BIHAR STATE, India (BP) -- Ajay Kumar stands straight as a rod in a line of green-sweatered boys during a school presentation near Katihar, India. The show is serious business, complete with singing and an audience of honored American guests.
But when the teacher calls Ajay's name, the 9-year-old's solemn face slips into a wide, infectious grin. This is his moment, and he knows it. Ajay steps forward, takes a deep breath and begins his monologue.
"When I was at home, there was no one to love me," he says. "Both of my parents remarried and abandoned me. So our village used me to look after their dogs and buffaloes."
These aren't lines from a play -- it's real life. Ajay is an orphan. His "school" is Compassion Children's Home, an orphanage run by his teacher/foster father/orphanage director, Mukesh Soren. The visiting Americans are a volunteer team from The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., led by Summit's worship leader and Christian recording artist, Matt Papa.
Papa's untamed shock of red hair, scruffy beard and bright blue eyes stand out among the jet-black locks of the presentation's largely Indian audience. But Papa doesn't mind the extra attention, especially from the orphans. Indeed, he's traveled halfway around the world because these are his children.
Papa, 28, is part of OneLife, an International Mission Board initiative that develops student advocates in support of global causes. Three years ago, Papa helped Mukesh and his wife, Jasmine, start the orphanage, which is now part of OneLife's "One Orphanage" project. It's Papa's job to drum up support for the orphanage by raising awareness, money and recruiting student volunteers. He knows the need is dire.
India is the world's second-largest country, home to more than 1.2 billion people. More than 31 million of them are orphans, according to UNICEF.
"The thing that has always struck me about India is the combination and culmination of spiritual and physical poverty," Papa says. "A lot of these children are condemned forever to beg for money. That's all they can do and that is all they will ever be able to do." Read More