Shortly after we get back to the hotel, we find Adam, EmHo and CP in pretty bad shape. Things for Billy took a turn for the worse as well. The 4 of them were shipped to the hospital within an hour and Cindy had gone along with a married couple hosting us in Abohar. Myself, Sam, Tessa, Betty, Hannah and Emily sat in one of the hotel rooms trying to decide what we were going to do. In 4 hours we would have to stand in for Pastor CP at a village visitation, where she was supposed to give a sermon.
Racking our brains, we try to write a sermon to give. But after an hour of failed attempts and a sporadic message, we decided that we weren’t quite qualified to write, let alone give a sermon. We prayed about it, and in the end decided that we would do a bit of sharing about our trip so far. Hannah had brought a mini guitar, so I would play and we would sing a few songs as well.
Its about 8pm and we aren’t driven a long distance before we turn to some indiscrete dirt road network. We eventually arrive at the village in pitch darkness. Punjab, and most of rural India I’m assuming, is experiencing rolling blackouts. We enter a very small courtyard, perhaps 4m*5m where we take our seats at chairs set up for us near the front. A single fan blows to relieve some of the heat and one single light bulb to light the faces of the villagers that have gathered. As the night begins, the people are engrossed again in praise songs sung in the local style, with drums, clapping and that distinct Indian rhythm. I nervously play at the tiny guitar (I’m not a great guitarist, plus I have no music) as the remainder of our group sing our songs.
The north of India has been largely overlooked as far as evangelism, I’m told, because early mission work from the west has focused predominantly in southern India. This is why there are larger Christian populations in areas such as Kerala, where churches have had many more years to build a strong presence and foundation in their communities. Evangelically speaking, the north of India was new territory – the wild west (or east I guess) of mission work. We were here to work with the Dalit communities, people who are shunned by the Hindu caste system and forced to perform the menial tasks of society. Manual scavenging (picking up human feces in communities without plumbing), outhouse cleaning and other such dirty jobs were reserved for the Dalits. Considered scum worth less than livestock, they are the outcasts of any given society and it was our hope to learn about and support the efforts being made to lift this people group out of the cycle of poverty and discrimination.
It was decided that myself and Emily would share tonight. CP said before we left Vancouver that one of our roles here was to encourage people. With that in mind I structured my sharing around overcoming adversity and hardship. I took experiences from the struggles of my own life, though they would pale in comparison to their plight. The last thing I wanted was to patronize their problems. However, struggle is struggle and hurdles in life, whether mine or a Dalit’s, put a damper on our confidence and hope for the future. I encouraged them to seek God during times of hardship and ask what it is God would want you to take from this experience. It is said that God will not tempt us beyond what we can handle. He does not seek to destroy us but to build us up, so during struggles we must seek the hidden lesson we are to take from it.
With pastor Joe from the church we attended on Sunday translating for me, I apprehensively finished my sharing. Looking around the faces of the villagers, I saw some faces of approval – to my relief. Emily shared her testimony and a funny thing happened. As soon as we finished the closing prayer, the power went out. What perfect timing no?
We returned to the hotel room and Cindy and Adam were back with word from the hospital. Adam was less sick than the rest and was given some medicine to ease his nausea. The other 3 however were suffering dehydration and it was likely that they had a bad bought of food poisoning. We WERE in India after all, where shop owners would burn their pile of garbage every morning on the street and open sewers would be dotted with more trash. I counted myself among the lucky ones, for the time being.