My first “missionary letter”: As a Global Ministries Mission Intern, I wrote missionary letters about once a month to reflect theologically on my time at MBKG Pannai and to give people in the United States a window into my life in Tamil Nadu, India.
“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
The message Sally McFague conveys in the “Brief Credo” with which she begins her book Life Abundant suggests an understanding of God’s call similar to Micah’s understanding of it. She writes: “Each Christian is asked to examine his or her life with the goal of discerning the action of God in it and then to express God’s power and love in everything [he or she does]…. Becoming a mature Christian means internalizing one’s beliefs so that they are evident in whatever one says or does…. We misinterpret God’s love when we think it is merely for our comfort or spiritual growth.” (McFague, Sally. Life Abundant.
I awake to the racket of crows cawing in the trees outside my screen window. It’s 5:45; the sun is not yet up, but I can feel the day’s heat imminent in the air. I rouse myself and go through my morning routine: making my bed, stretching, washing yesterday’s dirty clothes, bathing and sweeping out my room. These mundane tasks give form to the days that make up my “adventure in India.” How far they seem from “saving orphans,” what I have come to India to do, according to one of my friends back in California.
At breakfast I long for any close friend to talk and laugh with as I quietly eat my idli, a sticky saucer-shaped patty made of rice flour, and chutney. The children have not yet arrived in the large dining room where I sit alone. When they come, the sound of their morning banter, their laughter and movement will reverberate off the as yet unpainted cement walls of the room. As the spice of the chutney warms my mouth, I catch myself wishing that I had moved to San Francisco to live near family and work a nine-to-five at some co-operative grocery store, organic restaurant, or even Starbucks. After two weeks of being here at MBKG Pannai, I continue to feel out of place, and pangs of loneliness and discouragement sometimes hit me as I struggle to establish myself.
Starting at 9:15, I sit in on two different classes at the elementary school to observe the teachers and their teaching styles. At 11:00, after a cup of sweet tea, I hop on my bicycle and ride the half kilometer to the combined middle and high school. There I meet briefly with the principal, Ms Vatsula, who asks me to take 9 th Standard (9th grade equivalent) for two periods this morning instead of one. “Don’t worry about the syllabus, Thandiwe,” she tells me. “Just talk with them and get them to practice their English. We are struggling to improve our students’ standard of English, and I think God has sent you to help us with this.”
Her words stay with me as I walk to the classroom, talk with the thirty students sitting by twos at wooden desks, neatly dressed in their uniforms (sky blue shirts with dark blue shorts for boys and skirts for girls) and go through their lesson about the Tsunami and its devastating effects. Ms. Vatsula’s words resonate with me even after I leave the school for the day. “I think God has sent you….”
I am reminded of the sermon I heard on my first Sunday in Vellore at St. John’s Church, an Anglican Church (part of the Church of South India) that has its services in English. A physician who works with the physically and mentally handicapped preached about freedom. “Freedom,” he explained, “is not about choices; it’s not about options. I am not freer now that I can choose from twenty kinds of soap instead of two. Freedom is being most fully that which we are.” He related how Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on Good Friday felt afraid and lonely as he faced the prospect of his own death, and he had many options that evening, not the least of which was to flee and escape crucifixion. But Jesus found freedom in choosing to be most fully that which he was, to be himself and to take the consequences. Listening to this message, I realized that I am here in India working at MBKG Pannai not simply because I have chosen this but because in being here I am trying to be most fully that which I am.
Sally McFague’s Credo resonates for me as does the reading from Micah. I am in India because I believe God calls me to be here; in Ms. Vatsula’s words, God has sent me here. God does not call me simply to be comfortable and to grow spiritually, God calls me to love the world and, to quote Sally McFague again, “We cannot in good conscience ‘love the world’… while at the same time destroying it and allowing our less well-off sisters and brothers to sink into deeper poverty.” I believe God has called me to step out of my comfortable, middle-class consumer life and live differently. Like Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, I have choices. But to follow Jesus, I believe that God calls me to choose this less comfortable, sometimes lonely, sometimes discouraging, certainly challenging and rewarding life. In so doing, I pray that I will find fulfillment and freedom by taking steps on the road of becoming most fully who I am.
I pause as I write this letter to look outside at the lengthening shadows of the trees. Instead of the early morning racket of crows, I listen to the sound of small children’s voices. It is the voices of my neighbors, the forty or so children ages 2-4 who live in the nursery situated next to my room; they have had their afternoon snack and are playing in the courtyard.
I invite you to prayerfully consider how God calls you to become most fully who you are. What can you do in your daily life to become a more mature Christian and live out God’s love in all you say and do? How can you express your love for God through responsible stewardship of the natural world and care for other humans around the world?
Please pray for the children: Priya, Abhirami, Harry, Pavithra, Robert, Arjun and others; for the mothers: Amudha aamaa, Lilly aamaa, Souseela aamaa, and others; and for the grandparents: Violet, David, Dhandapani, and others of M.B.K.G. Pannai as they search for meaning and opportunity in their lives, as they search for the freedom to become most fully who they are. Many of the children here are sponsored through the Global Ministries Child Sponsorship Program, and I have been surprised to hear how often Global Ministries and sponsors are lifted up in prayer here.
Please pray for me as I continue to search for my niche here, that I may remember why I am here and find the strength and courage to give of my best to those with whom I live and work, thus expressing my love for God in my words and actions.