Pastor Tim said in his sermon last week that the mountain top experiences don’t last. I don’t know if I consider this trip a mountain top experience but, if I do, the first two days would be mountain top days. Most everything I did or saw during those days was a confirmation of how much I’ve grown and how much God has healed. The service activities we were doing were challenging, but not overwhelming.
The last three days were different.
We got to sleep in a little on day three, thank goodness. Our first stop was a Hindu temple. This time, the atmosphere in the van felt different. The air felt thick and heavy.
Outside the van, Jeremy, Seth, and Seth’s very nice roommate (whose name escapes me but was very friendly and kind) was also there. The wind whipped around us, tugging at my scarf and rushing through the tightly-knit, green fabric. I had learned the day before to bring a jacket. It was zipped all the way up with the ends of my headscarf tucked inside.
I was still shivering.
We went inside and split off to our respective washrooms and put our shoes in one of the hundreds of cubbies. I can only describe it to you because we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
The place was magnificent, carved completely out of marble and imported, piece by piece, from India. It felt cool and smooth under my feet. Our group padded down the hall and up a staircase to the main worship room.
From floor to ceiling, the room was made entirely of marble with intricately carved pillars equidistant through the room. There were two sections to the room, if you can even call them that. The men sat cross legged at the front of the room, the women were at the middle, and most of our group stood along the back wall.
One of the fathers was having a hard time reigning in his son. The boy must have been three or four years old and looked as impish as Hudson had the day before. He ran over to one of the metal gate doors at the side of the room, left open by a priest, and tried to hoist himself over the two marble steps. The spry father caught him in time and guided him back.
Music began to play and colored lights situated inside nooks and crannies at the top of the pillars changed from purple to green to blue to red to yellow.
I don’t remember what the priests at the front of the room were doing to the statues of their gods, also at the front, but I was watching the people.
As soon as the music started, a man bowed with his face to the ground and his body prostrate. He hopped up and then bowed again. And again. And again. And again. The other men, women, and children did the same, but with less fervor.
There were candles sitting in what looked like boats that were taken around to the people. The people would pet the flame with their hand and then rub their forehead.
Eventually, the music stopped and everyone stood up. Different people moved around to the little alcoves at the sides of the room. Many alcoves had statues of gods or goddesses; others had statues of gurus (a revered teacher) and a plaque with their date of birth and death and main teaching. One woman reached down, rubbed the marble step in front of the statue, then rubbed her hand to her forehead, similar to what they had done with the candles. Others repeated the action across the room.
I felt uneasy watching all of this, uncertain of what to do next. After a few minutes, our group gathered at the back wall and descended the stairs. The little boy from earlier stood there watching us, picking his nose.
At the bottom of the stairs, there was a narrow doorway that lead to a larger room with another statue. One boy, who looked to be about seven, walked around the statue with his father and several other men, taking turns pouring milk and water over it. I was later told it was the ritual to wake up their god.
Everywhere I turned, I saw children. Boys playing tag, girls huddled together and giggling. They all seemed younger than ten and full of life.
Seeing so many children was difficult. Like all children, they are at the mercy of their parents’ beliefs. If their parents teach them to bow to statues of their gods, they will grow up without knowing anything different. Here these people were caring for the statues of their gods, hoping to earn favor so that they might be blessed and not have times of trouble. And yet, what really will help them when they are in trouble? Who will save them when their life is falling apart? Where will they go for safety?
They will go to the same gods they wake up and put to bed each day.
I wanted to scoop up as many kids as I could in my arms and lug them out to the parking lot to tell Bible stories about Jesus or something, anything other than letting them stay in the temple and take care of inanimate statues.
Even if some of the children do get out when they are older, they will have to deal with the residual affects of those beliefs for a very long time. That is a lonely and painful road.
It was an unsettling experience.
Our next stop was the Sikh temple which is called a gurdwara.
The best way I can explain the Sikh religion is in the phrase “all truth is God’s truth”. That was how our informal tour guide explained it to us. The Qur’an has truth just like the Bible and the Torah and other religious texts. Other religions are all different ways to worship the same god.
When it comes to other religions, the main issue for me is how does each one view good works. If I have to be good to get into heaven, then that’s out automatically. I cannot be good for five whole minutes, much less my entire life.
I cannot earn heaven; that’s why I need Jesus.
The tour involved sitting in on a service. At the head of the room was a tent; an alter of sorts was underneath the tent and supported a large, open book and a well-dressed man with a feather fan.
The book was their holy book, which is almost like an anthology of truths from different religions. When people entered the room, they walked to the alter, bowed before the book, then sat on their gender’s side of the room.
We listened to the special music for a while, which was gorgeous, and then moved into a dark, smaller room. It looked like it belonged in a museum. There were pictures on the walls of different scenes. Some of the scenes showed gurus and others showed revered people defending people of other religions and their right to worship without persecution. There also were several scenes of martyrs being martyred. Those were gruesome.
The original plan was for us to serve in the kitchen, but they moved us along pretty quickly after the tour. We were each given a metal tray of food and seated on rugs on the floor, to show we were all equal with one another.
The meal at the gurdwara was the most unique meal I had on the entire trip. They served us a lentil stew, which was my favorite; squares of cheese smothered in a red sauce with green peas; pita bread; oats soaked in yogurt; and a sweet rice pudding.
For dessert, we had hard candy straws with syrup in the center, chai tea, and squares of what our kind tour guide said were “like fudge” but were not even remotely fudgey.
I wanted to finish all of my food and I did eat more than was comfortable, but it all became too much after a period of time. I was disappointed with myself for not continuing to push because I didn’t want to be a burden to the missionaries or the rest of the team, but I gave it my best and I sincerely hope no one was offended.
But leave it to me to overthink not eating all the food set before me.
We stayed at the gurdwara for a long time that afternoon, chatting with the guide and resting. After the gurdwara, we went to a nearby neighborhood to distribute door flyers and offer to pray with anyone we might see along the way. All together, we probably passed out 800 or 900 flyers.
When we all had finished, the guys played basketball with some of the kids in the neighborhood.
One kid was wearing a red jersey with the name “Ronal” on the back. I called him Ronaldo after the famous soccer player, aware that they were playing basketball. I suppose it’s like watching a kid play football and calling him Michael Jordan.
After the baseball game, we went to Tim Hortons.
Friends, Tim Hortons is not overrated.
Of course, I could just be speaking about their Canadian Maple donut. (I may not have the most refined palate, but it was beautiful. It had a maple icing with a creamy vanilla custard in the middle. It tasted like magic and pure goodness; it also tasted like a waffle soggy with syrup and saturated in butter.)
While we were at Tim Hortons, Blake asked me how I felt about the trip so far.
I shared I felt happy. I was connected with the people around me. I felt like I was doing things that mattered.
In Canada, I didn’t have to read stories in school that felt gross or read certain seemingly innocent actions as symbolic of rape.
In Canada, I didn’t have homework or deadlines to obey. We were on Canadian Missionary Time (CMT), which means you leave when you leave and you get there when you get there.
In Canada, I could forget about my past and dive into the moment.
I didn’t want to go back home and face everything I had been dealing with since the beginning of the year: wanting a life and wanting adventures.
As I was explaining what I meant, the rest of the team was at the table and listening to the temporarily superficial conversation.
So I told them.
It went against my better judgment, but then again my better judgement says I should stay silent always.
I said how I felt: I feel disconnected from people because of my past; I’m sick of that pain and I am ready for it to go.
At home, I remedy this by driving around and imagining what it would be like to start over somewhere completely new where no one knew me. I imagine how nice it would feel to be rid of my ever-present past.
And then I always remember these few lines a song my dad loves:
Sometimes I get this crazy dream
That I just take off in my car
But you can travel on ten thousand miles
and still stay where you are
-Harry Chapin “W.O.L.D”
I wasn’t ten thousand miles from home, just one thousand. I didn’t leave my past at home; it was still packed deep inside me. I understood the pain I had in the Hindu temple was partially because of my own experience. I know what it’s like to have to heal from well-meaning authority figures and the “truth” they tell. I know what it’s like to be taught your good works will only make God less displeased with you. I know what it’s like to starve for grace. But maybe I’m projecting.
When trustworthy people at church ask me how I’m doing, I say I’m doing well.
That is rarely the truth. Dealing with my old beliefs and old habits is exhausting. I’m always scared if I tell them how I’m really doing, they’ll think I’m whining; it couldn’t possibly be so bad. I’m also afraid they’ll think I constantly complain.
It’s so easy to say everything is fine when it isn’t. It’s also easy to think others don’t care about your problems because they don’t like you, when really it’s because they don’t know you well enough to know something is wrong.
This conflict is in my head all day, every day, and it has been that way for longer than I know.
So, yeah, that’s why I’m tired. I’m working through all of that.
But in Canada, I could finally truly ignore those things.
I could serve people.
I could live and not second-guess everything.
I could be myself.
I was free.
I wanted to remain free.
As I sat there, knowing we would soon return home, I knew that freedom would stay in Canada. If I’m being honest, it was already starting to slip away. My past was unpacking its bags and making itself at home.
I feel like I’m supposed to end my posts on a somewhat happy note, so I’ll finish with this:
I don’t know how long I talked, it felt like a river of words were pouring from my mouth, but every single man at that table only had compassion the entire time.
Not one said I shouldn’t feel the way I felt.
Not one said I should just get over it.
They let me talk. They truly listened. And when I couldn’t say any more, they encouraged me. They said they’d pray for me. I didn’t feel condemned or belittled; I felt safe.
They showed me Jesus. I will always appreciate that.