Sunday, 24 January 2016

New doors

Sunday afternoon.  Sun outside. I am indoors, under a razai, tapping away on the acer.  A short nap is past.  My system would be happy for some caffeine about now…

I have been catapulted into a new world.  A world very, very different from the 13 years that we have spent in Thane, but a part of our Father’s big world and big plan none-the-less.

Having arrived on a misty rainy morning on Tuesday, I am crossing 125 hours of being in Lalitpur as the director of the community health and development work of the Harriet Benson Memorial Hosptial.

Early days in this role, but I am already aware of some of the challenges in store.

How to bring about transformational change in a dry and thirsty place?

How to work with communities that are riven with deep caste divisions?

How to see change happen when we ourselves are so limited and have so many flaws easily visible?

How to work with a system that is already in place, and yet help all of us achieve the long-lasting results that we all so very much want?

How to manage the expectations of the different stake-holders – our local hospital employees, our funding supporters, the community volunteers and workers, our central office supervisors?

How to hear what the Spirit is telling the churches?   How to encourage broad-based cooperation and mutual prayer and understanding between God’s people?

There is much to learn.  Much to hear.  Much to understand.

As I look back on these days I remember an image from the village where we stopped on our way back from meeting the community health and development activists involved with our work in the Bar block.

We were invited to the home of one of the men who has been quite active with the programme.  His village was on the way back and he insisted that we stop at his home.

The local panchayat elections had just been held a few weeks earlier, and many of the walls were painted with a slogan urging people to ‘vote for imli’- the tamarind fruit being a symbol of one of the contestants for the post of sarpanch.

In our friend’s home a 2016 calendar was on the wall – courtesy of the ‘imli symbol’ candidate.  

Tellingly, the image on the calendar was of a man.  A greying, heavy-set man whose photo looked impassively at you.  Next to his picture was his name – and the name of the official candidate – who was his wife.  No picture of her.  We can tell who will be calling the shots in this political family.

Our host’s wife came to us and tried to touch our feet.  Her face was covered with her saree as she served us water and brought out a plate of various sweets – jiggery sweetened balls of puffed rice, various kinds of heavy gram-flour based laddoos, small fried dough sticks.  There were no children, because the couple have not conceived in the decade-long marriage.

We drank sweet ginger tea while talking about the village and what has been going on here before we bundled back into our jeep and drove back the 45 minute journey we had taken earlier in the day.
One of the neighbouring houses had this door – which was the image that has stayed in my mind.

First of all, the beauty of a heavily carved wooden door.  In a world of the instant and the plastic, to see something carved, something solid, something that has weathered time and tide is a joy. 

How many years have gone by since this handsome wooden carving was first fitted into its frame?  What history has it seen over the seasons in that home?  Which generations have come and gone while stooping down through its low opening?  What sorrows and joys have happened through that frame?  New brides welcomed, dead bodies taken out, youngsters starting school or old men coming home after days of toil?  If the door could tell stories, which ones would it choose to regale us with?

The striking blue paint that the householders chose for their wall colour (other buildings were painted even more brightly – I saw some bright yellow homes) is decorated with maroon flowers and ‘shub labh’ is written in the decorated masonry above the door itself.

“Good luck” – or “may fortune smile on you” would be a rough translation of this word.  A kind of blessing on those who come in and go out. 

How much ‘luck’ will this family have experienced in the course of their lives?  Where do we seek hope for the challenges of living every day.  For the big issues and small tasks that make up a life?
I would like to talk with the householders of that door, but on this short visit that was not possible.  

The door was locked.  The family who lived there was not at home.

And so I am left with this image of a beautiful door, which is locked.

I had earlier in the day met with the community activists and shared with them the story of a crippled man who was brought every day to a ‘beautiful gate’ of the temple in Jerusalem.  Two penniless disciples of our Lord had met him as he asked for alms.  But instead of giving him the expected coin or two that he was begging for, they gave him Jesus and transformed him from a helpless beggar to a walking and dancing worshipper who with joy joined them in the temple for prayer.

The single beautiful locked door could be a picture, I believe, for this whole area of Bundhelkhand.  So much potential.  So many locks.  The very purpose for which the door was made – to be a portal to welcome people in being halted by… a whole list of different issues and complications.

Our task at this point is to learn humbly and act wisely and seek God’s mercy and love to help touch lives.

Encouragingly, the Spirit has something to say about doors.

In the book of Revelation we read about how the Lord speaks to a church in the city of Laodicea (now part of Turkey) and urges them to come back to Him.  He says to them “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone years my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”   How true this is of all of our lives.  We have doors which we have bolted and shut from the inside.  Our loving Lord is knocking still and gently but firmly asking us to open up.  Would that we would do so – and would that many doors across this region would open up that way too.

But there is another message too.  This one is given to a group of Christ-followers who were gathering in the city of Philadelphia.  Here the Spirit tells them that ‘see I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut.’  Now our beautiful brown door, mounted in the bright blue wall seems pretty firmly shut.  But could we see it with eyes of faith?  Could our Lord hold the keys to opening up this door and many others like it?

Would that the Lord would open our eyes to see doors that are open and will not be shut!   Could this door be the first?

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know:
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”

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