Archive for September, 2011

Sep 22 2011

India Deux: Days 9 and 10 – Traveling Home

Published by under India

I just walked in the front door of my house here in Nashville. It’s nice to be home. Interestingly, Seth and I commented in Chicago how anti-climactic our return from India has been both times. We don’t feel the slightest bit of culture shock. Maybe these 10-day trips aren’t long enough for something like that to hit me. It’s strange to see so many white people and I wanted to walk on the left hand side of the airport walkways, but other than that, I feel fine.

As I stumbled in the door with my bags, I began searching for something to eat and was forced to scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel (or refrigerator). I’ve been slamming Kraft American Cheese Singles like they’re Tic Tacs! And now I’m popping Cheddar Goldfish like they’re……..well, Tic Tacs. Here is my final blog entry from our time in India. I’ll be posting more in the coming days about random things, our Hipster Abroad series, and some other junk. Peace for now, my dear brothers and sisters.

We’re sitting in our plane on the tarmac at Kolkata, about to leave for New Delhi, retracing our steps back to America through the air instead of by rail. And as I consider this final day we spent in Kolkata, I’m thinking about the gift that just wouldn’t give.

Before I do anything in life, I read for at least 4 hours on whatever the subject is. I don’t like doing things that are totally foreign to me. Some of you will assume this makes me a control freak. Fair enough. I’ll assume those of you who think that are know-it-alls. For real, though, I just like learning. So when we booked travel for a trip on the Indian rail system from New Delhi to Kolkata – a 900-mile journey – I read up on it.

Grand Prize Game
I learned that locking your bags is very common when traveling across India by rail. Underneath each seat are two metal hooks through which you can pass a chain lock to secure your bags. I already had a braided steel bike chain so I brought it with me. The only problem with my ingenious plan is that I couldn’t remember what the lock combination was when we arrived in India. I’m a clown. I knew it started with a “G” (it’s one of those Word Locks where the combination is a word) but couldn’t remember anything else. It wasn’t long until I discovered another problem. The lock doesn’t have a single “G” anywhere on it. I’m Bozo the Clown. That is, as Jesus is King of Kings, I’m the Clown of Clowns.

I haven’t been to many international airports, but as I’ve passed through the security of each one, all of them have made me almost completely empty my shoulder bag of all my electronics gear inside. It makes me wonder what the purpose of the x-ray machine is. Imagine a doctor takes an x-ray. “Yup. Looks broken… We’re gonna have to cut you open to check for sure.” (Yes, I know I’m being a monkey.)

Anyway, on this occasion tonight, the guard found the unopenable Word Lock in my bag (I forgot it was there) and took exception to it. He went and checked with a superior, returning to inform me that the lock wouldn’t be allowed in either my carry-on or my personal bag I was taking on to the flight. He suggested I put the lock in my carry-on and return downstairs to check that bag. Ummm, no. Do I look like the kind of guy who returns downstairs to check another bag!? Homie don’t play that. I looked over at Seth and said, “I don’t even know how to get this thing open.” So I turned back to the guard and said, “It’s ok. You can throw it away.” His demeanor changed immediately. “Hold on,” he said. After talking with the same superior, he returned and said, “Ok, you can put it in your bag, but it’s not allowed anymore.” GSA. Ghetto Security Administration.

Chew It Or Lose It
Meals in India are a full contact sport. Amongst my friends in the US, I’m notorious for eating slowly. Even though I’m technically an introvert, I talk a lot at meals. When words are coming out, it’s tough to put food in. Continuing this same pattern in India, I became the cause for schedule delays. When Indians get food, there’s no messing around. The NBA has a shot clock. If you don’t hit the rim with the ball inside 24 seconds, your team loses the ball. Indians seem to have an internal food clock. They eat as though their food is God’s manna and could potentially be taken away from them. The Israelites had to collect their manna every morning before it evaporated like the dew of the morning. My friend, Piyas, summed it up simply: “Eating will take 10 minutes maximum.”

10 Minutes To Win It
But don’t be deceived. A lot happens in those 10 minutes. First, when Indian food is served, it seems as though it’s just arrived from the surface of the sun. I’m not sure that steel is smelted at such a high temperature. What makes things more incredible is they eat with their hands. At one point this trip, I considered going to the hospital as I was concerned I had third degree burns after recklessly plowing my hand into a stack of rice. Serves me right for trying to be all native and stuff.

Second, I’m convinced Indians only need three things to live: oxygen, water, and rice. Some geological surveys would classify the portions of rice on each person’s meal dish as a notable mountainous region. The Himalayas. The Alps. The Bismatis. I’m guessing an Indian eats their own body weight in rice every month of the year.

Third, I would like to unofficially declare cucumbers as the national vegetable of India. Most meals are served with tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. I haven’t seen much of the other parts of India, but I’m thinking it must be at least 70% a garden because Indians love their vegetables. Seth LOVES vegetables, too. For those who are curious, his CPD (cucumber per day) ratio was 1.2 while we were in Kolkata. Beast mode!

The Cool Daddy
As a closing item today, I want to write briefly about my aforementioned travel partner and best friend, Seth.

Meet and Greet
I met Seth on January 27, 2009. It was one of the best days of my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s turned out that way. That probably seems a little ridiculous, but let me explain. Since college, I’ve prayed to God that I could have a best friend – someone that would sharpen me and someone with whom I could soldier through the ups and downs of life. Someone I could stay focused on the important things of life with. For at least 8 years, I’d prayed to God to provide a friend like this.

On the days I’m not jealous and hateful toward Seth for having so much talent in almost every area of life, I thank God for everything He’s built into my friend.

Seth is a songwriter and music producer (how he makes his living), a scholar, an athlete, a scholar-athlete (he pole vaulted in college), and a true follower of Jesus. I love all these things about him. But what I especially, and selfishly, love most about him is that he’s helped me become a better man. Through our conversations on the phone, in person, over email, and text, he continually pushes me to actually do the things Jesus says to do – to cut out the major and minor sins in my life and to more firmly establish kingdom living as a pattern of life – to do justice and love mercy and to walk humbly with God. To seek first His kingdom. To set my mind on things above. To show my faith by doing instead of merely talking – to be a doer of the Word.

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
An example of one of his many talents…While we were in Kolkata, Seth did some incredible things that impressed me, some of which I captured on video that you’ll see in the coming days. His greatest achievement happened a few nights ago. We were in an extremely busy part of town where hailing a taxi is virtually impossible. Our friend Piyas would flag one down, tell the driver where we wanted to go, and get denied. We’d then walk a little further down the street and try again. After 3 or 4 false starts, a taxi came whizzing around the corner and passed us but suddenly slammed on the brakes. I pushed Seth toward the taxi and yelled, “GET IT!!!” Seth ran down the street and after a moment, motioned to us to come get in the taxi. After we got back to our room, I said, “Dude, what’d you do to get that taxi?” He answered, “Actually, I have no idea. I didn’t even know where we were going. I didn’t say anything. He just looked at me for a second and told me to get in.” If Kolkata taught us anything, it’s that Seth’s most hidden talent is his ballin skills as The Taxi Whisperer.

Masters in Teaching
During our visit to Ghoraghata, Seth gave a small devotional to about 15 mothers who, through the work of our friends at SEED, recently learned the art of making and selling jewelry to earn more money for their impoverished families. The program has been a monster hit. On this particular work day of theirs, Seth’s word to them was awesome. If you have interest in listening, it’ll most likely be the best 7.5 minutes you spend today. He spoke from Luke 4 – when Jesus talked to the woman at the well. Our friend, Piyas, is translating.

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CS Lewis once said that our joy in something isn’t complete until we declare it publicly – that we’re compelled by our happiness to express our joy in that thing to others. And so, to You, Lord, I thank You for answering my prayers for a friend like Seth. And to you, brother Seth, I thank you for being such a good friend. My life would be doubly lacking without your friendship. I wouldn’t be the dude I am today without you and I wouldn’t have gone to India without you. Either time. As long as we live, may God give us the same spirit – His – in order to do the work He’s prepared for us since the foundation of the universe.

I’ll travel anywhere in the world to get sick with you.

We’ll go! India is great! And you’ve got all your bags! Someday, I’ll show that Travellator who’s boss. Yummy, yummy, yummy!

To Jaiashree and Piyas… Hear me when I tell you that the lives you’re living are among the most inspiring I’ve seen in all my days on this earth. May God richly bless you in this life and the life to come because of the sacrifices you make on a daily basis for His Name’s sake. The example of your lives burns so bright, it’s consuming the chaff in mine. Far better that happen to me now than at the end of the age. I believe many of my tears I cried there were from brokenness. We’ve brought nothing into this life and we can take nothing from it. You are very practically showing me what that means. Thank you, thank you, thank you for listening to the Lord’s call on your life. How grateful I am to Him that we’ve become friends – an improbable friendship spanning 8,000 miles and 11.5 hours of timezones. Of all the 1.1 bllion people living in India, I’m thankful to know you two and the rest of the SEED staff! Lord-willing, the next time I return, I’ll be the taxi driver. I’m going home to practice my skills in honking, pothole avoidance, and fitting my car into impossibly small spaces. Everyone will have to wear seat belts in my car, though. Sorry. Our plane is just now making its final approach into Chicago. I’m almost home, but I miss you already.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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Sep 20 2011

India Deux: Day 8 – Goodbye, Kolkata

Published by under India

Seth and I are really pressed for time today so this post is almost totally serious. (I know, boring right!?) I hope you still enjoy it!

Reality vs. Super-Reality
One concern I have in communicating the reality of the people here is not to overdramatize things. There are enough hysterics in the world as it is. Whether I have and will achieve this as I continue to write about Kolkata, I don’t know but it’s my aim.

Let me tell you more about the reality of living in the slum as a child that is 6-13 in age. As I mentioned a few days ago, most of the kids’ parents work all day long. Many of the mothers regularly work 12 hour days. Many of the fathers also work all day but a number of them only work for a portion of the day and spend the rest of their day consuming very cheap country alcohol. They can get drunk for as little as a dime. Around 1pm, you’ll begin to see the first couple men stumbling through the street. As the afternoon wears on, this number increases. At night, the slum is a very different place than it is in the morning. Husbands regularly shout at and beat their wife and kids. Not all of them are this way, but many are. This sounds bad, but if you think about it, it’s actually much worse than this. How can it be worse?

You Are What You’re Taught
Kids often get the best and worst of themselves from their parents. It’s through teaching, modeling, and discipline that kids are formed into the people they’ll become. The quality of the parents often determines the quality of the child. In the Old Testament, God talks about the sins of the fathers being passed on to the third and fourth generation. God fashioned Adam out of the dust of the earth and He forms us in our mother’s womb. But He leaves the clay sticky when we’re born. We’re open to shaping and molding. Many of the children in Khalpar are being fashioned into less-than-ideal shapes.

Briefly, the story Bringar, a girl who is ten years old. Her dad is an alcoholic and her mother works all day. Bringar has taken to rooting through the trash in garbage dumps, looking for alcohol bottles that still have a small amount of alcohol in them. She collects many such small quantities, mixes them together and sells it. That’s an enterprising thing to do for a ten-year old! Unfortunately, Bringar takes the money she makes from that, buys tobacco dust, and chews the tobacco dust. Her teeth show it. Who sells tobacco dust to a ten-year old? People who are doing anything they can to survive. Not too long ago, Bringar had to be sent home from school because she had taken so much tobacco, she couldn’t even function properly. She was slurring her words and couldn’t walk well. Tobacco wasn’t made for kids.

Complex Problems
This is the context that our friends Jaiashree, Piyas, and the rest of their staff labor in. The problems are complex and, frankly, so are the solutions. As they’ve discussed over the months what to do about the kids, Jaiashree and Piyas have made it clear that, with limited resources, there is one ideal, albeit not really ideal solution. The at-risk kids in the community must be removed from their homes and placed in a home where they can learn a new way of life. Many of the older boys in the slum are already getting into alcohol. And it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with either tobacco or alcohol. But when those things threaten the lives of those who use them – whether child or adult – they’ve worn out their welcome in my book.

Coming into the place with a few dollars to build a school doesn’t guarantee anything. But it does build a lot of trust in the community. The children in good families are doing very well. And for those in troubled situations, there are already four girls who have been placed in a hostel (basically, a boarding school) some ways from the slum. Parents visit them every other Saturday. The girls are learning and growing a ton! While they miss their families and friends a lot, their future in that place, if they can make it through the loneliness, will provide them a much better future.

The Dream Project
One of the dreams we’re piecing together right now is a children’s home. While Seth and I were here, we visited a number of pieces of property where the home might be built. The goal of the home is to completely remove the kids from their environment and provide a place where they can unlearn the habits they’ve had and learn new habits built into them. Besides alcohol and tobacco use, the kids have no sense of hygiene at all. It’s hard to be clean when you live in a trash dump (as they do). Even still, the basic things they can do, they don’t because no one in the community does them.

In the United States, when a parent is chronically drunk and abusive, the children are removed from that home and placed in foster care. There’s no such thing as that in India. So the people in SEED are creating the idea. But rather than the sometimes suspect condition of American foster care, the kids would be placed under the care of a loving group of people whose sole desire in word and deed is to see them succeed in every aspect of life – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spirituality. Many of the kids are regularly berated by their parents and told they’re worthless. All that I’ve described needs to change. And it would be very difficult to change the parents. It has to be the kids – the next generation.

The End
Today, Seth and I have reached the end of our final full day in India. Tomorrow, we’ll have one final day of debrief with our friends Jaiashree and Piyas and then we’ll fly out of Kolkata once again, with a return trip already booked for February. We’re committed to this place. We believe that as Jesus left the most excellent place, heaven, that we, too, must leave our excellent places and visit the shabbier area of earth. Not that we’re special because we live in a nice place. We’re not. It’s just the reality.

Kolkata is no paradise. Compared to America, it’s a dirty place. Pollution – air, trash, and noise – abounds. With that said, you’d think it would be simple to return to America, but it isn’t. Like the problems of the slum, the relationship Seth and I have with this place is complex. In one moment here, you’re on top of the world – you enjoy the people and have good vision about what you want to do. The next, you can’t figure out what made you want to come here at all because you’re such a small person incapable of much. This is the reality of heart life.

Yes, I want to sleep in my own bed again. And yes, I want to walk outside with sweating a liter of water in 25 minutes! :) But I wish I could bring the people with me! I wish they lived closer to Nashville so I could see them more regularly. Because they don’t, I want to bring America to them. Not in every form and facet. There is much about our country I dislike – the greed, selfishness, and other things. I want to transfer some of our material wealth to the people here.

Tata, Farewell, Goodbye
How do you say goodbye to such a place? A place filled with beautiful people in terrible conditions? It’s very strange. And I’ve never been good at goodbyes. When you leave the kids here, they don’t ask you for money or candy or toys. They ask you to come back. Lacking everything, their one request is to see your face again. With heavily accented, high-pitched voices, they repeatedly cry out, “Come again! Come again! Come again! Tata, Uncle! Come again!”

And, ultimately, that’s what I want, too. I want to see them again. I see the future thems. I want to see those kids, too. Who will Bringar be in 5 years? In 10 years? Will she know a new life soon or will she become addicted to tobacco and other bad habits that derail her life? To leave this place doesn’t mean relief – that I get to return to “clean” America. Or that this is not longer my problem. It doesn’t mean I’ve added to my life experience. Goodbye is really hello. I say goodbye to the children and hello to the process of raising money for them. So goodbye for now, lovely people of Kolkata. Lord-willing, I WILL come again. Tata! Farewell! Goodbye!

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Sep 20 2011

India Deux: Day 7 – Six and Bowled

Published by under India

Up until about two years ago, I had almost no interest in the game of cricket. Cricket is a game that seems like baseball, but is really a very distant relative – the 8th cousin 5 times removed. The ball is different. The bat is different. The “bases” are different. There’s no concept of fair/foul. It’s basically nothing like baseball. But it is. Kind of. Like that 8th cousin 5 times removed. You’re related. But you’re really not.

Anyway, one weekend, like a pregnant woman suddenly craving broccoli and Mountain Dew, I decided I wanted to learn how cricket was played. I got online and started reading the rules. And then I found some old games that were available for viewing on ESPN3. As I watched, I became semi-addicted. Cricket is a special sport for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorites is that when the defensive team gets an out, it’s actually a very big deal. You’ll see them celebrate wildly. The team on offense also frequently goes crazy because the number of runs a team typically scores in a cricket match can easily range from 150-300+ (depending on the format of the game). There’s tons of action. Cricket is one of the things the British brought with them when they came to India and India has been whooping them at it ever since. (Except this summer where England has put the hurt on India).

As time has passed, I’ve wanted so much to play cricket. So when we put together our itinerary with our friends here in India, I requested that we have some time to play cricket with the kids from one of the villages. Today, I got that opportunity in Ghoraghata.

First, a small explanation I had intended to include on Day 4, but because of a short circuit in my brain, I never posted Day 4, so I’ll do it here.

Our friends here in India, Jaiashree and Piyas, started an organization about 2 years ago called SEED. Their aim is to build schools and churches for the areas in and around Kolkata that don’t have access to either. There are many NGOs in Kolkata but most of them focus on the most densely populated areas of the city. That means remote, extremely poor, and less-densely populated areas receive very little, if any aid. The reason for this is logical. Most organizations want the most bang for their buck. They want to be able to tell donors they’re being responsible with the funds they’ve been given and impacting the most people possible. It’s a noble desire. And because the pool of funds is limited, they spend it to maximize the impact by doing it in densely-populated areas. Jaiashree and Piyas, having worked for a major NGO for years, decided they wanted to do something different. So, 18 months ago, without any salary, they left their jobs and started SEED.

They started their first project in an area of the city I wrote about two days ago – Salt Lake – in a slum called Khalpar which has a population of about 1,250 people. They started a school and feeding center.

They then expanded to the community of Ghoraghata – the place I’m writing about today.

They expanded again to include the communities of Basirhat and Gaborda, 3 hours north of Kolkata, near the border of Bangladesh.

Their newest project is in Nalpur – the place we went yesterday.

The desire of SEED is to emphasize quality over quantity. The communities they work in are not massive. And the people they affect there are, at the outset, even less, because not everyone is interested in school or church. But the kids who attend SEED schools and the adults and kids who attend churches in the SEED projects are growing and becoming more intelligent, healthier, and mature.

While many NGOs help people, they sometimes do so at the expense of quality. I say that not as a brutal criticism. It’s not true always, but it often is. Many people are helped, but they’re not helped in the deepest way possible. Things are a mile wide and an inch deep. SEED’s desire is to do things an inch wide and a mile deep. They desire to pour heavily into the few people God has entrusted them with. And it makes sense to me. For two reasons. First, Jesus chose 12 men to change the stinking world. Second, the only reason I believe many NGOs operate as they do (mile wide, inch deep) is because they have to. Relatively, there aren’t enough people doing work over here and they’re trying to do so much. The need exceeds the help. NGOs are trying their best but if more people were involved in the work here, everyone could go really deep with a small group of people.

That’s what I love about SEED. They love the people of their projects so deeply. Jaiashree, Piyas, and their staff of 17 sacrifice so much to make everything happen. You’ll hear plenty more about this from me in the coming months.

So back to cricket. My turn to bat came up. I was pumped. One of the boys, Sumhit, was the bowler (the cricket equivalent of pitcher). Seth and I were playing with kids in age range from 8-13 so I wanted to take it easy. He bowled the ball and I swung lightly but still hit it a lot harder than I intended. I hit the cricket equivalent of a homerun – a 6-run boundary. But don’t be impressed. Again, it was against pre-pubescent boys on a cricket grounds the size of a super small little league ball field. But, for my ego, in a manner of speaking, I crushed the first ball. It was the next ball in which I would be crushed. Sumhit bowled the ball and I turned the bat inward to hit the ball on the ground to my left. I missed. And it’s ok to miss. I heard the sound of silence – crickets – for a very brief moment. But then I heard a noise and panicked. I turned around. The bails had fallen off the wickets. Sumhit’s pitch had hit the stumps. I’d just been bowled by a 12-year old. I was out.

Let me put this into perspective for you. If we equate this to baseball. I struck out facing a pitcher who was in the 6th grade. I struck out facing a pitcher who hasn’t hit puberty yet. I struck out on a slowball bowled at 30mph. And did I mention there were a bunch of older kids watching on the sidelines, too? No? Probably 15 kids ranging in age from 18-25. And I can’t speak Bengali well yet (ok, I can’t really speak it at all), so I couldn’t go over and tell them, “Hey guys, listen, that was literally the second ball I’ve ever faced before. Don’t think worse of me.” I imagine my nickname among them is “Sad Guy.” Because my performance can only be described as sad. But Sumhit is a hero for striking out the worst uncle to ever play cricket. I came 8,000 miles and got two pitches. Big ups, Sumhit! Big ups! I’m gunning for you when I come back here (Lord-willing) in February! (Seriously, though, this Sumhit is one heck of a kid. He’s one of those kids you look at and you know that he could do anything in the world that he wants. He’s got a beautiful heart – kind and servant-like, great athlete, great student. I want the world for him!)

A Few Good Boys (And Girls)
As we left the boys that we’d played soccer and cricket with, I suddenly had the feeling that these little dudes are someday very soon going to be men. They have all the potential. They’re just like American kids. In fact, if they lived in America, they’d do very well. But they live in a rural village two hours outside of Kolkata where, up until a year ago when SEED showed up, they had no real hope of ever getting out of poverty. But now they do. These little dudes are seeds themselves.

Two hours later, I was crying in front of Piyas. The purpose for Seth and my trip had become more clear to me. God sees these kids. He knows everything about them. He already knows whether they’ll grow into strong men or whether they’ll subsist on this earth in poverty. And He knows whether Seth and I will continue to play a role in these kids’ lives. My tears came from a combination of things: the beauty of the kids, feeling the weight of responsibility to help, the lack of confidence I have in myself to do this, and my trust in Him to make something happen through Seth and me. It sounds presumptuous to even type. That _I_ might be able to help these kids have a better future. But maybe that’s why so many kids in poverty around the world DON’T have a better future. Because we never assume the responsibility. We never trust God to do the work through us. Maybe it’s time for that to stop! I realized this: I don’t know what. I don’t know who. I don’t know how. But I know that He knows. And I know that He loves. And I know He wants something done.

There are a few good girls and boys here in Kolkata – in Khalpar, Ghoraghata, Nalpur, Basirhat, and Gaborda. They have the opportunity to turn into a few GREAT men and women! And like the underdog in our favorite movies, all they need is a shot. Seth and I are now anticipating who will help us provide those shots. Who will help us feed the people? Who will help us get the kids an education – both academic and spiritual? Who will help us get vocational training for those kids who aren’t good in school? Who will help us pay the salaries of the people like Jaiashree and Piyas who are doing the work here? Who will help us?

I don’t know who you are yet, my dear brothers and sisters who will join us. But I know you’re going to love giving these kids a shot. And I know it’s going to significantly change your life. Because I’ve seen what’s happened in mine. I’ve seen the empty places that God is filling in me – places I think He wants to fill in others also. If you want to keep up with what Seth and I do when we return, send me an email – aj [at] andymerrick dot com. God has always been on the side of the poor and oppressed. Jesus announced in Luke 4 that it was the reason He’d come into the world for – to help those in physical and spiritual distress. Seth and I believe our lives are finally beginning to walk in His vision of the kingdom. And we’re looking for fellow travelers. We really can’t wait to see who walks with us and what God will do in these places.

Peace for now, brothers and sisters! Love to you all!

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Sep 18 2011

India Deux: Day 6 – Hearts and Bones

Published by under India

My brain can be slow sometimes. It’s taken me my previous trip to Kolkata (10 days) and 6 days in this one to realize something very basic. Indians speak their own brand of English. They have a funny way of saying things. Funny to an American anyway.

Instead of saying, “I’m used to hot weather,” they’ll say, “I’m habituated to hot weather.”

Or to say, “There aren’t a lot of bananas,” they’ll say, “There are very less bananas.”

When leaving somewhere to go to lunch, we might say, “Let’s go.” Indians say, “We’ll go.” We might ask the question, “Are you ready to leave?” But they’ll simply make the statement a question. “We’ll go?” And when they want to tell you they’re going to a place without any stops, they’ll say, “We’ll go directly.”

As I woke up this morning, it’ll suddenly hit me. Indians are no different than Australians, New Zealanders, and those from England. We all speak English. We all have accents. We all have peculiar ways of saying things.

I realized early on that there was no sense in “correcting” their English. The things they say make perfect sense. Just in a different way. Plus, that’s how English is spoken here.

Fun and Games
I just asked Seth if he was blogging. He said, “No.” So I said, “Are you clogging?” And he said, “Yes” and started clogging in the room (sans wooden shoes). He then said, “I’m starting a blog. It’s going to be called the Clog Blog and every day, I’m going to tweet, ‘Hey, y’all, check out my clog’ and it’ll be a video of me clogging. I’m going to do giveaways – “Check out my clog for free copies of Pete Wilson’s new book.”

Today we visited a small village about an hour outside Kolkata called Nalpur.

We met our friend Jaiashree at 6:30am. Well, actually, we met her at 6:45am because I’m so stupid and slow. :/ But she had told us the night before that she’d bring us breakfast because breakfast where we’re staying wasn’t served until 7:30am. Lo and behold, she shows up with these chocolate-filled croissants that are the rage here. I knew it was going to be a good day.

Nal-poor Form
It rained a lot last night. We got on the local train and rode it to Nalpur. When we got off, we started walking toward the end of the platform and I immediately knew what it meant. These rail stations further out in the country (like Nalpur) aren’t train stations like in America. There aren’t many taxi (if any). Seth and I have seen trains empty of people and then that group of people all begin walking on the tracks to their final destination. We thought it was funny. We were finally about to become Track Walkers.

We walked for only about a quarter mile and then some concrete pillars led into a clearing amidst the trees. It was picturesque. I was admiring the view so much that I didn’t realize the concrete pillars were angled downwards at a 70-degree angle (exaggeration. More like 10). Nor did I remember my shoes had zero traction on them. Wet conditions + a declined angle + shoes with flat rubber soles = bye, bye buddy. I bet it was like a Looney Tunes cartoon. I slipped on a “banana peel” and ended up on my butt faster than I could blink. I quickly got up and said, “Thank you” a couple times to acknowledge my admirers around me. Bienvenido a Nalpur!

We got taken around the village through the course of the day by engine van. This is basically a heavy-duty bicycle rickshaw that has a flatbed for people and good to sit on. It’s retrofitted with a 2-stroke motor underneath the flatbed. In Nalpur, Piyas told us that many of the people there has never seen a white person up close. And, of those who had, it would have been a long time since they’d previously seen one. As Seth and I rode around the village, I felt like I was a smurf. For the most part, people in Kolkata stare at us no matter where we go. This was like The White Guy Circus was in town. Except, instead of having to travel a long distance and pay to see the freak show, the freak show comes to you and it’s free.

But here’s the beauty. Seeing a person of such a different look is truly stunning. Words can’t express the emotion. At least not yet for me. It’s like seeing a human being for the first time. And that pause makes you think about the people you know at home. It’s not about how hot they are, what they can offer you, or how interesting they are.

  1. I find Indian people increasingly beautiful. And we SHOULD see everyone that way. We’re all made in God’s image. As you stare into the face of someone with whom you can’t communicate, you have to really see them. God’s craftsmanship in making us is profound.
  2. Most people here have nothing to offer. But they offer everything they have. We ate food in every single person’s house we visited yesterday. If you want to be humbled, let yourself receive things from those living in poverty. You instantly see money and possessions differently. It is the most practical lesson on the theology of money you could ever wish for.
  3. Moreover, many of the people we meet here are amongst the simplest in the world. They don’t have crazy tales of exotic adventures or business exploits. They’re interesting because they don’t try to be interesting. Many are not trying to impress anyone (that I know of).

The Heart of a West Bengali
After we had church, Seth and I visited the homes of four families to hear about their life stories and have the opportunity to ask them questions. In general, this is what I can say about people from West Bengal. They’re an emotional people. Which is good. Occasionally, you’ll see a verbal altercation somewhere. Two men will begin yelling at each other. Their voices will raise in volume and they arms will become more animated. It looks like they’re the ground crew at an airport and they’re landing 1,000 airplanes in 30 seconds. Then, just as you think it’s about to come to blows, they’ll relax and come to some understanding.

Yesterday we saw many people cry. And I like that. Though most of the people in the poor places of India have incredible dignity and honor, today was the first time I’d seen anything resembling sadness. But the sadness for most was looking backward on their life with thankfulness, not a sadness over their current situation (though that may exist, I haven’t seen it yet). Two families we talked to had very sick sons when their sons were younger. Both of the boys almost died. One of the boys, named Shoman, is one of the happiest dudes I’ve ever seen on this planet. When he was an infant, his parents had called everyone to their house to mourn his death because they thought it was that close. But Shoman’s mom prayed that night that if the God of the Bible was real, He would heal her son. Sometimes God answers those prayers. Sometimes He doesn’t. But that night, He did. And Shoman is now going to college. We asked Shoman if it was strange hearing his parents recount a time where his life almost ended. He said yes, very much, and then spoke about his deep gratitude to God for saving him. As he spoke, he started crying. And then his mom lost it. And then I lost it. To see someone in front of you who very easily could be buried in the ground – whose bones you’d never know – is, for a moment, like seeing a ghost. There’s a split second of absolute clarity that life is incredibly and beautifully sustained by God. And to see such life in this 19-year old was special. Shoman won my heart. The entire village won my heart.

After taking with others about enduring life, death, depression, and persecution, I came to a much deeper appreciation for the people of West Bengal. Specifically, the people of Nalpur. I’m very thankful to be here and to be meeting them. With each person I meet, I genuinely feel like my life is changing. It happened the first trip and it seems to be happening even more on this one.

I have to go now. We head to Ghoraghata tomorrow – a village a ways further down the rail line from Nalpur. It’s still very humid here and I’m sweating a lot. If Ghoraghata is anything like Nalpur was, I’m going to be out of sweat and tears by the time I leave India. I can’t speak for the rest of the places in the world, but if you have the means and want to feel very human, come to India! You’ll understand God and life in a new way. Peace for now, brothers and sisters! I love you all!

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