Albert of Rishikesh

nathanielkiddnathanielkidd on 1225446995|%B %d

In America, whenever we needed to know something, we asked Google. In Rishikesh, Google is called Albert, and works eighteen hours a day as the Receptionist and Restaurant Manager at Green Hills Cottage.

We're pretty convinced that Albert knows just about everything about Rishikesh. Not only that, every single one of his suggestions is both ten times better and ten times cheaper than what we expected.

“Albert-bhai, what movie is playing tonight, and when is it showing?”

“Albert-bhai, is there a church in town?”

“Albert-bhai, I want to go rafting on the Ganges. What do you recommend?”

“Albert-bhai, we need a Hindi teacher. Do you know of one?”

“Albert-bhai, where can we find Ramen noodles around here?” (That one actually stumped him.)

Besides being extremely knowledgeable about the local area, Albert is extraordinarily good-natured and strikingly handsome. He is tremendously popular with the Israeli girls who pass through: Sarah has even been roped into taking a picture of Albert and a flock of young Jews.

He is also somewhat soft-spoken, and we always feel a bad when we see him being railed on by plump, middle-aged tourist women angered by the temporary cessation of water or electricity.

Albert is also (as you might have guessed, given his very non-Indian name) of Christian stock. “I was trying to become a priest,” he told us, “but in India, very competitive. Thirteen years schooling. After two years study, they did not select me.”

He also told us that when he first came to Rishikesh, he actually stayed with its first priest. “The Father was very kind,” he said. “He let me stay with him, and helped me take computer courses, and other courses. But then the Brothers came from the south to study Hindu philosophy, and he was too busy, so I find this job.”

While these days he is too busy running a hotel/restaurant and taking University classes to do much with the local church, he was very glad to meet some overtly Christian travelers, and has provided us with excellent guidance in finding the small enclave of Christians in Rishikesh and has helped us to compassionately engage with a local religious landscape that is so strongly Hindu.

“The Church, they built, five, six years ago,” Albert told us. “The people in town were very angry. The Christians were afraid there would be fighting. That is why there is no cross on the church.”

Today, there is no evidence of anti-Christian violence in Rishikesh. Some ashrams, like the ceiling of the local Catholic church, are charitable to even include a cross among the symbols of world religions brought together by the lived reality of spiritual practice. The local Christians are still wary, and worry that violence might break out without warning at any time. But this hasn’t stopped them from serving the community, building relationships with their neighbors, establishing schools, and generally becoming well-respected and well-loved members of the community.

Below the surface, there is still much healing needed, even in a place as visibly serene as Rishikesh. Hindus remain fearful of aggressive and unethical proselytizing on the part of Christians, and Christians are afraid of the violence that may erupt against them by the hands of a few fundamentalists. Ultimately, there are no easy, immediate solutions to these deep-seated fears. I think, however, in the long run, by the grace of God and the presence of people like Albert, the profound tensions between the two communities will relax over time, and the Holy Spirit will bring peace where once fear reigned.

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