Color, contrast, congestion, castes, curry, and comfort zone (not!) sums up travel in India.
Unlike the construction trips set with a specific task, going on a ‘Prayer and Awareness’ team initially felt nebulous, undefined and unnecessary. Our two week trip was defined into three parts. The first week was to encourage and support the staff in the Child of Mine (COM) homes; Dar-Ul-Fazl and Shanti Niketan, and to encourage through testimony and presence, a church of Indian believers, which impacts 50 villages.
Knowing you are being prayed for, tangibly supported and most importantly not alone, made a world of difference to the staff and church. Their worship is passionate, colorful and from the soul.
The second week was an exposure to the culture into which the COM graduates enter, and to expand our awareness of the COM post-secondary initiative. Both weeks found us intentionally interceding for our Indian brothers and sisters and experiencing an explosive awareness of the joy and beauty, the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the COM community and culture at large.
The third component of the Prayer and Awareness team was intentional team touch points. We had daily time together as we read through and discussed Henry Nouwen’s book, ‘Life
of the Beloved’. It was an excellent counterpoint to the Indian religions of Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism and fed our souls with the glorious freeing practical truth of what it means to be God’s Beloved. We also spent time unpacking, debriefing and praying through and over, the moments of impact, both beautiful and distressing in our day.
Part of our second week, after visiting the Golden Temple of Sikhism, and Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism, was to visit Varanasi; considered the Hindu holy city of India with over 2000 temples tucked in amongst the dark narrow maze of alleyways and streets. Always attentive to avoid the many cow dung, we also had to contend with how to navigate around a cow blocking the alley, the sacred processions of orange robed priests, the throngs of curious western visitors and the mass of Hindu pilgrims. Finally breaking out to the open river’s edge , I anticipated relief, but instead was awash with sadness. I had this moment and saw all of this as a completion of a metaphor for life; people wander in the dark confusing paths filled with distractions, temples and options to travel down -never sure - but always hoping to emerge into a place of peace. And when they finally make it to the open river they are met with chaos, confusion and still no hope. That’s their life. I was heartbroken. Despite the colorful sarees, sacred spaces and the confusion of bathing in water to find freedom that is filled with death, they are still lost in a city dedicated to the god Shiva, the Destroyer.
It was a maze of dark confusion that culminates without true hope.
The hopelessness was even more impacting the next morning. It was surreal, as our wooden row boat silently slipped along the Ganges River in the smoggy sunrise light. We were seemingly invisible to, yet mesmerized by, the Hindu pilgrims who travelled long hard dusty journeys by train and foot to Varanasi, to bathe themselves in the holy Ganges River. They came to wash away their sins. To those living nearby it’s a regular pilgrimage. For others it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong desire. The ghats, or riverfront steps, are the sites for the low castes to do laundry, daytime religious cleansing, evening ceremonies and the ever-present funeral pyres. At the funeral ghat, besides all the cow dung, we avoided clumps of dark human hair as we observed the male mourners, with their heads all ceremonially, freshly shaved, except for one little
tag in the back. Here they watch their loved one burn on the bamboo litter before tossing the ashes into the same Ganges River with the false hope that in so doing, their loved one avoids the cycle of rebirth. The smoke burned our nostrils as the dark spiritual oppression weighed heavy in our hearts and we ached for them to know the True and Living God.
Our Uncontainable God is building HIS church in India and we were humbled to be a small part of where He is working. The culmination of all three components , visiting the kids homes, experiencing the culture and team building, has moved our team out of their comfort zones of easy, may I even venture to say, challenged our western faith. We saw not only India’s desperate need of Christ’s Love, but also felt individualized calls to action, such as the simple monthly support of one COM child, joining a construction team, but also to a deeper daily awareness of His Love.
Words by Sandy Shier