From our 1960’s white Ambassador taxi we entered into a cacophony of noise as cars, large decorated trucks, vespa motorcycles and yellow auto-rickshaws jostled for position, incessantly honking their horns in ritual communication. Hurtling at sometimes breakneck speeds, we weaved in and out of traffic and stranded pedestrians who were trying, somewhat nonchalantly, to cross the ever bustling streets of this city.
Brightly coloured shrines, although somewhat grimy from pollution, festooned with orange marigolds for Deepawali (Divali), dominate many corners of the city. Hindu’s with their characteristic red spot on their foreheads mingle with turbaned Sikhs, whilst Sai Baba followers, barefooted and wearing entirely black, cross paths with burka clad Muslim woman. It all tells the story of an Asian country that is said to have over 300 million gods.
Integral with this story is the British influence, still found in the architecture of Government state buildings, with their beautiful ornate white sculptured towers and the mass of shop hoardings advertising anything you could possibly want in the local dialect and broken English. eg. “All bikes repairing centre.” And another traffic sign warned us of an “overspeed fine”.
There were many sad stories of colonialism and its lasting legacy but we were reminded by an Indian of a man called William Carey who stood out as a ray of hope. He was missionary to India who encouraged the culture of the land, learnt 34 languages and translated the first Bible into native Telegu.
Wherever we travelled there were beggars on the street junctions and many poor who eke out an existence in tarpaulin covered tent villages that are dotted all over the city, juxtaposed with beautiful white marbled security guarded mansions ….. Some people were so destitute that they would, early in the morning, clamber over locked recreational park gates, canisters in hand, searching for water from the garden’s ponds.
We had been asked to be a part of a team going to India, invited by Bishop Ernest and Rachel Komanapalli. Their organisation, “Manna Ministries” has grown from humble beginnings to now having over 1000 churches, 50 orphanages, a leper colony, a hospital and two clinics, 10 elementary and secondary schools, two trade schools, four Bible colleges, a junior college and a degree college. We were coming to encourage musicians, to play at a conference, and to visit some of these projects.
For 4 days, 60 musicians and singers from many parts of Andra Pradesh, (one who had travelled 3 days), joined together with us to explore and discuss the role of music amongst Indian Christians. It was a wonderful time of impromptu music, laughter and tears, reconciliation, sharing stories and dreaming about the future. As we have found with many people groups, there is an ever growing western influence and many are struggling to find their unique cultural expression, with guitars and keyboards supplanting native indigenous instrumentation.
In the evenings we joined with Indian musicians to help at a gathering of 500 pastors (and some huge bugs!). During this time of celebration God inspired many people through the spontaneous songs, dancing and the sounds of various indigenous instruments.
As we travelled outside of the urban metropolis, the terrain changed to agricultural land criss-crossed with rivers that supply water to grow rice, sugar cane, tobacco and cotton.
One journey to Eleru presented us with a feast of traditional sites. Thatched banana leaf shelters dotted the landscape, enticing older folk out of the noon day sun to squat, chatting and chewing. Lone shepherds, stick in hand, herded goats or water buffalo that roamed aimlessly across fields and roads, bringing the chaotic traffic to a standstill as they searched for fresh fodder. Those on bicycles and motorbikes, seemed to compete with each other, to see how many people or large items they could transport without falling off!!! A procession of musicians escorting a yellow painted body on the back of an ox pulled cart, denoted a funeral.
One of the saddest statistics in India is the number of children in care. We visited 8 orphanages during our stay and heard many stories of hope that had sprung out of amazing people caring for the destitute.
A man we met had been one of the orphans, who had grown up through the homes and schools of Manna Ministries and is now a pastor and house parent caring for the young himself. These homes dominated by young boys (unwanted girls being killed at birth) were primitive affairs. Many still under construction due to lack of funding, with the young sleeping on metal beds and their entire possessions stored in a small packing cases on corner shelves.
Yet through the devotion and love of house parents, lives were being restored. At each place we were greeted with joy, laughter and singing as they shared songs and enjoyed fun and games with their new guests from other countries. Much fun was had by all …… “LION, TIGER !!!!” (sorry it’s a team joke.)
Another weekend trip took us to Visak, a city on the east coast. We spent a wonderful evening walking along the sea promenade, watching the sun go down as the city dressed up ready for the Deepavali celebrations. Fireworks lit up the night as the sky erupted in a myriad of colours and firecrackers sang their staccato rhythm from every household. The most amusing sight being a Roman candle display from a fifth floor balcony!!!!….. unfortunately this was the same coast line which was hit a month later by the tsunami that has devastated the Far East. Manna Ministries are now feeding 1000 people twice a day in response to the disaster. Please remember these dear people in your prayers.
During our time in India we were also guests of honour at a house blessing, (where red ribbons tied across the front door were cut and everyone entered singing and blessing each room in turn), a gospel concert, (a colourful pageant, including 2 soloists from Bollywood), and a spectacular evening wedding (where hundreds of lights transformed the whole street).
Yet again our wanderings had taken us to another land where God stories were written in the hearts of those we met. Hearing Bishop Ernest and Rachel, our wonderful hosts, recount their tale of following God’s call, and seeing the fruit of humble beginnings was heart warming and very inspiring. Their hospitality which was overwhelming, their love for the poor, orphaned and sick reminded us of this prayer …….
I should welcome the poor to my feast, for they are God’s children. I should welcome the sick to my feast, for they are God’s joy. Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place, and the sick dance with the angels.