What can we say in only a few words about what our time in India meant, and how it impacted us?
Traveling through the Subcontinent opened us up to a broader world, exposed us to a different way of thinking and of being, challenged our assumptions and presumptions. We witnessed extreme poverty and desperation, overpopulation and the associated depletion of the environment. We also witnessed incredible displays of resilience and creativity in the face of a hopeless situation. We met people that the furnace of poverty has refined into clever and resourceful (if not always trustworthy) individuals, and also those whom it has completely melted and crushed. We struggled to find our place in such a world, and fought to determine if any real relationship can be forged over such vast inequality.
We saw massive ruins that were abandoned centuries before Europeans arrived in North America, peeked into the world's oldest culture, and witnessed a religion that is deeply spiritual and extraordinarily materialistic at the same time. We experienced ancient cultural relics and witnessed behaviors that span the centuries, but also saw a people and culture eager to modernize, to adopt and adapt what they find to be the best elements of Western civilization. And we contemplated the perennial changes and chances and challenges of human society:our desire for stability, our search for meaning, our production of artifacts, and the unavoidable reality change.
We studied Hindi, watched popular Bollywood movies, and listened with generous ears to the culture around us. We found surprising parallels to our culture, found powerful lessons for our lives, and encountered challenging new ideas. (And, of course, came across some things we just didn't understand.) We learned from the experiences and insights of our Christian brothers and sisters in that part of the world, directly through interacting with them and reading their work, and indirectly through pondering the Gospel in the North Indian context. We discovered that, listening with Gospel ears, there is much we can learn from the stories of strangers from other traditions and far away lands. Above all, we learned that we have much more to learn!
We ate mostly vegetables and discovered that a diet of well-spiced fresh food is cheaper, extraordinarily healthy, and can be quite tasty. We learned to live with little, and were inspired by people who had next to nothing, and hope to maintain a simple, minimal lifestyle into the future.
Since we had no agenda, we had ample time to adjust to the local pace of life – to adjust to the pace of travel and the culture's relaxed pattern of daily activity. We also struggled to organize large swaths of unstructured time, and learned a lot about each other, our habits, and vices, and how we work together. (Sarah often quips it was like a marriage boot camp!)
Our travels were paradoxical, disorienting, educational overstimulating, boring, eye-opening, and deeply challenging in all ways and on all levels. Our travels helped to reveal to us what is really important, and what we really value about our heritage, upbringing, and the skills we've cultivated through our youth. And they have helped us to define and clarify what is important to us, where and how we want to work, and what values we want to embody into the future.
Coming back to America has been a challenging transition. We have changed enormously, but our culture has changed very little. Most of the people we know do cannot relate to our experiences. And as Americans, our culture is heavily insulated from the strongly cosmopolitan reality that characterizes the rest of the world. Most of us have little experience distinguishing which of our habits, beliefs, and behaviors are universal, and which are specific to our cultural context. Everything that happens in America seems so important – and it is: we are world leaders – but it is also just a part of a much larger whole.
When all is said and done, we consider our time in India to be the first faltering words in a longer, larger conversation that we will continue throughout our life. Our home is in America: our family, our friends, our roots are here, and our vocation is here also. And America is certainly the among the largest and most challenging mission fields in the world. But we have come to realize that in order to complete our mission here, we must be in intimate conversation with another place. To do what we have been called to do means stepping away from that from time to time, and seeing ourselves through someone else's eyes, and watching God at work in a radically different context.
And so we are grateful for our time in India, and look forward to watching that conversation continue to unfold, and for new conversations to emerge. It is a glorious adventure that God has called us to as his children, and we are ready to dive in and experience his gracious challenges for yesterday, tomorrow, and for the rest of our lives..
More Links about our India experience:
- Original index to our thoughts about our journey before we departed.
- An index of all of the blog entries we made while abroad.
- Nathaniel's Bollywood Picks
- Our Favorite Indian Dishes