For nearly 30 years, the Northeast Jurisdiction has sponsored trips overseas to expose young people to the world and help them understand it better via direct experience.
It is called Mission of Peace or MOP. Over the years, high school sophomores, juniors and seniors have traveled to South Africa, Brazil, Nicaragua, India, Zimbabwe, the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Seven Bishops based in America joined the MOPers on most recent trip to India for a mission of peace and understanding. There, Faces of India came alive.
Homeland to over a billion Indians, we experienced a people who have accepted religious pluralism as the order of the day. Motherland of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, India has made a place for devotees of Islam and Christianity too. Most Indians have attached themselves to Hinduism. Bishop C. Subodh, President of the Methodist Council of India offered more definition to such complexity; “India has more than 122 official and 780 unofficial languages and more than 2,000 dialects.” For all this complexity, a common history, its various religions and the caste system bond that society together.
Travel to third world countries or a country like India made real the concept of radical hospitality. No matter how short or long our visits were scheduled at schools, hospitals, churches, homeowners people insisted that we accept something to eat or drink. Always we were treated like royal guests. It was a bit unnerving.
Be it Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, a small village or the capitol city of New Delhi etc. grinding poverty and its victims were prevalent. Countless of beggars and street merchants, homeless, hungry, unemployed or folks scrapping out a living were passed by in our travels from one city to another. Others lived side by side in homes, huts, apartments, or rich domiciles accompanied by wild monkeys, untethered cows who have the run of yard, street, store and highway. It is against the law to harm a cow. They are sacred cows. Some have argued that relocated cows act like cats. Turned loose far away from home, they can make their way back home. An Indian man proffered a comment about India, the writer can’t authenticate, “India has 300 million rich people; 700 million are poor.” Mother Teresa has departed. A thousand Mother Teresas are required to make a significant dent in the grinding human poverty of India.
We had an audience with the religious leader of Jainism in New Delhi. Gifts were exchanged, pictures were taken and information about their beliefs was shared. For example, Jains have embraced vegetarianism, self-denial, non-violence and caring for others. To a person, most of us were absolutely “blown over” by their care for the hungry. To see their feeding program in New Delhi gave new meaning to the biblically story concerning the feeding of five thousand (Mt. 14:13-21). Members of the Jain temple have been writing a contemporary bible story called the feeding of the 30,000. Daily. Thirty thousand are fed in their temple, free of charge. On some weekends; sixty thousand are fed. We saw the food prepared. We saw it eaten with the bare hand. We walked among them and praised God for such a ministry. From their birth in the 6th century, Jains have “rescued the perishing and cared for the dying”, intimated their spiritual leader.
Less than 3 percent of the Indian population is Christian. Most of them are poor. However, most of the Christian leaders we met were not poor. Despite their low numbers, Christians have encountered some persecution. The church’s belief in one God conflicts with the religions of India with gods, goddesses or no god at all. Yet, the church is growing in India. They have found a way to coexist and thrive in a context where Christianity in neither King or Queen.
New Year’s Eve six United Methodist Bishops fanned out across the Bangalore to preach, lead communion and pray in the New Year. When gunshots, fireworks and shouts exploded at the stroke of midnight, your bishop was preaching and praying at a growing Methodist Church of India jammed with 800 to 900 worshippers. (Some church leaders claimed that American missionaries taught them how to grow the church).
I looked out on a congregation that had the entire family in church -- every generation was represented. To preach, the Methodist Church of India required its preachers to take off their shoes proclaiming that we were “standing on Holy Ground.” As in Africa, Europe, the Philippines, Korea, Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Israel, America, San Pedro Sula prison in Honduras (said to be the most dangerous prison on earth); I saw the FACE of Christ in the FACES OF INDIA. How Great Thou Art.!