Leena Lavanya - The Baptist Mother Teresa

Do you have any heroes? Are any of them still alive? I'm not sure that any of mine are. I suppose the contribution of most heroes is unrecognised during their lifetime and so most tend to be deceased before achieving that status. Of course, some things are easier to see in hindsight. Who knows some of you may be recognised as  heros in years to come; there is still a chance for you to make a difference. Ready, steady, go...

This months hero is alive and well and living in India. Leena is a Christian who is a Baptist because of her grandfather, who learned about Jesus from a Baptist missionary. Leena was influenced by her grandparents because of an Indian tradition of giving the first born child to them as a love gift. Her grandfather was a loving Christian who spent his life caring for lepers and her father trained as a lawyer so that he could help the poor; so maybe hero status runs in the family.

Having had quite a protected childhood, when Leena's grandfather died when she was 18, she faced a culture shock when she returned to live with her parents. In Narasaraopet, Andhra Pradesh the streets are mud and buildings dilapidated. Her new neighbours were poor and uneducated, children homeless, unskilled with many suffering from untreated illnesses. She worked at a teacher and began to try to do something to help her neighbours.

In 1993 Leena was challenged to serve Jesus. She went to a Baptist World Alliance conference in Zimbabwe where she heard Tony Campolo preaching. They sang the hymn 'All to Jesus, I surrender' and Tony challenged them by saying that few Christians ever surrender very much. Leena responded by taking the words of the hymn seriously. She decided to serve the Lord by caring for the poorest people in India. It is important to remember that the poorest people in India are classless and treated as of no value by Indians of higher classes, these 'untouchables' are exploited and ignored. It is to these people that Leena committed herself, but it started unexpectedly while she was travelling on a bus.

Leena met a women on the bus who had no husband, no skills and no job, she was unable to care for her children. Leena decided that she would give up breakfast for her family and herself for three months and give the money saved to this woman. She brought a sewing machine and taught the women how to use it so that she could begin to earn a living. The change this made inspired Leena to set up a sewing school to help others. While teaching the ladies she shared her faith with them as well. The school has now helped over four hundred women and through money raised from keeping goats, each woman is provided with a sewing machine of their own.

The sewing school was only the beginning. Leena started a school for the children of the women who were learning how to sew, a hospice for AIDS patients, help for lepers and computer classes for the unemployed youths. In 2007 Leena and her Serve Trust Ministries were awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Award for an effective non-governmental organisation serving the poor.

Leena is motivated by her love for God and her love for the poor, so much so, some have called her the 'Baptist Mother Teresa'. Leena is a real hero because of commitment to God and sacrificial service to those in need. She is really obeying the two most important commandments that Jesus taught his followers (Matthew 22: 36-40). The real test for us is being willing to respond to the needs of the people we meet. Who knows what could happen if you chose to travel on public transport!