Serving overseas in faraway India is enriching the lives of a Red Deer family in all kinds of unexpected ways. And they’d like to see local folks experience it for themselves.
Shawn Acheson and his wife Sheralyn first visited India back in 2000.
“We went to see what was going on, and just kind of fell in love with the place,” said Shawn. A few years later, the family made the decision to move to India and serve at the Home of Hope orphanage. There’s a family connection to the ministry — Sheralyn is the granddaughter of Rev. Bob and Katherine Hoover who spent many years serving as missionaries in India.
In 1981, the Hoovers teamed up with Moses and Mabel Kanniah who had moved to India from Malaysia with the same dream of helping India’s hopeless children.
“They had started traveling to India in 1965, building churches and orphanages,” said Shawn. “The Word of Life orphanage we have in India is actually the one that was started by my wife’s grandparents.” They had turned it over to the Red Deer-based church several years ago. Katherine Hoover was also asked if the name Home of Hope could continue to be used, and she agreed.
Meanwhile, besides his work with the orphanage, Shawn also leads a Word of Life church in his family’s adopted city as well. “We’ve established an English-speaking church in the city of Chennai – it’s the fourth largest city in India.” Interestingly, it also happens to be where tradition has it that the apostle Thomas was martyred.
He’s buried under the San Thome Cathedral in Chennai, and it’s a tradition that is held in high regard by the locals. “It’s really neat, and it’s faith-building to encounter that. It brings you back a couple thousand years.”
Shawn acknowledges the challenges of working in such a tremendously different culture than what he grew up in, but treasures every aspect of it just the same.
“Things are hard to change when people are rooted in a culture and culture trumps everything else.” Clearly, a love for one’s culture is vital, but it can get in the way if there are other aspects to carefully consider in a given situation. “It’s one of our biggest challenges with people,” he said. “It’s also a completely different life because nothing is the same. It’s a country of extremes.”
For example, although the caste system – essentially an ancient division of the population into differing categories — is illegal, it’s a culturally entrenched aspect to society. The Dalits, a designation for a group of people traditionally regarded as ‘untouchable’, continue especially to endure economic and social hardship.
And although India’s economy is growing on several fronts, extreme poverty is rampant. Nonetheless, the Achesons are passionate about working at the Home of Hope orphanage and helping to make a difference in the lives of the people they meet. Shawn’s own powerful experience with his Christian faith has also convinced him that change is possible in anyone’s life. It’s something he holds firmly to in a country where the level of need can at times seem overwhelming.
Still, he has a profound hope for India’s future. “Although we are very interested in looking after the poor, orphans and widows, we are also trying to build modern generation and the leaders of India into the kind of people who will reach out and build up their own (country).”
There also several ways folks here at home can lend a helping hand to Home of Hope India. There are opportunities to sponsor a child and donate to the ongoing work of the ministry. And Shawn also encourages people to sign up for short-term missions and see the work firsthand. Anyone interested can call Word of Life Centre here in Red Deer at 403-343-6570 for further information.
For those interested in similar missions in Africa, Word of Life also overseas Home of Hope Rwanda and Home of Hope Kenya.
Meanwhile, after a stint back home in Canada, Shawn is eager to return to India – complete with all the challenges and the joys that living there brings.
“I never thought that my life would end up the way it has,” he says with a smile, “But I’m certainly not disappointed.”
For information about supporting the ministry, visit india.homeofhope.ca.