by Rose Brewer, SEED co-director
“I’m a master weaver,” Mr. Patil spoke up, “If you buy us looms, I will teach people how to weave.” India’s FM church leaders and missionaries discovered the only way some members of the Miraj FMC, a church plant in a leprosy colony, were able to support their families was to take the overnight train into Mumbai and beg on the streets. Everyone agreed this was not right. Thus, the Dayanand Handloom Group, part of the church, began with Mr. Patil’s help.
Dayanand is the first FM livelihood group. Because it prompted SEED’s formation in 2002, I had told that part of Mr. Patil’s story to thousands of people. When I finally met Mr. Patil recently, I learned the rest of the story.
Mr. Patil was born into a wealthy family with incredibly high social status. When he was diagnosed with Hansen’s Disease (previously called leprosy), he lost all of that. Mr. Patil lived as an outcast in the leprosy colony outside of Miraj. This reversal of fortune would have been disheartening for most people, but this elder statesman of the church, says he is glad it happened. Had it not, he never would have learned of Jesus and never would have come to know Him.
I do not believe the Hansen’s Disease came from God, but it is obvious God has worked in Mr. Patil’s life for His good. It is also obvious God has blessed this soft-spoken, patient teacher to be a blessing to others. There are now more than a dozen people in the handloom group, involved in all stages of weaving bags, bookmarks, placemats, and – most importantly – working together to support themselves and their families. The name Dayanand, a Hindi word meaning “kindness” or “joy,” reflects the fact that the group is not simply about finances. Dayanand has also provided literacy classes, giving back to others in need.
This is why SEED works with churches. Once stigmatized by leprosy, the Miraj FMC has grown in membership. As a healthy church body, it has also planted other churches. We see the greatest transformation – spiritual, social and economic – of individuals, families and communities in the midst of this kind of holistic community.