Today I went for a walk. I needed some air. I needed some exercise. Apparently, I needed to encounter God.
I decided to walk to Pondy Bazaar. It’s a good distance from the hotel so it seemed to be a good target. I didn’t plan to shop. I bought some sunglasses and some hand kerchiefs (I was sweating profusely.) I meandered through the street shops for a while, stopping from time to time.
As I made my way up the street where Pondy Bazaar is – in the general direction of the hotel – I was approached by various vendors and beggars. The vendors are usually fun to talk to, but can be quite persistent.
I have received several reprimands for giving money to the beggars. “Don’t encourage our beggars,” one local once told me sternly after watching me give a note to beggar. I have learned to simply say “No” and move on. I’ve heard lectures about how some are simply working for others and the need is not real. It can be hard to ignore, though.
As I left the crowded area and continued up the street I came across a lady with two small children. Actually, the child found me first, followed by the lady carrying the smaller one. I said “I’m sorry” and continued walking on my way. The lady followed me continuing to show me the empty baby bottle and saying “No milk.” After we walked a ways together I told her, “I don’t have any milk.”
At that point she pointed to a nearby store and said “milk”. I decided this may be a good opportunity to see if the need was real. I said “Ok” and we entered the store. “Do you have some milk?” I asked the store clerk? He indicated that they did not. The store was a bakery with only cakes, cookies and other sweets. Of all places I would have expected to find milk in a store like this. “A cake?” the lady said pointing to one of the decorated cakes sitting on the counter. My skepticism kicked in again. “No, that would not be good,” I said.
We left and began walking down the street again. Soon we saw a hotel (which actually means restaurant here in India- strangely enough.) She motioned to the place and I shook my head. The cooking was being done out by the street and the tables where behind in the covered area.
Apparently the place specialized in one dish. “How much?” I asked. “Twenty-five rupees,” the clerk responded. I looked back at the lady as if asking if this food sounded good. Her eyes showed gratitude and hunger in one strange look. “Two,” I told the clerk, handing him fifty rupees.
The lady and her children were now sitting at the first table where I had spoken to the man. I smiled at her and walked away. She bowed her head and made a motion with her hands that clearly said, “Thank You.”
I didn’t stay to watch them eat. I walked away in deep contemplation. In some way I felt that I had somehow encountered God. Along the way, my skeptic mind conjured up scenarios where the lady may have canceled the order and pocketed the money. But to imagine scenarios where she is taking advantage of me only further highlights the problem with me: I apparently am not broken by the plight of others – others whom Jesus loves.
O Lord, forgive me for becoming calloused to the plight of the downtrodden. When I have been given so much – forgiven so much – how can I justify inaction?