Archive for August, 2011

Reflections from India – Part 3

It is encouraging to hear a people gathered and worshipping the Lord in their own tongue. But not everyone at the church in Orissa was singing joyfully. Some instead stared blankly, wondering who these guests sitting in front of them were. I knew that not everyone there was a perfect Christian full of bold faith, willing to profess Christ in the face of death. I didn’t know what the preacher was preaching, but it was powerful and forceful. Even if it was an excellent sermon, though, I know that there were those whose hearts weren’t fully open to hearing the gospel.

The anti-Christian violence was widespread, and I know it wasn’t only the strongest of believers that endured the persecution. People have moved out of the villages for fear of their lives. I heard of how some people in Orissa had backslidden in their faith. Some had broken down in the midst of intense persecution and pressure, reconverting to Hinduism to avoid being killed or tortured. I know there are many who have doubts, who struggle to understand God’s love and grace in the midst of untold suffering.

I prayed that this realization wouldn’t harden my heart to the suffering of God’s people in Orissa. Seeing the rustic poverty there didn’t hit me like the poverty in Tijuana did when I was in junior high school, when I saw abject poverty for the first time. But realizing the humanness of the Oriyan believers–that not everyone responds like a saint (indeed, how would I have responded?)–actually makes me pray harder, with brokenness, because it shows me how much of a spiritual battle this really is. But I know that God will prevail, and so I pray with confidence.

Reflections from India – Part 2

It was interesting to go to the posh, upscale shopping mall in South Delhi. Just down the street from the entrance to the mall were unkempt, even naked, children walking on the dusty sidewalk. It was also interesting hearing my host remark about how good they had it in Delhi compared to the people of Orissa. It’s true, in Orissa everything was stripped down. Restaurants served meals in bowls and plates made of leaves pinned together and everyone ate with their hands. Homes had stone floors and everyone walked barefoot. In Delhi buying gas cylinders for the stove and waking up at 6 every morning to flip a switch which would fill the water tank was a blessing compared to having to pump well water and having only candle light. These villages were so far apart from one another. It was 6 hours driving from the capital city where we flew in to get to the main city in Kandhamal district, and then another 1-2 hours driving through winding roads into the lush, green plains to get to the villages.

But this was normal for the people of Orissa! You couldn’t tell that the people felt sorry for themselves that they were poor. After 4 weeks in India, I remember waking up one morning and there was a strange aura of mundaneness about it all. Wearing the same pants I had worn and sweated in all week, feeling the intensely humid air as I walked downstairs to eat breakfast, morning devotionals at the office, working on the computer all day and taking a break at 1 pm for lunch–curry, rice, chapati–heading back home and watching CNN while doing pushups, writing emails and reading articles, researching law firms, eating dinner at 9 pm, and heading off to bed. I felt the same mundaneness in Orissa while I sat barefoot in front of the 100 or so people gathered in that one-room, solid concrete church with cobwebs and soot on the ceilings and walls, with a lone ceiling fan that wasn’t running. It was just another day for the people of Orissa.

Wherever we are on this earth, we will all deal with the mundane realities of life, figuring out how to feed ourselves or our families, what livelihoods to pursue, how to plan for the future. I know there are parts of the world where there is crisis and emergency and dire need. But there are many more parts of the world where there is poverty yet life is okay, life is simple, life is going pretty well. There, just as in the major cities of India, just as in America, the challenge is bringing all of one’s life under the sovereign lordship of Christ. Just as the young adults at Apostles Methodist Church strove to figure out how they could serve the Lord in their white-collar office jobs, the Oriyan villagers were gathered that Sunday to listen to how the gospel makes their lives meaningful and purposeful.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” — 1 Corinthians 10:31

Reflections from India – Part 1

I learned many things during my time in India this summer. I will share some of them with you. Writing will help me synthesize my thoughts from this summer, which was so good because I was able to think and reflect. The first year of law school was tiring because I had very little time to do this–to think and reflect on everything I was seeing, hearing, and experiencing. Having a 9-5 work schedule with no post-work responsibilities and not having to worry about what food I was going to eat or about tomorrow’s tasks left me free to write in my journal, pray, read and meditate on and memorize Scripture, and interact with friends in person and through email more meaningfully.

Because most of my readers are Christian, I’ll start with this observation. Many teams from KCM and other campus fellowships and churches send missions teams abroad during the summer. The cool thing about my experience in India was that I experienced what real life was like in India. What it’s like to work in an office, raise a family, go to church, and be involved in a community. A one to two month stint in rural India with no running water and sleeping under gas lamps and mosquito nets is a great and humbling experience, but for me, seeing God working through Indian white-collar workers and Indian Christians was a real blessing. It was great to do research on potential grounds for a petition challenging the constitutionality of various anti-conversion laws enacted in Indian states. If there were no lawyers, who would challenge these laws in court to protect the religious freedom of Christians in India? God needs lawyers to fight against unjust laws and to help create an environment where the gospel can continue to spread. I went to church, and after the English service a bunch of college-age and young single adults came up to me, introduced themselves, and told that twice a month they had a discussion group for young adults for talking about how to serve God in the workplace. That is missions.

Too often college kids in America start to romanticize and nostalgify their experiences in a poor country. They hear over and over that missions is a life calling, not just a summer gig, and yet when they come home, they completely forget it. They don’t get involved in on-campus evangelism. They get caught up in their career ambitions. Or maybe they slack off in school and then try to make up for it by deciding to go to seminary (as if being a preacher doesn’t at all involve diligent studying, reading, writing, and thinking). It was good this summer to see that God has people in India who are probably way more equipped to reach the Indian people than any skilled foreign missionary will be.

But the other interesting thing to was seeing how some of the Delhiites I traveled with needed translators as much as I did to speak and listen to the villagers in Orissa, because they only spoke the tribal language Oriya. India is such a diverse place, and indeed the whole world is, that you will always need missionaries with a special calling to go into the frontier and devote themselves full-time to living among a foreign people and reaching out to them.

The Culture of the Cool

Coming back to New York, I noticed something. In that short period when the city felt foreign to me after spending all summer in India, I noticed that it was so easy to not care what people thought of me. In India, I was just a foreigner, and I knew that the only reason people would look at me was because I was different. In New York, as soon as I began to meet the glances and gazes of the people I would pass by on the street, the feeling in my mind was different. This was home (as far as being in America was home), this was the culture I grew up in, the culture I was familiar with. And at that moment, the culture of New York City became real to me. The culture of the cool. Where when people look at you you think “I wonder what they think of me.” And you also wonder about them. All the different ways that people dress, all the different ethnicities, the conversations they’re having–your mind is drawn to all sorts of thoughts. In India, everyone looked the same, everyone dressed the same. It was so easy not to be self-conscious. And it was easy not to have pride in myself. Here in New York, it is so difficult to escape this. You are constantly surrounded by people–and with each passing stimulation of your ego–it is hard not to think of yourself.

It was easy in the first few days back to stare at the ground, to avert my gaze and push pondering thoughts out of my mind, to focus on the Lord and His will for me, to concentrate on humility, to find quiet times to listen to the Spirit and submit myself to God’s Word. But now after only a week back in the city, I realize that living in New York City is like living in an offline version of YouTube. So many things draw your attention and distract you and your thoughts wander aimlessly.

I must fight against this. I must pray daily for humility and the reminder that without God’s grace, I am nothing but a worthless sinner.