SILIGURI CHURCH CONSTRUCTION

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Summary

This project aids the development of churches by constructing new church buildings in cooperation with local believers to provide adequate places for worship and ministry.

Cost

The total project cost for both churches is $17,825.

BACKGROUND

The Church of God has had a presence in Siliguri, West Bengal, since 1960. The church is largely made up of workers in local tea gardens and has 12 congregations that currently meet in buildings, houses, or in the open air.

Vision

The tea gardens in West Bengal employ 350,000 permanent workers, with 52% of the workforce being women. An estimated 2.5 million people are dependent on the tea industry in the region. The 12 congregations in the region have an incredible opportunity for continued growth to other tea gardens, not only to bring the hope of Christ, but by offering tangible relief through education and child sponsorship programs.

STRATEGY

How do we make that happen? The goal is to finish constructing two church buildings in two tea gardens. Rev. Sanjay Murmu has received permission to build permanent church buildings on two different tea estates. These buildings will be a launching point of ministry for Rev. Sanjay and the Church of God in Siliguri, West Bengal.

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National Leader Sanjay Murmu, standing on the right, and Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator Don Armstrong teach a class of people from the tea plantations.

The Story of the Tea Gardens

From Don and Caroline Armstrong, Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinators

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In reality, tea pluckers on these tea plantations are indentured servants, many have lived for generations on the plantations. They live in company housing and receive subsided food. Some plantations are better than others in that they may have a school for the kids, but many don’t.  There may be up to 500 families on a single plantation, but the average is around 300 to 350 families.

Tea is plucked every day, and each women needs to pluck about 20 kgs of tea leaves a day to make quota. She receives about 150 IR or about $2.50. The day starts early and can go into the evening; it depends on how soon they make quota. Women are the tea pluckers, and plantations use the husbands to do manual labor, such as chopping wood for the tea dryers, running the tea dryer, driving tractor, replanting tea bushes, etc. Men will earn about $3.00 per day doing this type of work.

The kids are supposed to go to classes at a plantation-supported school, but I’ve only seen one plantation with a school on it. Most kids attend local primary schools and will walk a fair distance or ride a bicycle to get there. Public schools and the upkeep are inadequate for the kids to learn well.

Families are free to leave a plantation, but for many of them, most of them actually, they have nowhere to go. All of the tea pluckers are “tribals” and were brought to this area to pluck tea by the British nearly a century ago. Their tribal lands may be quite distance from the plantation, and more than likely they have lost contact with family on the tribal lands. Tribals are considered second-class citizens by Indians. Consequently, they do not have a home to return to if they want to leave. Many of the girls are married off early, around age 13 to 15, and start families as soon as they are married. They will live with family; the girl will start plucking tea and the husband will be assigned a manual labor job. Soon they are assigned a house and so the cycle continues.

Problems come when the price of tea drops and the plantation goes out of business. This will then strand the pluckers on the closed down plantation with no work, no food, and little recourse for back wages. There are currently a couple of these plantations where people have starved to death.

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For more information about the tea gardens, check out this BBC program about the tea plantations in Assam, the state to the east of West Bengal.

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The Church of God in West Bengal

The Church of God came to this region India in 1960 when the Missionary Board of the Church of God made the decision to start work in Northern West Bengal, located in a town called Siliguri. While there was never a Western missionary stationed in this area of India, it was supervised by the Indian field director from the Church of God in Meghalaya and Assam. Indian Christians were assigned the work and have been supervising the work since the early 1970s. Work was started with the tea pluckers as well as a town church in Siliguri. Currently there are 12 churches with many preaching points and two child sponsorship programs through Compassion International and Children of Promise.

The Church of God started the specific work on the tea plantations about 30 years ago. There are about 450 plantations in West Bengal and Assam, and each plantation can be several thousand acres. There are 350,000 permanent workers on these plantations, and an estimated 2.5 million people in the region are dependent on tea production.

Some plantations go out of business. When this happens, workers are left with no food or money. In December 2014, the Church of God Ministries Hunger Relief Fund supplied food to about 500 families that were starving to death. It was a big help, and since then the families have planted gardens and are living off of the land. The plantation is still looking for a buyer.

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Timeline and Costs

Permission from the respective tea gardens was given in January 2016. Once permission is given it is best to start as soon as possible in order not to lose permission. In light of that, Sanjay broke ground on the two buildings in April 2016 and started building with funds he received from the Church of God in Korea as well as with borrowed funds.

The first church (Carron Tea Estate) is going to cost approximately $14,500.00.

The second church (Baradighi Tea Estate) is going to cost approximately $13,325.00.

The difference in cost is due to the fact that the first church, Carron Tea Estate, is difficult to reach with building materials.

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Partnering to Make a Difference

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From left to right, Pastor Moon, Rev. Sanjay Murmu, and their interpreter

Pastor Moon, a pastor in the Korean Church of God, was looking to build a church in India and wanted to build in cooperation with the Church of God. (He has plenty of opportunities to build with Korean missionaries in India, but they are not specifically from the Church of God.) So Don Armstrong and Pastor Moon made a trip together in April 2015 to look at the site at Carron Tea Estate. The initial construction estimate was $10,000, but after starting construction Sanjay learned that the price of transporting building materials was going to increase the cost by a few thousand. The second church was a surprise in that he had applied for permission to build but had never ever received any kind of encouragement from the manager. Then last January he received the permission and so he felt that he had to jump on the opportunity.

The Church of God in Korea has already given $10,000 toward this project.

Images of Siliguri Church Construction

Will you join Global Strategy in completing construction on the Siliguri churches?

Ways to make a difference

  • Check – make checks payable to “Church of God Ministries” and specify “Siliguri Church Construction – 42.40304 in the memo line.
  • Online – visit this link.

For more information, contact Andrew Gale at 800.848.2464 or [email protected]

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