TAMIL NADU, India (BP)–Life as Sangeedhas knew it was gone.
Her home was destroyed. Her mother was dead.
Only 8 years old, Sangeedhas was one of thousands of children left homeless by the catastrophic tsunami that hit southern Asia in 2004. Most of these children were left vulnerable to poverty, child trafficking, prostitution and hopelessness.
Sangeedhas’ father survived the tsunami, but he sent her away after he married her mother’s sister. Her stepmother refused to care for a girl who was not her natural child — a situation that happens all too often in India to children of a widowed father.
“When his wife has died and [the widower] remarries, his previous children are usually discarded,” says Cole Elbridge*, an International Mission Board representative.
The stepmother does this because she “doesn’t want previous children to have inheritance when it comes time for that and dowries. She wants it simple for her children.”
Sangeedhas, however, was one of the fortunate ones. She was taken in by Paramesvaran and Choodamani, a Christian couple who lost their three children and seven other relatives in the tsunami.
The couple welcomed Sangeedhas and other orphaned children into their home. They provided for them with the help of Southern Baptist tsunami relief funds.
Since the tsunami, the couple has provided a loving home for 20 orphaned children — six girls and 14 boys.
Sangeedhas had been raised in a Hindu home. After she came to live with the couple, she heard about Jesus Christ for the first time.
“This changed my life,” she says. “I also want to be a great blessing to others in the days to come, like my parents are now.
“Jesus told me … ‘Be here. Stay here. I will comfort you.'”
Today, all of the children have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Before dawn each morning, the children gather for worship to sing praises to Jesus. With Bibles sprawled on the floor in front of them, they listen to the daily message.
On one morning, Sangeedhas’ 14-year-old brother Saravan leads the service. He tells his family to never give up praying “big prayers.” He speaks from experience.
Saravan’s father died when he was 2 years old. Eventually his mother was unable to care for him. The boy often cried himself to sleep after arriving at the couple’s home two years ago.
“Paramesvaran told me I could go to God’s feet and cry,” Saravan says.
Now one of his life goals is to preach the Gospel to a lost world and impact those who haven’t heard about Jesus.
“Jesus is my mother and my father,” Saravan says. “[He] is everything to me.”
*Name changed. Shawn Hendricks is a writer for the International Mission Board.