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Dear Friend of the Poor and Needy,
Thank you for taking time to read my words of concern for the needy masses in India and Southeast Asia. Even in these discouraging times of economic recession, we who have had the good fortune of being born in a western nation know little of real need and poverty. In the city of Akron, Ohio, where I stay when I am in America, there are scores of abandoned houses. The owners no doubt think it is too costly to bring them up to building codes, and they are left to further deteriorate. So many times I have wished I could move these buildings to India, Bangladesh, or Cambodia, where there are literally millions of homeless people who do not have as much as a cardboard box in which to sleep. I have traveled down the filthy slum streets of Calcutta and Mumbai in the evening, and have seen thousands of precious homeless people sleeping on the roadsides, covered by threadbare and dirty blankets. It is not unusual to see children huddled between their parents as all try to get some sleep on the filthy sidewalks.
Think of the empty houses in most cities in America that no one wants! Hundreds could find shelter in a single old house. But regrettably, the houses in Akron remain empty awaiting the wrecking ball, and the homeless masses are relegated to live on the streets. Perhaps their restless sleep might be disturbed by dreams that some day there would be a house somewhere in which they could find shelter from the scorching sun, the soaking monsoon rains, and the rats that run over them, looking for a gain of rice that may have fallen into the crack in the sidewalk.
I recall the culture shock which I felt the first evening I spent in Mumbai 40 years ago. I was staying in a small lodge near the massive and grand Taj Hotel in the Churchgate section of the city. There is a huge gateway arch on the shore of the Indian Ocean, called India Gate, under which thousands sleep every night. If you watched the world news in December, 2008, you will no doubt remember the terrorist attack on Mumbai, and saw the fires burning in the elegant Taj hotel, which was under siege by the terrorists. At the time of my first visit to Bombay, the room rate at the Taj hotel was $100 per night, while the annual income of a villager was a mere $60 per year!
I was strolling around the block near my lodge, and passed the front of the Taj Hotel. I saw an obese couple leaving the hotel, dressed in silk clothing and sporting grams of gold on their persons. I had spotted a homeless woman lying on the street, with three children lying on the pavement next to her. She had in her arms a small child. As the rich couple passed, they kicked the little lady who blocked their path on the sidewalk.
Feeling so disturbed and upset at this sight, I approached the couple and asked why they chose to kick the lady and not assist her. “It is the will of the gods that she suffers this lot in life. If we help her, we are interfering with the gods choice for her.” What a rude introduction to Hinduism, which perpetuates the caste system, which dictates that people must remain at the level in which they were born all through life!
I went back to this woman, and held the little baby. I felt its forehead, and realized it had a burning fever. Within minutes, its little body became limp. The baby died in my arms. Even now, as I relate this heart-wrenching experience to you, my eyes are filled with tears. At that moment, I promised the Lord that I would do everything in my power, as long as I lived, to spare as many as possible from the fate of that little woman and her children. After handing the body to the mother, I reached in my pocket, and gave her money for food and shelter.
I will relate to you in my next article how I vividly discovered why the lord had ordained that I go to India. The memory today is as real as on the evening I witnessed real poverty, and the call of the Lord is still as fresh after 35 years.
Again, I offer my deepest gratitude to you who have prayed for the hurting and homeless, and have given a portion of your bread to succor these who have nothing.
Your servant for the Lord,
Dr. Johannes Maas, President
India Gate in Mumbai, India, under which I saw thousands of homeless people sleeping when I first arrived in India