WASHINGTON, D.C. — Leena Lavanya of India is the 2009 recipient of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award.
Lavanya, referred to by some as the “Baptist Mother Teresa,” is being recognized for her work among the poor and dispossessed of India. Her “Serve Trust” organization operates several ministries, including homes for the aged, lepers, and adults and children living with HIV/AIDS.
Serve Trust operates a school for children in one of the most depressed areas of Narasaraopet, a town of approximately 100,000 in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. In another town, Chilakaluripet, Lavanya operates training programs for female sex workers and their daughters with the hope that these women and their daughters would break the cycle of prostitution.
Chilakaluripet reportedly means “the place where prostitutes live,” and is populated by descendants of women who were once concubines of kings, who have since evolved into a caste where their role and function is prostitution. HIV/AIDS infection is high among this population, where many men depend on the earnings of the women by being pimps or part of the mafia.
In addition to operating a free HIV/AIDS counseling center, Lavanya distributes rice and lentils to female sex workers and blankets to Hindu beggars, many of whom live on the streets or in depressed communities.
Lavanya is the granddaughter of B.R. Moses, a former BWA vice president and seminary professor, who raised her until she was 18 years old, in keeping with a Telugu tradition of grandparents raising the first grandchild. The Telugus are a people group that lives in several states, mostly in Southern India, among whom Baptists have a significant presence. Her maternal uncle, Bontha Moses Sudheer, is a pastor and a member of the BWA Commission on Freedom and Justice.
Lavanya began her ministry after attending the Baptist Youth World Conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1993, in response to a challenge by noted speaker Tony Campolo for youth to fully surrender their lives to Christ.
The Denton and Janice Lotz Human Rights Award will be presented during the meeting of the BWA General Council in Ede, Netherlands, in July.