rushing-india-story2.jpgTraveling to India, I had no idea what to expect. I signed up for this trip back in September with no frame of mind as to what we would be getting involved in, and was excited for the unknown.

When we landed in Kottayam, in the southern part of India, we were slowly introduced to a culture that is drastically different from what the western world is used to. We started off living in a small Christian community where we were fed the most delicious food and introduced to an Indian Christian way of spiritual practice that has been passed down in the region since the second century C.E. We went to church, and what prepared my heart and soul to enter into the sacred spaces throughout the trip was the practice of taking off my shoes. This practice spiritually signified the separation of the secular and the spiritual. I was leaving behind the worries of the world and entering into a space that was sacred and peaceful.

When we got to Hyderabad, we were quickly immersed in the hustle and bustle of the big city. We were also taught about the multiculturalism of India and the struggles that were unique to the Muslim community and the Dalit (untouchable caste) community of Hinduism.

Members of the travel seminar during a pilgrimage to St. George Orthodox Church in Kerala, India.What really struck me about India is that people who were struggling with poverty are not afraid to visibly show it. There is no escaping from it. In my Contextual Education I placement through Candler, I am a chaplain at the Gateway Center in downtown Atlanta. I commute from Druid Hills, right next to Candler where there are very few signs of homelessness, to our urban streets of downtown where most of our unhoused friends gather. It is easy in this country to live in places where you can virtually “escape” from homelessness and not be exposed to the struggles of our brothers and sisters. In contrast, India has a long history of classism and income inequality, partially amplified by years of British Rule. The caste system, even though it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste, it is still societally ingrained. In India, Christianity is seen as a religion of the west and looked on with suspicion by the government. But yet, for this Dalit, untouchable community, Christianity is seen as a path to new beginnings; a religion of hope. Our group heard so many stories of actual religious persecution (in contrast to the claims of Christian persectuion that we hear in the United States), of pastors who try to build gathering spaces but are beaten or run out of town.

The day after I returned to Atlanta, my mind was on overdrive. I went to the grocery store and I became emotional because I had the financial capacity to buy a week’s worth of groceries, have a roof over my head, and receive an education. I even felt guilty because I had the ability to choose where I wanted to attend church on Sunday because for some people they may not even have a choice. I felt so guilty to return home, deeply humbled.

My time in India was busy and restless, but I came home spiritually renewed in ways that I had not felt in years. Because of this experience, I have heard from God a greater sense of my vocational calling and have gained more confidence to enter into the difficult practice of preaching and pastoring, two areas that I have not let God fully work within me until now.