LeaderSource - Impact at the Chennai Children's Center

Impact at the Chennai Children's Center

Our leaders are investing deeply in the lives of children in the slums in India.

As children, Lenin and Jothi Elijah both observed the transformation of their parent’s hearts by the Gospel first-hand. Lenin’s mother was Catholic and his father an atheist; Jothi’s family was orthodox Hindu. Before Christ broke through, their homes were full of confusion and misunderstanding, lacking joy and peace. After, they were characterized by a deep thirst to know God through His Word. By the time Lenin and Jothi moved on from primary school to university, they had both received Christ and were passionate to know Him more deeply.
They began ministry together at a rural theological college in southern India. A year after this they determined that God was calling them to return to Lenin’s hometown of Chennai to lead the children’s and youth ministry at Lenin’s father’s church.
Lenin and Jothi expanded their ministry there as need arose, and were soon conducting four Sunday schools. They trained several young people to lead these Sunday schools and oversaw their efforts. Once a year they even gathered the children together in large numbers for Vacation Bible School. As time passed, however, Lenin and Jothi grew frustrated. Sunday after Sunday they poured themselves into the ministry, but didn’t see real growth in the lives of the children. They worked with one group of young ladies for seven years and still saw the same attitudes and actions present. They were searching for a better method, and in January 2013 God made the way straight for them to find one.
We ran a ConneXions Intensive training program in Chennai that year, the first of its kind in India. Lenin and Jothi joined the training at the suggestion of a fellow brother, and it became clear that God had big things in mind for the future of their ministry.
The facilitators of the training encouraged the participants from day one that each of them had been hand-picked by God to attend, and that they were unique in God’s plans. Those who joined the training may have expected practical systems for growth, but they also started to see God move in their midst, deepening their walk with Him and pruning away hindrances so that He could use and bless them in new ways. Lenin recalls:
“I remember going through the Knowing God course which helped us see how great and wonderful God is. His creation of the entire universe, Milky Way, galaxies, and even the size of the earth was presented to me in such a way that I was amazed by His majesty. One afternoon, we were told to go outside, find a place to ourselves, and worship God. I cannot forget this moment in my life. I spent the time weeping, thinking about how small I was before Him but that He loved me anyway.” 
Lenin and Jothi discovered that they were burned out after years of ministry with little fruit in sight. God used the training as a time to refresh them and remind them, as ministers to children, of His great care for them – His children.
The training revealed several toxic mindsets as well. In one particular session, the leaders asked participants to write down crises of leadership they had seen in others’ lives, and Lenin and Jothi’s small group found this task a little too easy. They were dissatisfied with the superficial religious systems they had experienced, and created an extensive list of leadership issues. After presenting the list to the entire group, the ConneXions leaders reminded those present that Jesus’ disciples made some of the exact same mistakes and asked: “Don’t we also deal with these issues?”
Lenin and Jothi were convicted.
“This made us think: who are we to judge these other leaders? It was as if someone was holding a mirror up to us. In that moment, we rededicated our lives to Christ and to caring for others.” 
Shortly after the initial ConneXions Intensive, Lenin and Jothi were invited to return for a series of Building Healthy Leaders (BHL) courses. The primary question asked during these courses was “Who are you building?” They set themselves to this question, praying for a way forward in their ministry. Each week the children were returning to Sunday school with little or no transformative change. Lenin and Jothi started noticing how many negative influences surrounded the children on a day-to-day basis – fathers who were alcoholics, mothers making a living by immoral methods, older siblings who were poor role models.
Lenin and Jothi realized that meeting once a week for an hour was not going to effectively combat these relational dynamic issues, so after much prayer and planning they felt God’s leading to initiate a daily Tuition Center for the kids, starting with only two children. As they turned their focus to quality of interaction, the quantity of children attending increased. They began meeting with kids every weekday evening for several hours, helping with homework and providing teen’s worship for two hours on Saturdays. The Center is based around building little leaders, and Lenin and Jothi accomplish this task by using the ConneXions Model of leadership development.
The ConneXions Model focuses on strengthening leaders in the 5Cs (Christ, Community, Character, Calling, Competencies). It does so through practical dynamics: the 4Ds of transformation (Spiritual, Experiential, Relational, and Instructional), which are not only how leaders are built, but how they can bring about transformation in the lives of new leaders. Lenin and Jothi applied these dynamics to their children’s ministry through constant interactions and tailored activities.
The spiritual dynamic begins and ends with prayer – prayer for and with and from the children attending the Study Center. Jothi and Lenin, their teachers, and members from their church are constantly interceding for the kids. In addition to teaching the children how to pray, the leaders at the Study Center help them develop other spiritual disciplines like Scripture memorization, fasting with prayer (especially for their parent’s salvation), reading and meditating on Scripture, and worship. They also create opportunities for attending worship concerts and morning devotionals.
The experiential dynamic focuses on developing ways for new leaders to practice leadership. Lenin and Jothi create opportunities for every child to have a chance to lead, everything from learning basic cooking skills to sharing with those in need. When a child finishes their studies early, they help younger children or friends to finish the subject. Older kids often take care of the younger kids, to the extent that Lenin and Jothi sometimes hand over the house key and the kids manage the Center for the week. Every child gets a turn to clean the study area, lead the opening or closing prayer, and recite memory verses – positive experiences that have given even the most timid children courage to pray without fear.
Lenin and Jothi’s plan is based on what children crave most: the relational dynamic, demonstrated through time, attention, play, prayer, eating together, and special events. Their interactions with the kids extend far beyond the three hours spent daily at the Center. Because the kids feel at home there, they visit whenever they are on holiday from morning to night. The leaders have organized an overnight camp, a picnic at a children’s park, bimonthly potlucks and trips to worship concerts with the teens, and the kid’s current favorite: a visit to a planetarium. Discipleship occurs daily, over food or in prayer meetings, in play or in passing conversation, or visiting the children and their parents in their homes.
The Study Center applies the instructional dynamic through creative learning methods, dialogue, and discussions. The children receive instruction in Tamil, English, math, science, social studies, and computer skills, as well as direction regarding social issues, health, and daily living. Other more difficult subjects are taught by both word and deed: integrity, thankfulness, obedience, cleanliness, respect, humility and honesty. Lenin and Jothi and the teachers at the Study Center live out these traits, and provide accountability for the children’s prayer lives and Bible reading.
Before God used the ConneXions Model to open new doors for Lenin and Jothi’s ministry, they longed to see fruit in the lives of the kids they taught. Now, in the lives of over 50 slum children between the ages of three and fifteen, the fruit is evident and abundant.
The children’s prayer lives are real and growing, to the extent that they now lead their own prayer meetings. Before, they used to roam the streets with no purpose and nothing to do, but now, they are excited about their futures and study diligently. Kids who were hard-hearted have become humble and meek, ready to change their patterns of speech and behavior and accept responsibility. Kids who couldn’t read or write now read, write, and understand. They trust Lenin and Jothi implicitly, and feel the freedom to share things about their lives with them. As developing little leaders, they have seen the real impact of fasting and prayer in the lives of their families and believe that God is at work.
Since implementing the ConneXions Model, Lenin and Jothi have discipled ten new servant leaders for the children and transitioned from day-to-day tasks to training these leaders. They continued to learn new principles through trainings, and they apply them in real-world situations with the kids. When they read Dr. Malcolm Webber’s book The Christian Family, they were captured by the concept of spiritual sons and daughters. Now they refer to every child in their ministry as their son or daughter – an identification that locates the child in a loving family.
Testing these principles at the Center has given their testimony and training of new leader’s credence.
“We had heard many leaders saying that Bible study is very poor… fasting prayer is [poorly attended]. We then share how every day 51 children come together and study God’s Word, how they memorize, meditate on Scriptures and especially how the children long for fasting prayers… This has given a lot of authenticity and authority to our teachings because they are from our hard-earned experiences. We share how the initial vision of starting a children’s slum ministry began after our first Intensive. We share how we were able to evaluate what we were doing and how we were able to reframe it with the holistic [4D] process to the clear [5C] goal.” 
Stories abound of new leaders carrying the vision back to their communities: One is working with children in three different locations in another city. Another couple started a ministry to slum kids that grew to twelve children within a few months. One of the sisters impacted by Jothi’s mentoring and leadership founded two centers that grew to serve over 60 children. And after Lenin and Jothi shared the transformation of their work at a leader’s workshop, leaders from all over the state committed to starting five new children’s centers in their own contexts.
It is not only the children that have been transformed. Lenin and Jothi had this to say about the impact of this training in their own lives:
“We have become a healthy couple who love, respect, and trust each other. The ConneXions Intensive has helped us look inwardly instead of blaming everyone else for our failures. The Intensive also created the right thought patterns in our minds. For every blessing we encounter, we thank God. For every problem we encounter, we come together to get to the root and change what needs to be changed. We have allowed God to work deeply in us and He has really blessed us for that. We focus only on pleasing God. We now believe God sees the attitudes of our hearts and is not pleased by superficial, outward spiritual activities or rituals.” 
For Lenin and Jothi, the uniqueness of the ConneXions training lay in something surprisingly simple: bringing leaders back to truly loving and experiencing God daily. This training wasn’t only about developing healthy leaders, it was about Christ transforming the inner lives of those leaders so that they could transform others.


Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag Example Tag