Reflecting Kolkata - One Month Later

One month after Kolkata, I feel more burdened than ever to simply share our story with as many people as possible.

People sleeping near Howrah Bridge Kolkata (Calcutta) 1953.jpg

Before we arrived at Kolkata, I recall telling our team to prepare for the shock of re-entry. Many had never left North America, let alone step foot onto the Asian sub-continent. I felt a hunch deep within me that our return home would be tougher than anyone of us could imagine. In hindsight, I believe I felt that way because deep down I knew the re-entry process would be far tougher for me personally than I could ever know.

This hunch proved true.

May God break our hearts for the poor and vulnerable and give us words to share their story.

-- Click to Tweet --

I could argue that my mind is on Kolkata because I am still recovering from the "Curry Curse." Four weeks later and my bowels still feel the brunt of our delicious but gnarly Indian cuisine.

The truth, however, is even now my heart feels the pain of the poor from Kolkata. But not in a shameful way. I believe these emotions stem from a healthy, Spirit-filled place. With each passing day, the sheer weight of this experience is shaping my call all the more. The reality of the Kolkata context walks with me everywhere I go. I take it with me to the office, to the grocery store, to In and Out, everywhere. I see the images of the families living on the streets just as clearly now as when I saw them in Kolkata a month ago, as if I was still living there.

Everyday my heart feels wrecked, and I confronted with a question: What do I do now — on this side of our trip?

Do I simply live with these emotions and hope that it lessens and fades away? Do I sell all of my possessions and move my pregnant wife to the brothels of Kolkata? Is there an in-between?

I think so. Is God moving me there? Probably not. It may be at the end of a million little steps that I cannot yet see, but I do not believe that step is now or in the near future.

Instead, one thought does continue to probe me over and over again: "I simply want to share my story with anyone who'll listen." 

I want to sit with people and share with them about the abject poverty that we witnessed in Kolkata; the dynamics of the brothel system and how it entraps young underage women into a short-term life filled with abuse and prostitution; the street culture of homelessness and disease; the broken economic system of housing that perpetuates generational poverty; the lack of basic infrastructure that breeds crime and inhibits growth; the futility of Hindu worship; and the rich history of Christian mission in Kolkata.

My first few days home, I thought: "How do I share this? How do I communicate what I saw with people at home?" Partly, I just couldn't keep it in. It wanted to burst out of me! Partly, I needed to vent my swell of emotions - many of which I never anticipated feeling.

More than that, I  couldn't keep people from knowing, especially those who supported the team and me through this experience. Even though I did not yet possess the words to make sense of our experience (and in many ways still don't!), I knew I needed to simply share my observations — the what, when, where — even though the "why" would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to express - or even necessary.

A month later, I am not sure if I need to express the why. Even for me personally, the stories carry infinitely more weight than the rationale for them. The structure of Kolkata, the powers and principalities, is beyond anyone's full understanding. Its genesis goes back more than thousands of years. How could anyone fully grasp the societal history of Kolkata and India? We saw a building in Kolkata built during the 800s. Seriously, if those walls could talk!

The stories, however, of the girls who chose freedom, of the families who fight for their children, of the men who live with integrity, of the churches who faithfully proclaim the Gospel, those stories make Kolkata come alive for me more than any political, historical, or sociological explanation for Kolkata.

A month later, the city continues to transform me, my worldview, and my faith. The "why" certainly still hangs around in my thoughts. How could it not? And rightly so.

But the stories move me. They compel me to want to take as many people there as possible, to share the story, and let Jesus break their hearts - just like he did mine - for not only the people of Kolkata, but for the voiceless and vulnerable of our own community.

QUESTION: Will you consider going with me?