“and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” Isaiah 61:3
“A little ragged around the edges” – has been my response to friends and family when asked how I’m doing after my trip to India. Of course I tell them how amazing India is and how warm and kind the people are. I always mention the colors and usually tell them how one of the sponsors described it as “a rainbow exploded and poured color on everyone”.
I always mention the food. Oh the food. It really is a love/hate relationship with the food. For every person that I meet that hates the taste of curry, there is one that can’t get enough of it. I fall on the side of a little curry goes a long way. I grew up eating curry. My mom cooked with it often. She made a very tasty curry sauce mixed with slices of pork, potatoes and other vegetables. This would be poured over steamed white rice. I say it was tasty only because my mom was an excellent cook. On the other hand, I never acquired a taste for it. Those were the evenings I would groan and murmur under my breath. “Curry again!?”
I could never say it very loud or I would risk not getting anything to eat that night. So I would take lots of white rice and a very small helping of curried vegetables. And after dinner was over and the dishes were done I would sneak back to the kitchen and make a PBJ. That or a few Little Debbie oatmeal pies.
It wasn’t just the curry that I didn’t care for. Indian food is especially spicy. I’m talking the hot spicy. I know, I know, I’m going to hear it from all my cuisine-loving, spice is the slice of life friends out there. And believe me when I tell you that I love spicy food. I try new things all the time and I can put away some good Mexican food. I’ve even eaten guinea pig in Ecuador for Pete’s sake! But when the food is actually setting your mouth on fire and your eyes are watering so hard that you have to fear getting dehydrated; then my friends I think we have crossed the line. Several of them. Suffice it to say that I am not a big fan of Indian food. I survived on steamed white rice and bread for ten days. And I couldn’t even sneak off to the kitchen to make myself a PBJ!
The other thing that I will always mention when talking about India is the traffic. There were never really any traffic jams. The traffic was always continually moving. Moving at the pace of every man for himself. Pedestrian traffic was the same way. Every man for himself. I never sensed that anyone was being rude, they just didn’t stop if you stopped. If you hesitated in a crowd for just a second, several people would just blow right past you. The street traffic was the same way. Hesitate, and a sea of motorcyles and auto rickshaws would go flying by. Traffic just kept moving all the time.
And the sounds. You cannot describe what any city in India is like without mentioning the noise. It was a constant barrage of horns and engines. The sounds of India were like the colors. Brilliant and loud. Bright and beautiful. Like an orchestra that was forever warming up and you could anticipate the music that was about to come. And at times, it was like music to me.
Once I stepped into the rhythm of India.
Part of that rhythm was a wonderful gesture that people of all ages used. The only way I can describe it, is a bobble of the head. A movement very similar to those bobble head dolls that people keep on their dashboards or the bobble heads of athletes that you can find at any sporting event in North America. If you said thank you, you would likely get a bobble of the head in response. If you asked a question or asked for directions you may simply get a wobble of the head. It means many things in their language, it could mean yes, it could mean no. It could mean I’m thinking about it or I’m not sure. It could mean maybe or it could mean “as you wish.” In a country of over 1,650 dialects it appeared to be a universal response that everyone understands. I find myself doing it on occassion now. I do it when I don’t really want to answer a question.
So my response after being home for nearly two weeks is still “a little ragged around the edges” or a simple bobble of the head. I’m not ragged from the noise and the smells and the spice. I’m a little ragged from the drain on my emotions. There are stories that don’t often get told when people ask me about India. I give them the quick rundown of traffic and people . So much traffic, so many people – over 1.27 billion of them! I tell them that I managed to not get sick, which they always seem to ask about. How I’m not a fan of curried anything. But I never seem to be able to get around to telling them the stories that really matter.
So I thank you for staying with me this far. I need to tell you why I’m a little ragged around the edges. And I’m not even certain that I know completely how undone I am. This may require more than one story.
Our group of thirty Americans and four India staff had just moved from spending four full days in Chennai. The city is on the coast in the very southern part of India. I would describe Chennai as a very modern and progressive area. We had very little to be concerned about regarding our faith and our nationalities. But now we had moved on to Nagpur, in the very center of India. There isn’t much to see in Nagpur. This was evident when I was asked by a traveler on the plane to Nagpur what we were doing there. I responded that we were doing some sightseeing, that we were tourists. This is what I have been trained to say when visiting other countries. His response threw me off a little – “What is there to see in Nagpur?” Good question. No good answer.
So while in Nagpur we were told to keep a low profile. To not broadcast why we were there. Members of a political faction that are in power were staying at our hotel. This group wants to eradicate Christianity from India. I only mention this to help you understand the climate that we were in now.
So we went to visit a little church in the city. A beautiful place run by beautiful people. We spent the morning with them, learning about their programs, watching children perform cultural dances and playing with the kids.
After lunch we were to split into six groups of five and visit some of the homes in the area. I knew from speaking with the Pastor that everyone was a little nervous about thirty Americans walking around the area and visiting people’s homes. I cancelled the home visits much to the relief of the Pastor and his staff. We decided to have the families come to the church instead.
This is when I met her, the girl named Mahime (Ma-hee-may). I had noticed her earlier in the day as she performed a cultural dance. We had spent a little time getting to know her parents and learning about some of their struggles. But when Mahime showed up she captivated all of us immediately. There was something about her eyes. She had the eyes of an old soul. I’m not even sure what that means but that’s the only way I can describe it.
We asked her what her hopes and dreams were. Her response was immediate and full of certainty, “I want to serve the Lord all of my days.” This is a ten year old girl speaking not someone in seminary. Someone else asked what we could pray for her. What did she need? Again, without hesitation, she replied “I would like to have a house that I can talk to God freely in. A place that I can worship Him openly.”
She explained that the house she was living in was owned by a Hindu family and they were not allowed to pray or worship out loud. She explained how she did pray and worship and praise. How she could not stop praying and praising. She did it quietly. She did it in secret. Her and her parents had learned how to commune with God in a quiet way, in a secret place.
Our hearts were captured by this little girl named Mahime, wearing a red saree and possessing a heart that wants to please the Lord. A girl who was a miracle to her mom and dad. A child that was never supposed to be conceived. A child that the doctors had told the parents would never be. A child that was an answer to a mother’s prayers.
A child that touched us with her simple wants, to simply praise Jesus.
And as I mentioned earlier that India is a country of so many dialects, it is important to know that in the particular dialect of Mahime and her family, which is Tamil – Mahime means Praise. And I am sure she is praising Him now, with every breath she breathes, and with every move of every dance. And when her eyes look into the heavens, I am sure that God looks back and is pleased with her soul.
I pray that this beautiful little ten year old girl will soon have a place that she can worship and praise from the top of her lungs. That she could shout His name from the rooftops! And if you knew the little girl in the red saree named Mahime, the way I know her; then you know that she is a miracle and that she is made to praise Him. And she will shout to the Lord in a voice of triumph!!
I end this post with a Scripture that I believe could be the very heart of the very prayer from Mahime – the girl named Praise. And it shall be my heart cry for her as well.
“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4