Givers

Called to freedom: How Marian and Suzie Noronha set captives free

For their first date, Marian Noronha asked Suzie to help him raise the walls of an outhouse near his cabin on frozen Vermont land. They were married the following summer. Suzie moved into Marian’s cabin and helped him make it their home. Little did they know, 41 years later, they would provide freedom to thousands and the ability to rebuild lives from the ground up.

Marian was born and raised in Bombay, India. Shortly after graduating from university and moving to America in 1979, he decided to spend nearly every dollar he had on a beautiful five-acre plot of land on the banks of the Ompompanoosuc River. Having no money left to pay rent, Marian found cheap building supplies and, over the course of 18 months, built a cabin to live in on his land. No electricity. No running water. Simply four walls and barely a roof over his head.

During this time, Marian stumbled upon a weekly Christian radio broadcast produced by students across the river at Dartmouth College called “The Morningstar Show.” Having fallen away from his faith during his university years, Marian was surprised by how drawn he was to this broadcast, and his perspective began to change.

“Every night, lying in bed and seeing the stars through the roof, because all that was covering the roof was a sheet of plastic,” Marian says, “I started what I remember were my first real prayers. ‘Hi, God, are you there? Do you know me?’”

Soon, Marian found his way to a church near the Dartmouth campus – coincidentally, the same church that broadcast the radio program. There, Marian decided to give his life to Jesus and be baptized. At his baptism, a young Dartmouth student named Suzie approached him, saying she had been an exchange student in Bombay. Marian and Suzie fell into easy conversation and quickly knew they had more in common than living in the same cities twice in their lives.

Learning to leap

As a young couple, Marian and Suzie were deeply impacted by the generosity of their church community. A few months before they got married, members showed up on Marian’s land with shovels and dug a 200-foot trench to bring power and phone lines to his cabin. Shortly after they got married, Marian lost his job, and they were down to their last $100 before God provided him a new one. The Noronhas say that God showing up through others at the final hour – in radically generous ways – became a motif in their lives.

“I call it bungee jumping,” Marian says. “God allows you to smell the grass, but he doesn’t allow you to crash. And then the bounces are smaller and smaller because you’ve seen God’s faithfulness.”

The Noronhas soon began practicing radical generosity in their daily lives, jumping without knowing how long the cord was, trusting that God would never let them crash.

The New Hampshire community they were part of was a contrast of well-off professionals and rural families having difficulty getting by. Though they didn’t have much themselves, Marian and Suzie made a budget, figured out what they needed to live on, and set aside the rest for giving wherever they saw a need.

“That was probably the very beginning – looking for needs around us,” Suzie says. “And that’s still part of our giving.”

While Suzie and Marian were raising two young sons and trying to get a startup off the ground, they met a young mother with an infant and toddler who had no home. The Noronhas insisted that the three move into their home with them.

Once again, God didn’t let them hit the ground. People from their community brought them food, filled their fridge, and babysat for them for free.

“Because he loves us and has given us his Spirit, we are able to love others,” Suzie says. “It’s the same with generosity.”

Intentional giving 

Over time, their small startup grew. What began as a small group of software engineers in the Noronha’s basement (while idyllic and adventurous, Marian’s cabin sadly did not work for raising five sons) became TURBOCAM – a thriving international company which creates over a million turbomachinery parts each year.

As TURBOCAM grew, so did Marian and Suzie’s generosity. They began focusing their giving on three areas: their immediate community, the broader region, and the ends of the earth. Focusing in on their passions, they decided to give specifically to ministries that met the physical needs of others and furthered the gospel.

They built TURBOCAM on Christian values and encouraged their employees to get involved in their giving. And the couple set their five sons up with their own Giving Funds as they approached young adulthood – the stage of life in which Marian and Suzie first discovered the richness of generosity themselves.

But their biggest leap of generosity began on the other side of the world in March 1998.

A radical idea

Marian had been in Bangalore, India, visiting friends and a new church plant. While there, he met a man who was about $10,000 in debt. This man had just become a Christian, was trying to run a small business, and was struggling to pay even six percent of his debt each month. Marian had an idea.

“I thought, what if we gave him $10,000 and wiped out his debt and said, ‘This is what your salvation is like. Welcome to the kingdom of God,’” Marian says.

He called Suzie and explained his radical idea. She was on board. But, before they could pay off the man’s debt, he was arrested, and Marian had to get on a plane back to New Hampshire, knowing there was nothing they could do to help.

During his layover in London, Marian picked up a copy of the Sunday Telegraph. The headline grabbed his attention: “Today’s offer in Nepal’s slave market: buy one, get one free.” Reading a little further, Marian saw the line, “For as little as £160, a labourer and his family can be bought for life.”

The article described Nepal’s active, legal slave trade. At the beginning of each calendar year, in a certain region, an auction presented men and their families to be sold into lives of grueling manual labor.

Marian and Suzie had already planned to buy a man’s freedom for $10,000. How much more impact could that money have in Nepal?

Marian came home and showed Suzie the article. “What do you think?” he asked. “She just gave me that look, which was, ‘Of course.’”

Suzie and Marian praying over the sick in Tikapur, Nepal

Setting captives free

Marian and Suzie had nine months to prepare. They found missionaries, churches, and pastors in the region. They discussed their idea with friends and family. And in January 1999, Marian traveled to Tikapur, Nepal, with their original $10,000, plus another $7,000 from their community.

That year, Marian was able to pay for seven families’ freedom. The money would have covered many more. Each person’s freedom cost anywhere from $30 to $150, but Marian knew he couldn’t just pay for their freedom and leave. He had to give them a way to build a new life. Knowing the value of a good plot of land, Marian used a large portion of the money to establish these families with a place to build a home and a future – a fertile plot to farm and generate income for themselves.

Marian left Nepal with hopes of raising money and returning the following year able to redeem twice as many families, but 1999 was a difficult year for TURBOCAM. Marian recalls losing 20 percent of their business that year. Still, the Noronhas didn’t allow this setback to keep them from their mission.

“God kept giving me the faith to continue,” Marian says.

Reflecting God’s generosity

Despite financial struggles, Marian and Suzie trusted God to remain faithful, and, in 2000, Marian returned to Tikapur with enough money to free 35 enslaved families.

“This time, the lowest I paid was $4 for a boy and $6 for his brother,” Marian says. “And on the other end, I paid $450 for a family.”

Marian remembers struggling with paying $450 for the family’s freedom. Their story was heartbreaking, but Marian could redeem 10 people for that kind of money. What if people were exploiting the Noronha’s generosity?

Marian went to bed that night frustrated, but when he woke in the morning, he thought, “God didn’t say that about me.” Marian knew the cost Jesus paid to save him had been much higher.

“Now, of course, 20 years later… I see these families thriving,” Marian says. “They’ve built houses. One guy drove a battery-operated rickshaw as a taxi. He has a tractor. He has a house. Where did they get all this stuff? They weren’t even literate 20 years ago.… It’s a tremendous blessing for me to see that.”

Marian and Suzie at the ribbon cutting of a new church building near Tikapur, Nepal.

Building a legacy

The Noronhas expanded their plots of land around Tikapur to establish three thriving communities:  Hope Town, Love Town, and Faith Town. In the last 22 years, Nepal’s legal slave trade has been outlawed, but Marian and Suzie continue to support the communities they founded.

Along with building homes and starting businesses that can sustain families, the Noronhas also have built schools and medical clinics and established trades instruction to help maintain the communities.

While the Noronhas and their business use Giving Funds to support various local and international charities, their project in Nepal is by far the largest. Through their nonprofit, True Sojourners, they provide for Nepali communities, health clinics, schools, and curriculum, as well as salaries for more than 75 teachers, many of whom were educated in the schools they first built.

In 2020, Marian, now a grandfather, worked right alongside community members in Nepal, hauling cement for a new building. He was able to experience firsthand the feeling of pride these Nepalis have for their hard work. “It takes the people who are at the lowest station in life and gives them something the highest people do not have,” Marian says. “Freedom and autonomy.”

“This is what God has done for us,” some of the Nepalis told Marian. “He has set us free.” It is no surprise to Marian and Suzie Noronha that, in Tikapur, the words used for “physical freedom” and “redemption” are one in the same.

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