By Mark Spitzack
My trip to India had a threefold purpose.
- It fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing the ancestral mission fields of my grandparents and other ancestors.
- I traveled for part of the time with a group from Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry and saw their wonderful work with schools, libraries, and a women’s home in the Tiruvannamalai area and Nagercoil.
- Finally, I went to see the work of Bethania Kids, which our congregation and its children have supported with prayers and offerings. I wanted to meet our Bethania Kids.
People always say they have been changed by mission trips, and that they saw a hopeful, peaceful and even joyful spirit in the people they encountered, despite desperate conditions. I wondered whether this was really true, or whether it is denial – a way we protect our psyches from being overwhelmed by such enormous poverty and pain.
Just days before leaving on my trip, I saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and in the only seat that was left – in the front row, mere feet from the screen – I was assaulted by scenes of slum life and abuse. For a while I panicked, thinking that India and its pain would overwhelm me. When I arrived there, although I saw enough to confirm what I saw in the movie, I quite honestly did not see first-hand the horrors of sickly, discarded, “pre-Bethania” children. Maybe God was protecting me on this first encounter with India. I am under no delusions that what I saw in our Bethania homes is the norm for other children of India, but what became clear to me is that these children, these little “seeds on the wind,” formerly disabled by abandonment, loss, or illness, but now physically, emotionally, academically, vocationally, and spiritually enabled, will go who-knows-where to plant who-knows-what-kind of change. Scripture assures us that “God’s word will not return to us void.” I may never know how these 1,000-some children will impact their 500 million peers. But I do know this: they are becoming stronger and more independent, nurtured and equipped to spread some hope in their dear India.
Yes, I was changed. Yes, I encountered a spiritual glow in the Indian people that transcends earthly sadness. Yes, I was overwhelmed, but it was by the beauty of the country, the joy and hope of this ministry, and the excitement about being a part of an ever-expanding ripple effect. There is more to do, and it will be a jubilant – not despairing – task.
Mark Spitzack traveled to India, which included Kodaikanal and Nagercoil January – February 2009