After decades in India, Welches keep going back

The front door sign greets, “Namaste, y’all,” hinting at the mix of Southern and Indian hospitality experienced during a visit with Carlos and Sarojini “Saroj” Welch.

Their Baton Rouge home reflects decades spent in India. Photos and mementos adorn walls.

Furnishings have a distinctly Eastern flair. Tea, which they prefer to enjoy with company outdoors, is served every afternoon at 4.

Methodist missionaries for more than 50 years, they lived, worked and traveled in India, setting up counseling centers and providing training and resources there.

Then in their late 70s, they began facilitating two-week missions to India through their church, St. John’s United Methodist Church, and have continued doing so for the past seven years in conjunction with the Louisiana Volunteers in Mission, a Methodist service organization.

“Trips like this give an opportunity for people who can’t do a lifetime of missionary work to explore what it really means to open their eyes to a new world,” Saroj Welch said.

She is a native of India who grew up in the Christian faith. Her grandfather converted from Hinduism in India before he succumbed to cholera. Her father grew up in an orphanage and worked his way through college, vowing that all of his children would be educated.

His only daughter was sent on a scholarship to study at Northwestern College (now Northwestern University) in Chicago, where a year into her studies in sociology and clinical social work she met Carlos Welch, a Louisiana boy, in 1950.

He took one look at her, looked up and said, “Thank you, Jesus!”

“I came to the States with strict instructions to focus on my studies and not fall in love and marry an American,” Saroj Welch recalled, laughing.

But eventually her parents gave their blessing. The Welches married in India in 1955.

At age 12, Carlos Welch, a native of Winnfield, had been “awestruck” by another Indian woman, a doctor who led his Methodist youth camp in LeCompte and told him, “Carlos, God intends you to live and do mission work in India.”

“I had never considered that my life might have a greater purpose,” he said.

Years later, with a goal of doing mission work in India, he moved to Chicago to study at Garrett Evangelical on the campus of Northwestern.

During their years in India, they developed a relationship with officials at Clara Swain Mission Hospital in Faridpur in the Bareilly district in northern India, and Warne Baby Fold, the orphanage built for children left at Clara Swain.

Now in retirement, the Welches act as escorts, translators, and cultural liaisons to construction and medical groups from St. John’s church. A group of 15-30 volunteers typically works for two weeks each February at Clara Swain and Warne Baby Fold, with a few days reserved for sightseeing.

Groups have poured concrete in the courtyard of the Baby Fold, painted buildings at the hospital, built a chapel at the orphanage and led annual Vacation Bible schools for the children at the orphanage.

The Indian workers were shocked by Saroj Welch’s involvement in the physical labor.

“They say to her, ‘You can’t do this. You are like our mother!’” Carlos Welch said, laughing.

The Welches were awarded the 2009 Augie Aamodt Award by the Louisiana Volunteers in Mission.

“They have a heart for India and the people of India have a heart for them. Our volunteer work in India is outstanding because we work with these two outstanding witnesses of God’s grace alive in this world,” said Larry Norman, director of LAVIM.

“People who go find that they come back more patient with the things happening around them,” Saroj Welch said “People in India are very laid back. They are always outside with one another; they don’t think about their own problems so much. I miss that here.”

After more than 50 years of missions, most spent in physically and emotionally taxing work, it would be logical for the Welches to slow down, settle into their comfortable home and enjoy some quiet years, but don’t count them out of active work just yet.

“India is a very seductive place,” Carlos Welch said, a smile spreading across his face.

“We keep saying every year will be our last,” she said. “Carlos is 85. I am 87. God willing and us able, we will continue to go.”