My destination had no malls or familiar food restaurants - just a very simple town. We ate delicious homemade Indian food of roti, rice, vegetables and curry - much better than Indian food made in restaurants. I was there 2 days and 1 night observing some leadership development trainings (which were completely in Hindi) before taking another overnight train back home. It was the first time Sarah and I had been apart overnight since we've been here, and I was worried that Sarah especially would have a difficult time, but God was gracious to give us both peace until I returned.
After over three months here (can't believe our time is over halfway gone!) we began feeling a growing negativity towards this place - the pushiness of the people, the bad smells, the filth, the constant noise, the poverty, just to name a few. It became quite hard for us to love the people or feel compassion towards them. The romance of a new culture and new experiences wore off and was replaced with the hard truth that this place is not romantic, living here is not a 6 month vacation, these people are not always easy to love. It gave us a greater respect for those people who have committed to making this place home until their job is done - even if that means years and years from now. We can't help but think, however, of all that Jesus gave up, all the rights and privileges He set aside to become weak and poor, lonely and far from the Father, misunderstood and hated, to live with people who were so difficult to love, so that He could give them the greatest joy they could know - fellowship with God. Our own failures prevent us from loving them and feeling compassion towards them. But, remembering the love Jesus has for us moves us to love these people the same way.
To correct our negativity towards this place and people we have started exploring the culture and people more than ever before. We want to learn to see the world more from their perspective. We want to know their histories and their hopes for the future. We have been exploring the city and meeting people more intentionally. In doing this, we will be able to know more and more what are the cultural bridges and redemptive analogies that God has sovereignly developed within this culture that will allow the gospel to come to this people with power and conviction and in a way that actually makes sense to them.
We visited a very large Jain temple at the highest point in the city. From the temple the view is beautiful! You can see a huge part of our city of 2.5 million people. There are only a small number of Jains in the city, so we do not know much about their beliefs and practices, other than, they have a high-value of all life and most attempt to live very simply.
We were also able to visit a fairly large Hindu temple called Birla Mandir. We visited the temple with two Indian friends who are now in faith. They began to argue over whether or not it was ok to eat coconuts that had been offered to idols. After lots of arguing, we all studied 1 Corinthians 8 and concluded that both of our friends were right and both were wrong. Sarah and I were also wrong for bringing a brother who came from a past filled with idol worship to a temple in the first place. We all learned that for the sake of other believers, we have to be cautious not to enjoy something that might cause them to go against their conscience, even if we are free to do it in Christ. Everything we do has to be for building one another up. If that means we don't eat a fresh coconut because another believer thinks its wrong, then we don't eat it. And we know the same came can be applied in America too. Lesson learned.
We also visited the largest mosque in India. We went one day after Bakra Eid, the second major holiday of Muslims. During this holiday Muslims sacrifice a goat to commemorate the story of God providing a sacrifice when Abraham was about to offer his son. The goat skins were piling up outside to be sold or given to the poor, but the inner court of the mosque was immaculate. The two minarets we see from the roof of our apartment complex kilometers away were enormous 18-storey octagon towers with marble domes. Qurans and Islamic literature were stacked nicely on tables throughout the interior. It was very impressive.
You can see a glimpse of the great diversity of faiths in this place. Even on a micro-level, most people within the same faith tradition have very different ideas of what it means to be Hindu, Muslim, or Indian. With so many people developing their own ideas about reality, we long to see millions of people in this place come to know the fullness of truth that God has revealed in Christ and to be unified in faith in Him.