By air the city of Lucknow, India is only one hour from New Delhi. From the villages outside Lucknow–a large city in it’s own right–the mega-metropolis of Delhi seems worlds away.
We travelled by bus for about an hour in three different directions. At the end of each route we found ourselves in a remote, secluded place. One village, Nawabganj, had likely not seen Americans before. One church–the one in Chandeswan–assembled next to a water buffalo pasture. Another, Unnao was made up of a former band of robbers.
Through the cramped, dusty streets outside of Lucknow we travelled. It was the middle of Hindu festival. Idols were propped up in the streets, the crowds adoring them as they passed by. Traffic was limited to our two vehicles and a smattering of motorbikes, but due to the crowds it still lurched forward at a snails pace.
We wound our way through rice fields and over ditches, passing an occasional hut or simple brick home. Dogs and cattle roamed free. I wondered how far I was from the closest Wal-Mart. I marveled at the fact that it was quite possible no one from America had ever driven that street.
We made a quick right turn into a tiny dirt drive that faced a ramshackle building constructed of brick. In the States, the brick and mortar that remained would be occupied by nothing but rats and possums. We would tell tales of what used to be there. Here, it was a family’s home. We passed through it’s narrow doorways and entered the back yard.
There, we saw the tent that had been constructed in our honor. A stage was set up on one end. Chairs were lined up on the other. Fans were pointed at the line of seats on the stage. These were the seats of the guests of honor. Smiles decorated every face. Dozens of kids sat in the front of the crowd on the ground. They looked up at us with wonder.
We sang and we sang and we sang. If I’ve ever heard a more enthusiastic chorus, I cannot recall it. A generator hummed in the background and powered the simple speaker system. More than the volume of the music and the speaker, the pure love of the Kingdom of God was being amplified in this place.
The crowd at Chandeswan had been waiting for us since morning. We arrived late in the afternoon. They did not seem annoyed by the wait, rather, it seemed that the anticipation had reached fever pitch.
It did not take long to realize that this gathering of people did not require our attendance to be filled with joy. Hundreds were there, from villages as far as 30 kilometers away. Droves of people made up the crowd, eager to hear about Jesus. A couple dozen stood in the front of the congregation as their pastor talked directly to them. I realized that we were about to witness baptisms. Behind the tent where we met, adjacent to a field filled with grazing water buffalo, we watched as 32 individuals were buried into the water and rose again. Wet faces testified with smiles as they emerged from their watery grave.
The congregation sang and celebrated until night fell. Then we all scattered into our separate directions. As we wound through the woods–I truly felt like we were in the jungle–there was simple beauty in lantern-lit lean-to’s which housed whole families. I wondered about the residents therein. What was their story? Did they cry at night? Did they know Jesus? Did they hope for the life after this one?
Could they hear the Gospel over the grumbling of their stomachs?
Our final visit was perhaps the most moving of all. In the morning of our second day of village visits we attended a church. There we met Firoz–a man worthy of his own forthcoming post. The people at the church were from several villages. That afternoon, we would visit one of them.
The people of Gandhigram have painted their homes with red crosses, symbolizing their allegiance to Christ. The entire village was once known for corruption and thievery. They were a band of robbers, surviving on what they stole. But they had been converted and now followed Christ.
They greeted us with a special dance, they–like the other villages–adorned our necks with flowery necklaces, and the children stood and recited memory verses they had learned in Sunday school. We sang and we preached and we stood around a piece of ground that they are praying will become a church building and a school.
These people are from the lowest caste of society. To everyone they are considered untouchables. But Christ has touched their hearts in a significant way.
Nowhere in our three-village tour did I see excess. Truly, this is an understatement. The restroom was a field behind some trees. Toilet paper is their left hand. No source of clean drinking water. Generators powered what little power we had, and this just for the big day when the Americans were coming to visit. In every direction all we saw were trees, broken brick buildings, tarp huts, dusty roads, and a few scattered, wandering livestock.
And the beautiful Kingdom of God.
This simple beauty does not make the suburban abundance of America evil, but it does call it’s necessity into question. I’m proud to be at a church which still gathered in joy when the power went out. With no A/C we still worshipped gladly. But what if this were the norm instead of the exception? Would I remain a faithful attender?
Despite their humble existences, the folks in these villages were not doing without. They have learned the lesson of daily bread, and are living each day in the grace of God. As a citizen in this world, they are just passing through. They will, one day, leave their village and reside in a pristine city.
I was humbled by their faith, their warm welcome, and their commitment. I was moved more so to understand that these people will one day experience the excess of heaven with brothers and sisters from every tongue, tribe, and nation. They will experience more grandeur, but in the middle of their simple villages they are already living with the only thing they’ll ever really require–a relationship with Jesus Christ.
In the middle of your plenty, can you say the same?