I must admit to some anxiety as we leave the calm of Delhi airport and head out into the late evening.
Everyone insists my first taste of India will blow me away. The sights, the sounds, the traffic, the smells - lots about the smells especially. Maybe they just did a good job of preparing me. Anxiety becomes interest. True the roads are busy for midnight but nothing I cannot relate to. The bus air con is sheltering me from the heat but there was no nasal assault as we left the airport building.
The hotel is shrouded in darkness and is a bit daunting. The boys will be sharing rooms. That’s a surprise. I had expected solitude at night and a chance to regather. I had not anticipated the need for a bathroom roster and worrying about whether I was going to snore or not. I am a bit rattled but there are positives too. There’s a toilet, toilet paper, hot water, a working if noisy air con unit and it’s spotlessly clean.
The positives keep coming. There’s English Premier League soccer on a TV and it can’t be switched off. I quickly find out Arsenal won - the fate of the Sydney Swans remains more elusive. Craig F, it turns out, sleeps silently. Politely, he tells me I don’t snore either. Maybe we just didn’t sleep much or, equally likely, any noises were muzzled by our air con unit. If volume equates to efficiency, we’ve struck climate-control gold.
After breakfast - curried potatoes and sweet Indian tea - we’re off to church. The roads are more chaotic than last night but it’s like watching a movie as drivers perform crazy manoeuvres all about us. Drivers hit there horns constantly but nobody seems to take offence. I can imagine firearms being pulled in Sydney. On advertising hoardings lining the streets I recognize the faces of both the leading lady and leading man of the Bollywood movie I found so mesmerizing on the flight. Now they are advertising coke and financial services (I think). I congratulate myself on being all over modern Indian culture but can’t help worrying whether this glamorous pair have simply split the nation’s wealth between them.
Moments later we are being ushered into a small room where Sunday church is in full swing. It’s taken Delhi twelve hours longer than I was told but I am overwhelmed. I am instantly gripped by the intensity and passion of this gathering. They are singing and chanting - a woman at the front has tears running down her face as she praises Jesus. These people don’t just know Jesus. They love Jesus. There may be some things we can teach them but that’s not how things have started. I am worried about being in the way and look to the back of the room. But I am signaled to sit down the front by smiling faces.
The singing continues and I am trying not to cry. I am aware the trip has just started. If I was in a service in a room this size in Sydney, I would feel abit awkward. I am ashamed to say I might think it a bit second-rate. Not here. This is a place touched by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we live. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and everything is going to be okay because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins at the Cross.
Steve T and Amy deliver powerful testimonies of how they came to Christ. Then Steve Y gives an excellent sermon on Job. He covers the entire chapter, with local members of the congregation reading God’s word. The scope of his message is impressive - he’s put some work into that. I’m up on Friday and at the moment my three point sermon is just that. There’s always tomorrow’s bus trip to Chandigahr. Afterwards we all shake hands and we’re back on the bus heading for lunch with some on the Indian pastors and family members.
On the bus I chat with one of our translators, Pastor Ahmet. He has two children of similar age to my own. We talk about our hopes and fears for our children - they are much the same. He likes cricket. We could be twins. Testing the theory I offer that the asthetically-perfect batsman VVS Laxman was more impressive than the ruthlessly efficient Sachin Tendulkar. He disagrees and says Sachin was also an excellent role model for young Indians. I had heard this and am happy to agree. He’s indulged me over a national treasure - I keep it to myself that I’m certain the impeccably well-mannered Doctor Laxman is no Pants Man either.
After a wonderful lunch we are off sightseeing at what seems like a complex of impressive temples. Entry is $10 for locals, $250 for tourists. If Tony Abbott finds out about this, he’ll pay off the deficit in three weeks. At the pay kiosk, I get my first experience of Indian maths. Apparently $500 minus $250 equates to $50 change. I return to the window and without a word promptly receive two 100 rupee notes. It occurs to me if I keep going back I might end up carrying my money around in a sack.
The temples are impressive, the grounds very picturesque. It’s hot but there’s plenty of shade. Young couples sit on the lawns enjoying a romantic Sunday afternoon. We could be in Centennial Park - though the architecture is stunning, inspiration for the Cammeray rebuild maybe. After Matt L has shot enough photos to open an exhibition, we’re back on the bus. We see the War Memorial and parliament but it’s the people that are fascinating. The streets are crowded but less than I’d imagined. It’s terrible to see people living beneath tarpaulins at the side of the road and I feel utterly ashamed at how much angst I’ve expended over my son Jamie’s soccer trials and whether the team will win the league next year.
Back at the hotel I manage to get my phone working. I message Alison to let her know I am safe and find out the Swans DID beat Carlton. I’d like it noted in Hansard I did it in that order.
Over dinner, Pastor Benny tells us about the work of The Indian Gospel League. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a big job. More than one billion people and 300 million gods and goddesses to choose from. He has already seen God’s amazing work firsthand and will see much more. But I am grateful for his sacrifice. He is thousands of kilometers from his own family and we are his sixth group this year. Everyone is tired but it’s been a wonderful first day. I am looking forward to the rest of the week. All anxiety gone, praise be to God.
Martin K, India Teaching Team 2013.