Every one of us who participated on the Kolkata Mission Team must confront the glaring question: What now?
Our preparation for India required hundreds and thousands of small, intentional steps over the course of 14 months. Many of them seemed pointless, but some of them demanded much of us. Some guys on the team applied for passports for the first time and experienced the adventure (and anxiety) of leaving the country. While others took active steps toward experiencing God in a more profound way.
I am left with these simple thoughts from Kolkata: to go, to see, to take, and to retreat.
All of us, however, took steps forward in Kolkata: down new streets and across new cultures.
But now that our steps have led us home, where now? How do we continue living our lives forward after our usual steps took us on an unusual detour?
Our steps in Kolkata mean less if we fail to work out where they might take us at home. I believe our steps in Kolkata are leading us to the following places:
To Go to the Other Side of the Tracks. Mother Theresa told a reporter once to find your own Kolkata. That may be harder to do in some places than others. That certainly rings true in my town. It is one of the most affluent towns in America. But even so, Kolkata rears its head in certain neighborhoods of my town. Before taking steps toward and in Kolkata, I am not sure if I could see those places as clearly as I can right now. Our steps at home must take us toward these places.
To See People through the Lens of Jesus. People say this phrase so much (I say this phrase so much) that it sounds more like cliche than truth. Of course, most Christians probably want to see people through the lens of Jesus, but upon doing so, it wrecks our worldview and ultimately our lifestyles. Moreover, our culture flinches at the thought of assisting people without the perimeters of an organization or systematic structure. Heaven forbid someone gives crackers to a hungry person on the street, for we may be enabling that person from looking for a job or finding a home. That doesn't seem to fit the model and life of Jesus. He healed the lame without any systematic reason. Some he reluctantly healed, while walking past others who genuinely sought his attention. This may seem trite, but perhaps our task as Christians is as simple as encountering our neighbors with a discerning and humble spirit. I must confess that every time I passed by the family of 5 outside the walls of the our Guest House, I felt moved to give them food for their youngest boys (see my post on "Streets" for the full story). What stopped me? Fear they may ask me again after I walked outside the doors of the House? Maybe that's my responsibility as one who has more? I think we have become too allergic to handouts in the West that we have become paralyzed to do anything of any merit outside of the systems and reputation of an organization.
To Take Others to the Dark Places of Kolkata and Our City. During our visit to Freeset, the missionaries there commented several times about how easily I in with the organization. I loved listened to their stories, sitting with the women, and digging in my heels to the good work of the mission, while not letting myself feel intimidated by the foreign culture and language barrier. One of the workers suggested that I would make a great long-term missionary. As soon as I heard those words, I felt an immediate sense of 'halt!' I disagreed. I do think, however, that God wants me to expose as many people as possible to places like Freeset in Kolkata, as well as the "Kolkata Places" within our own community. I took steps toward making this project a reality because of a nudge from the Spirit to take my graduating seniors to Kolkata. More need to experience this trip, along with the tough places in our own hometown.
To Retreat to the Scriptures and the Place of Jesus. Our trip to Kolkata wrecked our hearts. Personally, I am still emotionally exhausted and burned out from our 10 day experience to the East. I felt emotions and observed scenes that I never ever thought that I would. The other day, I woke up feeling like I wanted to cry. Talk about confusion. I felt a whirlwind of feelings that made no sense to me, which caused me to acknowledge a tension that many of us feel during situations like this: where is God in places like Kolkata? In places like our hometown? Some logically conclude that God is not present and non-existent in our world because of places like Kolkata. Yet, to say that misses the forest for the trees. Two seconds with an organization like Freeset made me think the opposite: God is alive… real… ordered… gracious… loving… merciful… and salvific! This truth has kept me grounded in the midst of my emotional turmoil and angst. It compels me to the Scriptures for truth and grace so that I may know God and participate in his Kingdom in the world!
In the same way that our journey of preparation required hundreds and thousands of little steps over the course of a year, the journey of our process and debrief will also require as much.
I am left with these simple thoughts from Kolkata: to go, to see, to take, and to retreat.QUESTION: Share with us some examples of how God has wrecked your heart because of a cross cultural experience.