I don’t know their names and I never will. But I will never forget their faces.
The boy. He stared at me without a trace of friendliness. He was not the subject of my photograph. Rather, I wanted to get a picture of a cow munching on trash and the occasional nibble of grass. My kids would like the picture, I reasoned. But as I snapped the frame, I realized there was a human in it. He did not seem particularly enthused.
The people here are not afraid to stare, and at times they can be hard to read. I’m sure he laughs with his buddies and smiles on occasion. But when I examined the picture after we sped off I notices his steely gaze. I wondered what he thought I thought of him. I had been slightly invasive. And the pride of India does, in some ways, hold outsiders at arm’s length.
I wish I knew his name, his story. Had he heard of Jesus? Was he in college? What did he dream about when his head hit the pillow at night? Did he have a pillow?
The young woman. She was in a village church. I don’t know how far she walked to be with her new brothers and sisters in Christ. I did not learn her story. But her beauty and enthusiasm caused her to stick out in the crowd. A persistent smile softened her square jaw. She was a teenager, maybe in her early twenties. Her eyes were dark and gigantic. She clapped with unbridled glee as the church sang. She sang, too. She sang and she sang and she sang.
She came forward with many others. As the preacher spoke, I realized this was a big day for the girl. She would be baptized. We went behind the makeshift tent where the church had gathered to a cement hole in the ground, half filled with murky water. One by one, they went down in the water. The girl was nearly first. She disappeared into the water and came back up again, cupping her head in her hands as she was overwhelmed with emotion.
I wondered how long ago it was that she first heard the name of Jesus. I wondered what it was about Jesus that took her breath away. I wondered where her parents were. Did she defy her family by becoming a Christian? Did this fact make her slightly sad? I watched as she stood by and watched each and every baptism following hers, covering her mouth with excitement each time. It was the same gesture a young girl in America would perform when she saw a celebrity in person. This girl was not moved by infatuation; she was moved by deep love for her Savior. I’ll never forget her face. I’ll never know here name.
The baby. We had visited a village and concluded our worship service. We walked the paths that criss-crossed the tiny hamlet back toward our bus. At an intersection, on a cot, without an adult anywhere in sight, was a tiny baby. Her beauty struck me first. Then her wonder became evident.
Was I the first white man she’d ever seen? Surely I was one of the largest. Had she ever had her picture taken? Did she own a toy? Why wasn’t she crying? Her eyes were as big as golf balls and radiated hope. A sliver of a smile revealed her mood. I wondered what her name was? I didn’t even have the capacity to ask, nor did she to answer.
The village chief. Stoic, proud, and aged, the village chief agreed to pause for a photo with his wife. I did not catch their names. They are the leaders of a village that was once infamous for it’s crime. Now, they all love and serve Jesus. He had listened intently to a sermon moments before. When he clapped, the people clapped. He encouraged the children when they recited their memory verses. He knelt in prayer over his people and his land.
How old was he? Was he 80? What had his parents been like? How long had he been married? What was his most heinous crime? When he first heard of Jesus, did he break down and cry?
These people are nameless to me, but they are not nameless to their God. Their stories are unknown to me, but they are not insignificant. Collectively, they make up the story of a nation. Stories of cynicism and hopefulness. Stories of regret and redemption.
Simple beauty. Humility born from circumstance. Wisdom born from experience. Individually, I do not know their names. Taken together, their identity is clear.
They are India.