When I was a fourth year medical student, I traveled to Bangalore in southern India to rotate at a Baptist hospital there. I had been fascinated by India for awhile, hearing my Indian roommate speak Malayalam, sampling their exciting curry dishes, and especially hearing about the work of God amongst the poor and disregarded people of the slums. I had the opportunity to meet Violet, a cheerful middle aged lady who served as a chaplain for the hospital patients. She inspired me with many stories of people turning to Christ and even receiving healing after prayer.

She asked me if I would like to come with her to the slums of Bangalore, to meet some of those she had committed to minister to.

We boarded a rickshaw and off we went, from the cramped commercial district around the hospital, past lush golf courses and then into the less developed poor district. I followed her into the homes of people dying of tuberculosis. I observed their emaciated bodies, and saw them point to a gilded photograph of a loved one who had already succumbed to some infectious disease. In other circumstances I would have feared for my own exposure, but I was moved by Violet’s concern for them, and when she asked me to pray I implored God’s help for these people.

We walked by a small strip mall, in which a local met to serve the people in this neighborhood. Here prayer and worship meetings were held, and hope was offered for those who had so little. We found ourselves in a dilapidated building constructed near a highway overpass. Trash and sewage filled the nearby ditch. Inside this building, which was more the juxtaposition of several jagged concrete walls, lived a family of orphans. These children, led by a child in his young teens, eked out a living begging or working odd jobs. They had no one to really look after them, but they cared for each other, and Violet checked in on them from time to time to see if she could help from her own meager resources. Violet asked me to pray for them, and I struggled, asking God where to start. What should I ask for them? A family? Enough food? A way out of this poverty? I felt overwhelmed.

Along the roads I saw “trash houses”, living quarters constructed out of leftover wire, wood, concrete and overlaid with the plastic trash bags that litter every street. I would catch myself staring with my mouth hanging open in horror. People really lived here? Even families lived in these, I was told.

We visited a tiny home in another tenement, belonging to a lady who was blind. She was young and beautiful; her name was Lakshmi. She had developed glaucoma, and her condition was not treated in time. Her face bore a peaceful acceptance as she turned her glazed eyes towards us. She had found Christ and was a part of a Christian community. We prayed for her, even for her healing. She said she could feel the presence of God in that room, even though her sight was unchanged. Next to her sat her aunt, a lady with a very different countenance. Her eyes were wild and disturbed. Her appearance was unkempt, though she conversed with Violet. There was a darkness around her that contrasted with the light we saw in Lakshmi. When we left I was told that this woman had been given to the Hindu temple as a child. She had spent her life as a “bride of the gods”. She was detached, as if her very soul was inaccessible. We prayed for her. The irony was apparent. One woman could see but was shrouded in darkness. The other was blind yet had an inner light.

The last stop was the most heartening one. Violet’s brother had opened an orphanage in a two story apartment. He took in street children, or any child needing a home. I toured the small facility, in which children slept in beds stacked on top of each other. They gathered them together and they sang for us. This was perhaps the most powerful and moving moment I spent in India. These children were not puppets, indoctrinated in the religion of their benefactors. They were spiritually awake, as they sang their praise songs wholeheartedly. Then they prayed for us, lifting up their hands and voices in urgency to God. They seemed to know that He had chosen them- that He had rescued them from a life of destitution through the ministry of His servants.

I returned to the hospital with a full heart and deep in thought. I had not understood the profound faith and suffering of the Indian people before. But I saw that God was working here. He was working through his servants like Violet and her brother. He was working through the staff at this hospital. But even more important, I sensed that God WAS here. He was here in the strip mall church in the slums. He was here in the tiny home of Lakshmi who worshipped Him. He was here in the overcrowded orphanage, with His purpose for these little ones. He was here in the orphan shack, though they had no earthly father. I knew that many of my prayers for these people would not be answered in the way I wanted. But through my experience my eyes were opened to the greatness of God, who despite injustice and suffering sustains those despised by the world. He sustains them with hope through the ministry of His servants, and with His own presence in the midst of despair.

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