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Faith

More for Children in India

Thrivent members called by God to do hands-on ministry

The story of Bethania Ministries (Link opens in new window) belongs not just to one person, but to a group of Thrivent members whose lives crossed paths for the better.

David Granner, a Thrivent Financial representative in Ann Arbor, Michigan, spent his childhood playing marbles with street children in India, where his parents were missionaries. Thrivent member Polly Hennig and her husband served as teachers for missionary children in India. The Hennigs became close friends with Dayavu Dhanapal, an Indian woman who taught the Tamil language at the school where Granner's parents were missionaries. Dhanapal also provided food and clothing to countless poor children on her own.

The Indian woman's dream was that the children who came to her porch each day seeking help "could be cared for in a more structured way," says Hennig. After discussions among Dhanapal and her daughter Priscilla Mohl, Hennig and her son Gene, and David Granner and his father Robert Granner, the group came together to create Bethania Ministries in 1987.

While David Granner and other Bethania founders all supported – and continue to support – a variety of nonprofits working in India, they felt compelled to start their own ministry as well.

"We all had personal experience with poverty in India over many years," Granner explained. The stories of these children had become part of the founders' personal histories and connections with each other. For example, Dhanapal lived with Granner's family in the U.S. for several years, and while Granner was a high school student, he would walk around with a coffee can, soliciting donations from his classmates to help Indian children.

Ultimately, what Granner, Hennig and Dhanapal witnessed on a daily basis convinced them that a hands-on ministry was what God called them to do rather than simply supporting other groups by writing a check.

Since then, Bethania has grown tremendously. It serves 1,000 youngsters in India each day, focusing on helping orphans and poor children with families through day care centers, afterschool programs and residential children's homes. The organization also operates daytime centers for special-needs kids who otherwise would have nowhere to go.

"These kids are being treated like my wife and I treat our kids," says Todd Heidelberger, a Thrivent Financial representative in Winchester, Virginia, who today serves on Bethania's board of directors.

But in a country like India, which has more than 31 million orphans, according to UNICEF, there's always more to do. Several years ago, "we were discussing whether we should take more children," Hennig recalls. "Then the tsunami happened [in 2004]. Overnight, children stood at our door. We had to take the children. One girl had seen her whole family wash away."

As it grows, Bethania is reaching out in new ways. For example, it launched an alumni program to reunite adults who were raised in the organization's homes to support each other and current children in the program by volunteering, mentoring, praying or donating financially.

"We have an unending list of kids we could help," says Heidelberger.

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