By Rob Renfroe
I spent the first ten days of August in India, landing in Delhi, spending a day seeing the Taj Mahal, and then seeing what God is doing in the cities of Hyderabad (4 million residents) and Patna (6 million residents in India’s poorest state of Bihar).
It would take a lifetime to describe the history, the religions, and the culture of India. Most apparent are the overcrowding and the poverty. Wherever you go, you see people. And you see poor people. Some selling rice or lentils, hoping to make enough money that day to feed their family. Others sleeping on the streets—some with blankets, others without. And still others, begging—mothers, children, men who are crippled or blind.
Ten days in a country of 1.2 billion people doesn’t make me an expert. But this I know for sure. Jesus is the hope of India.
Sometimes, liberal Christians who pride themselves on being open-minded, will say that all of the world’s great religions are pretty much the same—just different paths to the same God that teach pretty much the same truths. Those who say that have most likely taken a comparative religion course. But I’m pretty sure they haven’t been to India where the culture has been fashioned by, and is today permeated by, Hinduism.
More than one of our Hindu guides told us proudly “we have 330 million gods.” Read that again. 330 million gods. Looking into a Hindu temple was heart-wrenching. Mothers were there with their children, kneeling before idols with their offerings. One popular god is Ganesh, “the elephant god” who brings good fortune. His image bears a human body and an elephant’s head. Others knelt and worshipped Hanuman, the monkey god—again with a human-like body but the face of an ape. Our guides were particularly devoted to the one they called “the monkey god” because he brings wealth and prestige.
One night we met in a house church in a slum outside of Patna. Seventy believers were crowded into the house of a man who had been converted from Hinduism. It was difficult to worship that evening because nearby a loud and lively Hindu service was being conducted. The service was devoted to a fertility deity—and the idol receiving worship was sexually provocative and obscene. This is what you see in India.
But there’s more. The caste system is still very much alive. From the time of their birth children are told who they are and that they should never strive to be more. One caste is known as “the rag pickers.” They will subsist all their lives picking up discarded rags and then selling them to whomever may want to purchase them. Why is this their lot? Why should they aspire to nothing more? Because Hinduism tells them that in a previous life their deeds merited such an existence in this life.
In India, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus over and over. He picked common people, like fishermen and tax collectors, to be his disciples and to carry on his work when he was gone. The outcasts of first century Judaism—the lepers, and the blind, and the lame—Jesus never told them they deserved their lot. He told them about a God who loved them. And he did the unthinkable. He touched them. And he healed them. And he called them to be his disciples and his friends.
Jesus loves Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. At the same time, let’s be clear that not all religions are the same. We can respect all people but we cannot accept all belief systems. We cannot call darkness light. And a religion that has people bow before idols and tells the lowest of society that they deserve to be crippled and blind and to be nothing more than rag pickers for the rest of their lives—that kind of religious oppression is darkness. And it breaks my heart to think that people live in that kind of hopelessness and despair.
Wherever faithful people have made Jesus known, societies and cultures have been raised and bettered. Hospitals have been built. Schools have been started. The hungry have been fed. And that is exactly what we see in India.
Christians make up 3-5 percent of the population, but their influence is unmistakable. We saw children who once lived on the streets, now living in a Christian orphanage. It’s hard to describe the beauty of these children. We were their honored guests and they joyously sang and danced for us. They quoted long passages of Scripture. Their eyes are alive and their clothes are clean. That’s Jesus, the hope of the world.
We visited a school created by Christians. Many of the children who attend come from huts made out of grass in nearby fields. Their parents make $3 a day. But the children we spoke to dream of being engineers and doctors and nurses. And the work in their school notebooks—the mathematical formulas, the physics theorems, the literature notes in two languages—spoke volumes. These children will not be condemned to huts and field labor. Their gifts will be used and their lives will be full. That’s Jesus, the hope of the world.
And then there were the malnourished children still living in the poorest of conditions. But every morning, a young man gets up at 3 a.m. to make 18 quarts of soy milk for them. And when he’s done, he puts the pail on the back of his bicycle and he pedals 12 miles to give them what may be the only nourishment they receive for the day. And he tells them about a God who loves them. And he does all of this because he’s a follower of Jesus. And Jesus, he puts such things in the hearts of his followers, because he is the hope of the world.
Rob Renfroe is the President and Publisher of Good News.