may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10
There's no understanding it. India is a paradox - contradictions at every turn. Most of it doesn't make sense to westerners and we are no different. Even after 4 previous visits, we still scratch our heads in amazement every single day. At the most confounding moments, we just laugh and say to one other, "Welcome to India!"
The village of Mahabalipuram, India, is home to Acts of Mercy, the non-profit organization for which we volunteer. Mahabs (as the locals call it) is a tiny rural village about 4 sq. miles and yet home to approximately 12.000 people and countless cows, goats, and monkeys, who all fill the streets, seemingly at once. India is a communal society, with multi-generational large families living together in relatively small homes. Known for its historic temples and beautiful beaches, Mahab is a tourist town and therefore, somewhat more prosperous than more rural villages nearby, many consisting of one or two dirt streets lined with thatched huts. Mahabs is a village of old and new, with Hindu temples carved from red sandstone in the 7th century standing next to newly constructed guest lodges. Brightly colored paint adorns the
It's hot in Mahabs - really, really hot. With air conditioning rare in homes and businesses, there is no escape from the heat. The humidity is intense and coupled with the heat, sometimes it feels like you can't breathe. Sometimes it feels like you don't want to. Cows roam the streets freely, leaving their droppings for others to walk around or through. Garbage lining the streets provide food for goats and monkeys while we begrudgingly provide nourishment for thousands of mosquitos, seemingly all at once.
The Hindu culture pervades every corner of this village. Pagan temples line every street. Some are large and open-air. Some are dark and dreary. Some are brightly painted and sit outside shops and homes. The temple to the peacock god travels in a bed of a pickup truck so villagers may come and worship on the street. Hindus are very religious and have covered their small village with hundreds of temples and thousands of idols. Constantly, more and more are carved and built each day. For some, it's an occupation; for many it's art. For all, it's the culture that is ingrained in almost every corner of their world.The main industy in Mahabs is known as "sculpture", ie, carving pagan idols out of stone. The whirr of power saws and tapping of hand carving tools awakens villagers in the morning and continues long into the night. Tourists are invited into the sculpture shops to try their hand at carving an idol of their choice. Sadly unaware, many do.
Things move slowly in India and it is difficult to have hopeful expectations for lasting change. Last summer's brand new traffic light (first ever for tiny Mahabs) is still sitting dark, with no purpose but to display faded banners and political flags. The new, modern grocery store that provided fresh milk and baked goods for us last summer is gone already, leaving the fly-covered street vendors to serve our market needs. One recent change is in the status of an ancient temple in the center of town. The federal goverment is assuming control of the landmark for historical and archelogical purposes but the villagers want to continue to worship the large stone idols here. In protest, village leaders called for a strike that closed all the roads into the village yesterday. Most shops and restaurants were closed, including the only food market in the village. We were hurried through intersections by crowds of excited men frantically making way for the local politicians who were driving up and down the streets, loudspeakers blaring to the crowds held captive by the closed roads in this village.
We also returned to the news that daily power outtages have been increased from 1 hr/day to 4-5 hrs /per day. When we expressed shock, locals told us they were relieved as much of the past year they had endured up to 8 hrs per day without electricity, even though there is a nuclear power plant a few kilometers from here. During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, this plant was damaged when it was flooded with seawater, much like the Japanese nuclear plant that was destroyed by last year's tsunami. After hearing of the Japanese disaster, locals voiced concern about the previously damaged plant so near their homes and government officials responded by cutting the electricity allotment for this region and thereby plunging schools, shops, hospitals, and homes into darkness throughout every day. The villagers carry on, hopeless and helpless against those who are elected on the platform of improving the living conditions. The hopelessness breeds growing alcoholism and domestic abuse. While the crime rate for theft is relatively low, the suicide rate climbs. With or without electricity, India is a very dark place.
It's hard not to be overwhelmed. We are. We always are and this visit is no different. Sometimes it seems that the villagers who live here are overwhelmed, too. Long ago, they must have accepted that they have no other option. We feel helpless and yet, we are the fortunate ones. Not because we were born in America and have options and resources. But because we have Jesus, when so many here do not. The darker the darkness, the greater the need for the Light.
But, with all of it's chaos and confusion, we love being back in India. Not because of the historic temples. Not because of the beautiful beaches. Not even becuase of the exotic culture. And certainly not because of the oppressive climate. We love being
here in India because here we are reminded that there are suffering people - God's children - everywhere in the world. Others sometime say to us, "but isn't there great need right here in America?". Absolutely. God's children are in great need in every city and country in the world. But for us, this is where we have been called, and this is where God has shown us the truth of a world without Him. It's a powerful lesson everyday and we are privileged and humbled to serve these people whom He loves so dearly.
The need is so obviously great and we are so obviously weak. And yet, we are assured, as promised, that we already have everything we need - His abundant and amazing grace.
"He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9
Please join us in praying for the villagers of Mahabalipuram.
Susan & Jim