India and Me

February 22, 2009

There is no way to capture in words or pictures what I have experienced internally and witnessed. Since Carla’s death I have been broken, longing for death (or what I now see as life), directionless, and a host of other feelings that have created a miserable weight hanging around my neck. Prayer has been a struggle for a while, even before Carla left. Why would I pray for God’s will? Isn’t He in control of the ends as well as the means? Why would I thank Him for things that benefit His kingdom? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to be thankful for being able to witness something, or to be grateful for being used? What is the purpose of prayer? It seems only for my benefit? How could I benefit God in anyway? What is the power of prayer? I am bound by three dimensions and a dimly lit understanding. How can I even speak to God?

My birthday and the two days following were the “hardest” I have ever prayed… unsuccessfully from my side of the clouds. Carla died on the thirteenth. And since, I have screamed at God, wept to God, begged God, and sat silent before Him. It’s been hard to work out a relationship when I don’t understand Him. I know I never will for I don’t carry the capacity; but what I can comprehend, I would like a relationship, not some creator that has set the clock in motion and now waits as the drama unfolds. Who I am to demand love and communion? Confused. Hurting. Alone. Broken.

I say all this as a backdrop to my India canvas.

We flew into New Delhi and stayed at the gaudy Taj Mahal hotel. Our contact in India was able to get us rooms at the Taj at the same price as our previous accommodations because of the terrorist attacks on Americans at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. I have stayed in nice hotels before, but what set the Taj apart was the service. No words! The next morning after eating 3 bowls of Salmon and eggs… the most incredible breakfast item ever prepared, and a variety of other foods, we set off for the airport to catch a flight to Visakhapatnam, Vizag for short. Vizag is located on the eastern coast of southern India in the state of Andhra Pradesh. We would be spending the bulk of our time in Bobbili, located in the northern tip of Andhra Pradesh, about a 2.5 hour bus ride from the airport. When we arrived at the compound in Bobbili, we were greeted by children dancing and singing and they presented us with huge flower leis. It was a humbling kick-off to a heart mending two weeks.

The next morning, we split up and went to churches in a few of the villages. You would hear no complaints of the air being too cold, for they didn’t have any in the 95 degree “spring-time.” You hear of no church members talking about the color of the carpet, for they sat on concrete floors. You saw no one “marking” their pew, for they sat packed, pushed in, towards the front ready to worship the God of creation and salvation. And offering? They brought offerings in the form of rice and whatever else they had, and laid it at the front of the church. Beyond words! That night, we went to a leper colony and attended their church. Apparently, the Indian government has proclaimed that there is no more leprosy in India and have closed all the medical facilities giving care to them. So, now a small group of nurses visits them a few times a week to changes dressings and clean wounds. I have friends that stay out late on Saturday night and are too tired to attend on Sunday or it’s just too far of a trip to attend. The lepers, some with only nubs left for feet and hands without digits drag themselves to church to hear about the God that can heal the soul and body. We handed out rice and sleeping mats that had been purchased by a US church that night. On the way out, I shook hands with the lepers. Being a recovered Hypochondriac, I immediately washed and bathed my hands in purell when we got back to the compound. But, I could not wash away the disgust I had with myself. More than anything, I left there ashamed of my comfort and lazy worship to God. I barely spoke to anyone the rest of that night because I couldn’t shake the disgust I felt with my “sacrifice.” I wonder how God shakes it off. I am glad grace doesn’t end with salvation.

The following morning, Monday, we began our routine. We split up into three teams and traveled into the villages to show the love of Christ via doctors, nurses and dentists and to present God, creation to resurrection. Without getting into the cultural dimensions to deeply, India still operates on a caste system, in spite of it not being legal. And the word Christian carries an insinuation besides what we wanted to signify; not unlike here for me- I have hated the term because of our representation on both the liberal/compromising and fundamental/judgmental sides of the spectrum. Let me get off the box before I get both feet on there. So, the majority of Indians are Hindus. There is no separation of “religion” and culture. To be Indian is to be Hindu. This is changing some in the bigger cites with the penetration of Islam but where we were, the air was charged with Hinduism. So the message of a loving God and a risen Savior was incredibly well received. Who wouldn’t accept a God that loves and is alive? The clincher for the Hindu is only worshiping one God. Without getting into the Vedas, Brahma, Shiva, and so much more that I would probably botch; they believe God is God and all Gods are God and everything is an overflow of the God. The goal is moksha, to end the cycle of reincarnation. So again, the message of Christ is very compelling. You only get one get one shot. I heard many stories of Hindus that accepted Christ only to be banished from their families, land and everything else for accepting the Truth of the Gospel. What have I lost to follow Christ? What have I given up?

After we got to the village each morning, the pastor on the team would walk the village with a local pastor and the rest of the team with a translator and a bull horn. A crowd would begin to take notice and once a crowd gathered, the pastor would preach the message of Christ and announce that we would be having a medical clinic later, typically in one of the school houses. This would happen a few more times in the morning depending on the size of the village and our travel time. Then, we would eat a light lunch and begin the clinic. The crowds for free medical attention were large and unruly at times. The design was to let the villagers be seen by the medical team and then sit down with each person to explain the Living God.

As I said, I was so completely broken when I went over there, and I still am in many ways. I had no idea what sort of role I would play over there. I thought I might stand at the door and keep the crowds from spilling into the clinic, and I did have to pick up a stick one time, a little trick I learned in Afghanistan. I cannot imagine the impetuousness that must have been felt by everyone waiting to receive free medical attention. But on the first day, I was able to sit down and tell the story of Christ and witness someone accept that Jesus was who He said He was and make Him Lord of his life. I recognize it was nothing I did, but being able to be used in spite of myself was incredible. Over the next weeks, I was able to sit down and tell hundreds of Hindus about Jesus Christ. Over 200 accepted Christ. By the fifth day, I began preaching in the streets of these villages. I used an illustration used by the Jains, a small but extremely old religion in India. The illustration’s message is about how we can ever really know who God is, so we must expect God in everything, and this point is expressed through 5 blind men and an elephant. Each one feels a different part of the elephant and states what it is. Of course, each man perceives it as something else, never being aware of the complete elephant. One feels the ear and declares it a leaf, another holds the tale and calls it a rope, another rubs his hand down the side and calls it a wall, the fourth strokes the trunk and believes it to be a large snake and the fifth hugs the leg and declares it to be a tree. I used this to set up the fact that Jesus has removed our blindness and we can know who God is. Of course the gospel speaks for itself and again, there was nothing special done by me. No matter if I was talking about Jesus on a village street or in a one on one setting, I always ended with what has happened to my life in the last six months and how I have lost Carla and where I believe her to be and where I long to be. In saying this over and over, sometimes 50 times a day, the reality of her happiness now and what I have to hope for began to sink in. No one can ever know how hard it was to use Carla’s life that way. At times, it sickened me. Many of my prayers were on credit, in spite of my absolute belief. I prayed for the blind and the deaf and expected them to be healed in spite of six months earlier praying for my wife and watching her heart stop three times.

I believe that Carla completed her purpose here. She was so much more than just a wife and mother. The more I look back at how she touched people; I should have recognized her as a model on how to love. I have more work to do and I hope that she is smiling down upon me, watching Linen grow and laughing at my attempts at being a mommy. I am jealous of her perspective, and I believe that one day (soon I hope) I will look back on this trip as a beginning of something. I can never start over, for I will always carry my beautiful scar. And God has once again torn down the house I built for Him to live in; for that, I am thankful. But, it’s just so quiet right now and prayer is tough when you’re so frustratingly literal. I’m sure God is used to reaching out with long arms and grabbing the prayers that “feel” so on target down here, but I just don’t want Him to have to reach too far, even though I know he has already reached past my wretchedness. The older I get, the more I realize that I am helpless, out of control and ignorant. But this trip has reminded me how padded, rich and numb I am as a follower of Christ. I can only hope that this experience does not become a souvenir or trinket that I picked up in the duty free shop only to lose its novelty and shininess two weeks later.

My trip to India was full of sights, sounds and unfortunately smells. The culture there is interesting and sad. The history of India so rich and old. Words and picture cannot capture my experience. But, all of that is negligible in light of the power of the Gospel. I look forward to making the trip again; meanwhile, continually fanning the flame of my dependence on Christ.

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3 Responses to “India and Me”

  1. Geri said

    I read how over 200 people received Christ during your time in India. How wonderful is that? I wanted to share w/ you that because of your beautiful wife Carla, I found Christ. It was through her love for Christ that I came to know our Him again.

  2. Fran said

    Beautiful!

  3. Stephanie Green said

    Hi Michael,
    I have tears in my eyes from reading of your healing in India. I’ve been praying so hard for you to find God again. I’m so proud of you and your strength. You’ve come through so much and now you are truly an inspiration to others.
    I love you,
    Your cuz Stephanie

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