by Brad Alexander
If I wanted to tell you a story that would immediately convince you that you should go to India sometime, then this isn't the story I would share.
But if God wants you to go to India, then I'll trust God's work in your heart more than my own stories to get you there. Besides, every once in a while, it's nice to hear stories that shine the light on the reality of things rather than the romance. So...here's my worst india recruitment story.
It was late in the afternoon on a Saturday in January and I was exhausted.
I had flown nearly non-stop from Dallas to Dehli where I joined up with another small mission group from Los Angeles, and while we were making our way to our final ministry destination by way of train, we ran into a delay.
When traveling in India, there are almost always delays.
Fatigued from long flights and poor sleep, I was perched inside a dull gray room on a concrete bench, waiting for our team’s train to arrive, which was several hours late because of the oppressive fog which had set in due to a recent drop in temperatures making it one of the coldest weeks on record for the area.
I was cold.
I’ve been colder, but when combined with the tiresome 20 hours of straight travel, every sensation was enhanced. Sleepiness. Hunger. Being Cold.
So, feeling the freedom of not being “in charge” I plopped my large back pack onto my lap, crossed my arms, and laid my head to rest. But after what seemed like only minutes (which in fact had been over an hour) I was startled awake by my new acquaintances / teammates telling me that our train had arrived.
Time to move.
We rode on the trains for close to 8 hours before we arrived in our actual ministry destination. It was supposed to be a 4-5 hour trip, but that blasted fog had caused delays in every direction, not to mention that the train had to travel almost half as fast for the driver to maintain reasonable visibility.
But being behind schedule had it’s benefits…for me at least.
I slept. I woke. I took some chai, and had some lunch…or was it breakfast…I don’t recall the exact time of day, but it was food nonetheless. And then after getting to know my teammates for a while, I went back to sleep.
By the time we arrived in our city, I hadn’t exactly caught up on my rest, but I was in much better shape than I had been sitting on that cold concrete bench. It’s amazing what sleep (and lack of sleep) does to your state of mind.
Anyway, we had finally made it to our hotel. We could finally get cleaned up a bit, get settled, and turn our attention toward doing the training and work with the local pastors we had come there to serve alongside.
But my attention was quickly attuned to a few other things once we checked into our hotel.
The first thing I noticed was that our room didn’t have any form of heat or heater. This meant that our room was a cool 45 degrees or so in the mornings and evenings.
Very invigorating :)
Winters in India are typically mild (by American standards) so most economical hotels don’t have heat as a part of their normal set up. Air conditioning is much more common and necessary, but heat…not so much. And because the cold weather that we were experiencing was pretty rare, that’s just the way things were going to be.
So as we went to bed that night, I bundled up in some extra blankets, and because of the cold I also slept in my clothes as an added layer. This became part of my nightly routine.
But the next morning, after some better rest, I was excited to face the day, not matter how chilly, and to get on with bringing the story of Jesus into the villages. So I went in the bathroom to take a quick shower, and that’s when the next attention grabber came to light.
Hot water wasn’t going to be available.
Due to a malfunction in their heating mechanism, as well as the unpredictability of electricity, the hot water in the hotel was on the fritz. It came on and off in an unpredictable fashion, so if you happened to be one of the lucky ones getting ready while it worked, then you had a pleasant surprise.
Otherwise your shower routine…well, I guess you could say it became much more efficient (i.e fast).
There’s nothing like starting a cold morning off with a brisk cold shower to waken your senses and make you realize how feeble your spoiled American sensibilities really are.
But have no fear. All hope was not lost.
I did manage to pack Starbuck’s Via coffee, so even though I would be sleeping in the cold and showering in the cold, by the grace of God and American ingenuity I could have some instant coffee each morning that actually tasted like coffee. Even if on some more mornings I had to prepare it as an“ice cafe'."
I’ll be honest. I may not have expressed it to my team, but I was pretty perturbed.
I had expected there to be a stretch and adjustment in leaving the states to come to this place and minister, but no one had prepared me for these particular stretches and adjustments.
And for the first day I was struggling to make the best of it. I didn’t want to go back to the hotel to sleep. I didn’t want to shower in cold water and have to spend the morning trying to get warm before heading back out into the cold again.
But then I had the revelation…it’s like camping!
When you camp, you’re cold. When you camp, you don’t expect warm water. When you camp, you may even need to sleep in your clothes. I was making my home indoors, but basically, it was like was camping in the early Spring in the America. I had done that plenty of times!
It may seem silly, but having that as my mindset did help to reset my expectations…but that’s not all that the Lord used to reset my expectations.
Now, this is where you might expect me to point out how the Indian villagers barely had a roof over their head, and how they had very little food to eat, and how there were people living on the streets with even less, and that because they lived on so much less my heart was challenged, and my expectations were reset, etc, etc, etc.
But that’s not what did it.
Yes, God definitely used seeing how people, who were living in poverty with little-to-no shelter still had smiles on their faces and were living a content life even when they were colder than I was at night, but the thing God that used the most to help reset my expectations came from my own teammates.
On my team of sixteen there were seven women.
Five of those women were over the age of 50, and two of them were grandmothers. The other two were college age girls who were in India for the first time, but for the five older women, this was their third time to India, and they all knew each other.
It was also their third time to this specific area, and their third time to roll with the punches which traveling as a foreigner in India can throw at you. And instead of complaining and whining about the lack of amenities, they laughed and made light of “roughing it” even compared to some of their previous adventures here.
This hotel/travel experience was not the norm, according to them. Their other trips had been much smoother, and their accommodations and travel had been much less stretching, but they were determined to stay focused on our task for the next 7 days, and they weren’t going to let a little cold water get in their way of making much of Jesus.
So they cracked jokes about who could take the fastest cold shower, and poked fun at those who had longer hair because it took longer to dry, which meant you were chilly a little bit longer than the others during the cooler morning hours.
“You see, that’s why you should have short hair like me. If you would have cut your hair like I told you, you’d be warmer while also looking cute!”
They were also the ones who had brought along an electric kettle, because if they were going to enjoy anything, it was going to be a cup of hot coffee or tea in the morning.
And they gladly shared their prized small appliance with the rest of us, which for me and my Starbucks Via packs, meant cozier starts to the busy days of sharing the gospel and teaching the bible in the villages nearby.
Their humility and commitment to remain joyful when things weren’t comfortable rebuked my inner complaints, which while being valid, were not worth dwelling on for my time there.
And their example of being a servant to our team, while also being a servant to villagers with whom we would have the privilege of sharing story of Jesus, sharpened me, and Christ used it to put set my own perspective straight.
Being a servant means living as one, and sometimes it may also mean being treated like one.
And also, being a servant requires giving up any expectation of creature comforts.
In the grand scope of global suffering, I suffered very little on that trip, but I’m excited that I was allowed to suffer what I did for the sake of Christ’s name being known in a place where it isn’t.
And it’s experiences like that which stir in me even more wonder of Jesus, who left the eternal comforts and glory of heaven to come down to earth as a frail and vulnerable human, for the purpose of redeeming dirty, sweaty, tired, and (and sometimes cold) fragile people.
People like you.
People like me.