Last week I had the amazing opportunity to live with an Indian family… On the campus of the Mennonite Brethren Centenary Bible College in Shamshabad, near Hyderabad.
I very nearly mistook the opportunity for a burden and was reeeeally feeling cozy in my guesthouse with a big lonely room, lots of power outlets all to myself, and a whole shelf full of real towels. But then I got smacked around a bit and realized that staying with a family was probably the very best thing I could do in India, and my desires for things like real towels were, in actuality, pretty silly.
So MB Pastor Joel, Helen, Serena, Pranai, and a quiet and still nameless grandmother took me in, stuffed me with delicious food, taught me a Telugu song, didn’t laugh at me too much as I learned to eat with my fingers, gave me beautiful parting gifts, and showed me a completely different side of India that I would never have known for my own selfishness.
From February 22…
This is definitely a different side of India. It is private, in a home with the day-to-day happenings of a family and the comfort of an apartment that has been lived in, not just enjoyed for a day or two by travelers who come to know what to expect from a guesthouse.
And this side is Christian – not just church once a week, Jesus will save us in case Nirvana isn’t all it’s cracked up to be or somewhere along the karmic road you miscalculated.
This is fervently, proudly, pastoral, prostrated devotions each morning, early 1990s landscape scene Bible verses on each wall, “JESUS SAVES” as a window decal on your family car, distinctly Indian graphic design images of Old Testament stories on calendars advertisting Hyderabad MB churches, “Menno Simon’s Block” the name of your apartment complex, prayers before each meal and each tea break and each errand run and probably each cricket game, high-pitched bleeping of “Our God is an Awesome God” as your ringtone kind of Christian.
It seems that being a Christian outside the West is usually something like this – written everywhere, spoken often, with reminders in each corner, held onto fervently, because you’re living in a city where the Muslim mosque’s solemn call to prayer and the Hindu temple’s early morning pop/worship music are competing for air space in your ears, and possibly space in your soul.
So to win, you the Christian can always call upon your ringtone, inviting people into a different wavelength of sound and into a tradition that you believe is the right one, the fantastic one, the only one worth anything. You invite them into a tradition far from their own, and do your desperate best to somehow convince them that this white-looking man you frame on your wall is not just another attempt by the west to colonize.
Your Hindu country, or your Islamic country, was colonized by a white military, your culture is being colonized by a shining gleaming skyscraping whitewashed America flashing a perfect white smile at your children, and now this religion where two sticks crossing each other are supposed to mean more than your generations of devotion to those gods who have kept you alive and kept your family’s identity intact for ages – and now you are being asked to give up your soul, just be colonized all over again?
And so in anger or hatred, or more truthfully in fear, you lash out. You, the insider now made outsider, slander government officials who follow this white man, you shut down their churches and drive them deep into underground cell groups, you turn their water off and cut their electricity so they become homeless drifters in what they view as a frightening sea of Arabic and Sanskrit, you turn Christians away from your communities and your houses and your hearts.
And if you are a Christian pastor, you may not be allowed to work outside the church, ensuring that your attention is not distracted from spreading the gospel. Not having enough income to sustain your family is distraction enough.
Store up your treasures in heaven, you Christians, because they are not welcome here.
The church says:
Store up your treasures in heaven, you Christians, because that’s all we can afford to give you.