by Ronne Rock Posted on Tuesday, September 29, 2015
She greets visitors at the entrance of the House of Grace (Dar-Ul-Fazl), a beacon of light tucked into the steep Himalayan hillside high above the crowded streets of Manali, India. Joy is the director of the children's home that provides complete care for more than 70 orphans and a quality education for 100 village children.Her name describes her countenance. Joy. She isn't the only one to radiate such contentment and beauty in this place. Every child here, from the toddlers to the young adults now attending college, calls this orphanage their true home and their true family. Though some have ben removed from their homes due to abuse, most are here because of poverty. One or both parents have died, and those left behind simply can't afford to fill bellies or provide safe shelter. While the children here at House of Grace travel back to their homelands once a year to see relatives, they are always eager to return to the place founded by a woman named Auntie more than three decades ago.Joy understands them. Because she was one of them.One of the first children to ever live with Auntie (her real name, Mawitei, has been permanently replaced with a term of endearment), Joy and her two siblings found hope and faith at House of Grace in 1982. "My mother had passed away, and my father was distraught. I had an aunt who worked in a Christian home near us, and Auntie came to visit her to talk about her desire to open a home for children. It became clear to everyone that going with Auntie was the right thing to do for us. I went first, and then my brother and sister joined me."At the time, the orphanage was located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the northwest tip of India. Joy and her family were from Ladakh, a region in that state. Though her family was Buddhist, her father believed his children would receive good care in the Christian home. But tensions mounted, and leaders in the community accused Auntie and her team of brainwashing the growing number of Ladakhi children who were living at House of Grace. Joy was in fifth grade when men showed up at the home and demanded their children return to Ladakh. "It was 1988 - I remember it well. They put us in a Buddhist school and hostel. They told our families it was free, but then they demanded our families provide for us even though they couldn't. We were there for three years. While we were there, my aunt came to see my brother and sister and me. She took us out for a little recreation time, but a rumor spread quickly that she was going to take us back to House of Grace, and my aunt was beaten very badly."What she witnessed fueled a fire in Joy's heart - a fire that would change her life forever. "My friend and I talked often about how we wanted to return to Auntie. She had shown us love and care, and there was something about it that was true and real. We had to do our morning prayers, so we would bow down before Buddha and pray to Jesus. Those prayers gave us bravery - and we decided to plan our escape."Fleeing, however, wouldn't be as simple as running to a different region of Jammur and Kashmir. Because of the escalating conflict between India and Pakistan and the threat of ongoing violence to Auntie and her House of Grace family, she had moved the home more than 400 miles away to Manali. But Joy and her friend didn't stop praying and planning. Their answer came in hitching a ride with a family that was moving. She told no one except an uncle, for she had seen what could happen in the bloodied body of her aunt.Soon after Joy and her friend returned, village leaders sent her father to House of Grace to remove his daughter. Auntie was told of their plans, and hid Joy and her friend in another village to protect them from harm. The Indian government also stepped in and declared that the children in the home were being cared for properly and should not be removed.Joy and her friend remained hidden for a year to ensure their safety, and then Joy left for higher studies. "I had to move to Delhi from ninth grade through my college years, where I focused on history and education. In the final year of my college studies, I realized something. Though I had been taught about Jesus, had memorized scripture and sung beautiful songs to Him, there was something missing in my life. So in 2000, I came home to talk to Auntie and my House of Grace houseparent about what I was going through. While I was there, I could overhear my houseparent in another room talking to a young girl about salvation in Christ - I wasn't part of the conversation, but it was though every word was being said to me. And on February 20, 2000, I surrendered my life completely to Jesus."Joy shared the news with Auntie and told her she felt God was calling her to return and work at House of Grace. She moved back, first teaching at Rainbow School, and then becoming a guardian in the home.And since 2013, she has been director, following in the footsteps of the woman who believes all children deserve to be given love and life and the hope of salvation. Auntie is her mentor and her guide, as the woman in her 70s continues to serve the poor and oppressed in northern India. Joy still has to pinch herself on occasion to see that it's not a dream. "The advisory council had been talking for years with Auntie about who she would feel comfortable with taking over the home one day. It came as a surprise, as a shock, because I believed there were far more qualified people to be in this role. I didn’t ever say I wanted to do it, but at the same time, I felt as Auntie’s spiritual daughter, it was the right decision. I felt the responsibility was too great – that I couldn’t do it. God spoke to me through scripture – David and Goliath – to trust in Him and not in myself. I received such encouragement."As Auntie has poured into Joy, now Joy pours into the children at House of Grace. "I used to think 'I am doing something for God.' But in 2009, He told me it is His grace that we are in this ministry, that we are in His Kingdom. So there is nothing I can do for God. I simply serve."I keep telling the children – I go to Delhi and I see so many children in the streets and I go to the villages and see so many children in shanties – and I remind them that God has brought us out into this place, His place. He has blessed us with His blessings. He has changed our lives – and it is our calling to do the same. No matter our background, no matter our pain. I pray we can all be like Auntie. My hope is that every child will live with Jesus, spread His love and contribute to the Kingdom. And that maybe one day, a new director will rise from the children living here now."You can be part of the life of House of Grace and Rainbow School by sponsoring a child. Your sponsorship provides a quality education, meals, and more.