by Julie Cramer Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2016
“The Jewel of Western India,” or “The Land of Legends,” Gujurat state stretches for nearly 1000 miles along the Arabian Sea, with its northern edge shouldering Pakistan’s border. It is the birthplace of Mahatma Ghandi, and more than 60 million people call it home. In the village of Anand, 20 girls and their caretakers—Mainesh and Snehlata Parmar—share the Elwyn Parekh Children’s Home.They hardly ever receive visitors, so when a group of young people from two Fort Worth churches arrived this summer, the girls danced and sang until they wore themselves out. It was the fifth time leading a trip for Ricky Cotto, then with Southwayside Baptist Church and now an associate pastor of North Community Church. He started traveling to Anand in 2011 because a friend told him some trip spots had opened at the last minute.“I had four weeks to get ready. God just provided a way—I raised all the funds in two and a half weeks,” he said. “The next year, I took my wife and I thought I was done.” Then Orphan Outreach asked him to begin leading trips. He prayed about the suggestion and spoke with the staff in India. They wanted him to bring students, so he did. Despite a busy schedule as husband, father to one-year-old Elaina, pastor, and neighbor teams manager for the Blue Zones Project—a grassroots organization working for healthy neighborhoods—Ricky gains energy from these trips.“This year was our best year,” Ricky said. “There was a spirit there—everybody was just calm. We did a discipleship program with the team, and we met every two weeks prior to the trip to talk about living a missional lifestyle and what to expect in India. We experienced things that only God could do. We’re probably one of the only groups that go to see the girls, so they wait a year for it,” Ricky said. “We bring games, Bible studies, and arts and crafts.”Denise Ramos, 18, a freshman at Tarleton State University, said the girls erupted with joy at their arrival.“It was so hot, and we were so tired, but none of us wanted to sit down,” she said. “We wanted to play another game with the girls, to sing another song. They were always excited to hear the Bible stories, and that was incredible to see. The villages we visited were rundown and small, but the people we met had kind hearts, some even had hearts for Jesus. I could see the faith they had. It was an amazing experience, a true blessing,” she said. “I cannot wait to go back and visit the girls and meet more people in India.”Lessons learnedFor Andres Cortez, 16, the trip taught him about true happiness. “It made me rely less on worldly things to find happiness,” the junior at Young Men’s Leadership Academy in Forth Worth said. “I saw people who lived in the slums, and even though they had very little, they had joy simply because they had God in their lives. It showed me that there is a difference between regular happiness and true joy.”“I also have a bigger appreciation for everything I’m blessed with, including the roof over my head and the food on my table,” Denise said. “Seeing now that there is no problem too big or too small for God, I try to practice that complete faith I saw in the people in India. I give God everything.”“Last year we went with all these plans, and something we learned that was the girls just want time with us,” Ricky said. “This year we lightened up and went with the flow.”That natural rhythm allowed the team time to meet Nana, a girl with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes extreme swelling of the brain.“Her mom and grandmother brought her to us, and asked us to pray for God to heal Nana,” Ricky said. “She just had a surgery and we’re waiting to hear back for an update. As we were leaving, though, a little girl kept saying, ‘Pray for Nana! Pray for Nana.’ It was intense.”It also led them to the future site of Elwyn Parekh Children’s Home.“A year ago, a wealthy business family—based in the United Kingdom, but originally from Anand—heard of the home and visited them. An ailing mother of the family expressed her strong desire that the family help orphans,” Umashankar Shankardas, executive director of Orphan Outreach India, said. “The mother was healed, and this family has purchased a large tract of land in Anand and are presently building a two-story home that should be ready by next year. The family has committed to let Elwyn Parekh Children’s Home use this facility for as long as they need.”“The current home is about 3,000 square feet, and the new home will be about 12,000 square feet. It’s huge,” Ricky said. “We went to look at the property and did a groundbreaking ceremony. We sang and prayed for the land. Watching that—seeing how God came through—everybody was just bawling. Some of the girls are the home because of the death of their parents, or because their parents can’t take care of them. You hear stories of the dads being alcoholics, of the kids being abandoned. Shilpa is an example. She had been picking chilies since the age of 8. The family just had her working. At the home, the girls have a better situation and a better future.”Why go? Why not send a check?“One of the things we always hear is, ‘Why don’t you guys just send a check over there instead of flying?’” Ricky said. “For the girls to know that someone around the world loves them … you can’t get that with just money. They remember all of our names. I will go until the Lord says, ‘Stop.’ I feel like my role right now is to continue this, to get as many people to meet these girls as possible. It’s a blessing for anyone to hang out with them. They give unconditional love that you don’t see in the States sometimes.”“The girls at this home have now gotten so used to having a team from Forth Worth come every June that they eagerly await their coming and the time with them,” Uma said. “Ricky Cotto who leads these teams cannot wait to plan and prepare the next team every year. It is like they have adopted each other and are building on this relationship.”“I fell so in love with these girls that it didn’t feel like a mission trip by the end of the week. It felt like I just spent a week with my own little sisters,” Andres said. “It was truly a blessing to teach these girls about God and come together as family. I cannot wait to go back.”In between visits, daily life“Since Orphan Outreach became our partner we could see big changes in daily routine at the home. The girls have hope and great encouragement now,” Mainesh said. “Initially the girls attended a government school and the facilities were insufficient. Now they attend better private schools and have schoolbags, textbooks, notebooks, and uniforms.”The girls’ day begins early with a healthy breakfast before heading off to their schools. They return home in the afternoons to tea with snacks and fruit. “Then they have free time before dinner at 7:30,” Mainesh said. “The cook makes tasty meals!” With their bellies full, the girls attend a prayer meeting and then play games—everything from badminton and cricket to jumping rope and soccer—on the terrace. Then the younger girls shuffle off to bed and the older girls settle in to study until 10 p.m. As is common in the United States, the home’s staff shuttle the girls to-and-fro during the week for sports and other activities. A current need, in fact, is a new minivan.“The credit goes to Orphan Outreach for us having all this goodness and development,” Mainesh said. “We are very much grateful to them. We thank God for the same.”“I have worked with Orphan Outreach since it began in June 2007,” Uma said. “I quit a lucrative, yet not satisfying, business career after I met [president] Mike Douris and [board member] Stephen Spencer in Delhi in May 2007. We have chosen to keep the number of programs we help (three orphanages) to a minimum so that the quality of each can reach a maximum. This has been a fulfilling journey so far as we reach our 10-year milestone soon.”In the short-term, Ricky looks forward to one aspect of his annual June trip—something uniquely Indian: “There’s this yogurt drink … like a buttermilk,” he said. “Apparently it’s like a probiotic. It’s supposed to be good for you, but it’s rough. Watching people try to take it down for the first time … I really have a good time with that.”GET TO KNOW TWO OF ANAND’S JEWELS
Praisy, 16, came to live at the home during one of its outreach ministry events. Originally from Vadodara City, Praisy’s parents died when she was young, and her grandparents could barely take care of her. “She has found happiness and good Christian fellowship here,” Mainesh said. Now in the 12th grade, Praisy wants to continue her education to become a social worker.
Hetal, 13, has lived at the home for the past 8 years. When she was six months old, her father died and then her mother abandoned her. “Even though Hetal comes from an extremely miserable and poverty-stricken background, she is has a joyful nature,” Mainesh said. “She has become a great blessing and joy to all of us because of her smiling face. Day by day she is growing into a confident girl. She is in the 8th grade and loves to attend school regularly. We praise God for her and prayerfully make every attempt to make her a successful and efficient young woman in the society with a bright future.”