He was born in the USA. He had no plans for his life till he was 16. And then the Divine intervened which completely transformed his life. At 19, he was in Kolkata, working with street children and imparting lessons of humanity to budding pastors in a bible school. Today, he is 29, based in Gangtok (Sikkim) and married to a Sikkimese woman.
Meet, Mike Van Buskirk. Mike has been working in India for the hopeless and the helpless from all faith since 2000. For the past six years, he has been in Sikkim, giving hope to dozens of people with the help of a church based NGO, Embassy of Hope and Soul Purpose Ministry, a US based NGO. Tilak Jha spoke to Mike Van Buskirk (Excerpts):
How come a person from the Pacific North West of the USA landed in Sikkim?
I came to Kolkata in the year 2000. There we used to teach pastors and similar folks in a bible school. I taught one of the students from Sikkim who invited me to visit the state. I came here in December 2000 for the first time. On my first trip I met the young Sikkemese lady, Jyoti, who also became my wife. We worked together on that trip and then the following trips. Thereafter, I went back to the USA for almost eight months. Once I came back, we decided to marry. We worked together for some time in Bangalore, Kolkata and Sikkim as well. Finally we decided to settle in Sikkim.
What is your family background? Tell a bit about your other family members.
I have two brothers and one sister, all younger than I. Dad left when I was very little; we have a distant relationship as he’s been in prison since I was 12 years old. Growing up was very difficult for all of us kids; our family was broken…but Jesus knows how to put things back together!
How did you get into social work at such a tender age?
When I was 15-16 years old, I was very rebellious like any other youth elsewhere; experimenting with drugs, alcohol. I quit going to school and was giving a lot of trouble to myself. There was no clear purpose for my life and I was depressed and angry. I didn’t grow in a religious family and we didn’t go to church.
During that very time, I got introduced to Jesus by someone. It was a spiritual experience. I was said that not everyone gets this chance. I felt that though I didn’t understand myself fully, I would be a fool not to try.
My life, thereafter, was completely transformed. I had a very powerful experience that set me in motion.
Why did you choose India and then Sikkim?
After my spiritual experience, I knew, I had to work in India. The way I describe, people may not be able to relate. But I know, it was God who put that desire in me to come to India. I knew nothing of India and had never heard of Sikkim before in my life.
Once I came to Kolkata and then to Sikkim, I liked the place. It is a little less crowded, a little less polluted and a peaceful place. If you want to choose a place to live in India, it is one of the most pleasant places to live. I had no plans to live here though. That came a few years later after my marriage.
Now we have a children’s home here in Sikkim where we take care of orphans. Right now we have eleven children, six boys and five girls. We work with the local church here. My father-in-law is the pastor of that church along with my mother-in-law who is also very active. So we have our family members working together.
Now that you are married to an Indian and stay here for most of the time, you are very much an Indian.
Yeah, I think so. But there are some legal complications. India doesn’t allow dual citizenship that easily. But I think I am very close.
Six years is quite a significant time. How has your work changed the lives of people you have worked for?
We tried to help families more than individuals. We believe that in place of individual if you help the entire family, you can bring change to the entire community. But there are specific cases where we had to involve ourselves.
In West Bengal, there was a group of boys who were already in an orphanage. And some of them were there since their infancy. The orphanage later abandoned them since the man behind the orphanage died and the others were more interested in capturing land and other resources. The eldest child was 11 years old and the youngest was just 5. We brought 5 of them to Sikkim. About three years later, they topped in their class.
Your hobbies include winning souls and making disciples. How do you do this?
We do this with the help of Jesus. We follow his examples. The heart of a person longs for love and acceptance. In the heart of every man there is a passionate desire to be accepted by that entity. We show them the love of God. When they feel like they do become disciples of Jesus.
What is your take on the recent cases of child abuse by priests?
Priest or pedophile? Sinner or saint?
If you remove Christ from the church you are left with a form completely void of power. Any church, including the Roman Catholic, can easily fall prey to becoming nothing more than a religious institution, and any religion offers no answer to mankind’s bend toward evil. It’s this form without power that can turn a priest into a pedophile.
Until man is righteous and knows it, Satan reigns over him, sin and disease are his masters, and he is completely powerless against the passions of his flesh. Religion can’t change it. You can’t educate it or reform it. Medicating the body or philosophizing the mind won’t cure it. The only hope is found in what Jesus called being “born again” (John 3:3), and the lifelong “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), described in the Bible. This alone can turn a sinner into a saint, and keep a priest from becoming a pedophile.
Over the last couple of years there have been many cases of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other fundamentalist forces creating trouble in Orissa and other parts of the country. Did you face any sort of threat from them?
I am lucky that way. I have never faced any threat. Certain parts of India are little more dangerous but in Sikkim there is nothing like that. There are such groups in Sikkim. But in Sikkim there are so many Christians and there are lots of churches. So, they have to more or less accept and there is no violence here. There is nothing Christian specific as such about our work. We work for people of every religion from all parts of the country.
What are your future plans?
Our plan, right now, is to continue here in Sikkim. Staying faithful and continue to do what God has called us to do. We have to see how things progress. Right now, there is nothing in our heart beyond what we are doing.
Thank you so much Mike. We wish you all the best for your good work in India.