As I have described in my Last Post I was recently blessed to be able to volunteer with Hands on Houses in Tamil Nadu India.
“So how was India?” That seems to be what everyone has been asking me lately. Let me first confess most of my answers to date haven’t been very inspired. I do apologize to anyone who has felt slighted. Sometimes people can be at a loss for words when they have very little to say. But if you really want to feel completely and utterly tongue tied try answering a question when you have so much to say,
For five weeks I did my best to fallow my lord to the second most populace country on the far side of the world. What was that like? Where do I begin? India was-
At eleven times zones away India is as foreign as it gets. For an American volunteer in India anything and everything was a culture shock. The food is mostly vegetarian grave, served with rice and (extremely spicy) pickled everything but without plates are utensils. The roads where a logjam of pedestrians, cars, buses, motorcycles and ox-carts competing for space while ignoring lanes, speed limits, bridges or the direction of traffic. The shops could either house the entire wall mart catalog in an area the size of my bedroom or specialize exclusively in “stuff made of mettle” sold by the pound.
I have volunteered in countries with language barriers, but India is the first country I’ve visited with a body language barrier. Indians use a single head wobble to say yes/no/maybe and reply hazy try again. There is no hope of hiding the fact your a tourist in India. In Agra they stopped me every three yards to try to sell me something. In Augrabad they stopped me every ten yards to take my picture. In the Himalayas they seemed genuinely concerned I was lost and would roll down the mountain.
As a Christian volunteer in India I was constantly learning to walk in a very different shoes, to see a world in very different eyes. And I realized how great our father most be to have so many children! A Christian can travel the entire world but the only people he will meet are his brothers and sisters. Out there our family is far bigger than you can imagine.
Unpredictable maybe the best word to describe my life in India. Some times there would be electricity, running water, a clear task to complete and plenty of time to do it. Some times the electricity would turn off at moments notice. Some days the water pump would break down. Sometimes the rain would stop us from working. Some times our clear decisive plans got lost in translation. Every day in India was a new day and you never could be sure what each new day had in store.
As a Christian in India you had to trust in the one man who did know what the future was bringing. The one mans whose plans were sure to succeed. Prayer was one thing in India that never broke down. God was the one resource that was always reliable. The houses did get built according to Gods schedule.
Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who morn for they will be comforted. Blessed are those who can only afford houses built out of palm for God will build them palaces in paradise. Blessed are those who lose their husbands for Christ will never leave them. Blessed are those who live far away from wealth and power for they live very close to Gods heart.
With so many living with so little India is indeed, a very blessed place. These blessings aren’t always easy for us to see. They do not come in the material treasures or the modern luxuries Americans have come accustomed to. But while my cushy job in the states often leave me frustrated at the end of the day the exhausting labor in India always left our work crew over flowering with praise. While I’m never eager to rise on a Monday morning in the states Donald Cook awakes every morning in India and proclaims “Another day in paradise!”
As a Christian volunteer in India your eyes are opened to the blessings that are all around you. India will help you to understand more deeply the love that Christ has poured over all of us. Whatever a christian volunteer brings to India they will leave with much more, they will leave India with the assurance that they are truly and deeply blessed.
So when I think about all that I learned as a Christian volunteer in India I find my words are still
profoundly lacking. But when I started to reflect on, The profound foreignness, the predictable unpredictability, the deep poverty a song came to mind. Quoting music has become a bit of a staple here at the ACNM but my musical selection is going to be a bit more dated than Muse or Mumford and Sons, my travels brought to mind a classic by the immortal (sigh) Bette Midler (don’t hate)
From a distance we all have enough,
And no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
No hungry mouths to feed.
From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They’re the songs of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.
I hope most of you recognize these lines from Bette Midler’s From a Distance if you don’t (…you’re a communist…) enjoy the link its a classic. Don’t get me wrong I had not listened to this song in many years. But when I began to prepare this blog; I first began to struggle with how I would answer the “why” questions. Why did God call me to build houses almost a world away? Why should the faith and lives of people living here in Austin Texas be connected to the people of Tamil Nadu? Why should’t we serve here first?
Then God started to play this song in the back of my consciousness. Its a powerful vision of one world working in global harmony. I Bette’s poetry makes is a good visualization of the body of Christ.
We are all members of one body and we all must work in concert and without division to bring about Gods plan. If Christs love reaches over the entire world then so to must this body outstretch globally. This is not unlike being instruments all being played by a common father in one global song.
But what what maybe most important is the chorus. Where Bette Midler explains why Gods way of looking at the world is so much different than our own. From where he holds the world in the palms of his hands Austin and India do not seem to be so far away, why should the distance scare his body? Gods way of seeing is different. Gods way is better. I don’t see the perfect answer for all the why questions but God does and that is I try to simply answer when I am called.
But then I read reviews of the song online and found many people were turned off by the very part I found so profound. If God stands so far away he doesn’t see the distances between us, o
ur hunger, our poverty, our diseases and our war then what a blind and terrible God must he be! And and the heart of that debate lies a grate struggle of Christianity. When Christ came to our world he promised a new kingdom. His vision would eliminate hate, hunger, poverty, disease, and war. And then he taught us to promise it would come “on earth as it is in heaven!” As the body of Christ that was our vision.
So was Christ completely out of touch pr not? Is this vision even possible. Can we ever see past our distance, our differences and our difficulties? Can we begin to act in harmony, to create a new global song? As Christians our challenge to say “yes” we can. The voices that say “no” is our struggling to take us back.
Don’t worry if you can’t understand the how, the sheet music has been in Gods hands. You don’t need to know what its all going to sound like, just watch the conductor and do your part. My challenge to you this post is to join the band!
Hands on Houses is the name of the charity I was volunteering with. They build stable housing for widows and the handicapped in Rural Tamil Nadu India. If you feel called to support their website will provide more information.
Verses to Meditate on: Leviticus 19:33-34 Mathew 6:9-13 Luke 17:12-21