By Worthy News Chief International Correspondent Stefan J. Bos
NEW DELHI, INDIA (Worthy News)-- The often prosecuted founder of one of India's largest evangelical mission groups that rescues orphans and abandoned children has died after a long battle with health problems, his family and organization confirmed Saturday, December 4.
Archbishop M.A. Thomas, founder of Hopegivers International (HI), passed away Saturday, December 4, at the age of 74, they told Worthy News and its news partner BosNewsLife in a statement. "Dr. M. A. Thomas, Founder of Hopegivers International, went home to be with the Lord today," HI said. "Papa's suffering has finally come to an end," added the group, which include his family.
He reportedly suffered a stroke in December 2008 that left him paralyzed on his right side, which affected his right eye, arm, leg and ability to swallow and speak. Thomas also suffered from several bouts of pneumonia since then, Christians said.
Additionally, Thomas faced prosecution by Indian authorities and attacks by Hindu militants for allegedly violating controversial conversion laws in the predominantly Hindu nation, charges he strongly denied, BosNewsLife established in recent years.
He was often forced to go into hiding to avoid assassinations and arrests, his family said. In 2006, for instance, his son was detained for 47 days under charges related to alleged anti-Hindu activities and "forced conversions" while his father had received an arrest warrant on similar accusations, including the publication of a perceived anti-Hindu book. Both men always denied any involvement in that publication.
That same year over 150 young Dalit girls remained in a state of shock after Hindu militants reportedly attempted to rape and kill them in an Emmanuel Mission International orphanage, which is supported by HI. Dalits are often described as the 'lowest caste' in India's ancient system of Hinduism and millions are known to live in poverty.
The attack on the orphanage in the Indian state of Rajasthan underscored the growing dangers faced by HI and other mission groups in India, according to several rights activists at the time.
Despite these setbacks, Thomas continued the organization he started in India in 1960. "Since then the Lord has graced us to establish over 43,000 churches, train over 30,000 pioneer Missionaries, and rescue tens of thousands of orphaned, abandoned, and at-risk children in Asia," most of them throughout India, HI said. HI said it also has several other social projects including "many medical outreaches, ministry in over 500 leper colonies, schools, widow ministries [and] community development projects."
HI urged Christians to "join his family and friends as we thank God for a life that was so completely sold out to God; a life that daily breathed in God's grace and exhaled prayers of thanksgiving for an opportunity to serve the God of the universe."
Although Thomas "is finally home with the Lord and he is experiencing complete joy and perfect happiness as a child of God" friends and family were still "struggling with this loss," HI explained, adding that it had asked its supporters to keep his son, Samuel, sisters and their families in prayers.
"All who knew him as Papa - orphans, Bible students and pastors - also need prayers as they grieve the loss of perhaps the only parent they have ever known."
Yet, HI and family members stressed in written remarks that it was also time for celebration. "What a joy it must have been just hours ago when Papa walked through the gates of heaven to meet his Savior face to face for the first time and hear the words he waited all his life to hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant."