India poverty astounds Mars Hill alums
Teresa Buckner, Mars Hill College
June 22, 2009

India poverty astounds Mars Hill alums

India poverty astounds Mars Hill alums
Teresa Buckner, Mars Hill College
June 22, 2009

If you want to see Max Burgin’s heart, ask him about the people of India.

He will tell you about abject poverty, want and hopelessness. He will tell you about children who wander the slums of Bangalore in search of food and shelter, and families in Bangarapet who are too poor to care for their own. He will tell you about a culture where children are sometimes literally thrown away by the very people who should love them most.

And then, with eyes alight and hands gesturing at points of emphasis, he will tell you about his friends George, Nithianand and Prem, who run orphanages and farm ministries in this country of marvelous and terrible contrasts. And he’ll tell you about the providence of God, which he believes has led him and his wife, Mickie, to involvement in three ministries which seek to better lives for some of India’s poorest people.

“I think God has a plan for people’s lives,” Max said.

“I don’t mean down to the tiniest degree, but there’s an overall plan. You’re not here by accident.”

Max Burgin is an alumnus and trustee of Mars Hill College who retired as a chaplain after a much-decorated 30-year career in the military, during which he attained the rank of colonel.

For the past 17 years, he has been pastor of Lattimore Baptist Church in Cleveland County.

For a life of service to the men and women of the military, to their church family and to the people of India, Burgin was named as the 2008 Alumnus of the Year at Mars Hill College.

Supporting India ministries

Burgin and his wife, Mickie, have also become strong supporters of three growing ministries in Bangalore and Bangarapet, India, including shelter and education for homeless children, a decent living for hard-working farmers, and a place of worship for a fledgling Christian congregation.

Max took a four-month leave to work in Bangalore in 2000 as a clinical pastoral educator under the auspices of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

Contributed photo

Dr. Kelli Mayfield holds one of her small patients while the child’s mother explains his symptoms at one of the medical clinics held near Bangarapet. Mayfield, who is the Burgins’ daughter, said the number of people was overwhelming. “I felt like I was throwing a glass of water on an inferno,” she said.

Working in this city of more than 6 million people (North Carolina has 9 million) Max and Mickie became fast friends with two of Max’s students: George Fernandes and Nithianand Thambi. Through these friends they became acquainted with village life.

“You just can’t believe how poor these people are. I just can’t describe it,” Max said.

“They make their food over a fire. They live in houses with no stove, and dirt floors. And they could not believe that we would go in and sit down and eat or have tea with them. And that made us different.”

In and near Bangarapet, an area with 400,000 people, Nithianand and his brother Prem, had started a cooperative farming ministry to help the local farmers improve their farming methods and cooperate to sell their products.

The Burgins, who has always farmed beef cattle in addition to his being a pastor, bought six pregnant water buffalos and gave them to poor families with the understanding that those families would, in turn give a pregnant cow to another family.

Prem and his wife Leela had rescued and adopted five children and were making plans to begin an orphanage.

George, too, had started an orphanage of necessity in Bangalore. Mickie Burgin offered “some help” which has evolved into devoting considerable time to fundraising for the ministries that have quickly grown to care for about 60 children.

In 2006, the Burgins returned to India and learned that Prem had been unable to start a church in one of the villages near Bangarapet, as he had hoped. The “village matron” had forbidden him to hold services. Max has no explanation but he was able to lead the woman to change her mind.

“She came and knelt down in front of me and said, ‘Put your hand on me and pray,’” he said. “I prayed, and then she told them, ‘You can start Sunday school.’”

One villager asked the Burgins to help build a church and offered her own land and to pay for some of the bricks. This woman makes a dollar a day making 1,000 bricks. The Burgins have hired a native man named Anand to be the pastor of the church.

Medical mission

In 2008, the Burgins returned to India as part of a medical mission trip with their daughter, Kelli Mayfield, who is a physician and an alumna of Mars Hill.

According to Mayfield, the clinics were overwhelming, both in terms of the number of people seen and in terms of the emotional toll.

“On the first day, we saw over 300 people. That night I cried, not from the work of it, but because I felt like I was throwing a glass of water on an inferno,” she said.

One handicapped child had an infection so severe that Mayfield had to ask the interpreter to tell the child’s parents she would probably die.

One family brought a young boy to Mayfield, explaining that he had fallen out of a tree and could no longer walk.

“He was paralyzed,” Mayfield said. “And they wanted me to make him walk again.”

Since the 2008 trip, the Burgins have raised more than $93,000 in pledges mainly for land and construction costs for the orphanage in Bangalore. Funds for daily operating costs are an ongoing need.

They also have plans to help the orphanage in Bangarapet to begin a silkworm farm on the land surrounding the home. In this way, the orphanage could make money and, hopefully, be self-sustaining.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — For more information, contact the Burgins at 167 Stroud Rd., Ellenboro, NC 28040.)