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Christian Program Brings Hope and Dignity to India's 'Blamed and Rejected' Widows
Marking International Women's Day, March 8

Contact: Andrea Rhodes, United Bible Societies, +44(0)118-952-1428

SWINDON, England, March 5, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ - A church-based program is helping tens of thousands of widows in India each year to lift themselves out of poverty and isolation - the fate that awaits many Indian women who lose their husbands.

"Widows in India suffer. It is the culture here," states Esther, who lost her husband four years ago.

Having become a Christian through a church-run tailoring class, she met her husband at Bible College and had two children. When her husband died of an AIDS-related illness, Esther faced even more rejection and ridicule than the amount usually faced by widows here. But she found love and support through the 'Hope Givers' program, run by the Bible Society of India. Even when she tested positive for HIV - a huge stigma in India - Esther saw it as another way in which she could help others in the same position.

This is one of the most powerful effects of the program: the women who are helped go on to help others. Esther now pastors a small church, speaks openly about her HIV status and is a volunteer in the program, which provides much-needed practical, emotional and spiritual support to widows in five provinces.

"You are widowed because you did something wrong in your previous life: that is the view in this predominantly Hindu culture," explains Dr. Leelavathi Manasseh of the Bible Society. "So, whether a widow is from a rich or poor background, she faces blame, mistreatment and rejection by her family. Many are kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves and their children, leaving them in a desperate situation."

The program teaches women income-generating skills such as juice-making and candle-making, provides counselling and helps the women access government support. It also provides Scriptures and runs Bible study groups to help them understand their worth and purpose in God's eyes.

"When they ask us, 'Why are you helping me?' we tell them about Jesus and his great love for widows, children and other vulnerable people," notes Dr. Manasseh. "This is a surprising message for them, and they want to know more. They are very open to the Gospel.

"We directly help around 5,000 women a year, and they go on to reach out to as many as 40,000 to 50,000 people."

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