I've been thinking about those Hindu converts I mentioned earlier,- who taught me much about the nature of faith in the short time we had together.
We spent a couple of hours on my last Monday in Bangalore sitting together on the floor of Zion Church (which, I suspect, is where I've left my heart) while they shared their faith stories. It was frustrating to need an interpeter, but these ladies came from the poorest homes and had little education...while I, with no such excuse, had not a word of Tamil to my name. However, the tireless Rev Christy somehow found time to translate for me, and the stories that emerged were simply wonderful.
Papamma told hers with full dramatic emphasis,- Sarah Bernhardt in a sari- but when Christy translated, I realised that she was entitled to it. She had struggled with abject poverty for many years, and eventually the family situation became so bad that they determined that the only solution was to buy paraffin and burn themselves alive on a shared funeral pyre. However, to immolate a family of 5 demanded quite a quantity of paraffin, and a Christian neighbour noticed that Papamma was buying little else from day to day, suspected her intentions and suggested that, before she lit the fire she at least tried visiting the church and praying to the "Christian God". Papamma had always been a devout Hindu, and loved spending time in holy places, so she agreed to this...and on her visit to the church she encountered God in a way that changed everything for her.
What was striking to me was that materially nothing had changed at all. She remains desperately poor, racked with arthritis and with huge anxiety about her young grandson, who has severe cerebral palsy and is incapable of independent life. But there is no trace of the frantic desperation that had driven her earlier plans. She told me that she knows that God loves and cares for each member of her family, and she's prepared to trust him come what may.
The other ladies were equally assured. Their faith was overwhelming. On one level, they prayed "slot machine prayers", asking for very specific things - for healing, for a wife for a grandson, for enough money to pay the rent - but they remained serene when instant answers were not forthcoming. I wondered if that calm evolved from the fatalism of the Hindu world-view, or whether the scornful Marxist criticism of religion as "the opiate of the masses" might actually be correct. Had Christianity simply lulled these wonderful women into acceptance of the unacceptable? But no, these women were working to transform their own community by simple everyday kindness, which had won the respect of their Hindu neighbours, who had initially viewed their conversion with suspicion.
Their spirits were not dulled in any way - they shone for me, that afternoon.
Back in the guest house I was writing while listening to music on my blessed iRiver (surely one of the best purchases ever). The Kevin Prosch track "Kiss the Son" drew to a close, with its repetition of the words of Job
"Though you slay me, I will trust you Lord"
and for a moment I understood the faith of those wonderful women.
I shall go on praying for them, and for their families...For Jesu, the grandson with cerebral palsy, for Dennison, a school boy with haemophilia (surely a death-sentence when you live in a slum in a developing country) and for so many others. Perhaps you will too.
And 5000 miles away, I know those women are praying for me. That feels wonderful.