INDIA (BP)–“So how was India?”
I was trying to imagine how I would respond to that question when I returned to the United States, but I couldn’t even think of where I would begin. How do you describe something that has invaded every part of your being, wrapped itself around your heart, and entwined itself in the very depths of your mind?
It’s funny that I never imagined I would go to India. I know that some people knew from age 5 they were going to serve the Lord overseas, but that wasn’t me.
A month before I graduated from college, I fully planned to stay in America and pursue some sort of career in politics. While I felt the Lord was guiding me toward journalism instead, I wanted no part of that. Interviewing people scared me — it still does!
But there came a moment when I distinctly felt I was fighting against the strong current of God’s purpose, afraid to embrace what He made me to do. So one night, with no job prospects, no purpose and no sanity left, I threw up my hands to the God of the universe and said, “Whatever You made me to do, I’ll do it! Just get me over my fears.”
That was the first step to India.
I took a journalism internship over the summer to help prepare myself, but in reality, I don’t know if anything could have done that. I had a very rose-colored view of foreign travel, imagining that India would be some wild, unceasing adventure from an “Indiana Jones” movie. I told everyone I would rely on the Lord to sustain me overseas, but I really didn’t think it would be that hard. Oh, how wrong I was.
The first week was fantastic.
I had a schedule to follow, meeting my new colleagues, getting acquainted with the city and taking in everything that was so new and wonderful. The streets, the shops, the cows on the street, the teeming mass of humanity that greeted me everywhere I went — I loved it all.
The second week, I wanted to go home.
That’s when everything came down on my head. As an extremely introverted person, the people everywhere unnerved me; I was afraid of leaving my apartment for fear of being drawn into conversation by a complete stranger. As a result, I was alone for most of the day, turning over in my head all the things I hated about this new place — the streets, the shops, the cows and the teeming mass of humanity that scared me to death.
There was a general stress that weighed heavily upon me, which I couldn’t trace to one particular thing. I later defined it as the stress of living in a place foreign from everything I had ever known. There was also some demonic oppression where I lived, since the neighbors were devout Hindus and regularly worshipped idols. All this made me feel like there was no way I could survive. I distinctly remember looking at my calendar and thinking, “I have four months here? I’m going to die! I will perish here in India from stress.”
But I didn’t die. Knowing I was not leaving for a while, I resolved to take things one day at a time.
Most importantly, I fell on the Lord. I told Him frequently there was no way I could survive without Him, and I asked Him to be my strength through each day. I knew He brought me to India for a purpose, and I prayed more times than I can remember that He would accomplish that purpose in me, no matter my flaws or apprehensions.
Slowly, I got used to living in India, and as that happened, I began to see.
The first time I went into a slum, I couldn’t take it all in. These were photos in magazines, I told myself, and now I was seeing it all with my own eyes. I witnessed the most desperate poverty of people who could not afford to eat every day, who lived in filthy one-room houses with seven people and no hope, where drunken men beat their wives senseless and women murdered their newborn baby girls because they couldn’t take care of them.
I saw ornately carved temples filled with powerless idols, where scores of people in bondage to spiritual darkness burned incense to demons. I saw the minarets of mosques and heard the echoes of innumerable calls to prayer, beckoning men and women to bow before a twisted idea of God proclaimed by a false prophet.
I saw so much misery, so much despair, and so many millions of people groping in poverty and darkness that it overwhelmed me.
But I also saw passionate believers in Christ who devoted their lives to loving the children who live in the slums. Every day they fed these children, helped them with homework, taught them about Jesus and showed them that the true God who created them loves them deeply.
I remember walking among hundreds of little boys and girls calling out “Hello Uncle” and “Praise the Lord, Uncle” and my heart melting. I remember listening as the Christians who ran the ministry told me their greatest desires were for these children to know Jesus and leave the slum. I saw with my own eyes how this was indeed happening, and I remember thinking, “This is where You are, God.”
I saw thousands of Christians in church on Sundays praying with sincere hearts to their Savior, lifting up their hands to worship the living God who has been in India since time began.
I saw rice paddies, villages, skyscrapers, rivers, dogs, cows, tigers, lions, the Taj Mahal and so many other things that it makes my head spin. I met people from Rwanda, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Philippines, Singapore, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Sri Lanka, and more places than I can remember.
How could I describe what all this has done to me? In a slow succession of events, my time in India altered the very fiber of my being. I am not and never will be the same person. I have seen, heard and done things I never imagined. I have been broken to the most utter point of despair and seen the Lord work mightily through my weakness. I have breathed deeply of all that He is and have lived by His strength in the most difficult of circumstances.
I have followed Him to a place I never thought I would go and been changed in ways I still don’t understand.
I am at a loss for words — that’s how India was.
*Name changed. Marcus Rowntree of Texas served four months as a writing intern among South Asian peoples. Readers may write to Rowntree at [email protected]