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Why Not Today
Trafficking, Slavery, the Global Church ... and You
By Matthew Cork, Kenneth Kemp, Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2013 Matthew Cork and Kenneth Kemp
All rights reserved.
BEGUMPET INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT is no longer operational. For many years it served the seven million people of Hyderabad, the City of Pearls, from the center of the metropolis in the heart of India. Begumpet's runway was large enough to accommodate Air Force One when President George W. Bush visited the city in 2006. But they shut it down. Today a new modern airport buzzes around the clock in Hyderabad. A new India is emerging.
Several years ago, when I arrived at that old airport, I believed our team was on to something important. We were on a mission. I pulled together a band of eight knowledgeable, smart, good people. And here we were, halfway around the world, on final approach in the middle of the night to touch down at Begumpet International Airport in a city once known as Bhagyanagaram, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Before this trip, I had not even heard of Hyderabad.
I have traveled. I have seen hardship. But nothing prepared me for what I was about to see and hear and feel as the wheels thumped against the concrete and squealed on impact while the big jet engines roared, reversing their thrust and braking us to a stop on the runway of Begumpet International in Hyderabad, "The City of Pearls," Andhra Pradesh, India.
Prayer is part of my life. It is not a ritual. Not a routine. It is a lifeline. As the flight attendant in a distinctly Indian version of English told us all to remain seated, I have a talk with God, right there from my cramped passenger seat. I tell Him that I am open. I want Him to show me something of Himself. I ask Him to make me aware of the needs and hopes and aspirations of the people I will meet; that I will somehow see them as He does. That I will learn something. Something powerful.
I look over at my friend and colleague Jay Hoff. We grin and nod. "We're here" is the unspoken message. "Can you believe it?"
FROM CALIFORNIA TO ANDHRA PRADESH
As the doors open and the pressurized cabin draws in the air from outside at ground level, I get my first sensory experience of India. There's a heaviness about that Indian air; humidity blending with the smoke of burning embers, the hint of rich spices, and the scent of human bodies that live without much fresh water, moving day after day up and down the crowded streets of the sweltering city.
I'm a Californian, used to sunshine and breezes. The Los Angeles smog is diminished, they tell me, thanks to several decades of stringent pollution-control measures. So when I draw in that first lungful of India air, I know I have entered a new world—of smells, of pollution, of overcrowding. It signals a change in paradigm. Time for me to let go of everything I have brought with me; to shed prejudices and biases and this American superiority complex inbred by too much American-made television. Time has come for me to let it go as I walk onto the tarmac in the dark of night and transition physically, mentally, and spiritually from California to Andhra Pradesh.
When I enter into the dilapidated terminal, even after midnight, the lobby clamors with commerce. The rental car counters, the shops, the newsstands, all crowded into every nook and cranny of space. Before long, a gang of young children approach. Clunker television sets flicker, pulling in their weak signal with rabbit-ear antennas. Little boys and girls, some of them barely eight or nine years old, emerge noisily from the shadows selling trinkets and candies and chewing gum. If they are not selling, they are begging.
"Money money! Help me! Pleeeeeze! One dolla! Uncle! PLEEEEZE!"
Another holds up a green pack of Wrigley's spearmint. "Gum? One dolla!" Then he pulls out a chocolate bar. "Candy? One dolla."
It is clearly a familiar routine. All of them are skilled, eager, charming. They tap their lips with their fingertips signaling hunger. Then they touch their bellies. They repeat the motion.
"Money money! Pleeeeeze! Help me! One dolla. PLEEEEZE! Uncle. Uncle!"
"No," I snap. "Not today." I was not very convincing.
One of our hosts sees my dilemma. He steps up.
The airport lobby is filled with upscale business travelers, most of them Indian. They wear blue and gray and black suits and carry expensive leather briefcases, stacked atop a carry-on bag on rollers pulled by an extended handle. One slaps shut his cellphone and slips it into his vest pocket. He turns, looks at me and then at the children. He looks away in disgust. He seems to be embarrassed that a visitor to his country would be accosted this way.
Then our personal host moves into protective mode. "Go away!" he says firmly, and he waves his hand signaling that there will be no money. The children step back. But only momentarily. They turn briefly to the businessman. He is outnumbered. They gesture him with a snarl. He growls.
The chorus of youngsters turns back to our host. "Go away!" he declares. "No money." He repeats it three or four times.
The leader of the pack delivers some impertinent message to our host I cannot decipher. I am certain it is insulting. They turn to the man in the suit. They repeat the gesture. He throws his hands into the air and continues on his way, head wagging.
The children go back to their mission, chasing after someone else in the crowd. "Money money! Help me! Pleeeeeze!" tapping their mouths and stomachs.
Our orientation session had prepared us for this assault. I turn to our host.
"Dalits?" I ask with slight hesitation.
"Dalits," he replies.
We were told beforehand to ignore the children. It was a simple survival technique. I did my background reading. I knew about child trafficking and the heartbreaking fact that these children were not simply street-smart entrepreneurs. They are the sole property of child abusers who release the kids on the streets where they meet up with foreigners who have money in their pockets. Whatever they might extract from pedestrians on their way to do business goes directly into the coffers of the ringleader. The lost children are thus cash machines for their "guardians."
For my own sanity's sake, I force myself to avoid eye contact. I just keep walking ahead. I am a father myself. By personal experience, I am a firsthand witness to the miracle of childbirth. The woman I love and respect delivered those three children of ours. I watched it happen, and in that moment of awe, something clicked. The overwhelming wonder of it all awakened me to the sanctity of life and as a father, instilled in me the instinct to protect even if it cost me my own life. The prospect that any harm might come to any one of our children causes me to jump involuntarily into action. I see all children differently now that I have my own.
So, surrounded by these little people, grabbing at my arm, pleading, I wonder. Where do they sleep? What do they eat? What are they learning? Who patches up their skinned knees and elbows? Who holds them when they cry? What kinds of cruelty are they exposed to? These questions close in on me as I try to ignore their calls for help, and keep from meeting their wide, eager eyes with mine. All at once I see their captivating smiles ... their laughter, tinged with a streak of street-mean ... their childish warmth and big-city hardness, all at once. And so many of them fiercely competing for my "dolla."
I keep on walking. A sadness settles in. I see my team moving alongside me, their luggage in tow. I know they are thinking the very same thing. But we don't speak about it until later.
After the chaos of the airport and the city streets, traffic jams even in the dead of night, the hotel is a welcome sight. But after my encounter with the street kids and the sights of the crowded city, I feel uneasy with the opulence at the entrance. Marble floors and walls. Extravagant chandeliers. Fresh-cut flowers bursting out of colorful vases on glass-topped tables; leather seating in conversational groupings in a large space with a high ceiling. Well-dressed staff welcome me with a warm smile, offering assistance and directing me to my comfortable room. After a twenty-hour flight and a journey across multiple time zones, it all comes together in a perfect storm of sensory impact. I jump into the shower and then drop into bed between clean, crisp sheets. The pillow is soft. My whole body, relaxed. And then I hear it. Those little voices. "Money money! One dolla! ... Help me! ... Pleeeeze! Just one dolla."
They tap their lips, then their stomachs. Their eyes plead.
I fall asleep.
THE MAN WITH THE BROKEN HEART
The next day, we make our way to the mission headquarters. Along the way, I see scores of aging women hunched over brooms, sweeping sidewalks and gutters and entryways. The deep lines on their expressionless faces betray the years of empty, menial labor. I point to a group of them and ask our driver, "Dalits?" He nods. "Dalits."
I can't take my eyes away from them. Meanwhile, the words of the children continue to echo in my head.
During our ride to the mission, city gives way to the countryside, but the poverty doesn't end. We eventually reach our destination and amid the silence in our group's vehicle, I know for sure the fact that every mind is racing, every heart is being torn in two.
Getting out of the car and climbing the stairs, we begin our "official" visit. There is a man waiting for us who will turn my life inside out.
Dr. Joseph D'souza is an imposing presence. Under a shock of jet-black hair, carefully cut and combed, impeccably groomed, he strikes an air of confidence and purpose. His handshake is warm as he locks eyes with mine.
"So you are Pastor Matthew Cork," he says in a strong, cheerful voice. I introduce my team. He knows several of them from previous visits.
Seated in a simple but nicely appointed conference room, there are some twenty-five of us around the table, eight from our California group. Dr. D'souza focuses on the task at hand. I pull my notebook and pen out of my travel case. I know I am in the presence of an extraordinary man. Several years before, our church had committed to supporting his work. I was here to learn and observe more.
For thirty-five years, he served the people of India as a Christian missionary. Just a few years ago, he went through a transformation that had profound implications.
Dr. D'souza's Christianity was considered by most to be a Western intrusion, a distinctly foreign brand of religion held in disdain by the universities, ignored by politicians, and viewed as a threat by established Indian religious leaders. The work to which he had dedicated his life had made only painfully slow progress. From my preparation for this meeting, I understood that his heart had broken as he contemplated the plight of the "untouchables," the millions of Indians branded as "Dalits," robbed of human dignity and condemned to a lifetime of abject poverty with no hope of ever breaking out of this cruel bondage. The longer he lived among these people, the more he understood the nature of an endemic and ancient injustice and the deeper his commitment grew to becoming an agent of change.
In that conference room on the first day of our visit, I learned that part of his radical transformation and commitment to the Dalit people came even in his family life. He married a Dalit: Mariam. Later, I heard the full story. Her beauty. Her smile. Her quick wit. Her elegant features. The sound of her voice energized him in ways he'd never known. Society stood against them, though. The prohibitions against such a marriage, drilled into his mind and heart from childhood ... well, they were powerful.
However, the moment he realized he was in love with her, for the first time in his life, he simultaneously felt a smoldering, nearly uncontainable rage over caste-based and racial injustice. He couldn't look back; his commitment to this woman and to her people was forever secured. He rebelled against the traditional cultural mandates and, as a result, paid a heavy personal price. His parents. The extended family. Some of his friends. His siblings. His professors. They all shook their heads in disapproval. "Shame," they said.
He didn't care. What a prize. He never looked back. On their wedding day, a family was born—and also, a destiny.
That day, we get around to the specifics of this destiny—for the D'souzas, and, I would come to find out, for me. In 2001, Joseph recalls, everything changed, transforming his work from a quiet and steady operation of a few hundred dedicated Indian Christians into a national movement with a high profile encompassing the lives of thousands and thrusting him onto the global scene. A few years later we had joined with financial support. But we did not know all his vision, nor all of Andhra Pradesh's (and indeed India's) need for change.
Dr. D'souza makes a major statement of fact that takes me by surprise: "The work we are contemplating has historic social consequence. The initiatives will have national implications for millions of people in the emerging generation. A coalition of leaders from many religious and political backgrounds have come together to urge the eradication of a system that has crushed the spirit of an entire people for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. This is a critical moment in the history of all of India."
Then he turns to me in a serious and deliberate tone. "Pastor Cork, your church is the largest congregation that has come to support us. You are from the most capable nation on the face of the earth. A full 20 percent of our available resources for our work among the Dalit people come from your people in California. You have stood alongside to help us change the course of history. We could not do this without you. We are deeply grateful. Thank you."
His piercing look rivets me to my seat. The passion in his eyes is compelling. Palpable. The others in the room feel it, too. Silence.
To help us more greatly understand the movement and all its components, he gives us a primer on the Hindu caste system. When Mahatma Gandhi galvanized the nation over sixty years ago and won national independence from the British, the caste system's practice of "untouchability" was declared illegal. But the new laws were inadequate and never enforced. The permanent branding of the Dalits and other "low-caste" people remained firmly in place. Separate drinking fountains. Separate bathroom facilities. Denied access to restaurants and hotels.
Dalits are expected to perform the most base of all social functions: caring for human waste, animal waste, discarded trash. Dalits are not considered human. They get no education. They are used and abused in the shadowy back alleys of the cities and the deep recessed forests of the rural villages, and have no recourse or avenues toward justice. There is no protection from law enforcement, no access to the courts, no political voice, no hope of upward mobility.
I sit speechless. I learn that the caste system and its practices are monstrously multifaceted—socially, politically, spiritually. Dr. D'souza goes on to relate how Christians in India have refused to stand idly by and have joined forces with others from differing backgrounds to address the injustice. Together they demand that everyone in all parts of society, from government officials to business professionals to academic leaders, join hands to eradicate discrimination in all its destructive forms. India must recognize this enormous human resource—the Dalit people—and open wide the doors of opportunity. "I have committed my life to this cause," he declares.
As D'souza continues, however, his tone shifts from staunch determination to resolute sadness. "We've lost this generation." There is an audible sigh as he looks to the floor. He pauses, then looks up. "But there is hope for the next generation."
I understand what he means. For Dalits over the age of twenty, the system has created devastating consequences: Dignity? Violated. Caste-based identity? Locked in. Basic education? Beyond reach. Subsistence trumps freedom. Tragically, adults in the Dalit community are conditioned to accept these atrocities as normal.
But a new generation is coming. It is the children, D'souza says, the children—they are the future. These young minds can absorb new possibilities. They are hungry for knowledge. They respond to the message that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and that there is limitless potential beyond the squalid conditions of the neighborhood. As D'souza revs up the argument, I can hear the hope in his voice. He has seen this transformation firsthand. It is this remarkable transformation of individual lives that drives his aspirations for the future.
AN AUDACIOUS GOAL
"We have an audacious goal. I never imagined I would think in these terms." He pauses for a moment. "Over the next ten years, we intend to build one thousand schools for Dalit children." His emphasis is unmistakable.
He continues, filling in the detail. Then he makes his case. Clearly the vision possesses him and goes beyond logical human reasoning. Yet it has the power to lift up an entire population.
Excerpted from Why Not Today by Matthew Cork, Kenneth Kemp, Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse. Copyright © 2013 Matthew Cork and Kenneth Kemp. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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