Life on a Tea Estate

“I was born and brought up in a tea estate. I am a son of a tea garden labourer, and I myself was a labourer once. Before even coming to the Lord, I have seen the struggles of the life of tea garden people.” —Pastor Ekanpreet

Rows and rows of lush green shrubs stretch into the horizon. Women dot the scenery, plucking tea leaves and stuffing what they’ve collected into bags they carry on their heads. Some women smile, enjoying the slivers of conversation they have with each other. Others keep their focus on their job, plucking and stuffing, so their families will have enough income to make it through the day.

For as much natural beauty that surrounds the tea estate, the lives of these labourers are far from beautiful.

Parents can’t afford to buy their children clothing.

“All I can do is just tell [my children], ‘This time I am not able to buy your clothes. Maybe next coming Christmas, I will buy some dress,’” says Mudit, father of six.

Wives are sent away to find work.

“I am barely able to buy food for my children. That was one of the reasons why I had to send my wife to [the city],” says Bhavin, father of three. “As a domestic help she has gone there so she can send us some money, and at least we can maintain the family.”

People have no restroom facilities.

“We used to go out in the open in the tea garden. That is the practice here,” says Iniyavan, a tea garden labourer. “There is lots of inconvenience when you have ladies at home, when you have children at home. For them, going to the toilet in the open, it’s not very good . . .”

Fathers suddenly vanish when the burden of caring for the family becomes too much.

“I have seen . . . the father, the head of the family, all of a sudden left the home and gone elsewhere,” says Pastor Ekanpreet, a GFA-supported pastor serving in the area. “Once the man leaves the home, he never returns or nobody hears anything about that man.”

Young boys and girls grow up thinking drugs, alcohol and promiscuity are a normal way of life.

“People here tend to live a morally loose type of life,” Ekanpreet says. “They do not think much about ethical values or moral values in their lives.”

Pastor Ekanpreet grew up facing these same struggles.

“I lived a very worldly life,” he says. “I used to drink. I used to smoke. I did every worldly thing that a person who doesn’t know the Lord does. … I even told my wife, ‘Look, now we have two children. The money that I make from labour work, from the tea garden, is not sufficient. You sell wine and drinks at home so we can make a better living.’”

But then Ekanpreet came to know Jesus. After nearly dying from a sickness, Ekanpreet devoted his life to serving the Lord, who healed him. He left the tea estate to pursue life in ministry, but the tea-estate life was never far from his mind.

“I wanted to continue to work among the tea estate,” he says. “I am deeply attached and associated emotionally with those living in tea gardens.”

After graduating from Bible college, Ekanpreet returned with a yearning to help the people he knew were living empty, hand-to-mouth existences—like he once was. But it took patience and enduring a tremendous amount of opposition to establish the work.

Fighting the Past

Pastor Ekanpreet and other missionaries were up against a colonial-era mentality among the tea estate labourers, who thought Christians were only out to make money and turn them into slaves.

“That was the misunderstanding the people had about the work we were doing,” Ekanpreet says. “But when we understood that, our first goal . . . was to bring change in the hearts and minds of the people who were thinking like that.”

Pastor Ekanpreet and other GFA-supported workers searched for ways, even using their own resources and finances, to show the tea garden labourers God’s love by caring for their needs.

“If anybody was not able to send their children to school, we helped them. If anybody was not able to buy medicine for their sickness, . . . we started to help those people,” Ekanpreet says.

Through these practical expressions of Christ’s love, the people who once opposed Ekanpreet’s ministry began to soften their hearts.

“There is something strange, new in these Christians,” they said. “They are not here to make anybody slaves . . . but their purpose is to help the poor and the needy, which we are not able to do.”

“There is something strange, new in these Christians. . . their purpose is to help the poor and the needy, which we are not able to do.”

Blazing Forward

Pastor Ekanpreet knew the people living in the tea estate had many needs, many struggles. He saw their poverty, but he also understood their desire to thrive. He knew they needed lasting help, help that would sustain them.

So he set up Christmas gift distributions to give families income-generating gifts like barnyard animals, sewing machines, rickshaws and other items to alleviate their financial burdens.

People also received other gifts that would help their health and protect their dignity, gifts like toilets and mosquito nets. Seven Jesus Wells were also installed throughout the tea estate, allowing anyone access to clean, safe water.

A Bridge of Hope centre opened, giving kids, some of whom sold alcohol or were beggars, a chance for a better life. It also relieved some of the pressure parents felt to properly provide for their children, while at the same time imparting good morals to the students.

For 15 years, Pastor Ekanpreet and other GFA-supported workers have served the more than 10,000 people living in the tea estate and surrounding areas, showing them in big and small ways how much Jesus loves them. Ekanpreet has seen the mindset of people change, and entire communities have been uplifted in society, but there is still much work to be done and more people who need to find the Hope worth living for.

“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’”
—Deuteronomy 15:11

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*Names of people and places may have been changed for privacy and security reasons. Images are GFA stock photos used for representation purposes and are not the actual person/location, unless otherwise noted.

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