Jehu Limma, founder of HopeGiving Foundation, shares his remarkable journey from “untouchable” to helping children out of poverty
I was born into a Dalit family in Odisha, India. According to the Indian caste system, the Dalits are the lowest and most despised people in our society. We are considered “untouchable”. Growing up, we were very poor and my parents were illiterate. Although they claimed to be Christians, they did not parent me with love and grace. But when I encountered Christ for myself, he changed everything.
Life in poverty
Growing up, I experienced real poverty. We even struggled to get daily meals. Since my parents were illiterate, my father took on simple tailoring jobs to take care of us, working many hours. I also vividly remember how my mother did laundry and dishwashing in exchange for leftover food. As a family, we took whatever work we could to survive. This was a real struggle.
We had no electricity, only a lantern and candles. We didn’t even have proper doors on our thatched house, just a roof made of straw and walls made of mud. You can imagine what happened to us when it rained. I still remember those painful moments, while we were asleep in the night, and if there was rain the water would fall all around us. Then my mother would wake us all up and move us, and she would place buckets to catch the rain so that we could sleep and the house wouldn’t flood. This is a painful memory that I carry to this day.
A dark childhood
When I was a child, my father punished me very harshly, even for small things like refusing medicine when I was sick. Sometimes, he would beat me in front of the other villagers. He also abused me verbally, often repeating the things I’d done over family meals. But sometimes, he cried after punishing me. His greatest fear was that I would grow up poor and illiterate like he was. In his mind, he thought he was doing the right thing. But as I grew older, I came to hate him.
The saddest effect of these punishments was that I myself started to beat my younger brothers, Jerubal and Jehoshaphat. I also got into fights with my classmates and other kids in my community. I would often get beaten up and come back home crying. When I rebelled against my parents in different ways, they punished me even more harshly. This life was miserable. I had no peace.
Going through the motions
My mother used to encourage me to go to church and read the Bible in the mornings. When I was around 13, I started to go to church and behave better. I took part in church activities like singing songs and memorising Bible verses to recite for the congregation.
People around me believed I was a good person, but I knew that I was not a good person, and I did not have peace and a sense of purpose in my life. I was only going to church and getting baptised because I thought if I did these things, God would wipe out my sins and take me to heaven after I died. But I had not yet encountered Jesus Christ in my life.
I struggled greatly with self-esteem, at times feeling superior, at other times feeling very inferior. I didn’t understand how to see myself. I was just going through the motions of religion, without any real hope or joy in my life.
Escape to seminary
With all of these struggles, I didn’t want to continue living at home. I wanted to get away from my father. One of our villagers told me some people were going to a Bible college and asked if I wanted to go as well. I asked whether it was free, and he said I didn’t have to pay anything, but I had to work for the school to earn a scholarship. I said yes. Finally, this was an opportunity for me to escape the hell of my life.
I travelled to Haryana to do my Bachelor of Theology at Grace Bible College. In this seminary, I learned English and started to develop a biblical worldview. I was taught the books of the Bible, doctrines about God, the Holy Spirit, the Church. I got a thirst to know more about the scriptures. In college, my understanding of Christ slowly emerged.
After completing my three-year programme, I went to Himachal Pradesh as a missionary. There, the Lord really began to work in my life. One day, I was alone in my room and reading Isaiah 53, and verse 6 really touched my heart, and I suddenly began to cry. I felt that I deserved death for my sin, but Christ took my penalty of death. I felt the love of Christ through this text.
The Lord gave me a curious mind to study. In my past life, I never had the desire to study and learn, but once I went to Bible college, I wanted to read and understand books. Slowly, I began to improve my understanding.
I wanted to study more, so I applied to Dehradun, New Theological College. I got an opportunity to earn an M.Div in this wonderful college. I felt I did not deserve to study in a college like NTC and made proper use of my time there. This college exposed me to the intellectual side of Christianity. I began to study Greek, theology, homiletics and the different perspectives of scholars. But all this time, I still thought about my family.
Get access to exclusive bonus content & updates: register & sign up to the Premier Unbelievable? newsletter!
New life in Christ
After completing my course, I got an opportunity to work as an intern in a church in Gurgaon. During these two years of internship, my pastor encouraged me to listen to people like Timothy Keller, who helped a lot in the formation of my identity. My pastor also introduced me to material by John Piper, Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney and other pastors.
Meanwhile, I got interested in apologetics, and one day I happened to read an online article that recommended Dr Timothy McGrew. When I contacted him, he generously gave me his time, listened to me and answered all my questions. He went on to help me in so many ways, even helping my family build a new house with a solid roof. By now, I had a desire to help underprivileged children with their education. Tim was ready to help and support me in this work. I’m thankful for him and for his daughter Bethel, who has also become the voice of the untouchable and marginalised. You can read what she’s written about my work in World magazine here.
Today, my mission is to support children like I used to be, who struggle to survive and struggle to study. Moreover, I love to share Christ with others, because it’s in Christ alone that a person can find his or her identity and eternal life.
When I look at my past life, at times I ask myself, how am I alive now? I could have died in so many ways, with all my sicknesses and abuses. I did not have purpose and peace in my life. But knowing Christ and his Scripture gave me a thirst to read, study, and understand.
The Lord has changed my life and changed my identity. I used to believe that I was untouchable. Now I know that I am welcome in the kingdom of God.
Jehu Limma and his wife Lilian founded an NGO, HopeGiving Foundation, to minister to the poor of Odisha, India. They help underprivileged children with their education, help persecuted Christians and share the gospel with unbelievers. Jehu also teaches, preaches, and trains church leaders.