I noticed quickly that the Indian people in general were definitely not huggers. Even their handshakes left much to be desired. A simple bringing together of the hands in a prayer pose just under the chin and a slight bow is the most common greeting. Physical contact is not necessary. They almost seem to avoid it and simply don’t respond well when a hand is extended for shaking or arms are extended for hugging. Some have learned the American way but they are the exception. There was one other very unexpected exception. I am still processing what it meant and it’s spiritual implications.
Our final evening in India we made our way out of town about 50 kilometers with our new friend Nagaraj at the wheel dutifully waging war with the traffic. Each trip was a new battle that we would never have survived without the driving skill of Nagaraj, Pondi and Raja. To ride in the car was in a word – terrifying. Nothing else describes it properly. There is not a single defensive driver in the entire country. Honestly, to drive defensively is to invite disaster upon yourself and your passengers. We stopped by one small church building on the way and the pastor was totally shocked to see Brother Paul and a trio of white Americans show up at his house and church building. He ran outside pulling on his shirt over his T shirt. His wife and two lovely children joined us in the church building for a quick sit down and prayer. Brother Paul then stood up and said his famous, ‘Let’s go.’ and we left. Just a simple visit brings encouragement in a way I cannot understand. The power of Christian community is felt even when it consists of only seven.
From there we traveled through the town of Gummudipoondi. We all had a brief chuckle at the town name. The town square was filled with people and merchandise of all varieties. I am always amazed at the wide array of products offered and the immense spreads of vegetables available for purchase. Of course, the usual fare of wandering livestock made their way around town also. We continued through town down a typical bumpy country road to a small village just outside of Gummudipoondi. The suburbs if you will. As usual, we were met at the van by an escort of believers and after a short walk in the dark past small, primitive huts, one sporting a television, we arrived at a thatched roof brick building packed with joyous, encouraging Christians.
We made our way to the very front of the church building and were seated in the only available chairs – plastic outdoor patio chairs. They decorated us with shawls and large, glittering gold plastic necklaces. The beautiful shawls we received were added to our ever growing stack; however, it was our first experience receiving the necklaces. We were quite surprised. I wore mine through the entire message. The honor shown to us by every group of Indian Christians we met was so very special. We were treated like royalty everywhere we went.
The congregants were seated in the common seating arrangement with women to our right and men to our left. We sang and spoke and then stood to leave. Many asked us to pray for them and we gladly obliged. Some shook our hands and others bowed in respect. As I was about to exit the thatch roofed building, a man caught my eye. He was the average, thin, older Indian man with no particular look on his face at all. He walked up to me and, without hesitating for one second, wrapped his arms around me in a full body Christian hug. He just held me as I held him in an extended hug. He held tight and I could sense that he did not want to let go. Nor did I.
It was a surprise blessing and still defies explanation. We met no one else who greeted us in a similar manner and I still do not understand the implications. None of those we knew or traveled with ever greeted any of us in such a manner. Yet, I still don’t even know this man’s name nor would I recognize him if I saw him today. It was mysteriously spiritual. I do know that in an instant the love and blessing of Father God was made known to me through a man from another world who didn’t even speak my language. Those little glimpses into the heart of God are quite powerful in our walk.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget Gummudipoondi.