Our third day in India was marked with a special opportunity to visit a school for students interested in learning English. We found this an exciting chance to preview some of the work we will be doing this next week. The leaders founded this school with the vision that teaching English creates economic opportunities, bridges cultures, and allows a legitimate environment for conversations that can lead to an exploration of religion and faith.
We interacted with students eager to ask us questions about the United States and whether we were enjoying India. They were particularly enthusiastic about sharing advice for visiting the Taj Mahal and encouraged us to take the time to visit their home regions outside of New Delhi. This was an encouraging visit for our Extended Family too because it showed the progress made for another Christian organization.
After our day at the school, we were really excited for a night “in,” a chance to enjoy some air conditioning and sit in more casual clothes, but especially because it meant an evening babysitting the two children (ages 5 and 3). These two children immediately connected with our team members, sitting on laps during rickshaw rides, holding hands while walking through markets, and getting their hands cleaned after touring areas. These two kids really are adorable, take their environment in stride, and loved being with us. We played card games, stacked blocks and held some dance competitions, all while their parents got a much-deserved evening to themselves.
Saturday we went on an out-of-pocket excursion to the Taj Mahal, which meant traveling 180 miles out of New Delhi to the state of Uttar Pradesh in the city of Agra, where the Taj is located. Leaving New Delhi didn’t take long and we were amazed by the extent of the green farmland along a very empty freeway (especially after the dense Frogger-esque traffic that snarls New Delhi). Grass huts and brick-making kilns dotted the landscape with seemingly post-apocalyptic half-finished apartment towers as the only signs of civilization beyond New Delhi for miles.
The Taj Mahal, being known for its white marble, yellows due to India’s severe pollution. (New Delhi’s air is so bad it is equated to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day.) The yellowing has caused alarmed officials to decide no traffic should be permitted within a kilometer. Two of our team members opted to take a horse-drawn cart when they encountered a 15-year-old boy looking for the work. We arrived and were greeted at one of the three red stone gates designed by the Indian king for the 20,000 workers who helped build the Taj Mahal. It took these workers 22 years to complete the construction of a white mausoleum in tribute to his favorite and third wife, who died during childbirth. The planned black mausoleum for the king himself was canceled by the prince who felt his father went a little too overboard.
The last day in New Delhi with our Extended Family, we took the time to have a devotional. Through reading Scripture and journaling, we reflected upon how our desires align with where we want to be in our spiritual walk. It was a much-needed and valuable quiet time.
We concluded our time with our Extended Family by taking a moment to hear each of their stories and why they felt led to their particular mission field, why they felt called and why they feel they were brought together to serve this unique purpose. It was encouraging to our spirits to hear how these regular people (not spiritual titans, but giants in faithfulness and obedience) wrestle with the difficulties of being far from home and their loved ones, while also living in the tension of a deep love for the people of India.