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Published Date: April 30, 1990

Published Date: April 30, 1990

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Biblical Equality in Action

A report on a round-the-world year of “learning by doing” from two dedication members and supporters of CBE, both students at Fuller Theological Seminary.

We give special thanks for the encouragement and prayer support from those back home – a support that has uplifted us during moments of frustration and potentially devastating mishaps.

In Calcutta alone, both of us suffered from acute amoebic dysentery and twinges of homesickness. Bill’s passport, airline tickets, and traveler’s checks were stolen during a violent rush while boarding a train. (Where we reported this incident, the police officer asked whether it was “just violent” or “truly violent, with cuts and bruises.” Oh, Calcutta!)

Upon arrival, we naively believed our travel guide book which claimed an over-abundance of accommodations for travelers to Calcutta. But as late as 11 p.m., after checking dozens of full hotels, we began to face the prospect of joining the thousands who sleep on the pavement. However, in all these experiences God brought salvation – and taught a few lessons! Our passport was restored, a hotel found, medicine procured, and even new-found friends helped ease homesickness. We felt your support during these times.

A typical day during our four weeks in Calcutta began by rolling out of bed at 5 a.m. During our twenty minute daily walk to “Mother Teresa’s House,” we waded through the garbage and human feces scattered on the streets, stepping around the dozens of street sleepers lining the way. This area of town is predominantly Muslim, so as we walked we heard the eerie chant of their first morning prayer (one of five daily prayers) being broadcast by loudspeaker throughout the neighborhood.

Upon arrival at the Missionaries of Charity center, we were greeted at the door by a smiling sister clad in a white sari trimmed in blue. We had expected the morning mass to be a tranquil, quiet time. Instead, the sisters start each day in meditation requiring exceptional concentration, because a full row of windows deliberately upon their chapel to an orchestra of “music” from the street below. Honking, muffler-less trucks, rickshaw bells, children playing, shrill police whistles, cows lowing as they pull carts – these and other noises are the background for the morning prayers and worship. But by this method Mother Teresa teaches her staff (and us too) that real love for God must be lived out in love for those around us. And so, over the sounds of the street, the sisters sing in sweet a capella unison of God’s compassion for a hurting world. We find we now miss those strangely “quiet” moments of being filled with joy, a necessary preparation for looking into poverty’s ugly face day after day after day.

Following prayers and worship, at 7 a.m. we joined two other volunteers who had been developing a relationship with seven street children. We provided the children’s breakfast, probably their only healthy meal all day because for them, like many others, “home” consists of two mats and a cot placed on a busy street corner.

We struggled personally with how really to help people without simply adding to the dehumanizing message that they are incapable of caring for their own needs. In our four weeks with these children, another personal struggle was realizing that many other people had even more severe needs. Once, while walking with the children down a busy street, a woman thrust her crying baby onto Bill’s chest, screaming in Bengali at the top of her lungs. As we walked on, we heard a mocking laughter following us which seemed to say, “If your really want to help us, don’t simply offer Bandaids.”

Moral dilemmas continued throughout the day as we boarded the tram to our volunteer job sites – J.J. to an orphanage a d Bill to a home for the mentally disabled. “Shishu Bhavan” is a Missionaries of Charity care facility for children whose parents are unable to provide due to illness or economic setbacks. J. J. found herself bonding with one child especially. Little Rajia was four years old, but looked only two due to severe malnutrition and tuberculosis. Her full recovery looked doubtful, which only stirred up more love for her within J.J.’s heart. Soon, however, the sisters discovered J.J.’s administrative skills and had her doing office work most of the time. This gave her the privilege or working more closely with the sisters.

Bill’s normal duties included bathing bodies, shaving faces, clipping fingernails, cutting hair, washing dishes, feeding mouths, and the like. It sounds mundane, but he had his “moments.” One boy’s skin was so caked with filth that it took four days of scrubbing before he could be called clean! The brutality of street survival had drained him of life and hope – his body emaciated, with claw-like fingernails, out-of-control bowel movements (making those baths a challenge), and nearly total unresponsiveness. How this boy had survived this long was hard to determine, but he was judged to be about fifteen years old. Out of the ninety male patients, Bill took special notice of this boy, mostly trying to communicate through touch Jesus’ love for this sad result of the blunt end of poverty’s brutal stick.

Some afternoons and evenings we visited families and new friends in Calcutta, with one middle class Christian family revealing Calcutta’s more developed side. Our memories also include one street family, hovering over a daughter who was busily studying mathematics. The father looked up with a smile that seemed to say, “There is hope for the future in our daughter.” We also remember a young widow with a ten-month-old son, living on the street just outside our guest house. Instead of giving cash to beggars, due to potential abuses we continued with her our usual practice of giving food and our friendship. She showed appreciation by giving J.J. four glass bracelets. Her gesture reminded us that the greatest gift we could give people was dignity and value, as we related to them as friends and equals.

When we went to bed at night, tired from the incessant noise and feeling our lungs heavy with smog, so many emotions surfaced in our minds. Given the complexity of our surroundings, our inadequacies were most evident. Were we doing any good at all? Yet Mother Teresa’s words encouraged us: even though ours was just a small drop in the ocean, without that drop the ocean would be diminished.

The past few months have included many other experiences, including visiting a Nepalese jungle preserve and sleeping in an authentic mud and thatched-roof hut. We also had the opportunity for eight days of hiking in Nepal’s Himalayas, refreshed as we marveled at their beauty.

In Thailand, ministry opportunities included using hoe and sickle to clear an overgrown field for an upcoming evangelistic meeting, and joining a bible study in a slum.

In Malaysia, we shared our faith one afternoon with a traditional Muslim family.

In Sri Lanka, we led seminars and a chapel service at Lanka Bible College. Especially there, we sensed God’s answer to your prayers. Although there had been reports of violence and killings just weeks before our eleven-day visit, ours was the quietest period the area had experienced in months. This brief visit was truly a highlight for us, as we saw many fruitful results of Lanka Bible College’s ministry of training men and women for leadership in the churches of Sri Lanka. Through the efforts of these Christians, many are turning to the Gospel instead of placing false hope in violence, Hindu gods, or “lord” Buddha to solve the many problems facing their country.

We know we will miss the Asian hospitality and the stimulation of such diverse and lively places, but we anticipate new experiences as we fly on to Africa. We thank you for your prayers as we pass the midpoint of our trip.