Adventures in India Part 3: Salem and the Worship of the Westerner
It was green, and starchy and full of sauces that I didn’t know what it was. All I know is that it tasted good like most other Indian food. I walked outside and found myself staring at a very different part of India. I had hardly been out of the city before and so after a 2.5 hour bus ride the country side surrounding this little gas station in the middle of nowhere was a great sight to behold. After about 30 minutes break I got back on the bus and traveled the rest of the way to Salem. Salem is famous for the steel that it produces for India. They have one of the largest steal facilities.
When I arrived in Salem I descended from the bus to be met by this man I had never seen before calling me by name and arranging for a tutuk to the orphanage I was supposed to visit. Once arriving at this orphanage I met Dr. Jake the man who started this work. He introduced me to the staff and his family and showed me to my room. After settling in I met this man from the UK whose name was Isaac. He informed me all about the work at the orphanage and how things ran.
After dinner I was taken to a second orphanage site about 1.5 hours away. Upon arriving at the orphanage, I was greeted by 108 boys who were all sitting in rows staring at me. They started yelling welcome Uncle welcome Uncle! They ushered me to this lone chair in front of them all. Suddenly they started clapping and singing just for me. I was thoroughly embarrassed by being the center of attention. I had heard many stories about being the center of attention as a westerner or glorifying the American but it was the first time I had experienced it personally.
This grieved me to because I realized that there were two main factors that contributed to the creation of this problem. First the west has set itself to demand respect and second the west is seen as a means to money to help fund the work going on. The initial feeling is one of self-gratification and pride for being looked at as something special. This is the danger for the westerner of working in 3 world countries. The second danger is funding work that only puts on a show and will pander to whatever you want in order to continue to receive funds. This type of attitude has damaged the testimony of Christianity among the Indian culture. Many Christian works are looked on as front to money making business or puppets of the west.
Another example of this show honor to the westerner happened to me the next day. I went for a walk in the early morning to see the neighborhood that the orphanage was in. I saw the women cleaning off their house entrances with water and a broom. They then would draw different symbols to the sun god they worshiped for good luck and blessing. On this walk, I went to the school nearby that I had been told the orphan kids went to. They didn’t know who I was there but as soon as they saw a westerner they invited me to come up front during their opening session and introduce myself to the school. They asked me to share with the children anything. Then I was asked to lead the staff in a prayer time since they were a Christian school. They had no idea who I was but I was white and a westerner so I must be a Christian and they should show me honor. It made me sick to my stomach. I was happy to pray for the school and to see what was going on but I didn’t deserve the “honor” that they were giving me.
Later that morning I was taken to the third orphanage site that the work owned. At this sight there were about 1000 children that lived and went to school. God had provided for them 40 acres with an abundant of coconut trees. They built a dorm for the children and have several buildings used for schools. As I walked around this beautiful property I saw the hospital they were building and the largest pile of coconuts I had ever seen. I also went to the kitchen for the boy orphans and saw the biggest pot of rice that would feed several hundred of the children. The exciting thing about this work is that many Muslim and Hindu children come to the schools or live at the orphanage and hear the gospel over and over again. Many of them become believers and become workers themselves all over India and in their home villages.
I rushed back to the orphanage just in time to catch my bus back to Bangalore to leave for the States. As I rode on that bus I thought about the many sites I had seen while I was in India. What struck me was the massive spiritual bondage that exists in India. In Salem, there were masks of this one god on every house because it was supposed to ward off jealousy and evil spirits. The people segregate where they live based on the casts they were born into. Fear and superstition run every aspect of the life the Hindu. But I realized while the idolatry may be obvious and the bondage visibly oppressive, it is no different than life in the good old USA. We may not have visible worship of idols; but we have many many idols of our hearts. We worship our god of entertainment and pleasure. We have our fear of people and bad luck. And just like the millions of people who need Jesus in India, there are just as many people lost here in the USA. They may not be entrenched in poverty by our standards like in India but they are entrenched in materialism and blindness of their need for God. Often times we equate poverty with spiritual emptiness but sometimes it is the “poor” by western standards that are most content with God and the “middle class” that are the furthest away from accepting the gospel.
May we not be guilty of judging spiritual need by material value. May we see people as God sees them, and look past the surface issue to the heart. Sometimes traveling literally half way around the world will make you realize something that should be obvious to you in the first place. You never know, you might even learn practical skills like cutting down jackfruit or weaving in and out of traffic on a motorcycle or even the tastiness of a traffic jam!