India is stark contrast. New Delhi is magical and peaceful and funny and deeply sad all at the same time. I loved it and I couldn’t wait to leave.
I’ve never seen anything like it but it was familiar. My friend Robyn who spent several years as principal of a school in the Dominican Republic said it well: poverty looks the same wherever it is. There are similar ingenious ways of making things work when you can’t buy something new. There are similar smells where running water and garbage collection systems are rare extravagances. Where electricity for things like refrigerating food is a luxury.
Ash from garbage fires covered every surface and left the air with a constant haze. Standing outside one of the Good Samaritan campuses (Madanpur Khadar), there were two huge smoke stacks pumping more pollution into the air every day. We learned near the end of the week it was smoke from a gas factory. Most floors are tile for the very practical purpose of allowing the constantly accumulating dust and dirt to be more easily swept clean. There were stray dogs with mournful eyes and beggars with blank ones everywhere.
And yet India is a wonderful place. The color and life are hauntingly beautiful–the flowers and fabrics are gorgeous and the food is spicy and interesting and delicious. The people are lovely. Most have honey colored skin, dark eyes, and glossy hair. I love their manner of greeting with its small bow and hands clasped in prayer. I love the meaning behind Namaste—the divine in me honors the divine in you. I love the respect of the other and the hint of understanding that we are all made in God’s image contained in that simple word. Such a great sentiment, isn’t it? What if, instead of a curt ‘hey,’ we westerners had such a ubiquitous way of remembering every single person we encounter is a precious and eternal being? Of course, Indians don’t seem to have an easier time actually living out that understanding than we do.
It is heartbreakingly understandable that some are mistrustful or angered at the sight of Westerners like me parading through their poor communities. I wish I could tell them in perfect Hindi, “It’s ok. We’re not like the rest.” And I hope to God it’s true. I hope we are not there—I hope I am not there—to do ‘poverty tourism’ or put a spiritual or philanthropic stamp on a narcissistic desire to see new places and feel better about our own lives.
It was such a joy to be serving with a part of the Body of Christ again after being disconnected for so long. I had the chance to pray with Laura and others over a woman oppressed by a demon. Later that week, she found us to tell us she’d eaten and slept well for the first time in ages. I got to tell a little of my story to a group of staff at the school as they sat neatly separated by gender. At the invitation of the school’s founder, I got to tell students and parents (separately) about the importance of waiting until they have finished growing and completed their education to get married and begin having children. I got to tell them about how daughters are just as valuable as sons. I got to tell parents about how important it is to talk with their kids about sex and intimacy and marriage. If you know me I hope you’re smiling. I was actually asked to talk with them about these things by people who had no idea how passionate I am about health and wholeness in these areas. God is generous. Best of all, I got to see others use their gifts and talents and skills. There is such beauty in watching people show love and compassion in the unique ways they are meant to do.
I am unspeakably grateful I got to be there. I am glad to see the hope and future being offered to kids like Asha and Nikhil and Ashish through Auntie’s legacy. It was a joy to witness and I look forward to doing my part to see it continue. In the meantime, I hope to keep learning the lessons India and the people of the Good Samaritan School have to offer me.