India (MNN) — Railway boys are boys who have run away from home and joined gangs who live in India's train stations. They travel the country, jumping from train to train and stealing from train passengers. But International Mission Board reports that nine boys have left this life behind and found solace in Christ.
Khalil, like most of the other boys in the hostel, ran away from home. Khalil left his home in Delhi at age 10. His mother came from a Catholic background but married a Muslim man.
"There was no unity," Khalil says. "They were not like family at all."
Khalil's father spent many days drunk; he beat Khalil's mother and forced himself on her. He also beat Khalil, throwing household items at him. When Khalil tried to protect his mother, he was nearly beaten to death.
Khalil ran away and jumped on a train headed out of town. He eventually landed in a train station on the other side of the country, where he collected water bottles to sell, begged, and stole from train passengers. He gave a portion of the profits to his gang leader for protection.
Gang leaders are boys in their late teens or early 20s who manipulate new railway boys by introducing them to glue-sniffing, creating a cycle of dependency and control.
Gang leaders in Khalil's train station were notorious for throwing boys in front of moving trains. Khalil was thrown onto the tracks and hit his head. He remembers that a man dressed in white helped him off of the tracks. He has no idea who this man was and has never seen him since.
Not long after that, Khalil met Prabal Dey, who offered Khalil a life outside the railway.
Prabal and Debjani Dey have opened a Christ-centered hostel for railway boys like Khalil. Eventually, the boys' glue withdrawals have died down, but obedience takes much longer. Now, though it's been several years, the boys still act out, Dey says, since so much in their life needs redeeming.
"Good food, good things can't change them," Dey says. "One thing can change them: Jesus."
The Deys teach God's Truth to Khalil and his hostel brothers throughout the day and in devotional times. The Deys and the railway boys are active members of the house church that Gary and Cynthia Follen, IMB representatives, lead. Follen mentors the railway boys and helps them work through their emotional scarring.
Follen played a pivotal role in Khalil's journey to Christ. "When he came to a Christian worship place, he [Khalil] was very different," Dey says. "He was anti-Christian."
Khalil came to the hostel timid and emotionally scarred. But now, more than two years later, he's quietly confident, and his smile illuminates his face. When visitors come, he's the first to engage them in conversation.
But some days in the hostel are still hard.
The railway is freedom, Dey explains. The boys can jump from train to train and journey anywhere in India. Coming to the hostel means a life of structure and scheduling. There's no glue or alcohol, and misbehaving has consequences–a difficult adjustment.
Four of the boys who were the first to come to the hostel have returned to the railway. But Khalil sojourns on and hopes one day to open a similar hostel to reach lost boys with the transforming truth of Christ.
To learn more about IMB's work in India, click here.