By Jennifer Johnson
When Greg Matney talked with Ajai Lall about the biggest ministry needs at Central India Christian Mission, Lall, director and CEO of CICM, mentioned his desire for their newly trained church planters and pastors to be more financially independent.
The idea struck a chord with Greg, who had previously worked with Business as Mission initiatives, and his wife Abhineeta (Ajai’s daughter), who had gone to law school in India. In 2011 they held an advocacy and empowerment conference for 500 local leaders, and in 2012 they began offering a variety of vocational training opportunities to help pastors be “tentmakers” while starting churches throughout the country.
“India is one of the most bureaucratic countries,” Greg says. “So when Christians are being attacked, they need more than just legal advocacy, because a dispute can stay in courts for years. If Christians are contributing to local economies, people may think twice before pointing fingers at them.”
Today, Aatma Vikas—which means “self progress”—graduates hundreds of students a year from its four-month programs focusing on six technical trades. Similar training by government initiatives could cost 100 times what Aatma Vikas charges for enrollment—“just the equivalent of $10, so the students have some skin in the game,” Greg says—and the ministry is working to register its own programs with the government so they can earn subsidies for students and graduates can earn more money.
But pastors are not the only students. In addition to opening some of the programs to residents of two dozen area villages, in 2014 the couple launched new locations and programs to create more opportunities for women.
“My heart is for the girls who have been abused or who are working in brothels,” Abhineeta says.
“Human trafficking is growing and girls are forced to get married, sometimes at age 13 or 14. If they have vocational training they can earn 250 rupees a day, and that’s enough for them to become independent.”
Aatma Vikas is also forming a new partnership with The Chalmers Center for Economic Development, a research and training organization that equips churches around the world to empower the poor to create saving and lending groups to encourage wise stewardship, and the Matneys hope to launch a business called Namaste Freedom that will teach artisan skills such as jewelry making.
“Dr. Lall registered the name for this ministry 15 years ago, and it was a vision that had been in his heart,” Greg says. “Now Abhineeta and I feel that it’s our hearts’ calling.”