“Whenever you enter a town and it’s people welcome you, eat what is set before you. Cure the sick and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.'” Luke 10:8-9
I can say with confidence now that if you come to India, you will feel like you are re-living many of the stories written in the Bible. In Calcutta in 2004, I felt like I was in Acts, walking along with John and Peter up to the Temple only to be stopped by a beggar. Just this past week, we feel like we have re-lived Luke 10 where Jesus sends out the 72. Good thing Jesus didn’t say, “Take no mosquito net on the journey,” because I would have disobeyed. Yet, that didn’t stop the mosquitos from rejoicing upon my arrival. Jesus was telling the disciples to live off the hospitality of those they came in contact with as they went out healing and preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. If the disciples walked through the slums of Mumbai and met Janya,* they would have certainly been in good hands.
After spending a few days in one of Mumbai’s slums, it would be all to easy to report on the difficulty of life for all who call this place home, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for a sob story because I want to write about Janya. Please don’t think I’m diminishing the low quality of life for people living in slums (which includes Janya) – their struggles are very real and should disturb you. When our hosts were looking for a place for us to stay in the community where they used to live, they called Janya. She found a place and cooked our food, but her hospitality went well beyond that.
Janya had us re-thinking the age-old question, “what is poverty?” Her story is similar to scores of slum-dwellers in India’s mega-cities. I’m not positive what brought her to Mumbai from her village in Southern India, but it has to be the same reason most relocate to the city against their will – their village unable to provide for its residents. Before moving to her current home, she lived in Dharavi – which you might recognize as the largest slum in Asia and the place where Slumdog was partially filmed (her uncle still lives there, whom we will visit next week). She, her husband and two sons have lived in their home, which is probably about 15 ft. by 15 ft, for about 9 years now. But they actually own the place, and have even built an upstairs room that they rent out. Janya no longer has to work her 14 hour job as her husband is able to provide for the family – though that provision takes 13 hours a day for 6 days a week to accomplish. And moving beyond a material definition of poverty, Janya might be the most joyful woman I’ve ever met, complete with the love of Christ in her life. So is Janya poor? I have to say yes… She is poor, but the self-centered rich man in the States who is spiritually empty is the one living in poverty.
Beyond making each meal for us, she offers to fill up our water tank every few hours (water only comes for a short time during the day). When we leave breakfast, she says, “You give me your clothes,” so she can wash them. She won’t even let us say “thank you” because “that’s for strangers.” So, basically she is doing everything for us that a hired maid would do, but she won’t accept any money (and she bought all our food!) because that would make her our worker, and she just wants to be our friend. During our first breakfast, she asked, “You want coffee?” We replied, “If you are having it, we will drink some.” She says, “It’s no problem. I already make.” “Ok then, we’ll have some.” Then she sends her youngest boy out the door to go buy a package of Nescafe.
Look at Janya below with Bella and wrap your mind around this one – we took that picture right after she grabbed a 500-rupee note (just over $10 dollars) and tried to give it to Bella so she could “buy something nice.” But what amazes me most is that Janya acted as if we were doing her a favor by coming to her home, eating her food, and letting her wash our clothes.
As Gia and I discuss our future, and whether we could move to an Indian slum, we know it will be incredibly difficult because we will miss our home and family so much. But now we have a different problem because we met Janya. When we return home, we will miss her terribly. After only 4 days, she already feels like family, and I’m so thankful for our time with her.
As we ate in Janya’s home, the neighbors little girl was frequently heard coughing – she was sick with a fever. We struggle a lot with the question, “What can we possibly bring to this community?” Jesus partially answers that question by telling the 72 to “cure the sick.” As we left, the little girl still coughing, we excitedly asked Janya if we could go pray for her – thinking that healing prayer might be the only thing we could possibly provide. Janya already knew the answer (which unfortunately was”no”) because she had already offered to pray for the little girl. She told us, “Just pray in your heart.” She is undoubtedly a light in her community – please pray her neighbors will have the eyes to see it.
*name changed for security.