Be aware that this particular blog post is a bit graphic in nature, regarding the health of the men, women and children on streets of India. It’s not pretty. Also, names of people and organizations have been changed for the protection of those I have been partnering with during my time in India.
The stench was the first thing that hit me. We were told that we would be going to an “elderly home”, but as we drove through the rusty gates of the Healing Home, it became clear that our idea of an “elderly home” was not what we would be experiencing. Across the drive way, there was a pavilion with dozens of men of all ages just laying there. We weren’t given time to take a closer look before a man named John guided us into a small office just inside the gate. As we sat down on the two couches surrounding his desk, John asked if we had any questions for him. We had a million questions because we weren’t quite sure where we were, but we said “no” anyway. He handed us a pamphlet entitled “New Life to the Living Dead” with inspiring and unsettling “before and after” images of men, women and children; the “before” showing what they looked like when they were living on the streets of India, and the “after” showing their progress after they had been in the Healing Home for a few months or so. As we read, John turned his computer screen around to face us and played a video about their organization. The voiceover in the video spoke about how they rescue men, women and children off the streets and bring them to the Healing Home for treatment. It showed gruesome images of the wounds and illnesses of the people they found. I saw maggots crawling out of a woman’s eyes and neck wound, a man with a rotting hole in his head, and many more images I would like to never see again. At a certain point, I had to turn away because it was so vile. Once the video was over, the man told us that this was the old version, and that it wasn't quite accurate anymore. Now they have much more inmates and about 30-40 people die at this home every month… That’s multiple per day. He explained that the home wasn’t government funded, but completely funded by donations. It became clear to me and the rest of my team that this wasn’t primarily a house of healing, this was a home where people were able to go to die in peace, off of the dangerous streets of India.
We had expected to be at an elderly home, and since we are a team of all girls, we had expected to be speaking to women, especially elderly widows. Because of this, I had even prepared a short word on Ruth. I had been reading the book of Ruth and also studying a book called The Gospel of Ruth, so I was really excited to be speaking to women who would actually know how Naomi and Ruth were feeling. Once again, the Lord showed me how little I knew, because when we went into the Healing Home, it was all men. We were in the men’s ward. “Just go out and talk to them,” John said. I was baffled. How would I, an educated, well-off white woman be able to speak to poor, homeless Indian men?
As we walked into the pavilion, the strong smell of urine, feces and death hit me like a brick wall. A man in a wheelchair on my left said “Hi!” and smiled at us. We stopped and talked to him, still stunned by the stench we were walking through. He told us his name was Michael. “Like Michael Jackson!” said another man in a wheelchair behind him. We laughed, and one of my teammates asked what he was writing in the notebook that was on his lap. “It says Jesus my love. Jesus my life. Jesus my guide.” On the page, I saw that it was written over and over again, for what looked like many pages. As we walked further inside, off to the right I saw a figure wrapped in blankets and string lying on a cot. “Oh, someone died today”, said the nurse who was guiding us through the hundreds of men. She said these words so casually that I almost didn’t notice it. It was only 10:45 in the morning, so it probably wasn’t the only death that day.
In the office, John had mentioned that they don’t like the men to have idle hands, so they give them small jobs around the home to keep them busy throughout the day, but it looked like the man writing in his notebook was the busiest man in the joint. When we walked out the other side of the pavilion, there were tons of men just laying in the sun. It was clear that the majority were physically and mentally disabled and very very ill. We saw rotting feet and eyes, and most of them barely looked alive, but one man in particular jumped up and shook each of our hands with a big smile on his face. Another man, with pants that seemed to be six sizes too big with a rope for a belt, came up to us with his hands out, asking for money it seemed. We made our rounds throughout outdoor area where most of the men barely looked up at us. All of them spent their days laying on the dirt ground in the sun. Oddly enough, they had caged ducks and ostriches in the area, presumably for food although meat is pretty rare and moderately expensive in India. We also went to see the wards where the men sleep. I was a large room that possibly smelled worse than it did outside and in the pavilion, with a few beds lining the walls. The nurse told us that the beds were for the men that weren’t feeling well that day, although it seemed to me that none of these men had felt “well” in years, if not their entire lives. As we made it back to the front of the pavilion, I wondered why am I here? What could we possibly do to help these clearly dying men?
My team and I had prepared some songs as well, since we were told that the elderly really enjoy upbeat songs that they could clap to, so we decided to just go with the flow. The nurses gathered some of the men, saying that if anyone wanted to listed to some songs and a story, they could gather around us. I was shocked at how many of the men were able to slowly get up and make their way to us. We sang a couple of upbeat songs with hand motions and clapping… less than ten yards away from a dead body that many of these men knew. Regardless, the men actually enjoyed the songs and really got into it, clapping along with us. The nurse and our interpreter, Sheila, started singing a song in Telugu, and then another song in Kanata. The men knew both of these. As they were singing, I was reminded that these men were, and are, considered “Untouchables” with sicknesses and deformities and with nothing to their names, and that the Lord loves these men dearly, and He loves hearing them worship Him. As they sang, I looked at some of their faces and pictured them in Heaven, perfect, without illness, deformity, wounds, or mental or physical challenges, running to the Father with smiles on their faces. This image was what the Lord knew I needed to see in this moment.
After they were finished singing, it was time for me to speak. I had prepared my Ruth talk specifically for the elderly home, since there would be elderly women who would most likely be widows, but since there were no widows to be found, I was a little worried. I spoke sentence by sentence as Sheila translated for me, and as I spoke, I slowly began to understand what these men needed to hear from God’s word. Yes, the book of Ruth is about two widows, but in the context of this time in the Judges era (or really any biblical era as well as most third world countries today) being a widow was essentially being an “Untouchable”. Naomi and Ruth’s lives were in the hands of the men who had died. These women being alone was dangerous for multiple reasons. They would be targeted for assaults, they would be homeless, and they would have no real way to make a living (just as it is for the women here in India). They were seen as lowly people with no worth or hope, and since Ruth was a foreigner from Moab, she was even lower than Naomi in Bethlehem. But, the Lord used these widows, and because of her husbands death, Ruth is in the lineage of Jesus!
In my mind, I saw this as a display of the Lord’s unfailing love for women, a love that so many have doubted. But in reality, this is a display of the Lord’s love for all of His children, because we’re all broken people who have felt bitter and hopeless, just as Naomi felt. The men that I was speaking to are not excluded from this love, but how many times were they told otherwise? How many times were they made to feel less-than, dirty, vile, unworthy and untouchable? More times than I could ever count. Even if they were in the U.S., where the caste system doesn’t define our worth, they would still be looked down upon by man, but not by their Heavenly Father. He loves and cherishes them. Even as he was living in a dirty, stinky, seemingly hopeless place with seemingly hopeless people, that man still believes that Jesus is his love, life and guide. I have to ask myself if I believe that, even as I write this in the comfortable home I’m living in in India. Because of those men, and because of the vision of them that the Lord gave me, I truly do believe that. In fact, in the next couple of weeks, I would see visions of other people in Heaven with their heavenly father. I saw Benjamin, a blind man we met about a week later, running to Jesus, eyes wide open. I saw little Ana, a young girl who can’t speak, singing to the Lord her God in a loud and beautiful voice.
Praise the Lord, who has given us a temporary life here on Earth. Praise Him who loves us and sees us as perfect beings despite what other humans see. Praise Him who gives hope to the hopeless, who fathers the fatherless, who gives a voice to the voiceless, and who gives vision to the blind.
With love from Bangalore, India