Raju Joseph: The Rag Picker

Raju Joseph picks rags for a living in a garbage dump. And not just rags—but cardboard, glass, plastic—anything that could be sorted and sold to a recycler. It’s filthy, degrading work that only pays about a dollar a day.

Rag picking

For fifty years, give or take, Raju has been fighting to survive. He was born dirt poor into a small tribal village in central India. In the span of a year, both of his parents died. Shortly thereafter, Raju’s older half-brothers sold the family’s belongings and ran off with the meager profits.

Little Raju was heartbroken. And furious.

So at age 12, Raju ran away. He headed straight to the nearest train station, slipped into an open door, and woke up 125 miles away from everything he ever knew.

He was cold and hungry, in a strange place where he knew no one. He ate spoiled food out of garbage cans.

Eventually, he found a job washing dishes at a small roadside food stand. But the unscrupulous owner knew that this 12-year-old boy was a runaway orphan and took advantage of him. Raju found himself being subjected to emotional and sexual abuse. When he could take it no more, Raju fled. Again.

A pattern of new job—new city—new job—new city developed. Washing dishes. Begging. Cleaning houses. Field work. Selling trinkets to tourists. Raju bounced from one city to another, from one job to another. Each time, in each new city, he was cheated, taken advantage of, abused. This went on for the next twenty years, and the ill-treatment became the one constant in Raju’s whirlwind life.

Over time, the ill-treatment Raju received forged in him a smoldering intolerance of injustice.

Along the way, Raju met and married his wife and started a family. It was a hard life, but at least now they had each other. And after a few more years, they discovered a powerful new source of Hope—one that would radically impact Raju’s life and the lives of those around him.

In 2001, Raju met a man named Pastor Anup. The two men formed a friendship, and over the course of a year, Raju began to feel Jesus’ claim on his life. In 2002, he declared Jesus as Lord of his life, and he, along with his entire family, was baptized.

Raju, like many new Christians in India, took on a new name: Joseph. It was a fitting choice for a man who was, figuratively speaking, emerging from a pit in his own life. And like Joseph, God was preparing to use Raju in a mighty way.

The family settled into some vacant land on the outskirts of the city, adjacent to the dump. They began rag-picking.

They were squatters; living on public land in homes made of plastic, cardboard, and tarps. There was no electricity. No bathroom facilities. No drinking water—families lined up with their buckets at a government tanker truck that stopped nearby every other day.

In 2014, at Pastor Anup’s invitation, Raju Joseph enrolled in Mission India’s Church Planter Training programme. For a year, he immersed himself in the training; soaking up everything he could and implementing everything he learned in his neighbourhood.

The little slum village didn’t have much, but by the time Raju’s training concluded, it had a church. Every Sunday morning, Raju’s tent home became a place of worship.

Soon, Raju Joseph emerged as an unofficial spokesperson for the community. “I need to stand up for my family and my neighbours!” So, he made a list of demands and set to work pursuing them: Land deeds for each family. Road improvements. Sewer drainage. Electricity. Drinking water. And one by one, he started checking items off his list.

During one particularly hot week, the water tanker truck neglected to arrive for three days straight. Families began to panic. On the third day, a fearless Raju commandeered the truck and sent the driver home on foot. Within hours, the authorities arrived to retrieve their truck. Within a month, the neighbourhood had a water pump.

Today, thanks to Raju, nearly every family has a laminated pink document granting them a 30-year lease to the 20′ x 30′ parcel of land on which their home rests. They have government-issued ration cards. Several families have set up their first bank accounts. Raju and five of his neighbours have electric meters attached to their homes, with more on the way.

And the road running past Raju’s home has been graded and covered with crushed stone. Ditches have been dug; a sewer drain has been trenched. By next year, the road will be paved.

It’s no wonder that Raju Joseph’s church continues to grow. God has blessed these neighbors through Raju, and hearts are being opened to the Gospel for the first time—in a place where few have even heard the name of Jesus.

All because a lowly rag picker—born into tremendous suffering and pain—has decided to live boldly for Christ.

And Raju’s just getting started.

He’s advocating for better housing and a local elementary school for the neighbourhood children. And this year, he started teaching an Adult Literacy Class to 30 illiterate neighbors.

Raju says, “If you come here five years from now, it will be an entirely different thing you will see. When people pass by here and see how God has changed our community, let them say that this was the legacy of Raju Joseph.”