THE HISTORY OF BGCH
Discover the story of God’s grace and provision through BGCH.
Although the cornerstones for the first buildings were not set in Dhond (later Daund), District of Pune, India until 1899, the real beginning of Boys and Girls Christian Home (BGCH) started with the births a half-century earlier of three great Christian missionaries and humanitarians: Mary Elizabeth Kelly Norton born in 1845 in Hubbard, Ohio; her husband Albert Norton born in 1847 in Alabama, New York; and Pandita Ramabai born in 1858 in the Mangalore District in a dense forest home in the Western Ghats, a prominent mountain range along the western shore of India. While the stories of these three differ greatly in their early years, their lives increasingly became the same as they fought to save thousands of Indian children from famine, sickness and abuse.
ALBERT AND MARY
Albert and Mary met briefly when introduced to one another in 1872 at Oberlin College by the great Evangelist and President of the school, Charles Finney. Albert was returning by train to his last year at Northwestern College in Evanston, Illinois and stopped to meet Finney at the suggestion of a fellow rider. Two years later Finney encouraged Mary to join Albert as nondenominational faith missionaries, living on what God saw fit to provide rather than a salary from various churches which were willing to support them. Albert believed strongly that he needed to be free to serve where God called him rather than where a board of trustees in America felt it best to travel. Mary joined Albert in 1874 and they were married on the docks of Bombay before heading into the hinterlands of India near Elliphur where Albert had been working for the last couple of years with some of the most destitute of the Indian people. However, in the 1890s the Nortons felt it was time to travel back to America with their five young sons so that the boys could learn to speak English rather than their now native Hindi and to have them attend schools in the Rochester area of New York.
YOUNGER ALBERT NORTON IN THE 1880S
MARY KELLY NORTON AROUND TIME OF MARRIAGE
Pandita Ramabai spent her early years with her parents traveling from one holy place to another reading Puranas in temples or a nearby convenient place.
Readers of Puranas, Puranikas as they were called, were popular and public preachers of religion among the Hindus. Stories would be read in Sanskrit, and although this was not understood by the majority of passersby, it was a source of income for the family since the hearers would normally leave them presents or small coins.
However, early in her life, Ramabai’s father became weakened with age and lack of the necessities. Finally during one of the many famines that struck the country, her father, mother and sister succumbed to starvation within a few months of one another. Ramabai existed with her brother for the next few years in total poverty living the lives of beggars. They walked for over four thousand miles living on what little food they were given and wearing cloths of coarse cloth. Over a period of about three years they finally ended up in Calcutta where they first came into contact with believers. It was there, under the guidance of a worker named Mr. Allen, that she first felt the embrace of the Father.
THE BIRTH OF MUKTI
Ramabai’s new found faith and her willingness to help the women of her country is one of the great stories not only for believers but for all people as well. She became known as the “Moses of her people.”
She was one of the great pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement in a time when it was dangerous to do so and at the same time she loved reaching out to others to share the message of her Savior.
In 1898, with Ramabai’s encouragement, the Nortons returned to India to help her open a school for girls and widows in Kedgaon, about forty miles southeast of Poona (today Pune). Albert Norton lay the cornerstone for the first building on the 22 acre refuge that they named Mukti, meaning "salvation". During the cornerstone ceremony Ramabai preached the love of her Father from atop a dirt pile nearby. During that first year the Nortons reached out to the villages, preaching and gathering needy girls and widows into the home that Pandita Ramabai was now organizing.
BOYS CHRISTIAN HOME
Mukti home was so badly needed and so successful that the next year, at the behest of Pandita Ramabai, Albert and Mary Norton, with the help of four of their five sons, started a home in Dhond, (today Daund) about 30 miles to the east. This home was known as the Boys Christian Home. Over the years many volunteers came to the area from America to help at both schools while much of the early financing came from a group around Rochester, New York that had been supportive of the Norton’s work for many years.
Over the next couple of decades, thousands of young girls at Mukti and boys at BCH were saved not only from famine and disease, but also from a life without Hope.
(from left to right - TOP: John, Charles, Bert BOTTOM: Eben, William, Albert)
THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
However, not all of their efforts were successful, especially during the flu epidemics that happened in the second decade. Hundreds, if not thousands of young ones, and older workers as well, perished in the homes when the flu took down many there and all over the world. The Nortons have left behind diaries that spoke of the many bodies that were gathered while the workers tried to continue to nurse the others back to health.
While serving their Lord and these needy boys, four of the Nortons died and were buried on the grounds of the Boys Christian Home.
The oldest son, Ebenezer, returned to BCH after graduating from Cornel University in Agriculture. He had visions of transforming the way that crops were grown, but instead died early from an accidental gunshot wound in 1904. Albert Jr, the third son, died from illness two years later. Albert's wife Mary, whose love gave life to so many young boys, eventually died from exhaustion in 1911. Albert lived on until 1923 which gave him the opportunity to say good bye to his good friend, Pandita Ramabai, who went to be with the Savior one year before in 1922. Although BCH (now BGCH) has moved from Daund to Chandur Bazar, the grave sites of the four Nortons remain in Daund at the Norton Memorial Christ Church.
After the death of his parents, Albert and Mary's second son, John, along with his wife, Emma, took over the duties of caring for the boys. Increasingly they were helped by their daughter, Ruth, who was born in Daund in 1926.
In addition, John’s brother William and his wife Mary also served the Lord occasionally at the home, but mostly at their mission further north on the Indian/Nepalese border. By 1956 all the Norton boys had died and John’s wife Emma and their daughter Ruth no longer had the energy that was needed to both care for the children and do the work of raising money to keep the home going. Emma and Ruth moved back to Emma’s childhood home in Coshocton, Ohio but soon found that they needed more help.
THE TORCH IS PASSED
Dr. George Palmer and his wife, Rachel
Therefore, in 1958, Albert's granddaughter Ruth approached Dr. George Palmer, radio evangelist and founder of Morning Cheer Ministries which was based at the time in Philadelphia, PA, to take over the care and financial responsibility of Boys Christian Home. Dr. Palmer agreed to do so and the torch was passed. Thus began the next era of leadership, vision and passion for the orphaned children of BCH.
A BIG MOVE IS MADE
Tom and Faye Major
By 1968, arrangements were made with the help of long-time friends of Morning Cheer, Tom and Faye Major, and the 150 boys of BCH were moved from Dhond to the current location in Chandur Bazar.
One hundred acres of land were purchased and a new well was dug. In the years that followed, Jivan Vikas Vidayalaya, our primary school, was built as well as the boys’ dormitory, a multi-purpose hall, dining hall, staff housing and guest housing.
THE LEGACY CONTINUES
Bob and Char Palmer
During the next 30 years, the legacy continued and Dr. Palmer’s son, Rev. Bob Palmer, enthusiastically led the fundraising efforts in the States and spent a month each year on campus at BCH.
His love for the people was known and felt by all. It was during his time of leadership that Boys Christian Home (BCH), became Boys and Girls Christian Home (BGCH) when in 1992 the first group of 28 little girls were brought to BGCH. A large dormitory was eventually built for the many girls that followed. Then, also in 1999, another building was added to the campus – the Home of Peace. It met the needs of many widowed women who had been left with no family to take care of them and no means to provide for themselves.
BUILDING ON THE LEGACY
Brad and Sarah Palmer
In 2004, Dr. Palmer’s grandson, Brad Palmer, took his own step of faith and became the third generation of Palmers who followed the calling to lead the support and provision of BGCH. A large part of that calling has been to renovate and improve the run down fifty year old campus. A new boys' dormitory, multi-purpose hall, and school and administration building are fundamental components of the Firm Foundation building vision that is currently under way. With these improvements, our prayer is that BGCH will continue to be able to adequately provide for the nearly 200 boys and girls that live there, helping them to find food, shelter, clothing, education, medical help, but also hope, love and a Father who never leaves them.
Uncle Bob and Brad along with BGCH General Director and former Board Chairman
Our staff on campus is guided faithfully by our director, Pranay, who also followed in the footsteps of his father, Mr. Nitnaware, the on-campus director of BGCH for many years.
Mr. and Mrs. Nitnaware with Brad and his family
Mr. Nitnaware, himself an orphan who grew up at BCH, directed the affairs of the home for nearly forty years.
Current BGCH Director Pranay and his family
Sandy Cove, a ministry founded by Rev. George Palmer, played a crucial role in the survival of BGCH for many years and was a fitting and beautiful place for the BGCH leadership to meet.
If the history of the Home were to be summed in one word, it would be this: continuity.
Although it has seen many changes and developments in its 120 years of existence, continuity has been maintained because the Home and those who have been involved with it have remained focused on its mission: contribution to the growth and life of its children by ministering to both their physical and spiritual needs.
In August of 2016, this continuity was evidenced in a most unusual, Father-orchestrated way when for the first time in nearly 60 years, the Norton and Palmer families were once again reunited in their passion for the children of BGCH at the annual benefit event which was being held for the Home.
Over a period of twenty-five years, the great grandson of Albert Norton, Mr. Chuck Shepard, spent his spare time researching the story of his family until the summer of 2016 when he discovered that both the home in Mukti and BGCH still existed. This discovery for him was an answer to prayer and the timing turned out to be an answer to prayer for the Palmers as well who, after sixty years, were still caring for what was now the Boys and Girls Christian Home. Charles Norton, a son of Albert and Mary Norton, and his grandson Chuck had been successful entrepreneurs, and the fourth generation of the Norton family was now in a position to help the third generation of the Palmer family financially to keep the home going now and into the future. This reunion of families, resources and passions provided for BGCH the encouragement and strengthened foundations that continuity and the Creator bring.
With more than 120 years behind us, we are looking forward with great anticipation to what our Father has for us in the future. With nearly 200 children calling BGCH home, we feel He has given us a great job to do.