Every 55 minutes, one student in India commits suicide.
Most of the suicides stem from pressures in the educational system which leave an estimated 20% of students suffering from depression and anxiety. Competition is intense for these students; public class rankings shame those who are not at the top, and many students carry the weight of what their parents have sacrificed to give them a good education.
In addition, many students in top colleges are living in big cities, away from home for the first time. They’re away from traditional support structures in one of the most stressful periods of their lives. They’re also facing new temptations and opportunities that their parents may not understand or be willing to discuss.
“They are sheep without a shepherd,” laments Hwa Mei*. “I see a lot of Indian college students who have doubts, who are confused. They don’t understand who they are and where they should go.”
Before she moved to India, Hwa Mei was involved in college student ministry in her home country. As a first-generation believer, she knows the value of Christian fellowship during the formative years in university.
She became a Christian wwhen she was 17, just before she went to college. It was through college ministries that she learned how to be a follower of Jesus. “That’s why I have a passion for the students,” she says. “I got a lot of love from Christians when I was studying.”
After finishing an advanced diploma course in Hindi, she applied to a major university in one of India’s biggest cities and her application to continue studying Hindi was accepted. Her role on the campus as a student gave her a unique understanding of the challenges.
She was also introduced to a local church, which was already involved in ministry on the college campus. The pastor began by asking her to mentor three girls from the church who were also studying at the university. Hwa Mei met with them as often as their schedules allowed, building relationships, caring for them and studying the Bible together.
After three years, the girls from that Bible study have grown deep in their faith and are better able to reach out to other students. Other friends noticed their growing joy and became interested in Jesus. They asked to start meeting together to read the Bible. “It’s one-by-one in relationship,” reflects Hwa Mei.
The work of discipleship is slow and complicated. University students are busy. Competition is brutal and students always feel as though they’re not doing enough and will fall behind. Hwa Mei sees students who genuinely want to come and read the Bible and pray together but they’re pulled into so many activities it’s hard to build a group.
When Hwa Mei's church re-structured its small groups, they asked her to take care of the female group leaders. “Even though they’re the student leaders, they’re still very weak,” notes Hwa Mei. “They’re not sure how to lead.”
Hwa Mei believes the slow, painstaking work of building relationships with these students is worthwhile because of the potential she sees in the students. “They have the potential to grow up and influence many people,” she says. “Because they’ve got a good education they’ll go into the work place and lead things in India.”
Recently, Hwa Mei met a professor at her university who shares the same vision and calling. She wants to open her house to invite students to come together for fellowship.
By working with the professor as she’s more open about her passion for Jesus, Hwa Mei's hoping they can reach out to and shepherd more students through family care.
It’s work that will influence the next generation of leaders in one of the world’s largest countries.