The whistle blew, wheels clattered, brakes screeched, and cars banged together as the train came to a stop at the Mumbai railway station. In an instant, the relative calm turned into something like a stampeding herd of rhinos as waiting passengers rose from boxes and benches and rushed to board the train. A cross-section of humanity pushed forward. Hawkers walked past open train windows calling out their wares. Drivers of taxis, scooters, and rickshaws shouted their services.
The turmoil of jostling bodies and anxious faces soon disappeared as the locomotive slowly pulled away. Distinct odors, previously unnoticed, filled the air. The light breeze brought the smells of tea, fossil fuels, creosote, mildew, garbage, human waste, cigarettes, and lingering perfumes.
For Bunty, lying stoned in the black dirt near the tracks, these sounds and aromas triggered dreams of escape to faraway places. In this moment of drug-induced reverie, Bunty could forget the memories of the past, be numbed to the present, and keep the future blissfully at arm’s length.
His alcoholic father had neglected and abused him, so at age 14 Bunty ran away to the red-light district of Mumbai (Bombay), called Kamathipura. By day he roamed the streets stealing, begging, and making deals. Drugs held him captive. At night he drank alcohol, sniffed glue, and experimented with harmful substances. Other hopeless boys, attracted by his magnetic character, quickly promoted him to gang leader.
This night, he lay in a stupor. He drooled and slapped mosquitos feasting on his smelly body. Then he heard that pleasant voice again. “How’s my friend Bunty? Can I get you anything? Have you eaten today?”
Bunty sat up and opened his eyes. “Go away and leave me alone!”
The kind man touched his shoulder and smiled. Bunty mumbled to himself, “I don’t have any friends, and I sure don’t trust anyone. Stupid fool.”
But he couldn’t get this man off his deadened mind. The boys all knew him as “Uncle.” He came every day and offered help. He laughed with them, prayed with them, and treated the boys in the gang like real human beings with feelings. He was a constant in the chaos. He talked about hope, the future, and a God who could transform their lives.
Vision for the lost
“Uncle” K. K. Deveraj was an Indian and a successful oil executive in Lebanon. It was there he encountered Jesus and the gospel. He then attended Bible college in India and sought direction from God. While walking through the Kamathipura district one day, he received God’s answer: 100,000 drug addicts and 30,000 prostitutes lived within five blocks of this 12.4 million-person city. They suffered betrayal. They dealt with anger, doubt, and fear. God wanted to rescue them, and Deveraj would be a part of that mission. It would be a long journey of patience, love, and faithfulness.
Deveraj started a ministry called Bombay Teen Challenge to help each individual along this life-time passage of healing and self-worth. Bunty was one of the first boys who consented to let Deveraj help him.
Bunty confessed, “With each visit he made to me, my decision to leave the streets got stronger. I knew this man had more to offer than just a roof over my head and food. He offered hope. A hope I had long stopped even imagining.”
Deveraj saw Bunty’s potential and noticed his remarkable leadership skills. He sent Bunty away for discipleship training, and within a year Bunty began working as a staff member at Bombay Teen Challenge. Soon he was teaching the men’s program, and then he became responsible for the rehab facility. He introduced men and boys to Christ and stayed by their sides while the power of God broke the curse of addiction.
Passing on what he received
A young lady named Rinje led the women’s ministry at Bombay Teen Challenge. Bunty and Rinje fell in love and were married in 2007. As they served and trained together, God put a burden in their hearts to be a light in the darkest corners of India.
In 2013 Bunty and Rinje moved to a hill station called Shillong in northeast India to begin a new Bombay Teen Challenge rescue project. Organs, drugs, firearms, and sex are all trafficked in the region, leaving behind extremely traumatized individuals. Along with their three-year-old son, Josiah, they are passing along the help they received and putting into practice all they learned from Uncle K.K.
Photo by Bombay Teen Challenge (2018)