India (MNN) — What's in a name? In India, everything.
"A name just represents your character and who you are, and most importantly, it really represents the gods' blessings on you," says Lindsay Ackerman with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India.
"Or in many cases, a curse."
Ackerman explains that girls carry no value in Indian culture. They're often given names that reflect worthlessness or names that imply an unworthy character. Take, for example, a Banjara woman named "Nagalakshmi:" it's also the name of a Hindu god, and roughly translated it means "wealthy snake."
But names can also bear testimony for Jesus. Nagalakshmi became a Christian through Mission India's adult literacy classes and changed her name to reflect her new faith.
It changed her family, too.
"Her husband's name was Krishna, which is another Hindu god, so they both were carrying names that had a strong meaning in their culture," says Ackerman. "But a few months ago, they were both baptized. [The] name that she chose is Lydia, and her husband chose the name Emmanuel."
Because their society believes girls don't have any worth, many families in India don't bother sending their girls to school. Most hold to a common belief: Why pay for an education when they're just going to get married and join another family?
Emmanuel and Lydia are holding fast to their faith and breaking cultural bonds. They have a 4-year-old daughter named Aishwarya, and Lydia says she wants her little girl to have the opportunities she never got to experience. Aishwarya will surely be among the nervous new students headed to school for the first time next year–a privilege most girls in India can only dream of.
Illiteracy is an epidemic in India. Ackerman says over half of the women cannot read or write, not even their own name. About 35% of school-aged kids are not getting an education, and 456 million people live on less than $1.25 a day. Education is key to breaking these societal cycles of poverty.
Mission India's adult literacy classes are bringing hope of a brighter future to India's poor. They meet every night for two hours and provide a fifth-grade education in reading, writing and math, as well as entrepreneurial skills to increase a family's income. Students also learn about their basic rights, including fair wages and citizen responsibilities. Local believers serve as volunteer teachers in their communities, empowering the illiterate with life-changing skills.
"We have literacy classes literally in every corner of India," says Ackerman. She adds that 80% of enrolled students graduate, emerging with self-sustaining skills. These classes are also opening doors in communities which are resistant to the Gospel.
Ackerman says, "We're finding that over 40% of our graduates come to faith in Christ. Many of our students are women, and you can imagine the impact as a woman comes to Christ. [She] comes home and is nurturing her family in a new way, is pouring into her family the love of Christ."
Pray for women who are enrolled in these classes, that they would come to know Jesus and that their families would be saved as well.
"Be praying for Lydia," Ackerman adds. "Be rejoicing with her as she and her family celebrate their first Christmas this year."
Pray for their protection, too.
"They are new believers in a community where there aren't going to be many other Christians," she explains. "So they're probably going to be facing some challenges…just be praying for strength and that their faith in God would continue to grow day-by-day."
For $30, you can send a woman "back to school" for an entire year. Click here to transform a community.