This post talks about a country that contains approximately 1 billion people, most who are of one religion, one race, one color. There are some sweeping generalizations, but this post doesn’t even begin to describe the incredibly diverse and beautiful country that is India.
This December, I was blessed to experience Christmas in another country. The experiences and memories I made will never leave me. India is an incredible country, filled with the best kind of people. There is truly no culture or community like the kind you’d experience in India. I have a slight feeling of apprehension in sharing my thoughts about this trip, because it was so personal. I went alone, without my family. I was the youngest, out of a team of four other girls that I met a mere two hours before boarding our first flight. Within the next thirty hours of traveling, we quickly discovered that our team was meant to be. The dynamic was perfect, and we bonded so quickly over the two weeks we spent away from our home country.
We jumped into the deep end, you could say. We immediately immersed ourselves in a culture that is the in many ways the opposite from ours here in America. It’s terrifying and beautiful at the same time. Honor is put on a pedestal (pun intended), and money keeps the country going. One of the days on our trip, we went to visit the Taj Mahal (which is worth the visit)! We hired a local guide for the day, and as we strolled through the gate, we looked behind us in horror as our guide slipped one of the guards a couple hundred rupees-- a bribe that got him (and us) inside without having to go through security. Money is everything...although, that’s not so different than America, now is it?
People. I’ve never been a people person. Being a teenager, that doesn’t exactly help fight the whole “Millennial” aesthetic, but it’s just me. That was one of my biggest fears going into the city. As we were heading home, a team member and I stopped at a Starbucks in the Delhi airport. We got in line, ordered, and waited nearly twenty minutes for our drinks to be made. It took me a moment to realize that the employees were serving the males behind us in line first, before even starting to make our drinks. That’s just how the culture is. There isn’t a huge feminist movement in India. I was never upset directly at the people, because in fact, people are the best part of India. They are hospitable, kind, generous, and would move mountains to help or host a complete stranger.
When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a Broadway star. I loved to sing, well, I still do, and who doesn’t love the idea of people paying to watch you sing? To quote Zac Efron from the first “High School Musical” movie, “My showerhead is very impressed with me.” So whenever Christmas came around, caroling was something I always wanted to do. Yet, with two autistic siblings, the idea of spending a night walking around in the cold and knocking on people’s doors, all while singing, didn’t go over well with me. So, when I learned that our team would go caroling, I pretty much exploded. We all crowded into a car, and drove around the neighborhood. We went caroling with the local bible college students. Most of the songs were in Hindi, but it was so fun! By going into the neighborhood, and into people’s houses, you really see the citizens in a new way. The tradition is such that you invite the carolers in, then offer them chai and treats. We would visit people who lived in one room houses, and yet they still offer food and tea. They have little to nothing, but generosity wins over selfishness. That’s the culture. Take care of others before yourself. You don’t see that in America so much.
I went to India on a mission trip, not a tourist trip. I went on this trip with extremely high expectations that were, frankly, unfair. I knew that Christians were not exactly welcomed with open arms in India, but it was still a big part of the culture shock to experience hostility because of my faith. I wasn’t allowed to wear any crosses. No shirts from church or Christian functions were allowed. When we went through customs, we were there for a tourist trip, not a mission trip. They wouldn’t let us in the country if we said otherwise. The area we were going to was safe, I wasn’t in immediate danger, but the mission family has had several run-ins with the government because of their religion. The mission family runs a huge ministry in a city with a large population. They have a bible college, church, health clinic, agriculture field, and they had an orphanage. Two years ago, the government came and seized all of the children in the orphanage. They accused the leaders of the ministry of raping the children and forcing Christianity on the children. This is all untrue, as these men are some of the warmest and kindest people I have ever met. The government then proceeded to redistribute the children back onto the streets-- all because the orphanage was Christian.
Experiencing that brings freedom of religion into a whole new perspective. I’m allowed to wear a cross around my neck when I go into public, here in America. I advertise for my church with pride by wearing shirts and passing out welcome cards. I can listen to Christian music on the radio. Christianity is NOT illegal in India, but, it’s also not welcome. You have to legally register your religion with the government. If you grow up in a Hindu family, but convert to Christianity, you have to tell the government. That’s not free religion.
90% of the population is Hindu. That’s a lot of people. While I was there, I realized that some families were only Hindu because their family before them was. That’s not much different than America, when you compare and contrast. A large number of families decide to continue on in Christianity because the generation before them did.
While I was in India, I had the opportunity to pray over the local women. They have grown up Hindu, but that didn't matter. They realize the power of prayer, and they realize that they are in need of it. Some of the women bring their children to be prayed over, so that they can be healed from sicknesses. That’s what a lot of the women ask for, healing, that is. One of the women had scraped her knee, and as she lifted her dress so we could look at it, we noticed that it had become infected.
I guess you could say I’m an introvert. I like the quiet, reflection, and earbuds that block out all outside noise. Having anxiety doesn’t help so much either. My senses get overloaded really easily, so panic attacks were a common occurrence while I was there.
India is not a country for introverts. We spent the majority of our time in a city with a population of one million people. India has an estimated population of one billion people. That’s a lot of people! On one of our last full days, we visited “the land.” The mission family is planning on moving their whole ministry out onto this chunk of land they bought several years ago. It’s away from the city, and the best part is that you can’t hear any honking horns! No, just kidding, the land was so much more than that. We were surrounded by trees, cotton fields, hills, crops, and several monkeys. I almost like India more in the country, it’s more...well...India. It’s like she puts on this personality front, but then you get to the natural land, and you see the real India. We walked around the land, and saw the wells they were building and the crops they were growing.
Coming back. I was only nervous about one thing. The question, “How was your trip?” What an open-ended question! How am I supposed to answer that? I went to another country for the first time. I flew by myself for the first time. I even ate Indian food for the first time (it’s incredibly good food). It’s not fair to summarize an experience like this in several paragraphs. And while I did experience many firsts, I’ve realized that I did not experience many lasts. I know that I will go back. I know that I have not seen my new friends for the last time! I even know that my last time eating Indian food is a far ways off. And I mean a FAR ways off. That stuff is so amazing. Firsts and lasts can be intimidating, but hey, they’re part of life. So just go with the flow and take in as much as you can!