Thomas Raja or Auto Raja as he is popularly known, used to drive an Auto Rickshaw before he began with his heart-touching ministry of serving the dying and destitute.
His story is an overwhelming testimony of hope for all. Raja left school at the age of 8 and grew up to be an alcoholic and a petty criminal, pawning even his mother’s silk sarees and her mangalasutra to fulfill his craving for alcohol. Ostracised by family and society, his father threw him out of the house. He continued to till he was finally sent to Central Prison, Chennai. It was sickness and a near-death experience in the dingy confines of prison that God chose to transform the rogue into a saint. In an earnest prayer, Raja made a deal with God to forgive him saying if he was released, then, in turn, he would lead an honest life and serve His people. God answered his prayer and his parents miraculously bailed him out. He begged for forgiveness and they in turn gave him Rs 1000/- to get a driving license to drive an auto.
One day as he drove his auto, his eyes caught the attention of the poor and dying destitutes on the road and he decided to serve them. He learnt a few first-aid basics, and started the ‘Home of Hope’ from his small garage. Later, he rented a small home to house the people he found on the streets. The first man, he recalls, was an old man who looked like a living skeleton with all his bones visible. He began with 13 people in a rented house but today his home is resident to some 750 people rescued from the most been inhumane and unhygienic circumstances, offering them hope, solace and shelter in their twilight years.
Raja ‘s lingering remorse of the past drives him to make up for it by continuing to do good in the present and the future. Auto Raja, has won several accolades for his work, right from the ‘Namma Bengaluru’ Award to the CNN-IBN Real Heroes award.
Founder of the New Ark Mission, a centre for the destitute people in Doddagubbi in North Bangalore, that runs without any government aid, Auto Raja, today seems to be carrying the baton from where Mother Teresa left, to be the next savior on the streets, caring for the unloved.
The centre functions on God’s love. Truly,
Fifty years ago my parents migrated from Tamil Nadu and settled down in the Magadi Road, Bangalore. My father was working in the BSNL Department and after his retirement my parents went back to Tamil Nadu.
I am the eldest son to my parents and was born and brought up in Bangalore. My family was a genteel family and took good care of me, being the eldest and, therefore, more endearing. They put me in an English medium school.
When I was studying in third standard, unfortunately I fell into unfavorable company and picked up vile habits. I used to steal money from home for smoke and alcohol. I would lay my hands on whatever I find at home and even in my neighbor’s house. I used steal small vessels from my home and from neighbor’s house, due to which this my family would not allow me into my house. I started pilfering things from the school as well. On the whole, my character was such that I brought bad name to my family.
The same unwholesome friends led me to lose my educational career at third standard itself. My parents were so unutterably upset that they cursed me and prayed that I went away and died somewhere. They chased me out of the house. Then I was almost on the streets of Bangalore city, begging for food and sleeping anywhere I found a little space – pavements of road, railway station, bus station, under the drainage bridges. In short, leading literally a life like a street dog..
When the police saw me sleeping around these places, they would put me in jail. This went on for a few years.
A man should have blessings from three sides i.e. mother’s care and father’s love and God’s blessings. But I was denied parents love and care. In that despicable condition I sought God’s help and pledged myself to him to change my character. Then God took charge of my life and bestowed me with a compassionate heart. From then onwards I started regularly to seek God’s guidance by attending the church. I am sure that it is God’s compassion that transformed me and endowed me with a loving heart and the responsibility of giving care and support to the utterly destitute street people – homeless people and often on the verge of death. In this situation, I went to my parents seeking the financial help of Rs.1000/- to get an auto driving license. I, in turn, promised them that I would not trouble them anymore.
And then I got the license and started driving an auto in the city.
While driving I used to recollect my past life and felt ashamed of myself. Then I got married and my responsibility increased. Life was going on somehow.
While driving, without any conscious effort, I started seeing people on the road side pathetic conditions – hungry, almost naked, with sores that mosquitoes were finding a great attraction. Most of them were almost in dying stage and living no better than a street-animal with none to care for them.
Seeing the people in this condition, I prayed to God to give me a compassionate heart to take care of them like Mother Teresa did.
One day, I picked up one such person and brought him to my own home. There was not a single paisa in my hand when I started this mission. My own people and neighbors used to mock at me saying I was mad to bring such people home and taking care of them. But I did not give heed to their criticism. I was sure that I was following God’s Word and I continued to serve these poor and dying destitute.
New Ark Mission of India (The beginning):
I started this Mission in 1997 in a rented house and later on in 1998 the Mission was registered under the trust name called NEW ARK MISSION OF INDIA with Home of Hope as its rehabilitation Centre. Until now, the Mission could rescue over 7,000 people of whom about 3,000 died here in dignity with their last wishes fulfilled. Today our strength is 750 – (330 men, 340 women and 80 children.) God’s compassion has been making me love and care these poor and dying destitute till today. I am now hoping to extend the Home’s services to other places especially, immediately eying Hyderabad and Kakinada in Andhra. It is all in God’s hand!
The Home of Hope is where the future of the homeless lies. I started this home with compassion and faith as my only investment.