Last month I had the privilege and blessing to spend 3 weeks in India with Matt and 8 college students. We visited 3 cities, met hundreds of beautiful people, ate some of the best (and spiciest) food I have ever tasted, and experienced more life in 3 weeks than I could have dreamed. I loved the portions of India I got to see and experience (there is SO MUCH MORE.)
I love India’s beautiful people, especially their smiles, eyes full of joy.
I love the unity in diversity: everything is recognizably Indian, yet each person you meet has vastly different beliefs, thoughts, and stories.
I love that everything in India is turned up a notch: You like people? 1000s of people! You like bright colors? Everyone you meet is swathed in colorful array! You like spicy food? Here it is so hot you will breath fire!
I loved the hospitality we experienced: Welcomed and warmly greeted everywhere we went. We had tea in the home of the director of a company we toured, and when we were finished we tried to take our cups into the kitchen. This CEO literally RAN at us to gather up all the cups he could carry, insisting we sit down and make ourselves comfortable.
I loved meeting people of many different faiths. And I loved seeing my own faith beautifully lived out so far from where I have experienced it, in such a different context but the SAME Jesus.
Often when people travel, they say they were changed, and India for sure changed each of us. But what does that really mean? HOW did India change me?
Here are 6 things I learned from India that I want to practice right here in the US of A.
Hospitality is rooted in WELCOME, not the size or fanciness of your home.
We had a group of 10, which quickly filled most of the places we visited. We crowded into apartments, offices, and other small spaces and were showered with welcome and interest as well as chai and cookies. American hospitality so often means themed tablescapes and curated spaces, Instagramable pictures tinged with millennial pink. Indian hospitality was making space for everyone, personal service, and welcoming smiles. Speaking of smiles…
Smiling is our most powerful connecting tool.
When communication is limited (though most educated people in India can speak or at least understand English), you learn to rely on body language and facial expression. Over and over I was amazed at the magic, the almost spiritual exchange of smiling at someone and receiving a smile in return.
Everyone wants to be seen.
There is so much more to India than slums and poverty, but we did go into some dark, deeply impoverished places. I asked God to give me eyes to see: To see Him, and to really see people. What I saw was people made in His image. Rich or poor, healthy or sick, Christian, Muslim, Hindu: Made in God’s image, known and loved by Him.
The worst thing about being poor is not lack of things, even necessary things.
Again: There’s more to India than Slumdog Millionaire (My Indian friends feel very strongly about this.) But I did see deeper poverty in India than I have experienced anywhere else I have traveled. And I observed and learned a few things I want to share because I don’t know that most Americans in my circles really know anything about poverty (I know I don’t know much.)
When we think of poverty, we think of dirty bodies, small (or no) houses, lack of material needs. But I’ve learned the things that go hand in hand with not having enough money: Hunger. Invisibility. Danger. The lack of safety hit me the hardest: How does a woman protect her body and her children if she has no door?
It is possible that our culture traded in community and a shared life for independence and autonomy, and I am not sure that a good trade.
Across the board Indians value family and community connections more than any American I know. Young people live with their parents until they marry (not that I’m advocating for that), and everyone I met knew exactly who their people were. We’ve appropriated the term “tribe” to mean a chosen group of people with whom we’ve found affinity. But around the world and in our own native peoples, tribe is a literal, actual group you are born into, an affiliation and connection you take with you wherever you go (and we might want to pick a different word for what we mean when we say “I found my tribe”?)
I love that America is a melting pot, but I also really admired the stronger sense of connection and community I witnessed in India. Especially in the church, we found a tight knit group of inter-dependent people who were living a shared life. It made me feel so isolated, waving at my neighbors as I pull into my garage and shut out the rest of the world.
Our stories are all different. And our stories are the same.
As you’ve probably noticed, I LOVE other cultures. I love traveling, I love seeing this big beautiful world God made and meeting all the different people who fill it. When I travel, I learn to see God through different eyes, and I learn that the American way is not necessarily the best way (#1 Travel Tip: It’s not wrong, it’s just different.)
But my favorite things about traveling are not the differences. My favorite thing is seeing how much we are the same.
Everywhere I’ve been – and this is especially true in India – children laugh. Smile. Play. Delight in being seen, being noticed. Everywhere I’ve been, there is danger and harm and hurt. And everywhere I’ve been there is joy and tenderness and love.
In India I met people I had a lot in common with, who relate to people the same way I do, who love people for the same reasons. I met a precious woman who essentially has the same job I have: Loving young women and speaking life and value over them, sharing her story of hope and God’s love.
And in India I met people I have absolutely nothing in common with: No overlap at all except for our shared humanity. And we found connection there, and it was beautiful.
Thank you India. I love your people, and I hope to visit you again soon.
Photo Credits: All the ordinary pictures/selfies in this post are mine, the stunningly beautiful and well photographed ones (including the picture I used for the title image) were taken by the lovely and talented Michaela Reddel/True Beauty Photography.