Afternoon light flooded through the outlines of trees and fields — highlighting mounds of dirt and inches of water where brown, bare feet tread and stood each day picking grains of rice. Grains of rice that would then be harvested and sold for next to nothing. The road leading up to village was narrow and rounded off on both sides. We walked in silence as the sun streamed onto our fair skin. It was warmer than it had been in days. I took a deep breath in–finally able to breath after days of being in a city covered with smog and air that smelled like diesel. I let it float slowly into my lungs. The air smelled like earth. Warm, rich, and heavy. But the smell was comforting and familiar.
I’d worn a green kurta stitched for me by the sweet girls I’d worked with the summer before. The green was bright against my arms, pale from months of cloudy skies and an American winter. As I walked, I picked up the end of the cloth and smiled at the spots where the hem was uneven. I remembered the light of the stitching center—the sound of the girls’ laughter and the smell of DiDi’s chana masala floating up to the top floor from her blue tiled kitchen below. Some days, I’d quietly slip down and stand against the wall, watching as she’d toss spices into a pan of simmering curry.
I looked back up, realizing the two young men I had come with were far ahead of me, their documentary cameras atop their shoulders and around their necks. I kept walking, taking in every smell and sight around me. The trees surrounding the dirt path were large, their branches bent. Bent as if they were bending to announce and welcome our arrival. And as I walked under them, I became convinced that I had never in my life seen anything more beautiful.
Men and women, dark eyes staring, stood still on the side of the path as we entered the small village. I smiled at them. And though I could not see myself, I could feel the green in my eyes getting brighter—like all of my insides could spill out over my lashes at any moment.
The music coming from the one room church building floated through the air like a sort of butterfly. Gliding on the small breeze and reaching my ears. It was rejuvenating to my tired body, fighting off some sort of infection. I walked up to the stoop where a man stood staring, holding a small girl. Her eyes had been marked with black paint—a traditional ritual to make the child more beautiful and keep dust from getting into her dark, night eyes. I sat quietly and graciously upon the small porch, outlined with bricks. The man stared at me, his eyes quickly averting mine as I looked back at him. Instead, I focused on the child. Cooing and smiling and touching her small, brown hand. Mine seemed so large and pale next to hers—my veins rising just beneath my skin. The father motioned towards the child and handed her to me. He bowed and stepped back, a huge grin on his face. My arms felt as if they had been created for nothing else but for that moment—to hold the child that fit so easily against my chest.
“He wants you to pray over her, sister.” A man’s voice cut through the dusty air and walked up next to me. “Bless her life.”
A feeling of humility I had never experienced grew from my toes and ran up into my pulsing heart, beating quickly against the thin cloth of my kurta. Words fell off of my chapped lips and off my tongue.
“What do you think of our country?” the young man asked me. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five—about my age—and was dressed in khakis and a blue shirt. His dark hair was gelled back against his head and his eyes searched me. It was as if he was trying to see and understand all of who I was and where I came from with one glance.
“I know India to be a country of incredible beauty with beautiful, kind hearted people,” I responded, bouncing the little girl in my arms.
“But… you see the poverty, yeah?” His english was broken. A small group of men, women, and children began to form beside him. The little girls giggled and the boys turned away when I looked at them. “They have never seen a white woman. I rode my bicycle from the next village when I heard you were coming,” the man told me. I humbly smiled and looked around at the dirt floor and goats lying around. “You see it, ya?” he asked again.
I bobbled my head back and forth, left then right. An Indian way of acknowledging that I was in agreement. There was no way to disagree. India is a country of poverty and they knew where I had come from. “Yeah, but mostly I see beauty. And the kindest hearts I’ve ever known.”
The young man smiled and began teaching me about each of the crops growing in the field. I asked him about the banana trees and about the breed of goats they had tied up to a stake. And all the while, a little crowd of children followed me around. Their eyes lit up every time I smiled and I’d hear little giggles from the barefooted boys.
It felt like we had only been there but for a short moment when my two companions motioned that it was time to go. I handed back the child who had so easily nested into my arms and bowed in reference to the people all around me. They came up, touching my hands and sending me off with a Christian Hindi greeting. I repeated it back to them, knowing it was reserved for Christian believers. For brothers and sisters. Soon, we were far enough down the path that all of the villagers had returned back to their work and worship. Their ordinary lives.
And there, in the golden, afternoon light I stood on the edge of a harvested rice field. And my heart was filled with a great, unexplainable love for the land and people of India.
I have been home for almost two months now. But it’s taken time for me to write about my short trip to India. I can’t tell you why exactly, only that I’ve been letting it steep inside of me for weeks and weeks–patiently letting the words fill me and allowing myself time to understand what they mean to me. How the faces and conversations and experiences changed me.
I was there on the ground a mere 7 1/2 days. It seemed so short–not nearly long enough. And yet, it was all I needed to confirm the work God has been doing in me for a long while now. Because what no one knew when I boldly told my friend I’d be overjoyed to accompany her father’s video team to India but had no money to pay for the trip–was that last September, not too long after I had returned from my month spent on India’s coast, I had prayed that in the fall of 2014 I’d be sent back. I have no idea why I prayed for that specific time. But it’s what the spirit told me.
I think I needed to know that last summer wasn’t just a random occurrence in my life. I needed to know that the burden and love and emotion I felt for the country of India was not random. That it was a seed planted in me by the father to be watered and tended to carefully. I needed to know I had not heard wrong when I’d sat in the back pew of our church on Easter Sunday and felt God telling me to love on his sons and daughters.
And on returning home, I can tell you that none of it was random. Though I do not know or understand God’s timing, my time in Uttar Pradesh in December was confirmation that India and her people will always be intertwined into the workings of my story and my life. It is a joyful burden I feel upon me. For, I feel the weight of those who have not yet experienced the joy of a healing and merciful God.
While we were there, I had the unbelievable opportunity to join in a peaceful protest march with 5,000 other people. We marched several blocks, cutting off all traffic. They marched for religious freedom and for the persecution of Christians to cease in northern India. They marched because a church in Delhi had been burned.
And I marched because I had sat for almost a week listening to the stories of men who had been persecuted by their fellow villagers and people for building churches. For sharing the gospel. For believing in a God who heals leprosy and blind men and can save a man lying on the railroad tracks ready to end his life.
I marched because when asked what he was feeling as he was being beaten and his church was being burned, a man looked at me and said this, “I felt a peace. Because I knew Jesus Christ had experienced everything I was feeling as they lashed me.”
As I silently marched, the only Caucasian woman in sight, I felt God giving me a glimpse of what He is doing in his people and in that country. There are so many more stories I could share–so many testaments to his working hand. But I can tell you this. There is a movement of change slowly rising up in the villages and in the cities and in the people.
And upon returning home, I do not know how I will be involved in this change. But I know that I’m excited to see it grow and happen and take place. Because as I stood in the courtyard rally after the march and listened to a man speak in Hindi words I could not understand, I heard the spirit whisper to me in a voice that I could.
And I knew that at some point in time, I would be there again, witnessing miraculous things.