When I traveled and lived in India for 2 months after I graduated from college in 2007, there were many things about my experience there that will forever alter the way I view life. I remember the long plane rides, and long lay overs in the various airports that threw a blanket of tiredness over our team, but did not extinguish my joy for being there, though the trip would be overshadowed by a darkness I never could quite put my finger on.
Car ride from Medford to Redding
Van trip from Redding to San Fransisco
Midnight flight from San Fransisco to Taipei
Flight from Taipei to Bangkok
Flight from Bangkok to Kolkata, India
Overnight sleeping in the Kolkata airport
Flight from Kolkata, India to Dimapur, India.
I believe it could have been a full 48 hours before we finally reached our place of arrival: Great Comission Kid’s Academy in outside of Dimapur, India, in Nagaland. The only Christian state in India, and you’ve probably never heard of it.
Though we were all more tired than we ever had been in our lives, or probably ever will be, we were warmly greeted at the school by the most precious children I have ever met. Each one was truly beautiful, and their smiles lighted up their faces. I quickly became acquainted with my friends Abane, Jenny, and Zuve, and they showed us girls to our room.
It was hot, that was for sure. The heat invades you from deep down, and it feels like you are constantly sweating, or have just gotten out of the shower. We put our suitcases carefully alongside the wall, and organized ourselves. We would be there for 5 weeks, but at that point, we all just wanted to close our eyes and nap. However, there was no rest for us, we were immediately introduced to all the children, and to the Dozo family, who run the school. The kids were precious, and had prepared an entire program for us! We felt welcomed, even though we were quite weary from our travels.
The Naga people are not Indian in their culture and practices. There are many tribes of the Naga people, and they are decedents of southern China, as far as nationality is, and they look Asian and not Indian. There was a long history of the Naga people being headhunters; they killed foreigners, and especially Christians for many, many years. In the 1970’s the was a huge revival that swept through Nagaland, and many, many were saved, and they stopped headhunting. The history is incredible, but the result of this revival was a culture becoming Christian.
Anyway, rambling. My heart was touched by these children. They had a heart for Jesus to know him and serve him, most wanted to be missionaries when they grew up!
The most difficult thing about India was not this first part of the trip. Nagaland was like a home away from home, a family across the ocean, and I still correspond with them even today. My heart broke time and time again, and became hard again and again while walking the streets of Kolkata.
We took an overnight bus to Shillong, a beautiful part of India, it was stunning. Then, we flew from Guwahati to Kolkata.
As soon as walking outside the Kolkata airport, it is complete chaos, and you are hit by a million smells, and a wave of heat even greater than Nagaland. Loud and noisy taxi drivers trying to rip off foreigners, and then potentially even kill you en route to your destination; driving as fast and as dangerously as possible. Upon our arrival at the airport, we were supposed to be met by our other team, already in Kolkata, but after waiting several hours, we figured they were not coming. We needed to find our way to either the guest house they were staying at, or just find some place to stay, as it was getting late.
I was angry at this point, our team was comprised of people who did not like to take charge, including our team leader, so naturally being the activator I am, I took charge. “Let’s just find some place to stay, and we will find them in the morning. It’s getting late, and it’s too dangerous for us to just be wandering the streets”.
Daniel and I (the more assertive of the group) told the team to wait with all our luggage, and we set out to find a guest house that was generally clean, and that had “air con” (which was the most important thing we were looking for in the pollution and humidity of downtown Kolkata). We were so hungry, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was well past 9 or 10 at night at that point. I didn’t care anymore, I was just ready to find a place and go to sleep before I began to say anything I would regret to our team members.
As Daniel and I walked the streets we found many foreigners in this section. I was shocked at how many of them were just sitting out on the streets, conversing with locals in Hindi, and many of them enjoying a cold beer. I was fascinated; they looked as though they had made this place their home, at least for now, but didn’t they have families? What were they doing all the way across the world? As many of them appeared to be Americans, or Europeans. I was so intrigued.
After stopping at quite a few guest houses, we finally found one at a decent price, “600 rupees a night, with air con”, the large Indian man said in broken English. I looked at Daniel, “I don’t think we will find anything better, and these look pretty clean.” He agreed, “Yes, it will have to do for tonight, I will find an internet cafe and let Cassie know where we are, hopefully they will find us in the morning”. Daniel had been looking forward to seeing his girlfriend Cassie for quite some time, he and I had enjoyed some good conversation the past 5 weeks on the team, but he was certainly ready to see Cassie after so much time apart. I smiled, “I’m not worried, we will find them in the morning”. It also was Daniels’ 21st birthday that day, oh, I knew he wanted to see Cassie, but for the night, I had arranged for one of our friends in Nagaland to buy him a little special 21-year-old beverage (shh don’t tell!). At least he would have that tonight, I knew I wouldn’t be able to steal away and enjoy a sip with him, our leader was a little uptight about those things.
We returned to the rest of the team, and showed them our place. When asked if I wanted anything to eat, I replied with a self-loathing response, “No, I’m not hungry. I’m just going to bed”.
As soon as I shut my eyes, I drifted off into a hard sleep, and tried to not think about the hardness of the beds, or the fact that there could be little creatures in our sheets.
We spent three weeks in Kolkata, and to this day I still have many distinct memories from my time there. It was really, really difficult, one of the most difficult times in my life, only unlike the children on the streets, or the dying man laying on the side of the road with a small cup begging for money, I had a beautiful home to return to, and lots of material belongings. They had nothing. The brokenness became hardness in my heart. Every time I stepped out onto the streets, I had to ignore the children. Ignore the beggar. Ignore the stares and whispering. I had to pretend I could not see or hear them. India is a corrupt government, so even if we gave to these people, the money would likely go to a harsh owner of these people. If you have seen the film Slumdog Millionaire, you know some of this.
We eventually found our other team, and stayed in a beautiful guest house with an amazing garden outside, away from the loud, busy streets of Kolkata. A haven from the harsh world outside.
But to this day, I still see all their faces. I still wonder if they are alive. I still wonder: how do we bridge the gap between poverty and wealth? How can I change the hearts of these people? Only God can bring an answer to these questions, but we can be faithful to pray. Pray that God will provide, as he does, and pray that these people can be reached with the hope of the gospel. That is what matters. That is what the goal is.