In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
‘This song was written by one of ours, Sadhu Sundar Singh! A role model etched in each of our hearts,’ they yell at me.
The meeting of the 1000
On the stage, I am standing in front of more than 2,000 pastors’ eyes (2 per person!), inquiring and curious to see what the little Swiss guy from the mountains is going to be able to say to them. The audience is composed mainly of young people; amongst them some are from Orissa and still smell of smoke…
I share with them my encounter with Jesus, this great Artist who makes wonders out of nothing, as well as the story of my pathetic little tears, shed for them… While I am speaking, a piece of music resonates (and reasons) in my head. An old-fashioned chorus from the past, which I thought I had left behind in the hall of the youth group that I used to go to 10 years before.
(shoot! who on earth has turned on this transistor in my head?!). I decide to expel it through my mouth and sing:
‘I have decided to follow Jesus. Though I may wonder, I still will follow. The world* (* its deceptive pleasures) behind me, the cross before me. Though none go with me, I still will follow. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.’
EVERYONE knows it and, with fervour, they repeat it again and again in their language. The proof that a spark can set alight a whole crowd. I am moved because I know that for them it is more than a chorus, because they count the full cost of it.
‘This song was written by one of ours, Sadhu Sundar Singh! A role model etched in each of our hearts,’ they yell at me. When I come down from the stage, they hug me in their arms and they themselves weep, without holding back. The Lord visited us that day…
The joy of being one of them
There is a table of honour for the few special invited guests that we are (a few cream-coloured dots in a coffee-coloured crowd), but, at the risk of offending their ancestral customs, we prefer to eat with them. This perturbs more than one of them, as, for Hindus, the white man belongs to the higher caste (what a joke!). Let’s smash that myth to pieces, even if eating the same as they do is not without danger for the wimps that we are (as for me, I have no vaccinations, just vitamin C).
The Indians have a good laugh at my attempts to speak Hindi. I can feel already that I am going to miss them. They are a beautiful people. Here, no one thinks it strange if a stranger speaks to them spontaneously. The fellas hold hands together quite naturally (er, no, it’s not even ambiguous).
We are in the middle of town, but two paces away from me a sacred cow is lying nonchalantly across the road. OK, I have already crossed paths with a majestic parrot, a playful monkey and even a sow (Mrs wild boar) with huge teats, gambolling, carefree, in the street… Just routine, you know!
At any rate, my thoughts have done a runner; they don’t have time to deal with the bugs in the matrix, as, for quite some time now, they have been absorbed elsewhere resolving a far more important problem. Seeing my inability to help them, they have left me there, on the terrace of a joint which has an air of post-war ruins.
The ‘table’ where I am sitting is ludicrously rickety, but in tune with all these delightful paradoxes surrounding me. The warmth of the mild air caresses my face and I drink the best chai tea of my whole life.
‘Lord, how can I reach these people, introduce them to you? Comic-book readers are not legion… and amongst the poorest, who is able even to read?’
(Hey…? My thoughts have come back, it seems.)
While my gaze roams all around me, it is suddenly intrigued by a poster hanging on the wall. It is the portrayal by an artist of one of the numerous local gods. This kind of picture is everywhere, in the taxis, in the shops, on every free street corner…
In one fell swoop, wham! Enlightenment! I’ve got it! Posters! We need to draw posters! That is the language that everyone here understands. It’s also a challenge perfectly suited to me which I am capable of giving to this people…
Save as many of them as you can
Before leaving, I am invited to a family belonging to the Christian community. In spite of their poverty, the couple have adopted several young orphans, thus saving them from being forced to beg on the streets, as well as from the worst forms of abuse that a child can know. They introduce me to a little lad crazy about drawing: I bend down towards him, give him one of my comic books that I am carting around with me in my luggage. This book represents a fortune for him and, even if I had succeeded in giving it to an Indian editor, he would never have appreciated it as much as this little lad with sparkling eyes. I also give him my pencil and with a tremble in my voice tell him:
‘Draw for the Lord and your people, my boy! Art isn’t just a game or a hobby but it’s very important! Show Jesus’s way to your people and save as many of them as you can!!!