I grabbed my backpack and made sure I had everything I was going to need. I was going to be out for awhile, so I made sure I had a granola bar just in case. I felt like I should bring a water bottle as well, which I thought was odd since I was planning to go to a coffee shop after walking the river bank. I grabbed the water bottle anyway, threw it into the side pocket of my backpack, and headed out the door.
Varanasi is known as Shiva’s city. Shiva is the Hindu god of destruction and worshiping him is done out of fear, not devotion. The river Ganges is, according to some Hindu legends, actually a goddess named Ganga. She had wanted to destroy all of mankind, but, because of the prayers of a particular man, Shiva intervened and caught the water intended to kill on his head, so the water actually flows from Shiva’s hair. Pilgrims come from all over the world to this river to bathe in its waters because it is believed doing so will cleanse the body and mind of sin and will facilitate Moksha, the liberation of the cycle of life and death one goes through before going to heaven. People also place their loved ones’ ashes in the river to make them more divine and to help facilitate moksha for their deceased loved one. Varanasi is one of the river banks considered most sacred in Hinduism.
This was the river bank I was headed to. Our hostel is very near, so I planned to get to the river bank and then walk along it and pray. When we arrived in Varanasi, I felt the Father had given me one agenda: to be kind to all I met. I had recently heard a sermon by Todd White that had deeply convicted me. “People are not in your way, ever,” he’d said. “People are always worth your time because they are made in God’s image.” I’d been in tears as I repented for treating people as obstacles in the way of my destination and asked Holy Spirit to help me choose kindness. In a city held captive by fear, kindness and love were going to be the key to people’s hearts.
It didn’t take long for the opportunity to be kind to present itself. Less than 50 meters from our hostel I came across a young boy, maybe 5 or 6, struggling to carry a bucket of water down the road. I walked over to him, being sure to watch for scooters and motorcycles racing by.
“Can I help you?” I gently asked him as I gestured toward the bucket currently sitting on the ground. He looked up at me with confusion on his face. I asked again, “Can I help you carry this?” I reached down to pick up the bucket when, seemingly out of nowhere, a man started shouting at me from across the road. I looked up at the man and smiled. “It’s fine,” I said. He looked at me like he was upset, and gestured at the boy as if to say “the boy can carry it.” Another man came up behind me and started talking to the boy in Hindi. I told the man I simply wanted to help the boy carry the bucket as I gestured toward the boy and then the bucket. At this point, a small crowd of men had gathered around me and the boy. I couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s fine,” I told them all. “Really. I just want to help him with the bucket.” The man who had walked up and talked to the boy reached down and picked up the bucket. He handed it to me, then grabbed the boy’s hand and placed it in the handle. The boy was going to carry this bucket, even if it meant I carried it and he was just holding onto it. “Thank you,” I told the man and the boy and I began walking down the road, holding the bucket between us. The boy even grunted as if he was working hard to carry it, though I was actually holding all the weight. I chuckled as he pretended to struggle toward home. We reached his destination, a literal hole in the wall, one room shanty. A little girl sat in the doorway. She looked up at me with her matted hair and dirty, beautiful face and waved. “Namaste,” I said as I placed the bucket on the ground by the door. I waved goodbye to the boy who smiled and waved at me and went about doing whatever it was he had gotten the water for.
I reached the river shore a few minutes later. It was the final day of a three day festival in celebration of Shiva, so the banks were filled with people. “Give me your eyes to see these people, God,” I pleaded. I began to pray in the Spirit as I walked and soon my heart was breaking. People were bathing and cleaning their laundry in the river. Women and children were lining the stairs to the crematoriums asking for money and food. I walked carefully, not wanting to get any of the water on me (it’s not particularly clean water and I do not want to get sick). As I walked, I smiled at whoever I saw. Suddenly, a boy came up from behind me and began walking with me. “Paanee?” he asked.
“What?” I asked. He’d caught me off guard.
“Paanee?” he asked again.
“Sorry hon. No Hindi, only English,” I replied. He smiled at me and giggled.
“Water,” he said. “Paanee is water.”
“Oh! I see. Paanee is water in Hindi?”
“Ok,” I said and reached for the water bottle in the side pocket of my backpack. “Here you go sweetie.” He took the bottle from my hand and walked beside me as he took the lid off and poured the water into his mouth, careful not to touch it to his lips. He tried to hand the bottle back to me. “No, you keep that,” I told him. His face lit up as he ran off in the opposite direction. I hadn’t even wanted to pack that bottle when I was preparing for my day and I thought about how much God loved this young boy, to have me pack it just to give to him. “You really do care about the little things don’t You,” I told Holy Spirit with a smile.
I continued my walk along the bank for a little while longer, then decided to head to the coffee shop where I would hunker down and get some emails written and maybe get some food. The street was packed with people all headed to the Ganges for the festival and I had to push my way through the crowd while avoiding tuk tuks, scooters, motorcycles, and cows. My mind was so fixed on my destination, I was startled a bit when a man began talking to me. I looked to my right and saw an elderly man in a white robe with an orange line on his hairline and a red dot between his eyebrows walking beside me. A guru, or holy man. “So many people,” he said as he looked at me with a smile in his eyes.
“Yes,” I chuckled. “For the festival I assume?”
“Yes, the festival,” he mumbled. He was missing a few teethe, so I struggled to understand him. He began talking to me about temples and gods and celebrations and I attempted to decipher what he was saying. I just kept smiling and nodding as we pushed our way down the street.
“Where you go?” he asked.
“Open Hand Cafe,” I said. “It’s right around the corner.”
“I know it,” he replied. He continued to speak what seemed to be gibberish and eventually we made it to the cafe. I turned and asked if he was coming in as well. “No, I am going for tea. This place too expensive,” he answered. I smiled and nodded. “What are you doing here?” he asked me.
“At the cafe? Or in Varanasi?” I asked.
“In Varanasi,” he answered.
“Oh, well, I’m a follower of Jesus. You know Him? Jesus Christ?” I made the symbol of a cross with my fingers.
“Oh, yes,” he nodded.
“Well I love Him, and He sent me here.”
“Awe,” he said. I smiled at him and he at me.
“I must go, but I will see you again,” he said.
“I believe you,” I replied. “Good day and God bless you.”
He waved goodbye and I walked into the cafe. I ordered my lunch, sat down, and began the list of items to do for the day. Spend some time with Jesus, get in the Word for a bit, write a few emails, do a bit of soul care. Soon, I was tired, so I walked back to the hostel, took a nap, and then headed to the river once more that evening to see the festivities. Luke and I walked the river bank, watching as people celebrated with the lighting of candles and music. We found a spot to sit and we started talking.
As we talked, I began to share my heart with him about being kind to everyone I met, not ignoring anyone but choosing to actually talk to people. As we talked about it, a man with tea walked up and asked if I wanted some. “Ten rupees only,” he said.
“Yes please!” I responded. He set down a kettle that was on top of a flame and grabbed a couple cups out of the bucket in his other hand.
“Two?” He asked.
“No, just one,” I replied.
“Two,” I heard coming from in front of me. I looked up and a young man was standing there with a grin on his face.
“You want one?” I asked. He nodded, still grinning at me and my heart melted. “Ok, two,” I told the tea man. He poured the cups and I handed one to the man. He smiled as he took the cup. His friend came over and tried to strike up a conversation with Luke and I. He didn’t speak English, but he knew how to take selfies. Soon, Luke and I were taking selfies with all sorts of people and I laughed as a line even formed. Eventually, we had to be going, so we blessed our new friends and walked home.
I giggled the whole way back, considering the day I’d just had. I hadn’t done anything anyone would consider significant, but I knew I’d been obedient to Holy Spirit’s leading. He’d asked me to love the least of these, to be kind to all I met. In a place that is so intensely dark, steeped in fear and judgement, it is easy to be a light. Every small action done in love carries great weight in the lives of the people we meet and has the capacity to change their lives. In the end, I agree with Mother Theresa: “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” It’s really that simple.
How can you do ordinary things with extraordinary love where you are today? People are just waiting for someone to be kind to them, to show them they are significant. It opens their hearts and brings joy, not only to you, but to your world.