2017 India Trip Recap
On July 31st, 2017 I set out to visit my friends in India who are doing amazing work to reach the Indian people for the Lord. The objective was to document our journey and give an accurate picture of India from a Christian perspective. To help me accomplish this I brought photographer Chance James and film maker Manny Collazo. A short film documenting our journey will be released early 2018. The goal of this project is to display the breathtaking beauty of the people and landscape as well as highlight the spiritual darkness overshadowing the land, resulting in grievous social atrocities. The film won’t end on a bleak note, though – there is hope! God is alive and well in India, working through a faithful remnant to shine brightly in the midst of spiritual darkness and social injustice.
While in India we had 6 days of filming, visited 3 states, several cities, and a handful of rural villages. The following is a bullet point recap of our trip. I started the draft of this post on my cell phone on the way home from Delhi and completed 2 days after my return while it’s still fresh in my mind. For the sake of protecting the people and work in India, I’m omitting some names and places.
The journey from Fresno to India spanned 2 Days with 20 Hours of flying and 10 hours of driving with a couple layovers. We travelled over 8,100 miles in planes, cars, trains, buses, mopeds, auto rickshaws. The journey home consisted of a 3 hour drive to Jabalpur, an 8 hour train ride to Agra (where we visited the Taj Mahal), a 2 hour drive to Delhi, a 14 hour flight to Toronto, a 5 hour layover, a 4 hour flight to LAX, and finally a 4.5 hour drive to Fresno (40.5 hours of straight travel). My legs were swollen by the time I got home, and a visit to my chiropractor was immediately scheduled. Praise God I don’t struggle with jetlag from long travel.
Let’s just say we ate well. There’s nothing better than authentic creamy Indian Butter Chicken full of flavor that you just can’t replicate in America, paired with homemade warm-off-the-oven, perfectly crispy, slightly buttery naan bread. The mango and watermelon juice is sweetened by nature with fruit that was freshly picked that day. The spices in the chai are flawlessly blended and the cream is sourced from one of the millions of buffalo you see all over the place. There’s no such thing as a Costco Rotisserie chicken – when you order chicken from the market, you get a live animal that you must kill, pluck and clean at home. Everything is bursting with flavor. The sweets are either too sweet, or have different, often surprising spices, herbs and other ingredients you wouldn’t find in an American dessert.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with an array of flowers to adorn our necks and a large vinyl banner with our names printed on it to welcome us. The people are extremely (almost overly) hospitable, sometimes to the point where it makes you uncomfortable. I found myself saying thank you about 100 times a day, as well as “no, please don’t worry about it”, as people are willing to go completely out of their way to accommodate your every request (or even your subtle suggestion). For example, when I passively mentioned that I would be visiting my chiropractor when I got home due to the travel, I had to stop my hosts from calling a masseuse to come to the home we were staying in.
The children we met in the safe havens, villages, and schools were so full of joy and life, especially the special needs children. It was a humbling reminder that material possessions are of little value in bringing true joy as we worshiped with people who quite literally had nothing, yet were more full of life than most people I’ve met in the USA.
Many locals have no regard for personal space or public privacy. It was common to be immediately surrounded by curious onlookers wondering who we were, where we were from and what we were doing. Though we all inwardly seek affirmation, the Indians I met were very open about it. The Hindu Sanskrit Scribes we met, for example, were anxiously awaiting our response to witnessing their worship service. When given something such as food or a gift, you’re likely to look up and see wide eyes, an ear-to-ear grin and the question “you like?”
I would describe the Indian people as laid back; go-with-the-flow.
Stunning… breathtaking… hard to articulate… must be experienced. We arrived during monsoon season, so the landscape was covered in lush, tropical greenery. Animals are everywhere; primarily cows, buffalo, monkeys and dogs. The weather was mucky, tropical, humid, hot. The AC was a refreshing relief from the damp heat.
The city was chaotic. Just imagine people everywhere zooming in and out of traffic with no regard to lanes or any discernable traffic laws. People are traveling on foot and bicycles as well as all types of vehicles from motorcycles and mopeds, to tractors and cars. You clench onto the car door handle and stare at the street wondering why there are no car accidents. Lanes are more of a suggestion and horns are a must. In America, you blow the horn to warn of danger, yell at someone to move, or express your disgust with their terrible driving; whereas in India blowing the horn is a common courtesy to let people know you’re approaching.
It seems like there are millions of tiny shops selling very similar things, making you wonder how anything stands out to be remembered. The city is very grimy, and the villages look like camping in the jungle. Most of the homes people live in would be considered unlivable in America, but they just make it work and are happy to do so.
Indian Culture varies depending on where you are. Some big cities are more westernized and modern, while the smaller cities are very traditional and conservative. It was strange to visit an obscure eating hole on the side of the road, next to a hotel consisting of outdoor beds made of logs and rope, and the owner of the place asking if he could take a picture and put it on Facebook. Some small jungle villages have cell phones and motorcycles, even though they have no electricity, cell towers or internet.
The predominant religion is Hinduism (80%), and it has deep roots in the culture. Idol worship is everywhere and the caste system, while not legal on paper, is still actively accepted as the way things are. While 90+ percent of the Hindus are warm, open and accepting of Christians and their work, there is a small number of radicals who unfortunately retain power in every sector of society (including upper levels of government), making it extremely difficult for Christian work to exist, much less flourish. The state of Madhya Pradesh (among several others), for example, has anti-conversion laws where it is illegal to baptize a Hindu, or for a Hindu to change religions. Therefore, much of the Christian work that happens must be done in the shadows.
The area we visited is in the heart of the 10/40 window â€“ the most highly concentrated area of unreached people groups in the world. The ministry is massive. Humanitarian efforts and philanthropic work have built bridges to cross the religious chasm and opened doors to preach the gospel to many otherwise unreached people. Everything from education and medicine, to multimedia and benevolence is available; and all work is conducted at an elite level.
- The K-12 school is home to over 2,600 students, many of which are top performing in their studies.
- The college is home to over 700 students offering degrees in subjects such as science, math, commerce, post-graduation, teachers training, computer literacy, journalism and mass communication, to name a few.
- The multimedia studio was one of the first to have an all Hindi text website (which happened to be Bible-based).
- Audio/video productions are produced and distributed all over India, with 2 nationwide broadcasts per year featuring Christian media.
- Village learning centers have educated hundreds of children who otherwise would have never received a quality education.
- The safe havens have rescued over 150 girls from dangerous situations.
- The disabled children’s program has given dignity and worth to people who are typically ostracized from society.
- Dozens of pastors and ministers have been trained and sent out.
- Hundreds of churches have been planted.
- And hundreds of new baptisms take place each year.
The list goes on and on, and all of this is running on a shoestring budget. Financial contributions from the US help with child sponsorships, and profits from local initiatives are used to expand other ministries.
So far this post is over 1,500 words and as I said in the beginning – this is just a bullet point recap. This trip is truly something to be experienced firsthand, and is possible if you’d like to do so. Contact me personally for more information on the ministries we’re working with, or for information on how to book a short or long-term missions trip to India.
Photography by Chance James
Video by Manny Collazo
Music by Sadhu Nityanand