the mid-70s,” Uma said. “My mother served with Bible Medical and Missionary Fellowship. This community enabled me to attend a good Christian boarding school in Mussoorie, a town at 6,000 feet in the lower Himalayas.”

While Uma went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in history, his career path seemed to follow ancient spice routes, and he worked for 16 years in the export business, “making and shipping a range of goods from India to the U.S. … until God brought Mike Douris and Stephen Spencer to Delhi in May 2007,” he said. The meeting over coffee that ensued changed his course. His trade route remains between that of the U.S. and India, but the goods ferried cannot be bought; they must be lived.

“In a nutshell, I would love to see people in the States go far beyond just writing checks and get involved in small and big ways, as God leads and enables them,” Uma said. “I have often told teams that the kids are so excited to be able to interact with visiting teams, but it is when the children see the person come back—even if after a while—that they realize, without a doubt, that the person truly loves them and wants to help them grow into successful and responsible adults. Having said this, I do not want in any way to give the impression that it is a bad thing for people to come on a single visit,” he said. “The kids are always ‘over the moon’ when teams come, and they relish every moment of these visits; however, when I go back to see the children again, they bombard me with the same question: ‘When is (specific name) coming back?’ I know visiting more than once may be considered impractical by some, but I like to think it is possible and meaningful. I also have been dreaming of a time in the near future when U.S. churches find it in their hearts to enable reverse team visits—bringing a bunch of kids from a program to the United States for a week with the church community that is helping them.”

Caring for orphaned children runs in the blood. Uma’s mother, now widowed, is settled in the eastern city of Gorakhpur, where she and a British friend manage an orphanage for girls. Uma and his wife, Yaman, have three children, and he is known as “Uncle Uma” among the orphans in Orphan Outreach-assisted programs throughout India.

“I can say without a doubt that God has always been a step ahead of us at all times and provided our needs as a family, and we are blessed,” he said. “My entire life to this point is a reminder of how faithful and amazing Christ has been to me, every step of the way. I feel like God has used the combination of my hard and successful business career and my faith-building church experience to prepare me to lead the work of Orphan Outreach in India. I am certain this is where God always intended for me to be.”

The best part about “Uncle Uma” working with Orphan Outreach is that the children know, hands down, that he is always going to come back.

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