I awoke with a smile; it was time to look for peacocks. Leaving my straw mat, I pulled on my sandals and hurried down the cement stairs. I was surprised to be the first one to the playground. I had expected that these spunky kids would have an easier time waking up at 6 am than I did. I suppose everyone – no matter what age or ethnicity – yearns to sleep in on a Saturday morning. But before long, a few kids were pulling themselves out of bed as well, excited to be my guide in this search for peacocks.
“Good morning, sister! How was your sleep?”
I tried out the Tamil words they had taught me the night before. “Kalay Vannakum, thangkachi.” I quickly checked with them to see if I had said it right and indeed said, “Good morning, younger sister,” as I had intended. Apparently, I got it right. I trusted their response, remembering how they had laughed uncontrollably when I made a mistake last night. No amount of desire to be polite could keep them from a chance to have a good laugh, even if it was at my expense.
We started off by walking over a stone wall to cross a small stream running next to the grounds. Once on the other side, we began to climb up a rough rock slope. With the uneven and steep ground, I looked to make sure my little friends with their chappals (flip flops) were doing ok. Apparently, they had the same concern for me, for I quickly found my white hands filled with two brown ones on either side. “Careful, sister. This way, sister.” Together, we’d be just fine.
Before we had gotten very far up the slope, the kids stopped and looked back at their home, which had quickly shrunk in size during our short climb. Seeing a few friends who had woken up late, they yelled over in rapid Tamil and gestured emphatically. It looked like we’d be waiting for these new additions to join us before going any further.
Now that my attention had been turned from the steep climb in front of us to the path from which we had come, I raised my eyes to the view that surrounded us. The early morning mist was still lingering over the trees and houses scattered across the flat plains. Wispy clouds reflected the last orange remnants of what must have been a brilliant sunrise. In an hour or two, the oppressive heat of the plains would no doubt descend and remain into the evening. For now, though, cool morning breezes brought an air of refreshment and hope.
As I looked across the plains as far as my eyes could see, I wondered how many hurting and destitute children were feeling this same breeze. How many kids were waking up to another day of manual labor, hunger, abuse, and despair?
With India’s population exceeding one billion people, the children bear the brunt of the scarcity and hardship that plagues the country. BBC recently reported that 42% of Indian children under the age of five are suffering from malnutrition and that India has the highest rate of stunted growth among children in the world. It is heartbreaking to know that such a beautiful and culturally rich land is also the home to so much poverty and suffering.
I know that my aching heart is a reflection of God’s own heart, which breaks for the oppressed children of India. In Luke 4, Jesus reads a prophecy about Himself from Isaiah. He declares that He has come to, “preach good news to the poor…. proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” While Jesus certainly brings freedom to those who are spiritually oppressed and poor, I believe that He also brings physical freedom and restoration to the destitute of the world. The gospel, fully lived out, means salvation both for our souls and for our daily lives as well. This aspect of the gospel will not be fully realized until Christ’s second coming, but it is fulfilled in part through His body in the world today.
So while I scanned this beautiful country, I knew that the view contained more suffering than I could imagine – tucked in small shacks, under trees, and in alleyways. Brokenness is still prevalent in the world, and South India knows it well. Yet the small brown hands clasping mine reminded me that Jesus is not absent or inactive here. The wide smiles, healthy bodies, and loud laughter of my thambis and thankachis at Bethania are evidence of Jesus’ love and salvation in India. Hope has entered the lives of these precious children through the generosity of believers, divine provision, tangible love, and the good news of the gospel.
After waiting for half a dozen more kids to join us on the mountain and many loud exchanges back and forth in the process, the peacocks were long gone. Regardless of the missed experience, I valued the time spent with those sweet kids and hoped that they knew that they were far more important to me than dancing peacocks. These beautiful children – who have experienced more pain in their short lives than anyone ever should – are deeply loved by their Heavenly Father who adopts them into His eternal family. These kids don’t need to simply believe this is true because some book or preacher says so, they know it’s true because they experience it every day through the clothes on their back, the food in their stomach, and the roofs over their heads. I pray that many more precious children in India will be able to know this love as well, as the gospel is spread both in word and in deed until Christ returns.
 “India ‘shamed’ by child malnutrition, says PM Singh.” BBC News. 10 January 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-16481731.