After we finished our training in Chittagong, we all headed back to Dhaka via airplane and then checked into a hotel for the night. As we checked in, we said our final goodbye to Ron who was heading back to the U.S. early the next morning, while dad and I were going on to India.
The next morning we hopped on a plane from Dhaka to Delhi, India. We were met by our in-country coordinator and traveling companion, JC. Our train from Delhi to Chandigarh, the capital of the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, didn’t leave until later that evening, so we decided to escape the blazing heat and head to a mall for a few hours. Our host took us to a classic Indian cuisine institution…Chili’s. It tasted pretty much like…Chili’s.
After a few hours, we headed to JC’s place to pick up his bags and had a brief reunion with his parents who have become quite close with dad over the years. His dad has done pioneer church planting in north east India for decades, often facing extreme persecution, but also experiencing many Gospel breakthroughs in his lifetime. Then we set off for the train station on the other side of Delhi. And that’s when our first episode of “travel drama” (as my mom likes to call it) began.
The traffic through Delhi was expected. But the type of traffic we ran into was not. About halfway into our car ride, 30 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart, JC turned to us and said, “Okay, it’s time to start praying. We may not make our train!” Our driver was doing everything in his power to get us to the station on time, but as each minute spent in traffic passed by, the likelihood of us making it became more and more slim. Somehow, we arrived at the train station with a few minutes to spare and we took off sprinting. Of course, our train was scheduled to depart from the platform furthest away from front of the train station. So there we were, luggage and all, sprinting up stairs, through corridors, down stairs, and knifing our way through masses of fellow passengers and panhandlers who crowded the inside of the station. We arrived at the platform a few minutes past our departure time and didn’t see any trains. Sweating profusely and gasping for air, JC began asking around to see if the train to Chandigarh had already departed. Finally, he made his way to a nearby office and was informed that the train we were waiting for had already come and departed…an hour earlier! The tickets he had booked had the wrong information and there had been no effort to reach out to him to inform him of the change! Several other people were in the office with the same exact dilemma. And, the next train leaving to Chandigarh was completely full.
After catching his breath, JC called a car company to arrange for a driver to take us to Chandigarh and we slowly made our way back to the front of the station to wait. Due to traffic, it took the driver well over an hour to get to the station to pick us up. Once he arrived, we all slumped into the car, feet and legs tired from sprinting and then standing for the last hour. We fought through the traffic of Delhi, once again, but soon we were beyond the traffic and on our way north to Chandigarh set to arrive at our location at well past 1am.
As we drove, the images of day began to replay in my mind. Until then my mind was completely wrapped up in our travel drama, but in the dark silence of the car, as dad and JC dozed off, I had sometime to reflect.
India, or at least Delhi, is a place of extreme and jarring contrasts. I guess most major cities are like this, but the visible contrasts I witnessed in just a few hours were staggering. In recent years, India has made several moves to establish itself as a major economic superpower. This is evident in the airport which is sleek, beautiful, and modern. This was evident in the mall we visited. Three stories tall. Clean. Bright. Shiny. Upscale. And, with the clientele to match. And this was evident as we drove through the most affluent neighborhood in Delhi to get to the train station, a neighborhood that looks very European and houses almost all of the international embassies include the U.S. embassy.
Set against this were other parts of the city. Set against this was a filthy mom sitting on the ground nursing her baby under one of the freeways. Set against this was a pan handler walking around the train station asking for money, his left pant leg rolled up past the knee exposing a leg and a foot that were swollen to at least five times their normal size and oozing with pus. Set against this was a toddler sitting by himself along the road on a dirty newspaper eating what looked to be garbage. Set against this was the old lady wandering around the front of the train station, eyes glazed over with a crazed look, right chest almost completely exposed, twitching and screaming at the top of her lungs at no one in particular as policemen and passer-byers laughed at her under their breath.
On one hand, so much wealth. Young couples shopping at the Apple store. Groups of young ladies with Starbucks cups in one hand and Calvin Klein bags in the other. Teenagers waltzing in and out of Nike, Gap, and Puma. And on the other end, so much poverty. Men, women, children, and babies making their “home” under freeways, digging through piles of trash on the side of the road alongside “sacred” cows, and deemed by the majority of India as “untouchable”.
It was, indeed a sobering and jarring “welcome” to the country of India. It raised some significant questions in my mind about the reality of extreme and systemic poverty. But, more than anything, it pointed me to a country in desperate need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.