Sunday, November 27, 2005

Morning Train

On my recent trip up north into Bihar, we visited several different villages. A couple of times we had to get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the train to the next venue.

Though still in what would be considered Fall, this time of the year the temperatures are quite cool at night. As we were getting ready for our train to arrive I took this picture of those who spent the night on the railway platform. Last year I got stuck in Lucknow with no place to sleep so I, too, had to find a clean place to lie down through the night. It was one of the coldest and most uncomfortable nights I have ever experienced. Sleeping on cold concrete at the railway station ranks right up there with the night I slept in a sleeping bag over a pigpen in the mountains of southwest China. Such is the life of a cross-cultural worker.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now?

Standing in the middle of a busy street, some guy asked, “Why are you taking a picture of a telephone pole?”

“Foreigners. They do the strangest things,” he probably was thinking as he walked away.

Later I told my friend that the telephone pole is a visual metaphor of the problem with communication. Whether it’s between person-to-person or person-to-God, the wires on that pole in Bihar symbolize the problem with maintaining a good relationship. If I look close enough perhaps I can make out a bird’s nest, or is that just a rusted light cover? Where do the electric line and the phone line cross? Gee, not only is there a problem with voice transmission, it’s shorting out the power!

My life is filled with my wires twisted, crossed, cluttered. No wonder I can’t hear the voice of God, the wire is either cut or choked by the other junk that is cutting me off from the main line. I wonder sometimes if God isn’t trying to make connection but on the other end no one is picking up. “I think I hear you, Lord. Can you speak a little louder?”

“Fix the line, Richard…Can you hear me now?”

Monday, November 21, 2005

Village Life

This past week I had the opportunity to travel into another state in northeastern India. I always enjoy getting out of the city as it gives me a different perspective that is so different from the middle-class environment I live in most of the time.

It’s harvest time in this part of the country near the Nepal border. From early morning men, women and children work in the fields until late at night. With my zoom lens I was able to photograph one woman walking home after a long day in the field. There is something remarkably peaceful about village life. They know little about world events, as their main concern is eking out a living, having enough money to educate their children, to have enough food for another year. What they lack in material goods they compensate by having a strong community support group. My mind went back to those years I spent in Kenya. Like Africans, every place we visited drinking chai was compulsory. They villagers may not have much, but they more than make up by being kind and generous hosts.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The God of Culture

This past week I have been reading research papers. In my class on cultural anthropology the students are required to choose a people group, do a detailed library research on that people group and come up with a hypothesis on how they might present the Good News to them in a culturally relevant way. Some of the people groups include the migrants moving into New Delhi (why they move to urban areas and the challenges they face when they arrive); Muslims who live on the coast; prostitutes (who are now given the politically correct title as commercial sex trade traffickers) and the disabled. It’s been interesting reading as I learn more about the culture of the varied people in the country.

My role, as a teacher and consultant, is to create a thirst for others to learn and love mosaic of people that God has created. I never tire of learning why people do what they do and how they organize their life. All mankind manipulate their social environment so they can cope with this thing called life. Some cultures have very strong family bonds and their ethnicity or their caste provides them the security they long for in a hostile and cruel world we live in. Others are motivated by pure economics, either to just get by or to collect as much stuff as they possibly can get. Many, most, find religion as the foundation of their being, though some religions operate from the fear of the gods they serve or the unidentified forces they believe control their world. What strikes me as I study culture is how similar we all are, yet so diverse.

It may be true that all roads lead toward heaven, but not all roads actually lead to God. There is a way that seems right to man, the Scriptures tells us, but in the end it leads to death. The key, for all man, is to find the way that is right by Him. That way, God’s way, is hard to find when we are prisoners in our own culture. I pray that my students will learn to love the culture that God has created and in it present the Way that leads to a God who is not be feared but to be loved, for He first loved us.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Social Time

Last week my twin brother had a birthday.

I hate it when old people ask, “How old do you think I am?” It’s a trick to make you make them feel better by saying they look like they’re in they're ‘60’s when reallly they’re in their ‘80’s. Now I’m doing it, and it’s depressing.

People of different nationalities have a hard time guessing the age of other people of different ethnicities. I always had a hard time guessing the age of the Kenyan’s I worked. with and they never could guess my age (all us white folk look the same, you know). A couple of weeks ago I was teaching a class in India and they asked me how old I was? I did the senior citizen thing, “How old do you think I am?”

I went to the white board and gave them a range of options: 45-50; 50-55; 55-60; 60-65; 65-70; 70-75. Most of them put me in the 65-70 category, some put me in the above 70-age group? Sigh, no one put me in the under 50-age range.

In some ways the students gave me a compliment. While the West places high value on youth, in many other cultures older people are perceived as having legitimacy. Social time means that you have something to say because you’ve been nicked in life and are still standing. Really old people are revered, as they are seemingly closer to God (more truth to that than they intend, I think).

One of my favorite authors passed away yesterday. At the age of 95, Peter Drucker was still sought after for his youthful and innovative thinking without the foolishness of youth. Age, as the old saying goes, is often more a state of mind. If I can grow old with a mind that is focused on the future and not the past, it really doesn’t matter how many years I rack up.

Happy birthday, Bill. How old are you?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Words Of Affirmation

As I sat listening to the, not hardly five foot girl speak in Sunday morning chapel, she spoke emotionally about her father. Konya’s father, a nominal Christian living in the northeast of India, loves his daughter and had great aspirations for her life. Konya is bright and outgoing and her dad wished that one day she would enter politics. To that end she was moving, until she accepted Christ at a youth meeting. Her life was transformed. Leaving the ambitions of a career in the secular world, Konya took a job working for a Christian organization, much to her parent’s disappointment. After a few years her fellow workers, no doubt seeing her potential, encouraged her to pursue further studies. She is now in her second year pursuing her MA in missions.

Konya broke down as she talked about how that all her other friends at home had good jobs and was getting on with life. Then, fighting back the tears with lips quivering she said, “But I am still dependent on my parents.”

The bond between a father and daughter is unique. I know, as I have two precious grown daughters of my own. As Konya spoke I thought of how, because of her close relationship with her father she cares what he thinks. Her motivation in life is to serve Christ regardless of the price, but in the deep recesses of her heart she is motivated to please her earthly father as well. No greater affirmation can a child receive in life than a word of “I’m proud of you,” from your father or mother. That’s true if the child is three or fifty-three.

But the words of affirmation only have meaning if the relationship is grounded in affection. If throughout the child’s life they have been criticized and made to feel of little worth, even a “good job,” rings hollow. A son or daughter from a negative home atmosphere is likely to say, “I could care less what my parent’s think.” If the motivation is to gain acceptance from an abusive parent, will it ever be satisfying? Probably not.

Konya’s testimony reminded me, first, to remember to be mindful of my children and grandchildren. They don’t need my affirmation, but may they always know that I am proud of them no matter how God leads them in life. Second, and most importantly, I am reminded that my Father loves me, is proud of me, and I long to hear Him say, “Well done.”