Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Toronto Snapshot 1: Birthday Boy

On November 14-17, I led a team of college-age students on a pilgrimage to the streets of Toronto. It's one of my favorite GCC short term trips, and it's hard to return without a bundle of incredible and thought provoking stories.

Over the next week or so, I will be sharing a few of those stories here... Enjoy!


On Sunday morning, our team visited The Church of the Holy Trinity. It was an old building, smack in the middle of bustling downtown Toronto.

Because of its location, the church has become something of a beacon for homeless men and women in the area. They serve soup and bread after their service, have a memorial for the homeless right outside and the atmosphere of worship is one of welcome, hospitality and grace.

Our team visiting The Church of the Holy Trinity on Friday night.

This was made quite evident by the drunk homeless man that I met after the service. Somehow I can't imagine his presence going over quite as well in suburban Indy! He was sitting half-asleep in a chair after the service, and grabbed my attention as I walked past him.

"Hey. How are you doing man?" he asked through squinting eyes. "I'm David."

"Hey there. My name's Barry. How are you?" I replied.

"It was my birthday yesterday."

"Cool! Happy birthday man! What did you do on your big day?"

"Well, in the morning I pounded the pavement and got a few dollars. I told people it was my birthday and I showed them my ID so they would know I wasn't lying to them. Then, I drank four bottles of wine and had two joints."

"Woah," I said, smiling (and trying to imagine what one bottle of wine would do to me!). "Sounds like you had a pretty crazy day!"

"Yeah... Hey. That wine they used for communion. Is that... like, for anyone to take? What do they do with the leftover wine?"

I looked around for the bottle, but I didn't see it on the communion table. "I don't know." I said.

"Because it was just sitting out so I thought..." He opened his jacket and pulled out the half-full bottle of communion wine. "I thought it would be ok to have it. Is that, like, ok? To take the communion wine? I mean, is it ok to drink wine used for communion?"

I laughed and replied, "Well, I'm going to let you wrestle with your own conscience on that one..."

A quarter of Toronto's population lives under the poverty line.

He closed his jacket and shut his eyes. I thought the conversation was over, and I started to say goodbye. Before I could get the words out, he continued.

"She was like an angel man. I think she was 16. She was just a little angel."

"Um, who was?" I asked, wondering if the alcohol was starting to get the better of him.

"This girl I met yesterday. She was 16 and her parents were pushing her in a wheelchair. She had cancer. Cancer! She was 16! Just a little angel." As he said this, tears began streaming down his face.

"And I thought, what did she ever do to deserve that? I mean, I thought my life was hard, but then I saw her and now I know I've got nothing to complain about."

After taking a few breaths, he continued, "And you know what I did? I asked her straight up, can I pray for you? I did. I said, can I pray for you? And then I prayed. I prayed that God would bind up the cancer. That he would heal her! Because I believe in the power of prayer."

"Woah," I said, "that's amaz-"

"And you know what the father did? He tried to give me five dollars! I said, no way, sir. I'm not taking your money. But then he put it in my pocket and told me if I didn't like it, I should give it to someone else. Well, I didn't like taking money from him. It felt like he was paying me for praying for his daughter."

"Hmm. So what did you-"

"So then I was out walking and some other homeless guy I know asked me for a light. I said, 'I'll do you one better.' and I gave him the five dollars. He was shocked."

Someone from the team came up to tell me that we were leaving. I turned to David and said, "Well, it was really nice to meet you."

"You too, man. And hey, would you remember to pray for me? You do believe in the power of prayer, right?"

"Sure, David. I definitely will. And yeah, I do believe. Thanks. Thanks for... talking."

I walked away wondering if I really did believe, and reminding myself once again that God speaks in the most unlikely of places...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Home sweet home...

As you can see, I have changed the name of my blog from Stop Caste Now! to World Next Door. This is my attempt to better reflect my new vision. Same blog, bigger purpose... Enjoy!


Wow. I'm home. That fact still seems a bit unreal. Less than a week ago I was chilling in New Delhi, sweating in the sun and eating with my hands. Now, I'm back in Indy driving my own car and catching up on The Daily Show.

Did I really just spend three months in India? Crazy...

Well, seeing friends and family has been great. I got to attend a service in the new sanctuary, and it was awesome! Apparently absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

The Fam reunited down at Lucy's school.

Anyway, I've loved catching up with people, but it's going to take a while to see everyone. So I've decided to answer a few of the common questions I've been getting. This way, in case I don't see you for a month or so, you won't still be wondering about my return home...

How was India?
It was great! Fantastic! I learned a ton.

What did you do there?
Ok. You didn't read my blog, did you? :)

What was the first thing you ate when you got back to the U.S.?
Well, I had coffee and a muffin at a Starbucks in O'Hare, but Tuesday night, Mom made brisket and mashed potatoes. Un-be-lievable...

So, was the trip totally life changing? Are you a new man now?
Actually? No. It didn't really "change" my life. At least, not the way Kenya did. My year in Nairobi radically reoriented my life's direction. I got good and truly wrecked there. India, however, was much more of a continuation of where I was already heading. Sure, I grew and learned and matured, but the trip really just propelled me along a path that I had already started walking.

My last few moments with the Truthseekers guys...

Are you still recovering from jet lag?
Actually, I'm doing surprisingly well. A couple of tired days and I was back on my feet. Just as chipper and perky as I usually am in the mornings (in other words, not very). Hah.

What did you learn?
Woah. Ok. That's a pretty big one. I mean, mentally, the answer is easy. I learned a lot about the history of India, the ongoing struggles of its people and the causes of systemic injustice. I learned what south Asian slums look like and saw first hand the dangers of overpopulation.

As far as what I learned emotionally, however, I still have some processing to do. I know I learned about my capacity for selfishness and had my life's calling confirmed, but there are still a few unresolved issues in my heart.

As much as I loved the people of India, I was honestly quite discouraged a couple of times. There are so many problems there with so few people doing anything about them. I wanted to walk away from this trip abounding in hope and excitement, but the apparent indifference of the rest of the world has left me scratching my head.

Let me get back to you on that one...

Now that I'm home, I can play around with my fast computer again!
And with the magic of Photoshop, the Taj Mahal seems just a
bit cooler...

Finally, the most important question of all...

Can I buy you coffee or lunch and hear all about your trip?
Yes. You definitely can. I wouldn't mind that one bit...

Monday, October 06, 2008

The road ahead...

Well, my time in India has come to an end. Just a 15 hour plane ride, a 4 hour layover in Chicago and a last little 1 hour hop, and I'll be back in Indy!

As promised, I want to share with you all what my plans are for the near future. Two months ago I didn't have a clue what was next, but now I'm pursuing a vision so huge that it keeps me up at night! It's exciting, it's unique and it's just a little bit crazy.

Here it is: I am going to start a journalism ministry focused on social justice issues! For the next few years I plan on being an "Ernie Pyle" for the kingdom.

Basically I, and a team of other writers and photographers, will travel around the U.S. and the world, "embedding" ourselves like news correspondents in different ministries and locations, and then capturing the things we learn and experience on a central website.

We'll use many different mediums such as written articles, photographs, videos, podcasts, books and more to get people in suburban Indianapolis plugged in to issues around the world.

We'll travel to Kenya to capture slum life. We'll travel to downtown Indy to capture homelessness. We'll travel to Ukraine to capture the stories of orphans. The possibilities are endless!

Essentially, we will be taking the success of my India blog and multiplying its depth and scale. Just like I did for Truthseekers, this ministry will allow us to give readers an inside look at these ministries they've heard so much about.

One of the comments I've received a lot from my blog is that many people would love to travel around the world and immerse themselves in these issues, but they just don't have the flexibility (Um, yeah. It is sort of hard to run off to third world slums when you've got kids to take care of...).

Well, I want to provide these folks with the opportunity to expand their worldview, get engaged in kingdom issues and get "wrecked" without having to quit their jobs and move halfway around the world.

Of course, there are several other really awesome possibilities that might come from this too. First, I want to take groups of young writers overseas for 2-3 month full immersion experiences. It will be a chance for them to be developed as writers, but also a chance for people back home to journey along with them as they get "wrecked."

Second, I want to take groups of high school students into the city to spend a weekend with homeless people. They'll spend their days walking the streets and hearing the stories of men and women who live there. Then, they'll write what they learned or experienced, and I'll publish their work and photographs in a book for their families to keep.

Third, I want to develop a team of "free-lance" writers who can contribute even without having to leave their everyday lives. I know of a whole lot of great writers who could capture their experiences at Third Phase or Shepherd.

And of course, there could be a lot of other really great stuff like storytelling nights, live video webcasts, etc.

All in all, I think it has the potential to become a really fantastic ministry. Now, I don't know if or when it will go full-time and I don't know if or when it will become a non-profit. But I do know that I'm going to start writing for it as soon as I get home. Within a few weeks, I expect to be posting about the realities of inner-city Indy.

So buckle in, my fellow adventurers. I may be on my way home, but this journey has only just begun!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A few awesome things!

I am pretty much the luckiest guy ever. Through working with GCC's Outreach team and traveling abroad, I've had the chance to meet amazing people, hear amazing stories and see how God is working in totally unbelievable ways. And the best part of it all is that I get to share it with you!

Well, here are a few more recent things worth sharing... Enjoy!
First of all, I've had the chance to get to know a man named Stefan Eicher here in Delhi. He runs Reflection Art Gallery, which is focused on issues of cultural reconciliation and social justice. I'm not very conversant with fine art, but this is way cool.

Stefan with his wife and son. Even though he's white, his family
has been in the country for 100 years, so he's practically Indian!

Several times a year, he gathers his eclectic group of artists together for weekends of painting on a specific theme. The artists come from all walks of life. Some are professors and businessmen, but many are formerly destitute people from Sewa Ashram. Their diverse backgrounds make for some really thought-provoking galleries.

It's beautiful. At one point they painted their perspectives on the concept of "disparity." Another weekend was dedicated to female foeticide (a rampant problem among the wealthy in India). Just last weekend they tried to capture the pollution of the Ganges river. Click here to see some of their paintings.

True disparity. This little girl is sifting basmati rice, but she
will never be allowed to actually taste it.

Unfortunately, things aren't perfect with Stefan's ministry. You see, in many Indian churches, art is viewed as a waste of time. As a result, it is difficult for Stefan to raise support. Even in the U.S., he has to begin by convincing people that this gallery is actually worthwhile. It's enormously frustrating.

Which is why it was so exciting for us to meet. Back home at Grace, art is an integral part of our church. It works into our services and into the lives of our people. I think Stefan was a bit blown away when I told him this.

Reflection Art Gallery

Anyway, Stefan will be traveling around the U.S. in November, and he'll actually be passing through Indy. I'm going to insist that he comes to see Grace and meets a few people. I'd love it if some of you were to join us! What do you say? Any interested in meeting Stefan? Hearing his story? Please let me know, and I'll make the arrangements.
Ok, I mentioned a couple other things that I wanted to share...

One, my good friend Maeven Mendoza recently returned from a summer in rural Malawi. She literally lived in a village, took bucket baths and hiked miles and miles through the bush. According to her, it was a life-changing experience.

Well, guess what? Now that she's re-entering American life, Maeven is writing about her experiences on a blog. It's fascinating to hear how her worldview has changed and to listen to the stories of some of the people she met. If you've enjoyed my blog at all, I'm sure you'll enjoy hers!

Best part of all: she's a great writer! Check it out!
Finally, I along with another of my good activist friends, Curtis Honeycutt, have begun a different blog called Brave Not Safe. This one is a collection of awesome websites, books, movies, blogs, and organizations that focus on social justice issues.

It will be a great resource for those of you looking to get more involved in social justice! Here's the link:
Well, that's it for now. Only a few more days left for me in India! I get back on October 7. Keep your eyes open for my next post. I've got some exciting news about the next steps in my journey... See ya!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Old Delhi...

Yesterday I took a journey into Old Delhi to pick up some saffron for a friend. But this was a little different than heading to the supermarket...

To get to Old Delhi, I had to take the city's relatively new subway system. The trains are as sleek and modern as in any Western city, but there are definitely still some elements of the developing world. You see, for some reason, many people here seem to think that, unless they board the train right away, they won't be able to get on.

They crowd up against the door, waiting for it to open. When it does, it's like a mad free for all. Everyone's jostling each other, people trying to get off the train are pushed further in, mothers are dragging their screaming kids by the arm. Chaos. Finally, everyone settles in and waits a good half a minute for the doors to close!

To be honest, it really frustrates me quite a bit. I don't like being pushed and shoved. But I suppose I can't really blame them, considering how crowded everything else is here. If it were a bus or a train, they really might not get a seat!

The Delhi Metro, after the chaos...

Once at the right stop, I walked out of the metro station and began trekking down Chandni Chowk. This street has been a famous market since the days when Delhi was still a walled city called Shahjahanabad (yeah, good luck pronouncing that right on your first try!).

The street is a fascinating microcosm of Delhi itself. Once, Chandni Chowk was a bustling bazaar filled with skilled artisans and rare goods from around the world. Now it's a rather depressing stretch of shops full of tinsel jewelry and knock-off clothing brands. Like Delhi, it has lost much of its initial wonder and charm due to encroaching westernization.

Chandni Chowk today. Wow! Some "genuine"
Tommy Hilfiger jeans for only $3? Wait a second...

It was a bit of a disappointment, to say the least. However, once I veered off of the main road and into the heart of Old Delhi, I began to get a sense of what the city must have looked like before cars and McDonald's.

The winding streets of Old Delhi still look much the same as they have for generations. Tiny mosques and temples are nestled in between crumbling havelis. Small vegetable stands provide produce for each neighborhood.

Groups of Muslim men stand around chatting, waiting anxiously for the Muezzin to call so they can break their Ramadan fasts. Children chase each other down alleys while their mothers enjoy some afternoon chai. It's a little bit like stepping back in time.

I'll bet this man can remember when
Delhi was a very different city.

I wanted to take pictures of everything, but I had a really hard time asking in Hindi. Don't really know why. All I had to say was, "Kya mai apka photo ley sakata hu?" Of course, when you compare that with Swahili ("Pige picha?") it's a little easier to understand my difficulty! :)

Thankfully, most people were gracious enough to indulge me, and I got some really interesting shots! Once, after struggling to get the sentence out ("Kya apka... no. Kya may, wait. Mai..."), the woman I was asking answered me in English, "Sure. Why not?" Oh well... I tried.

Finally, I arrived at my destination, the spice market. As every Delhi guidebook points out, the sights, smells and sounds are overwhelming. Burning incense, pungent spices and the ever-present stench of garbage clouded my head. I wandered around in a bit of a daze, wondering when Aladdin was going to run by, chased by a bunch of turbaned men with scimitars...

A dried fruit vendor in the spice market. Where's Abu?

Well, after 20 minutes in the market, I figured that I had punished my olfactory glands enough. It was time to leave. My little journey into Old Delhi had come to an end.

I checked my bag to make sure I had the object of my mini-expedition. It was there all right... a tiny little box of saffron.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Gods, Demons and the Farmer from Kashiram Nagar - Part 2

This is part two of the story that began here. As I mentioned before, I am not offering any commentary as I tell it. I am only sharing with you what he shared with me. What you do with the story is up to you!


One day, as Kishor Massih was in the market, he noticed a young woman, no older than 30, hunched over and limping along as if she was 80. He went up to her and asked, "Are you alright? Are you in pain?"

The woman explained that she had recently been diagnosed with a serious case of ovarian cancer, but a botched operation had left her doubled over in severe pain. Kishor felt compassion for her and asked if he could pray for healing. She agreed.

Kishor didn't know how to make requests of God, and was hesitant to demand anything. But looking at this poor woman in so much pain, he decided to risk it. With a loud voice he called out, "May the pain be gone in the name of Jesus!"

Nothing happened. The woman remained hunched over. Disappointed, Kishor watched as she walked away, still very much in pain. But then, as she continued down the road, her strides became longer, her back became straighter and she began walking fully upright once more.

Catching back up with her later, Kishor learned that she had been completely healed! To this day, she remains free of the debilitating pain and her cancer has yet to return. Amazed at the power of his new God, Kishor returned home and delved yet again into his study of the Bible.

One morning, as Kishor sat on his porch reading, a shepherd boy walked by, clutching his head in agony. Once more Kishor asked if he was in pain. The boy explained that he had had piercing headaches and seizures all his life, but that he was used to it.

"May I pray for you?" Kishor asked.

"Yes. I guess so," the boy answered hesitantly.

Kishor put his hand on the boy's shoulder and began to pray. This time, however, the boy was instantly healed. He stood up surprised. For the first time in years, his head did not hurt!

He looked up at this strange healer and said, "You must come pray for my family! We have been cursed for many years. You can remove the curse!"

Kishor replied, "I will come, but you must know that I cannot do anything. It is only by the power of Jesus that I can heal." That said, he and the boy set off to meet the rest of the family.

Saying that they were cursed was no joke. For many years, there were always at least two family members sick and they had suffered through an amazing number of physical and financial calamities over the years.

When Kishor arrived, the father came out of the house and explained the family's current situation. The mother of the house had severe stomach pains, the father was ill with an unknown sickness and the boy's aunt had been curled up in a corner of the house, muttering threats and curses in a voice not her own. She was clearly possessed.

Kishor told the father to collect all the idols and religious symbols in the house and to bring them outside. Concerned, the father said, "But my sister has been threatening to kill us. What if one of us dies trying to collect the gods?"

Kishor looked him in the eye and said, "You go in there and challenge the demon with Christ's name. If someone dies in your family after you've done that, you can shoot me."

While the father collected the idols, Kishor began to improvise. He took a bowl and filled it with oil. Then, he lifted the bowl high and said, "Jesus, fill this bowl with your blood. I want to wash this family!"

He went into the house and began to anoint everything. He made a cross with the oil anywhere there was pain, and every time he did, the pain would disappear. Then he anointed the house itself... Walls, windows and doorways. Finally, he took the sack of idols and symbols out to the field where he used to live while demon possessed. There he smashed and burned them all.

That night, the family lay awake in utter terror. Each of them sensed an evil force outside the house, trying to pound it's way in. The mother heard the voice of one spirit pleading, "You worshiped us for 40 years, and now you want to make us orphans?" while another spirit took a more demanding tone. "If you leave us, we will curse you!"

The mother eventually caved in to the spirits' demands, and re-committed herself to them. But the next morning, it was clear that this was a mistake. Her son, totally healed the night before, was writhing on the ground shouting that he was going to drink someone's blood!

Kishor returned and scolded the mother. "You made a commitment to the demon again, didn't you?" When she answered in the affirmative, he said, "From now on you must make a choice. If you want to commit to demons, commit to demons. But if you want to commit to Christ, you must leave the spirits behind!"

Kishor then prayed over the boy and rebuked the demon within him. Immediately, the spirit left and the boy sat up, in his right mind once more. From that point on, the family remained free of the demons and to this day live as secret Christians in their village.

With these two unbelievable events behind him, Kishor began a ministry of healing. He traveled around to neighboring villages, bringing a message of hope and peace. The sick have been healed, demons have fled in terror, and even though many people are terrified of this strange Christian, they always seem to want more.

Just a few weeks ago, a neighboring village asked Kishor to come and share the story of his God. Soon he will return to them, bringing the message of the kingdom.

Apparently God is not quite finished with this farmer from Kashiram Nagar...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Gods, Demons and the Farmer from Kashiram Nagar - Part 1

In the U.S., we are not used to stories about demons and spiritual warfare. Frankly, that kind of stuff creeps us out. But in the developing world, such stories are not uncommon. Idols, curses, demon possession... It's here and it's real, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not!

Well, what follows is the story of a man for whom spiritual warfare is just another part of life. The other day he visited Truthseekers and offered to tell us his story.
You'll soon see why I had no choice but to write it all down.

Now, there is a lot to think about here, and it will undoubtedly raise questions. But I'm not going to offer any commentary. I'm just going to share what I heard. Believe it or don't believe it. It's up to you.


Ram Kishor was a simple farmer. A devout Hindu with only a second grade education, he was just like millions of others all across the country. However, even from his birth it was obvious that Kishor would lead a different path.

On the night that his mother went into labor, a Brahmin priest gave his family a very bad horoscope. Consulting the stars, he proclaimed that "This child will either die very soon, or he will lose an eye."

Sure enough, a young Kishor suffered an accident which left his right eye almost totally blind. Of course, after the accident there was much celebration in his village. He wasn't going to die! The priest came back and gave a new prediction. "Now that he has survived, he will become a devout follower of the gods who will give him the power to help others."

With this prophecy always in the back of his mind, Kishor lived his life as a dedicated and hard working farmer. He constantly looked for ways to show his faithfulness to the god Ram, after whom he was named (Ram Kishor means "The Good Shepherd of Ram"). He got a tattoo of the monkey-god Hanuman on his left shoulder and a tattoo of Om on his right hand.

Kishor's early years passed without incident. Like most young men, however, he became increasingly weary of his daily routine. Around the age of 28, he was fed up with it all, and decided to take his devotion to the next level by chanting mantras. He chanted continuously for 7 months, waiting for something supernatural to happen. Then one day, something did.

Kishor began hearing voices. At first, these voices gave him suggestions of things to do or places to go. As he gave into their commands, however, the voices took over. Kishor became trapped in his own mind, watching as if in a dream while his body went places and did things he could not control. He began living among cows in a field, sinking deeper and deeper into madness and demon possession.

After two or three months of this, the nearby villagers had had enough. They were tired of this raving lunatic yelling at their children and frightening their cattle. They got him admitted into a mental institution where he would be safely contained behind lock and key.

However, the doctors at this hospital were either lazy or deluded, because they released Kishor after only one year. Even though he still heard voices, he was deemed fit enough to be introduced back into society. So, off he went to the only place he could think to go... home.

He was reunited with his family, slept in his old bed and tried to work on the farm again. But things were still not right. He was still hearing voices, except that this time, they were telling him to commit suicide. To drown himself in the Ganges river!

Before long, Kishor found himself on the edge of a bridge, looking down into the murky waters and preparing to jump. Just before he could, however, he saw a vision of a red dog leaping out of his chest and drowning itself in the water. All of a sudden he heard a new voice. This voice wasn't commanding. It wasn't angry. It was... soothing.

"You don't need to kill yourself. You saw the red dog jump. The spirit within you has been drowned in your place. Follow me."

With this new voice in his head, Kishor left the bridge and visited a few local missionaries he knew of. These Christians taught him about Jesus and began reading to him from the Bible. He decided to follow Christ, and was soon learning to read so that he could study scripture on his own.

Eventually, the time came for Kishor to publicly declare his faith. But before this could happen, he had a dream that shook him to his very core. In the dream, he was heading down to the river to be baptized. As he approached the water, he noticed that his old god Hanuman was the one who would be performing the baptism!

Confused by this apparent contradiction, he nevertheless entered the water. The spirit Hanuman placed his hand on Kishor's head and pushed him under the water. But he would not let Kishor come up for air. Hanuman was drowning him!

Kishor flailed for breath, trying desperately to shout out the name of his new God, but a shadow had fallen over his mind and he couldn't remember what to say. All he could get out was "Hail Hanuman." Finally, gathering all of his energy for one final outburst, Kishor yelled out "Jai Yeshua Massih!!!" ("Hail Jesus Christ!").

With that exclamation, the spirit of Hanuman lost his power and became weak. Kishor hurled him into the water and awoke from his dream.

After this bizarre vision, Kishor asked a Christian friend why this had happened. His friend inquired, "Do you have any pictures of gods or idols above your bed?"

"No," Kishor replied. Then he remembered, "but I do have these two tattoos!" Of course! On his shoulder was a picture of the very god that had tried to drown him.

Immediately he ran to the closest tattoo parlor he could find and had both images covered over by crosses. He also decided to change his name. From that point on, he was no longer to be known as Ram Kishor. Now, he was to be called Kishor Massih, "The Good Shepherd of Christ."

Kishor was a new man, a follower of Jesus. His life had been completely transformed. But that's only the beginning of the story, because not long after that, the healings started.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A new meaning for "manual labor"...

There are no wheelbarrows in India.

Ok, that might be a bit of hyperbole... but in all honesty, I've never seen one here. Nor have I seen any backhoes or jackhammers or earth movers. Nearly everything in India, from construction to landscaping to demolition, is done by hand. And when I say "by hand," I mean by hand.

When workers have to move a huge pile of gravel, they carry it on their heads. When builders are pouring cement for a roof, they lug it up on their backs. When a crew has to demolish a driveway, they use pickaxes.

This guy has to move a mountain of gravel using nothing
more than a shovel and a metal plate.

Many of these workers face rather treacherous conditions, too. I've seen men resting on the edge of a four story building without any harnesses. Several times I've noticed guys climbing rickety scaffolding in flip-flops. It's not uncommon to see entire construction sites without a single hardhat.

And at the end of a backbreaking 11 hour day, these unbelievably hard-working people head home with maybe 40 rupees ($1) in wages. 80 if they're lucky. Barely enough to feed themselves, much less their families.

These three guys were hired to demolish this driveway.
They're holding all the tools they'll get to finish the job.

So what is the cause of all of this unjust labor? Why are so many people willing to work so hard for so little? Why don't they do something about it?

Well, it all comes down to this... India is absolutely swarming with people willing to work for pennies just to have a job. Even if laborers were to walk off a job site in protest, hundreds of able-bodied men and women would be eager to take their place.

Every single day, thousands of rural Indians pour into the city to make a new life for themselves. What they find, however, is a cruel and unfeeling metropolis that devours the weak and the non-compliant. So they stay. They sweat. They toil. And the rich sit back and relax.

If you look in just about every park or garden in Delhi, you'll see
groups of unemployed men and women waiting for work.

Now, before we start condemning exploitative Indian employers, we need remember that unjust labor is a problem all over the world. Even in our own lives! Look around the room. Look at what you're wearing. How much do you think someone earned for making your shirt? What about the computer you're using? Were the workers who built it treated fairly?

You see, the truth is, even though we can't see it, our lives are intimately connected to those of poor laborers all over the world! Sure, we're not forcing people to mow our grass by hand, but you can't deny that to make our lives easy, many other people must work extra hard. It's an awful injustice, made ever worse by the fact that we are so distant from it.

Now, I'm really sorry if I'm coming off like Debbie Downer about this. I'm not trying to send you on a guilt trip. I'm not trying to make you feel frustrated and helpless. I promise.

I am simply hoping to make us all more aware. Aware of the fact that our shoes didn't just appear one day on the store shelf. Aware that our cell phone had to be assembled by someone. Aware that our coffee beans were actually picked by a person's hand.

It's taken me two trips half-way around the world to grasp this vital truth: My life is connected to theirs.

Hopefully I can remember that the next time I pick out a pair of jeans...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bombings in Delhi

Many of you have probably heard that this evening (Saturday), New Delhi was bombed several times in busy shopping areas. According to early reports, 10 people have been killed and more than 60 have been wounded.

I am completely fine, and didn't even know there had been an attack until I went over to the office for dinner. However, two of the bombs went off in shopping centers that I have been to in the past. Definitely made me think!

If you are interested in following the updates, head over to Google News, which keeps a constant feed of the latest coverage.

One more thing. I want to add a very fascinating cultural note. After hearing the news, I was surprised to see that most of the office guys were talking about other things. Occasionally the conversation would drift over to the bombings, but more often than not, everyone was talking about totally unrelated topics!

One of the guys told me, "Oh, we were glued to the TV for a while, but then we turned it off."

Can you imagine something like this happening in the States? It would be the only think on everyone's mind for weeks! That TV would be on 24/7! Here, just hours after the event, these guys were already starting to move on.

After puzzling over everyone's rather mild reactions to a bombing just miles away, it started to dawn on me. In India, things like this are not uncommon. Just a few months ago, a bomb blast killed 61 people in Jaipur. Every other day there is news of violence from neighboring Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

South Asia is a region in turmoil. Sure there's violence in Delhi, but what's new?

I can't pretend to understand this way of thinking, but for the hundredth time since being here, I've remembered just how fortunate we as Americans really are. Safe, secure, protected... As Gary Haugen put it, "We live in the gentle shade of a very fair garden."

And to think... we're the ones who live in fear.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Indian Food... the real kind.

Eating in India has become a bit of an adventure for me. Since being here, I've had my mental image of what constitutes "Indian food" radically altered, and I've had to put my "I'll try anything once" vow to the test several times...

Now, when most people think of Indian food, I'm sure they picture beautiful buffets full of tender meats and succulent vegetables cooked in exotic spices, saffron colored rice piled high and waiters bringing hot garlic naan to the table. That's what I pictured before coming.

Well, after two months in India, I can conclusively say that it is exactly like that here... At really expensive restaurants.

But I don't eat at expensive restaurants. I eat at the office. With a bunch of guys from rural Maharastra. These are guys that laughed at me when I mentioned Chicken Tikka Masala (I don't think I get the joke). And they eat what they've always eaten. Real Indian food.

I'm pretty sure the conditions in the office kitchen wouldn't stand up to health code regulations in the States. Everything is prepared on the same stretch of counter. Chapati, veggies, meat... They wipe it down with a cloth every once and a while, but still.

Indresh, our talented cook, with Ulhas
in the kitchen preparing dinner.

And then there are the critters. We seriously have a family of Uruk-Hai cockroaches living under the fridge. They have no fear of sunlight. Or of humans. I could have sworn that one of them cursed at me when my back was turned.

But they're not the only species in our kitchen ecosystem. The other day, Pranjal and I were putting our dishes away when a huge rat jumped through the window, ran around the stove and launched himself on top of the cupboards.

"Don't worry. We'll kill him tomorrow" he said.

"Oh, ok. Cool." I replied, laughing.

An average dinner with a few of the office guys.

Usually I'm totally fine with the food I am served. Sure, steamed okra gets a little old three nights in a row, and sometimes the curry is so hot that burping burns three hours later. But generally the food is really good! There have been times, however, when they've served up something that I just can't finish.

The other night, I noticed that the table was missing something. We had the veggies, the chapati, the dal. Hmmm... Where was the main dish? As we started eating, Ulhas came out of the kitchen humming with excitement. "Two minutes!" He told everyone.

Two minutes later, he came back out with a big bowl full of red curry and goat's feet. Goat's feet, guys. I mean, goat brain is slimy and gross, but at least it looks like a normal meat dish. Here was a bowl full of hooves and ankles. I almost lost it.

In my head I kept repeating the mantra, "I'll try anything once. I'll try anything once. I'll try anything once." And I did. I took two bites, struggling to chew and swallow the tough, rubbery meat. Thankfully, my mantra didn't say anything about finishing it.

The whole time, my mind kept switching between hilarity and nausea. At one point, one of the other guys asked me how we prepare goat's feet in the U.S.! "We don't exactly eat that part of the goat," I said, not mentioning the fact that most Americans wouldn't even know what a goat looks like if it weren't for The Sound of Music.

Well, long story short, I made it through the meal without barfing all over the table. And right now, I'm sure many of you want to run off to cook up some tasty goat's feet for yourselves! Apparently they're called "trotters," which just so happens to be one of the absolute worst food names in existence. I found a recipe here. You're welcome.

Don't worry. No goat feet here. Just some regular old mutton
curry. Which is, of course, goat meat. But the tasty kind...

So, all that to say, even though my experience with Indian food has been a bit, um... authentic, I'm still really enjoying it. At the very least I'm getting some good stories, right? I'll dominate at "Two truths and a lie" now!

And to think. I used to get squeamish eating anything with a bone still on it...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Doing the impossible...

Today, as I sat bored and sweating in the middle of a protest rally (more on that later), I found myself thinking about what Truthseekers is up against. I mean, there are hurdles, traps and enemies everywhere. Bringing an end to caste in India is an unbelievably audacious goal.

To begin with, Truthseekers is trying to reach a massive group of oppressed people that don't even realize they are oppressed. The caste system teaches that the only way they can rise higher in the next life is if they stay utterly faithful to their low position in this life. The Brahmanical leadership perpetuates this mindset to stay on top.

But they don't stop there. To maintain the status quo, these "religious leaders" have created thousands of sub-castes to promote prejudice and hierarchy among Shudras themselves! Now the lower castes actually fight each other for superiority, leaving the upper castes with all the power.

And this is the system Truthseekers is trying to change. This is what they're up against. Crazy.

Millions of lower-caste children grow up believing
that they can never be anything but servants.

But the difficulties don't end there. To bring an end to caste, Truthseekers tries to spread the transforming message of Jesus and his kingdom. Let's just say this sounds a whole lot easier than it is...

In several Indian states, there are actually laws prohibiting conversion to Christianity unless both the converts and their pastor sign documents at the courthouse saying that they were not coerced! Can you imagine?

There are even several counter-missionary organizations that go around to villages preaching that Christians are evil and want to make the country a slave to the West. And it's not hard to understand why they are angry.

You see, when people in India becomes Christians, they are usually taught about their uniqueness and value as children of God. Freed from the bonds of caste, many of these "converts" actually try to get good educations and high-paying jobs. So in many villages, the Christians have become relatively rich and influential, which infuriates their opponents even more.

Who should they believe? The Christians offering them
freedom, or the Brahmans saying it's a lie?

In fact, this is the root cause of the violence happening now in Orissa. Since the killings and church burnings began early last week, Truthseekers has been working non-stop to organize Christians to protest the lack of government intervention.

Ah, but even here there are roadblocks. First of all, the Christian Church in India is very fractured. There is little or no collaboration between denominations, and with a message as contextualized as Truthseekers', many churches don't want anything to do with it.

And even when Christians can agree to stand together, it usually turns into just another dime-a-dozen protest rally like the one I attended today. Just walking to the car, we passed seven other rallies and hunger strikes protesting everything from unfair treatment of electrical workers to inadequate pension plans.

How does anyone hope to be noticed by the government when speakers have to be turned all the way up just to be heard over neighboring rallies?

What does it take to be heard?

So you get the picture. Deep cultural barriers. Real-life enemies. An indifferent government. It would be natural to assume that Truthseekers will never accomplish its mission.

But that assumption would be dead wrong.

Even though fighting impossible odds, Truthseekers is actually making a difference in this hostile environment. I'm not making this up! Mindsets are changing, oppressed people are finding freedom, and cracks in the walls of caste are beginning to widen.

Believe me. I struggle as much as anyone in believing that God can really move mountains. And at times I've felt immensely frustrated here.

But during my short time with Truthseekers, I've started to understand an incredible truth... When God sets his mind to something and his people are willing to act on it, nothing is impossible.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Personal Space...

"Um, why is this guy leaning on me?" "Ma'am, do you have to stand quite so close?" "Uh, is he really resting his knee on my thigh?"

Questions like these run through my head all the time here. It seems like whenever I am in a public place, there is always someone touching me. As an American, this weirds me out! In the good ol' U.S. of A., we are champions of the "personal bubble," and rarely do we allow people to get inside. So you can imagine how strange it is to suddenly have that bubble breached by a complete stranger.

As you can see in this illustration, it is not Ok to breach
another person's personal bubble.

About a month ago, as I sat on the ground at a worship service, the man sitting in front of me began gradually leaning on me. It was pretty tight in there, but not that tight. I shifted my weight to regain my space. A few minutes later, there he was again, shoulder resting on my knee. I wanted to do something, say something. But what could I possibly come up with?

For weeks after this I asked myself, why do Indians seem to have no problem being in each others' personal space? Is this just some sort of weird cultural thing, or what?

But then, after several trips on Delhi's public transportation, the answer dawned on me. People in New Delhi don't have any personal space, so there's no reason to protect it for anyone else.

New Delhi has over 11 million inhabitants crammed into just 270 square miles (and this is just the city proper! It's over 18 million if you include the surrounding area!). No matter how you count the population of Delhi, it is one of the top 10 most populous cities in the world. In other words, there are a lot of people living in not a lot of space.

It's crowded in Delhi! Ok, ok. This is a rally, where
supposed to be crowded, but still!

Going to the market, there is a crush of people everywhere. Driving in traffic, three lanes are packed six cars across. Even public parks have people sitting under every tree. This place is full of people.

Riding on the bus in New Delhi is a perfect example of this. Just today I had to jump onto a moving bus with three other guys, pulling myself on in an effort to get a space. Once on board, travelers crammed to the front, lucky if they could get a seat. Most had to stand in the aisle, holding onto the rail above as the bus lurched on to the next stop to let on more passengers.

On a bus in New Delhi. I actually got a seat! Of course,
some guy had his belly resting on my shoulder the
whole time, so I can't decide if I was lucky or not...

So now, after almost two months in India, my attitude is changing. Sure, I still like my space, but I'm beginning to realize that all the awkward touching and uncomfortable contact is really not all that awkward or uncomfortable after all. Here, it's just a part of life. I really can't complain.

Besides, I've learned a valuable lesson through all of this. As an American, I know that I take for granted all sorts of things: running water, electricity, cheese... But I never would have expected one thing that I take for granted every single day:

The space around me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A few updates...

Hello all! I have a few quick prayer requests, updates and miscellaneous things to share.

First of all, over the last few days a lot of violence has broken out against Christians in the poor eastern Indian state of Orissa. It began with the burning of several churches and the murder of a nun on Monday. Now, the death toll has risen to 9, and the violence shows no signs of abating.

Truthseekers is doing what it can to support these fellow Christians in their time of need. Sunil and Nitin have been on the phone for two days trying to organize a delegation to Orissa as well as prayer and fasting meetings and a rally outside of Parliament to get the government's attention.

The whole situation could really use your prayer. It might very well blow over with no further harm done, or it could exacerbate religious tensions across the country and lead to further violence. So, pray.

Also, in much more uplifting news, Sunil Sardar is headed back to the U.S. today! There he will be reunited with his family, whom he hasn't seen in months. Pray that their reunion is sweet and filled with joy.

Sunil (right) will be back at Grace Community Church in just
a few days. If you've been reading here about Truthseekers,
be sure to go up and introduce yourself!

On a more personal note, I've reached the half-way point in my time here. Obviously if you've read any of my blog you know that it has been a fantastic time of learning, growing and doing crazy things that I could not have imagined doing just 5 years ago... :)

All that said, I still have a month and a half to go. Please pray that I would continue to grow in my hunger to learn, my willingness to try new things and my openness to what God has in store.

Finally, something that has almost nothing to do with anything above...

I wanted to share a really awesome website with you. It's being developed by my good friend Curtis Honeycutt, and no, he didn't ask me to promote it! I really do think it's that cool.

The website is called Just Wallpaper. It's a collection of desktop backgrounds that Curtis has designed. Each one is focused on a different theme related to social justice. Facts, scripture and thought provoking art... With a quick click you can replace that boring desktop of trees or cats or whatever with something truly meaningful!

Oh, and the best part of all is that Curtis takes suggestions! Don't miss it!!!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Ok. First things first. Mumbai is an awesome city. I loved it. Would definitely return some day. And the best part of all is that I spent less than $10 a day seeing it! Of course, I didn’t exactly do much of the standard “touristy” stuff, but then again I’ve never actually enjoyed being touristy. Just ask my parents.

For example, instead of flying I took 22 hour train rides there and back. My tickets were “Sleeper Class,” which is the second cheapest way to get around. “Second Class” is the cheapest, but there you pretty much have to stand the whole time! No thanks.

Sleeper class. My bunk was the middle one. It folded down
to make a seat when we weren't sleeping.

Inside, the train cars were a bit dirty and often somewhat crowded, but once everyone settled in, it wasn’t so bad. The windows were always open, so I got the pleasure of smelling whatever happened to be outside the train at any given moment (garbage, cows, feces…). In the night, I was able to sleep pretty well, except for when passing trains would scream by with their horns blaring, scaring me half to death!

Just about every 30 seconds (I’m not exaggerating), someone walked through the car trying to sell chai, newspapers, samosas, etc. Along with beggars asking for money and people stopping to stare at me, I never had to worry about feeling lonely!

When I got to Mumbai, I had the whole day free before meeting up with Sunil in the evening. So, I set out to see the “real” city. I wandered for miles through back streets and markets, stopping to try food or drinks from different vendors. I even went to see a Bollywood movie, although I had absolutely no idea what anyone was saying…

A Mumbai fruit juice vendor. I'm sure he washed his hands.

Another funny India moment… By about 4 or 5pm, I still hadn’t heard from Sunil (who was supposed to arrive by plane that evening), so I gave him a call. He told me that plans had changed and that we weren’t staying where he had originally thought. He said I needed to call Nitin (his brother) and meet up with him at the Hotel Oasis. Ok. Can do.

Well, Nitin’s phone wasn’t working, and nobody had ever heard of the Hotel Oasis. So, I had to get a different number from Sunil. When I called that one, the connection was bad and the guy didn’t speak any English. Finally I got him to put Nitin on the phone, but with the bad connection, all I could make out was “near GPO.”

So, I took a taxi to GPO and started asking around. Eventually I found the Hotel Oasis and a few familiar faces. Not exactly the American way of doing things (detailed itineraries, hotels booked months in advance, Google maps…), but it all worked out in the end.

These black and yellow taxis are everywhere in Mumbai.

The second day was spent traveling all over the city with Sunil and his entourage. We visited caste leaders, politicians and even attended a huge anti-discrimination rally. Basically, it was Sunil doing what he does best; using his influence and connections to slowly change the tide of caste and racism in India. Very cool.

At the rally. Lots of passionate yelling in Hindi.
I'm sure it was all very compelling... :)

My third and final day in Mumbai was another free day. I did a bit more wandering, and took a ferry out to Elephanta Island, which has some ancient Hindu temples carved into caves. Ended up being way cool. I felt a bit like I was walking onto the set of Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park or something.

One of the Elephanta Island caves.

I suppose this was the most “touristy” thing I did in Mumbai, but I tried my best to break the pattern. On my map I could see another hilltop with two more unexcavated caves. It looked somewhat accessible by taking a footpath a little way around the island.

So, even though nobody had any idea what caves I was talking about, I set out. Unfortunately, after a while, the path ended up being completely waterlogged. There was no way around without trudging through the jungle. Which I totally would have done if I wasn’t wearing flip-flops… *sigh* Next time Elephanta. Next time.

Some monkeys on Elephanta Island.

Well, all good things must come to an end. My time in Mumbai was over, and I had to get back on the train. 22 hours later, I arrived back “home” in Delhi. Super hungry after being warned to avoid the train food, I sat down to dinner, laughing when I found out what we were having. Goat brain.

Ah… it’s good to be home.


If you are interested, I’ve added a bunch more pictures of my trip (with commentary) to my ever-growing Picasa album. It’s sort of like me coming to your house and showing you a boring slideshow, but much better, because you can always shut me up by hitting “next.” Click here to see them!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Mumbai bound!

After returning from Yavatmal, I thought my Indian cross-country travels were over. Turns out I was wrong! Tomorrow morning I get on a train bound for Mumbai (Bombay), a famous port city in India.

Sunil has invited me to join him as he attends some sort of event or anti-caste rally or something. Again, I'm not too clear on the details. As always, I expect that things will probably just fall into place when I get there ("Oh, so that's why we're in Mumbai...").

The plan right now is to take the train from New Delhi to Mumbai and spend Wednesday checking out the city alone. Then, Wednesday night I'll meet up with Sunil after his plane arrives. After that, who knows?

The train rides there and back will be... interesting. I opted for what is called "Sleeper Class," which is essentially the same as my previous train ride, but without A/C, curtains, bedding or meals. According to my ticket, the train I am taking is classified as "Superfast," which is why it will only take 22 hours to get there! Haha...

Apparently, this is how most Indians get around the country, which makes sense, because the tickets were only $10. And get this... I hear they're throwing in a bunch of staring, confused glances and incomprehensible Hindi phrases for free! Nice... :)

Again, I probably won't be emailing or blogging for a week or so, but I'll be sure to update you with stories and pictures when I get back to Delhi.

See ya!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sewa Ashram

There are some days here that make me grumble. I meander through the day, wondering what, if anything I accomplished. "What am I even doing here, thousands of miles from home? What's the point?" Now, this doesn't happen often, but occasionally I do get a little discouraged. Ah, but then there are days like today...

I spent today at Sewa Ashram, a rehabilitation center for the dying and destitute. The mission of the center is quite a bit like what Mother Teresa was about in Calcutta... giving sick and dying people a chance to become well again, or simply to die with dignity.

If things work out right, I will get the chance to spend a week or two there sometime in September. However, even if today is the only one I will spend at Sewa Ashram, I know that my life and ministry will be richer because of it...

Upon arriving at the center, I was struck first of all by how peaceful it is. I honestly expected the place to be rather depressing. Instead, I found it to be an oasis of life in a city filled with death.

Small concrete buildings surround a central vegetable garden, with tree lined paths running through it. By the clinic is a pen full of rabbits, happily munching on veggies. The whole time I was there, a brand new litter of puppies ran around, fighting each other and licking my toes.

One of the Sewa Ashram puppies.

Most striking of all, however, were the butterflies. Everywhere I looked, there were butterflies darting in and out of trees, resting on bushes. Too many to count. It was... breathtaking. I realized without hesitation that I was standing on holy ground.

After meeting some of the patients, that feeling only grew deeper. Again, I came in with the expectation that I would see countless grief-stricken faces, twisted with agony and despair. And I did see a few. But most of the faces I saw were lit up with wide smiles and bright eyes. "To us, this place is heaven," one of the men told me. Heaven indeed, I thought.

One of the many smiles I saw at Sewa Ashram.

But my visit was not without a few glimpses of Hell. Inside the clinic was a man being treated for a dog bite that had somehow become a horrific open wound. I have never seen an injury like it. A shredded heap of bone, muscle and blood where the calf should have been. He was moaning with pain as the clinic's two nurses cleaned and dressed it.

In the children's area, I met a boy with spinal TB, who will never be able to use his legs. I talked to another who had childhood arthritis, bent over due to the pain. Some children were mentally disabled, others had HIV.

This boy will never be able to walk.

One of the young men, who everyone calls "Helicopter," was picked up off the street at a very young age. He practically grew up at Sewa Ashram. While the kids ran around us, he leaned on his crutch and told me, "I am a child of God, and that means I am taken care of. God always takes care of his children!"

"He sure does," I mumbled, wondering if I truly believed that in the midst of such brokenness.

Later, I talked and prayed with a man who was sick and malnourished. He probably weighed 50 pounds. This was the only time that I truly got emotional. As I held his scrawny hand and closed my fingers around his bony shoulder, I prayed. And barely made it to "Amen."

The man I prayed with. The "least of these." (Matthew 25)

It was an intense day, made even more so by the Delhi bus system, which I took alone on the way home. When I had finally found the correct bus, I sat quietly, staring out the window and trying to process all of what I had just seen.

In the end, I came to a very simple conclusion. What I had just witnessed was Truth. Big 'T' Truth. The kind of Truth that changes who you are and what you are about. The kind of Truth that gives direction to your life.

This Truth, which has been shaping me daily over the past couple of years, is this: The world is a messed up place, and something needs to change.

But I was reminded of another Truth as I rode the bus back into town: There is hope for this world, and it comes through the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I saw this hope lived out in the beautiful men, women and children at Sewa Ashram, who were given a second chance at life, even though forgotten by the world.

I am writing this through tears. This, I believe, is one of those holy moments in which God is reminding me of just who I am and why I exist. I am an instrument of God, here to spread peace, justice and life into this dark and broken world.

I will spend myself on behalf of the poor. I will stand beside the broken. And someday, when I stand at his throne, I will know with all of my heart that I spent my life with Jesus.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gandhi... Mahatma?

Well folks, I have some bad news. It turns out that Gandhi was not such a beacon of freedom and justice after all. Sure, he was a charismatic spiritual figure who taught the world the meaning of non-violent protest... But did you know that Gandhi was adamantly pro-caste system?

Now, I don't claim to be an expert on the topic. Like most Americans, in my mind Gandhi still exists as a somewhat ambiguous figure from world history. Also, I recognize the fact that he is revered as a hero in much of the modern world and as a saint here in India (thus the name "Mahatma" meaning "Great Soul").

But imagine my surprise when I discovered a few of the things that he stood for...

In 1932, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (more on him later) proposed separate electorates for Untouchables in India. They were not being represented in the government, and this would have been a chance to allow them to have a voice.

Gandhi, however, believed so strongly in the need for upper caste governance, that he actually started his first hunger strike to prevent the untouchables from representing themselves in government! Gandhi fasted against the rights of untouchables? What?!?

Later, talking about the degrading and exploitative occupations of the untouchables (latrine cleaning, corpse clearing, scavenging, etc.), Gandhi said, "I do not advise the untouchables to give up their trades and professions... For, a scavenger is as worthy of his hire as a lawyer or your President. That, according to me, is Hinduism" (Harijan, 6 Mar 1937).

Once, Gandhi asked a Christian missionary to pray for the untouchables, but not to try to convert them, saying that they "did not have the mind and intelligence to understand what you talked... Would you preach the Gospel to a cow?" (Harijan, 19 Dec 1936).

Basically, Gandhi was a full-blooded Hindu. He believed strongly in the caste system and thought that everyone was born into their caste due to actions in a previous life. From a purely religious standpoint, one can hardly blame him for saying and doing the things he did (after all, it was this same religious fervor that led him to oppose British rule in the first place).

However, if you're like me, knowing these things about Gandhi definitely puts a damper on the usual vision of a small, saintly man committed to equality. I still respect the man as a striking example of non-violence and simplicity, but my understanding of his values has, well... expanded.

At the very least, it once more reminds us that history is never as black and white as it seems. As the world continues to grow, more and more information must be crammed into our history books. You can believe that when the educated elite are writing narratives of the past, the poor, oppressed and uneducated masses are the first to slip off the page.

One last thought...

If some of you are discouraged knowing that Gandhi was not, in fact, perfect, I would like to suggest another early 20th century Indian "hero" for you to look into.

His name was B. R. Ambedkar. Champion of the rights of the oppressed, drafter of the Indian constitution and born as an untouchable himself, Ambedkar rose above persecution to become one of the greatest advocates of lower-caste rights in the history of this country.

Check out his wikipedia page, read about his work on the Truthseekers website or simply google his name and wade into the sea of praise that has arisen from the mouths and pens of his followers.

But remember... Ambedkar, like Gandhi, was never a perfect man.