Amit Malik woke early, massaging the torn red flesh of his toes, chewed by the rats as he slept. His bed was the earth; his ceiling, a ragged tarp stretched up to a wall of tin siding. Gingerly, he stood, lifting the curled edges of his tarp to squint out at his new life in the Peeragarhi slum north of New Delhi. Laundry lines hugged the sides of ramshackle structures, dipping low with the colors of the neighbors’ wash. Murky standing water filled the community’s dirt lanes where hundreds of families traversed mounds of filth and garbage to go anywhere.
It wasn’t the life his middle-class parents would have expected for him, so Malik kept his whereabouts a secret. “Whenever they said, ‘We’d like to see you. Where are you staying?’ I made so many excuses,” he says. “I didn’t allow them to come to the slum, because they would have [been] the biggest distraction for my ministry.”
As a teenager, Malik showed musical promise. His proficiency with the harmonium—an Indian piano with some similarities to an accordion—allowed him to earn money as a performer at Hindu worship rallies. He would often play three or four nights a week, accompanying the many voices lifting their praises to silent and innumerable gods.
One day, a Christian evangelist named Nazir Masih visited Malik’s home in Punjab, inviting the family to a series of tent meetings in their village. He noticed the young man practicing his harmonium and sat with him, beginning to share about Jesus. Malik brushed it off. “I told him, ‘I know Jesus; my family is Christian. I know Jesus very well.’” But Masih persisted, explaining that a person can’t be a Christian in name only but must be born again. “You must give your life to Jesus.” Seeing a way to reach the young man, Masih invited him to play his harmonium at Christian meetings. He told the evangelist he was very busy, that he was going many places and singing for other gods and goddesses. “They pay me,” he added.
But Masih persisted, and Malik finally relented, joining him at revival meetings on the promise that he’d be paid for his talents. That first night, as the two began to perform together, something didn’t feel right. “I felt [as if] I should not be in this place, and suddenly, I got … angry and ran, shouting to everyone.” Malik raced out of the tent and into the night. But he wasn’t alone. Volunteers kept pace with him, bringing him to a preacher who laid hands on him, rebuking the spirits. Malik fell to the ground, unconscious.
When he awoke, Malik visited with the pastor, who anointed him with oil and told him, “God wants to use you mightily. Give your life to Him.” He could hardly do otherwise—he already felt changed. So he prayed, surrendering his life to Jesus. But that night, he went home and slept fitfully, consumed by a disturbing dream—many thousands of people burning in a fire. “But they were not dying,” Malik says. “They were calling me and saying, ‘Please save us.’”
The Seeds of Obedience
The young man felt a burden he couldn’t quite understand. He didn’t know the Bible or the basics of faith. But Masih arranged for Malik to receive Bible training; through the prayers and encouragement of his teachers, Malik came to a decision: He would train for the ministry.
His parents agreed to finance three years of seminary training. As he studied and prayed, Malik latched onto a vision of mission work somewhere in the northern parts of India. Shortly before graduation, he visited a friend in Delhi who suggested they go to a nearby slum to distribute evangelistic tracts, Bibles, and other materials. When they arrived at the Peeragarhi slum, he knew it was the place he was meant to serve.
For a few rupees—pennies in U.S. currency—Malik rented a lean-to and began to live among the people he knew God was calling him to love. He ministered first to the children. As they started coming, their parents followed, consumed with family concerns and sickness. “I started to pray for them,” he says, “and God began to work in their lives.”
In the slums, many generations live together under one roof, in dwellings described by the 2011 Census of India as “unfit for human habitation” and “detrimental to the safety and health” of its citizens. Indeed, when Malik first took up residence there, he would often go without drinking water up to four days. Finding enough for a bath was more difficult. His first month was spent with little food and no electricity, but he had confidence God would provide and be glorified.
Koriakos Kutty was one of Malik’s professors at Grace Bible College. When he heard that Malik was living and working in a slum, he collected some money and went to visit his former student. But Malik was already looking beyond his daily struggles to a vision for his nation. He told Kutty, “You just pray for me and the ministry. There are so many slums I would like to reach.” Before long, this simple, sacrificial ministry had produced a church where up to 250 people worshipped and sang along each Sunday to the harmonium. When Malik’s parents finally discovered what he’d been up to, and witnessed the changes in his life, God opened their eyes to the Savior, too.
An Unexpected Harvest
In April 2012, Malik found himself on unfamiliar ground. After five years among the people of the Peeragarhi slum, he was in Chicago, climbing into a car with two Kentuckians. With the goal of expanding Malik’s training and contacts, one of his supporters covered airfare and registration for a Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville. On this trip, Malik met Gary Burkett, a residential contractor and part-time missionary who had been to India, determined to make inroads with the disenfranchised lower castes. Burkett came along to the airport, introduced Malik to the In Touch Messenger, and gave him 15 for the trip home.
Supported by an increasing number of partners and volunteers, he expanded his mission work. Now he had regular supplies of Bibles and evangelistic tracts, clothing, blankets, toys, and bicycles to share. He took his small supply of Hindi Messengers to other slums, to many illiterate people who couldn’t benefit from a written Bible.
Malik’s first big shipment of Messengers arrived in late 2012, and he delivered them throughout the state of Punjab with its nearly 25,000 villages. When film projectors arrived, he and his team arranged free medical and vision clinics in poor areas. They’d move through the waiting throngs, praying with people and inviting them to come back at night to watch the JESUS film, a two-hour depiction of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Each time they did this, hundreds of people attended the screenings, which were amplified by a sound system and projected on a white sheet hung against a wall. At each gathering, the Spirit of God moved through the village, and Malik and his team saw many people come to faith. The new believers were then drawn into a small and emerging house church where they could grow and find fellowship.
This pattern has continued for over three years. Today, Malik oversees a network of 425 house churches, birthed from gatherings like these throughout northern India.
Lately, he’s become increasingly involved in equipping people with skills and resources to help lift them out of poverty. He’s been taking water filtration systems into the slums, and his wife Bhabi oversees a sewing machine outreach where local Muslim and Hindu women sit side by side, practicing their new trade and hearing the message of Christ.
India has many difficult states he hasn’t yet been able to reach, places where missionaries are beaten, even killed. But to reach out to those places is the next step. “God will give us wisdom, according to His plan,” he says. “In the next few years, we would like to plant many thousands of churches.”
With a young family of four, Malik no longer sleeps in the slums but in a modest apartment in Delhi. He’s passing along his musical knowledge to his 7-year-old daughter Grace, getting her started on an electric piano. But domestic life, with a couple of rooms and running water, can’t erase the memory of waking hungry and thirsty, living in filth—because he is continually in the slums, offering the Bread of Life to those who are starving.
Photography by Atul Loke