Without realizing it, I’ve suddenly gotten my feet under me here in India. For the first few days, it was panic and exhaustion and constant movement, and I barely had my wits about me. It didn’t help much that I’m pretty certain I got sunstroke that first day – I turned a particularly luminescent shade of red, and my notes from that day have the vague disconnection of someone battling dementia. Squinting at my shaky handwriting, the only two things I could make out were “boy, the Indians sure like Gandhi a lot,” and “Rob just called me a lobster.” Heady stuff.
But now I’ve learned simply to go where I’m led, to eat the food I’m handed, and to avoid asking questions like “so, is there silverware?” or “what exactly is in this?” I will take many things back with me from India, but the habit of eating rice and curry with my fingers will likely not be one of them.
I develop a greater and greater respect for the pastors who are at work here, whose dedication in bringing the Gospel to the people puts their lives in constant danger. Today we prayed with a little girl whose father had been beaten by Hindi men for being a Christian pastor. After we left, Peter told us that they hadn’t told the girl that her father had been grabbed and beaten a second time, and had been hospitalized. He’s been told that if he goes to the police, they’ll come back and kill him.
Of course, there’s no assurance that even if he did go to the police, that they’d do a thing. Each of the pastors we talk to have a frustration edging on fury with the government, who continues to allow, and even encourage, religious oppression. For a country developing as quickly as India, is a deeply backwards idea that seems, for the moment, intractable.
Religion and government are tied together here in a way I’ve never encountered before. We’ve met a number of children that Peter and his ministry have brought in to provide them education, which would otherwise be unavailable to them. It turns out there are no schools for these children to go to, since they aren’t of a caste that would be given schooling. The government believes that these children have “lived into” these lives – they’ve done things in an earlier life to deserve the station they’ve received. Therefore, there’s no value in educating them, or feeding them, or protecting them. They’re simply getting what they deserve. And this is the mindset of the government of a country that may someday soon become the most populous on earth.
I understand the issues people have with the way religion is separated from government in the U.S., I really do. I even understand why people feel the need to get up in arms over tiny things, because every slope is a slippery one when you get moving on it. But as I hear these men pour their hearts out about how they try to preach the gospel while fearing for their lives, it seems so patently ridiculous to bicker endlessly over school prayer and nativity placement. We don’t know how good we have it.