Creating beauty from ashes
by Lorraine Francis
The renowned Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission, with its headquarters at Kedgaon, was founded by Pandita Ramabai in 1889 and is still serving India’s women and children today, standing as a Lighthouse in India. The main mandate of Ramabai’s work was to rebuild, restore and renew lives and places that have been devastated for generations, and it still continues to do so.
This mission has been instrumental in saving hundreds of women, girls, and child widows from a life worse than death.
Mukti Mission established Christ-centred homes where destitute women and children irrespective of their background are accepted, cared for, transformed, and empowered to be salt and light in the society.
In these homes Mukti Mission seeks, in the Spirit of Christ, to sow seeds of change in the lives of every individual under their care, skilfully counselling them to deal with issues of life, initiating varied opportunities of healing and shaping them prayerfully as models of God’s Kingdom for society at large.
Born in 1858, Ramabai was a gifted woman from a Brahmin family. Contrary to all Indian customs at the time, Ramabai’s father taught his wife to read Sanskrit, a sacred language while Ramabai was in the womb of her mother. The child soon picked up all the sacred scriptures (slokas) as she was highly intellectual. At just eight years old, she could recite 18,000 slokas. However, a tragedy struck the family, and Ramabai lost both parents and an older sister who died of starvation in the famine of 1876-1877. She was left in care of her older brother Srinivas. The two siblings in their desperate condition continued their search for spiritual enlightenment and eternal peace. Subsequently, Ramabai lost her one and only brother in 1880.
Left to herself, Ramabai was married to a Bengali lawyer when she was 22. After 19 months, he died of cholera, leaving her alone with a young daughter. In her desire to find peace for her soul, Ramabai underwent long and arduous pilgrimages and it was through the Wantage Sisters within the Church of England that she was converted and received baptism in 1883 while on a trip to England. Ramabai was amazed to experience the care, dignity and acceptance given to women overseas and her heart was filled with compassion for her Indian sisters.
In those days, throughout India, widowhood was regarded as a punishment for sins committed by women in their past life on earth. That was the belief at the time. Hence, countless young widows (even child widows aged nine) were forced to be placed on to the funeral flames of her husband and do her part as a dutiful wife. Many such widows escaped and became prostitutes for they thought it was better to have such a life than be tortured by their husband’s family members as a widow.
On her return to India from England, the government conferred upon her the title ‘Pandita’ which is the highest title possible for an Indian woman.
Lovingly called ‘Mukti’, the mission has 18 branches spread over eight states of India, mainly in tribal places where people are living in wretched conditions. In such situations, Mukti has been reaching out to the needy, under-privileged children and their families by educating and empowering them to go out and be salt and light in the community.
In 1988 with 16 month old Abigail, our first daughter, Anil and I joined Mukti Mission as missionaries. We were young, fresh to the mission field, and we wanted to immediately bring a new revolution at Mukti, turning it upside down. However, God raised mentors for us who tenderly counselled us and led us into what we call ‘contextualization’. While at Mukti, we were soon blessed with another daughter, Amanda. After completion of our 14 years of service at Mukti, we were given a sabbatical of two years to study at All Nations Christian College, England where we successfully completed the Diploma in Biblical and Inter-cultural studies and came back to join the Mukti family who were anxiously waiting for our return.
In April 2010, I was given the role of being the Director and Anil, my husband, Chief of Operations. It is our constant prayer that the Lord give us hearts willing to serve Him in any capacity.
Lorraine Francis (centre) is the Director of Mukti mission in India. She will be one of the keynote speakers at Missions Fest 2017 – January 27-29, 2017.