I had seen her for the first time just yesterday, walking along the main road into the village. It took a moment for my mind to comprehend what I was really seeing and by the time I did, our 3-wheeled Tuk-Tuk was well beyond her and hurrying us on to school. I quickly folded into a flurry of school activities (including school pictures – always an exciting day) and sadly, never gave her another thought.
But here she was again. The woman at the well.
In the past few days, we have been bringing our lunch to school and enjoying the benefit of extra time for training preparation, blogging, creating videos, etc. But today, I was tired ...
She is old, by Indian standards, and looks even older, by ours. From her looks, most Americans would guess her age to be in her 90’s. After my repeated experiences in India in recent years, I can now assume she is probably more like 40-45.
Her gray hair is twisted up in a disheveled knot at the back of her head and I’m not sure if she could even recall the last time it was shampooed. Her gaunt face is deeply lined with wrinkles, which I am quite certain must be well-earned, each one telling a story of hardship and suffering. She held a large plastic water bottle under the public water spigot – the same spigot that goats and cows lick for tiny droplets of water each day. But the woman seems grateful for the drink of water and mutters quietly under her breath as she watches the water fill her bottle. I am quite certain she isn’t aware that I am standing there – gaping at her – video camera capturing her sad condition. I sense that she learned to shut out the world and all its judgment and rejection long, long ago.
But this is not the worst of it. What is truly heartbreaking is what she is wearing – a filthy piece of plastic sheeting. Her gaunt chest is barely covered with a dirty brown top. But instead of sari cloth, she has wrapped herself in a filthy piece of clear plastic, and quite obviously to everyone on the street, nothing more. I have seen poor women in India; I have seen poor women with only a handful of possessions. And now I have seen a woman who is so poor, she has no clothes.
I wonder at her story. Where is her family? Is she a widow? Widows in India suffer the greatest persecution of all. (Jim will have more to say about the plight of widows in the next few days). What has become of this woman’s possessions? She has lived a long life – surely she must have had clothes at one time. Why has no one given this poor woman even a scrap of cloth to wear? Where has she come from? And where will she end up?
I can still hear the rustle of the plastic over her quiet mumblings as she shuffled on to …. to where? I cannot imagine and she probably can’t either. I wonder to whom she was speaking. Was she praying? To which god? The stone gods on every corner who hold her captive in this despair? Or our God, who calls her daughter and loves her as much as He loves me – even as much as He loves his only son, Jesus.
I wish I had asked her name. I didn’t. I failed her, just as I failed God today. I was too busy recording the tragedy of her sad condition so that I could report that to you – as if you could do anything for her today. How utterly foolish I have been. God did not place her in your path, He placed her in mine. I am completely overwhelmed as I realize: God called me half way around the world for this moment – to place me in the path of this woman - twice. Here was my opportunity to really DO something for someone in great need. And all I did was stand and stare.
In your villages, spread all across America, there are “women in plastic sarees” around you. I beg you not to stand frozen in confusion, as I did. I ask you not to avert your eyes, as I had done before. These are women just like us. They were created to be beautiful and to share adventures with their partners. They were created to be pursued and romanced.
We are grateful that you have answered God’s call to tag along on our adventures in India and yet, I know it is likely you will never experience the heat and dirt and hopelessness of India as we are doing. Yet, there is a reason – perhaps known but to God – that you are following our journey.
The bible story of Queen Esther is one of my favorites for it teaches us that she was placed upon the throne by God “for such a time as this” - so that she would be in the position to save her people, the tribes of Israel, when the time came. Likewise, perhaps you have been called to participate in this blog “for such a time as this” - to intercede on behalf of the old woman in the plastic sari.
I hope I never forget her. I know Jesus hasn’t forgotten her. So I am asking you now – as you read this - to stop and say a prayer for the old woman in the plastic sari. Jim and I both continue to be astounded by the large following of the blog and know, without a doubt, that God has brought us all together. Perhaps this is why – for such a time as this – for this woman. I am asking each of you to watch the video below this posting and pray that the Holy Spirit will touch her heart and that she will accept the love Jesus offers each of us. Even her. Especially her.
When the time comes for my “final journey home”, I pray that I will walk down the heavenly streets of gold and, for the 3rd time, encounter this woman. But instead of standing dumbfounded, this time I will laugh out loud with joy when I see her. There, in the distance, at the very foot of the throne, I can see her. Gone is the plastic sari – replaced now with snow white robes hemmed with golden threads. Gone is the gray hair and wrinkles – her beauty is radiant. There is laughter and there is music, for she is dancing - dancing with Jesus.