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In a Different Light

By Alan

Two filthy barefooted little girls in dirty dresses descended upon me as I exited our fenced compound at 5 PM on a warm Friday night. Their dark skin was powdered with street dirt. They each held out their right palm with black dirt under their short fingernails. They would close the hand and pull it to their lips, smiling and nodding to indicate hunger, then repeat the process.

Welcome to street life in Pune, India.

It’s there waiting for us every time we go out, day or night. I was invited by Edwin Baker, the K-Teams leader in Australia, to come along with his team to visit the homeless. Our hostess for the evening was Anu, a Christian Indian woman who ministers to the homeless and helpless. Before our ride arrived the young beggars, less than ten years old, must have repeated the show ten or twelve times, going to each of us several times. That’s how they make a living.

The Auzzies raised their hands and said “No, I don’t have anything to give you.” On about the fourth request, I announced, “I bless you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” crossing myself and then patting one girl lightly on the head. Hey, I didn’t know what to do! You could have a roll of 40 rupee coins (worth 2 cents each) and walk down the street handing one to every destitute person. You’d be empty handed in about ten minutes.

There is a row of auto-rickshaws lined up like taxis, across from our compound. These ARE the taxis in India. They hold up to three people, but we have had them take six. We can hardly pass one without the drivers trying to offer us a ride. At least they’re working a respectable living.

We finally climbed in the small right-hand drive four-door SUV and off we went into the evening. We weren’t going even a mile, just around a long crowded block of rude rickshaw and motorcycles drivers, which included two dangerous right turns. Imagine making a left turn in America where the oncoming lane never lets up or yields and could care less if you want through. That’s where there is a signal. There are intersections here where all four directions keep going – east, west, north and south - creeping through like rush hour on a crowded LA freeway, honking the whole time. We did one of each intersection type before we pulled up across from the train station.

The station had a sea of motorcycles parked and people coming and going like Six Flags or Disneyland had just closed for the night, with street traffic to match. It was nuts. Our business though, was across the street.

Along a block wall people were standing and sitting. Those seated or even laying down were obviously beggars. Some held infants. There were piles of clothes stacked all along the wall. Edwin said they were homeless and this was where they lived.

I got out my camera and tried for a few pictures. Everything was moving so fast. Many recognized our group and began shaking hands with the tall Edwin and others. Edwin had said we would be taking them to a park where it would be quieter and we could visit with them and pray.

The homeless seemed to know what was up and that we would give them food in the deal too. Anu footed the tab for the homeless “village” to ride rickshaws to the park. We jumped back into our SUV and headed behind Anu on her motorcyle.

On the way to and from the park I was fascinated with all the tiny one-man shops and stands. With my background in retail I have great respect these hard working businessmen. I look forward to going back and trying to visit many of them.

We pulled over by a walled-in Park with giant shade trees, and began unloading the sacks of cargo we were carrying. I was handed a large bag of clothing and carefully maneuvered over crumbled concrete and filth to a large gate into the park. As we filed down the stone walkway, we became a spectacle to the fairly busy park. The occupants were mostly older Indian men in groups, sitting along short stonewalls or on benches, and India garbed women doing the same, but separate from the men. It reminded me of the Mexicans hanging out in the park in Fillmore, California.

The homeless folks came with us as we entered a small gate into a sunken grassy area bout the size of a football field, Something you don’t find much in this crowded town. The large bare trunks of the trees rose 40 feet above our heads. Everyone sat down in a circle, the men on one end, women on the other. There was a row of people beyond the perimeter of the lawn area over a hedge, standing and staring like we were a freak show. (Funny white people messing with the homeless!)

We foreigners said our names and where we were from, then Anu began interviewing the girls to extract their stories. An 18-year-old girl nursing her baby had already lost the baby’s father to another girl, she said. One woman’s husband was in a drunk fight and been killed. The ladies said they all begged every day at the train station making about 20 rupees a day to feed their family. The men sell balloons or lime and chillies. Otherwise they are dead-beats and get drunk. Anu scolded the other men to go get a job so the women wouldn’t have to beg. They just laughed.

Just last week one of these women’s husbands had reached down to pick up his sandal in a shabby house. He was bit on the hand by a poisonous snake and died in five minutes! The men were 20 years old or younger. The women seemed to be older in average age than the men. Edwin gave an interpreted greeting in his Auzzie accent. He asked if his team could pray with the people. They spread out, men with men and ladies with ladies.

Edwin was very straight forward with each man, asking him to repeat his words. “Holy Spirit come,” was his favorite phrase as he prayed for the men to get jobs.

Fr. Anil Dev has been sharing how the Indian people need a savior. They’re looking for a Messiah. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who saves them.

As dusk took over we began passing out three pound bags each of rice and lentils. We gave a bag to each family. Then the gunnysack of clothes was pulled out and quickly found takers for the 100 or so garments.

Night was making pictures more difficult as we shook hands and the people thanked us – inviting us to come visit their homes – a kind, cultural gesture. We all headed back to the road and our vehicles, more tired and drained from the emotion of it than any of us realized.

Through it I saw the street people in a different light, as real families, stuck and not knowing how to escape. I wonder, what kind of spirits control them? Lord let us humble ourselves and not complain about the simple conveniences we are blessed with. Forgive us for judging. Bless these people. Show us how to help. In Jesus Name, Amen.