On the 26th we spent a majority of the day exploring the city of Haridwar. Haridwar is a pilgrimage city off the Ganges River, a place where people from all over India go seeking spiritual fulfillment and healing, to make sacrifices, to worship and perform various rituals. It’s almost like the Mecca for Hindus but those who gather here are not solely Hindu. Our friend who lives and works here and who took us around the city that day told us that Haridwar is considered by some to be the true yoga capital of the world. As one who enjoys practicing yoga, my understanding and awareness of traditional yogic ideals and practices was enriched as I spent hours walking around the city, discovering the many ways that people practice yoga and live out their spiritual lives.
The walk we took that day was a prayer walk, a time for us to observe as well as seek God’s heart for the people of the city and for the city itself. Though the amount of trash, intense odor and abundance of flies that festered in the city threatened to be a distraction, I found myself incredibly curious and very invested in what I was witnessing along the river and in the streets. I feel that of all the cities we visited in India, Haridwar was the most intensely spiritual and heavy with longing. One of the roots of the word yoga means “path.” In my opinion, Haridwar is replete with a multitude of paths that one can choose to follow in order to seek that spiritual fulfillment and wholeness we long for as humans. Everyone I’ve ever known who has turned to yoga in their lives has done so because they are in search of peace and this sense of wholeness. As I walked around Haridwar, I felt that everyone’s desire was for the same thing: peace and life. The group of men smoking marijuana on the streets as a means of release from their present circumstances, the men and women dunking themselves in the “holy” river to be cleansed, the men gathered around the fire, chanting and worshipping…all are after the same peace, the same healing, the same wholeness.
While traveling around India we’ve had the privilege of meeting many men and women who have turned from their other religious traditions to follow Jesus and though they all had unique stories, one common thread in them all was the fact that they had been searching for peace and never found it until they met Jesus. It hit me as I walked around the city that day that these people who are giving their lives in devotion may never truly find what they’re after unless they find the One who is the ultimate source of the peace and abundance of life they crave, Jesus Christ. My prayer for them is that they will be unsatisfied until they meet with Jesus and finally discover the truth that true life, true healing, true peace is found only in Him. I will never take the peace I have known through Christ for granted again. He is our life source and nothing compares.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you…”
One of my first impressions of India was feeling overwhelmed by the chaos that filled every inch of the city: vehicles honking horns, masses of people randomly crossing intersections, and beggars consistently placing their hands in front of you in hope for rupees. What began as chaos, turned into a soothing sense of belonging and comfort. By the end of my five week journey, I felt comforted by the non-stop activity that surrounded me; the city was so full of life! Now when I think about heading back to the USA, I become apprehensive. How will I respond to the quiet life of Visalia, CA? I will be returning to a place full of order: speed limits, suburban homes, and isolated “quiet time”. Before leaving the USA last month, I was worried I would not adapt to life in India. Now that I have tasted the thrill of India, I pray the Lord will give me grace to accept the stillness and independence of America.
Spending part of my summer in India taught me the value of genuine community. During a normal summer in CA, I would have filled my agenda with earning money at a minimum wage job, reading books at local parks, and riding my bike throughout the town; my time would have been centered on my personal schedule. Yet in India, I learned that life is so much sweeter spent in community. I observed men sitting under a shade tree singing along to the beat of a single drum, a kitchen full of women cooking chipatti and dahl, and children gathered on a dirt field playing a game of cricket. People in India always worked together to achieve goals and carry out daily duties—they cooked together, laughed together, and depended on each other. Although many people I observed had a Hindu faith, they showed me how to practically live out one of our greatest commandments as Christians: to love our brothers and sisters. God taught me that love cannot be effective unless it is enacted through community. I could store up the love of Christ in my heart and focus on my own agenda, or I could pour out His love to my community by extending a hand to help cook for a family in need, or sit and laugh with people God places in front of me as I walk throughout town.
The two most important things I learned about India can be summed up in the words beautiful and broken. God revealed to me that He views India as a beautiful nation, full of devotion and culture. He created every person in India; He beautifully crafted each pair of brown eyes and dark hair to add unique beauty to the master tapestry of His Kingdom. He acknowledges their devotion to pagan gods and He longs for the day India will offer devotion to His son, Jesus Christ. He also aches for the brokenness of India. His heart breaks for the lame men that walk with burnt bodies or amputations, for infants that walk the streets shirtless, exposing their rib cages and stick-sized legs, and the unheard cry of a baby-girl being murdered inside her mother’s womb. Not only does He hurt for these broken people, but also He calls me to carry their burdens and extend His love to the hopeless.
As I head back to California, I leave a part of my heart in India. When I close my eyes, I see the beauty and brokenness inside the solemn eyes of a young boy walking the streets alone in a school uniform and in the eyes of a young mom begging for money to feed her child milk. My prayer is that these images forever be bound to my heart—so I may answer the call to love as He loved, with selfless abandon.