"The health care system as a whole is miserable in Orissa," says Dr. Pushpa Rout, director of the Luke Society in India "The National Human Development Report in 2005 declared the health system an embarrassment." Those seeking medical care in Orissa must travel to the larger cities and pay high prices for medicine. This is out of reach for the poor villagers that make up most of Orissa’s population.
"Trained medical personnel do not want to live in the villages to do their medical practice because villages in Orissa are devoid of all the normal living facilities for educated masses," says Dr. Rout. "There are no roads, no communication facilities, no electricity, no sanitary system, no provision for safe drinking water." The district hospitals have very few specialists, and the Primary Health Care Centers are run by trained pharmacists. "As a whole, standard health care facilities are available to the rich in towns and cities, and the villagers – 80% of the population – are left in the hands of untrained medical practitioners in the villages!"
Dr. Pushpa Rout and her husband, Rev Prem, are in the process of building a clinic for medical care and community health training. At this point, Dr. Rout’s ministry is focused on teaching community health.
"In each of our ministry villages, we teach the villagers how to protect themselves from common communicable diseases like scabies, worm infections, tuberculosis, malaria, etc." Dr. Rout explains. Pushpa and Prem also demonstrate better health care. "We clean out their surroundings with them and disinfect their dwellings in and out," she says. "We also demonstrate how to care for pregnant mothers and how to have a sterile delivery system in the village." They also provide preventative measures such as medicated mosquito nets, disinfectants, medicines, delivery kits, etc.
In almost all of the ministry villages, there is no sanitation system. "The villagers go out into the open fields or jungle and use the same streams of water for cleaning and drinking," Pushpa says. "The outcome of this habit is the recent cholera epidemic."
The response of villagers to the community health work has been positive. "Villagers are understanding the benefit of our services to them and are accepting us and welcoming us to their villages with much faith and honor," Dr. Rout says. "On the days we visit them, they wait for hours, leaving all their daily work in the fields and jungles. They greet us cordially and listen to our teachings mindfully. They share their needs and we try to help them as far as we can. That is why our ministry is expanding to many new villages in the remote parts of Orissa."
Despite having laws against spreading Christianity, evangelism is a major part of the Routs’ ministry – "but we do it cunningly and cautiously," says Dr. Rout. "India is a democratic country, but the majority (94%) of its population is Hindu, hence India is known as ‘Hindusthan’ which means the country of Hindus! Preaching or propagating one’s religion – other than Hinduism – is prohibited."
In some places, Christian families face persecution and social discrimination. "Here in Orissa, Christians get no favor in any way – either in employment or in education – by the government or by any social groups," Pushpa says. "Christians live here by faith and hope on Jesus the Master!"
Because the Routs are providing a need for the poor, the people are willing to listen to their testimonies, to attend their Bible studies, and to become literate by reading the Bible. When a person from a ministry village comes to know Jesus, Dr. Rout says the transformation is visible on the inside and outside!
"Most of them learn to dress neatly and take a bath every day and comb their hair decently and stop all the dirty habits of chewing beetles and tobacco or smoking or drinking alcohol. They really look very graceful and active!" says Dr. Rout.
Their inward appearance changes as well. "Their cheerful faces and decent behaviors describe their inner happiness and purity of their hearts," she explains. "They become very active and enthusiastic in worshiping the Lord. Some of them dedicate themselves for full-time witnessing the True Living God. Most of them start sharing their faith with their other family members and relatives and bring them to the Savior."
Prem and Pushpa have been amazed by the number of Christian villages developing in their ministry area. "Persecuted people are leaving their villages and properties and are coming out to the remote places, forming new Christian villages!" Pushpa explains. "These people are becoming so strong in faith that the Lord Jesus is anointing them with healing and other powers! They are healing the sick and casting out demons in the name of Jesus! It is amazing and marvelous to see their powerful prayer and faith in the Lord Jesus."
Another miraculous development in their ministry is the change of heart of many priests who previously worshipped idols and are now becoming true followers of Jesus Christ! "They say they are now happy because they have found the true God!" Pushpa says.
Although life in Orissa is difficult, Dr Pushpa and Rev Prem feel blessed to be a part of this thriving ministry. "We feel proud because we laid aside our comfortable living and lifestyle and got involved with the needs, sufferings, sorrows and joys of the common and neglected downtrodden people of our poor State," says Pushpa. "We also thank God that He has chosen us for His harvest! We are learning to humble ourselves and to reach the needy unreached villagers in remote areas, where no government health or any health aids like to go. Their sufferings and miseries call us to walk miles on uneven, rocky roads and sometimes through dense forest with poisonous snakes and wild animals to help them. In this ministry, we have learned to weep with those who weep and be happy with those who are happy!"