Why Punjab?

We are drawn to India by the stories.

There is, first of all, my story. My mother was born to missionary parents in Taxila, and raised in the Pakistani Punjab. I grew up tasting Indian culture in her cooking, smelling it in her souvenir suitcase, speaking it in the few words of Urdu she injected into my vocabulary. The subcontinent has thus always held a great fascination for me. Going and meeting the people and immersing in the culture will bring completion and satisfaction to this inherited reality.

Then there are the stories of culture and identity presented in Hindi film, with which I happen to resonate. It is strange, yes, but I love Bollywood movies: not merely for their aesthetic or artistic qualities, but because they teach me about being Christian. India is a land that breathes its stories, where we in the West hardly believe our stories. As my spiritual journey has led me closer to the living heart of the Christian faith, I have begun asking questions about the place of my story in the world: and these are questions that permeate Hindi film, and, I presume, Indian culture.

Finally, there is our story: the unlikely romance of a young married couple, the world, and the voice of God. In Sarah’s words, “It just feels right.” We know in our gut—we know that we know that we know—it is what we need to do, even if it does not yet make sense in our minds.

It may seem strange that a young Christian couple would find the Punjab an appropriate place of pilgrimage. And perhaps it is, but we are a little strange.

My mother was an missionary kid born in Taxila and spent most of her childhood in and around Lahore. In this way, the Punjab is a sort of homeland for me. I grew up eating dal and had a few Urdu words discretely injected in my vocabulary.

In the course of my education, I worked hard to gain an understanding of my Christian heritage and tradition, and, in fact, I avoided looking into those subject that I felt would distract me from this task. In good Evangelical style, I pursued the study of Biblical languages, which in turn led me into a study of the early Christian movement. When I imagined going abroad, I thought of the eastern Mediterranean; the environment that cradled the early Christian movement would surely serve to reconnect me to my spiritual roots.

In time, however, I encountered Bollywood films. I found projected onto the screen of Hindi cinema a series of questions about identity, homecoming, and reconciliation with which I resonate profoundly. As I continued to watch these movies, and began to study Hindi, an increasing sense of vocation began to settle on me. I needed to find a way to go there.

Even though she has no particular roots in India and does not share my appreciation for Bollywood films, my wife felt the same pull. We watched doors of opportunity open and close; different programs in all corners of the world floated on to the radar and then off again. Nothing seemed to fit quite right. So after about year, we finally came back to talking about India. Sarah confided, "It's what I've felt we should do from the beginning."

Having been unable to locate any reasonable employment or volunteer program, we decided we should instead look at regions, and trust God for the means to get there. I immediately thought of Punjab, and began reading about it. Here was the fit: a transnational, multi-religous community seeking to maintain its culture. A fertile ground for religious contemplation; the birthplace of Sikhism. I was fascinated by this environment, and eager to listen to the sorts of conversation that floated in the air in such a place.

So, we have taken the frightening and risky step of saying that we are going to go. We have no plans and no connections, just a deep sense of calling that has been growing for quite some time.

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