WOW - time is flying! I cannot believe that I am approaching the two-month mark here in Kolkata. I realized that I have not really kept everyone up to date on what I have been doing. I still work with children who have thalassemia and leukemia - they are still the highlight of my day. As of late I have been working with children who have received corrective surgeries for cleft palate and cleft lip. Also, I have been spending time at a school for blind children located on the edge of Kolkata. My work for the hospital has involved a lot of working with people and administration - it often feels like paperwork with a heart coupled with a lot of one-on-one relational ministry!
The monsoon season is starting to come to a close...this is both good and bad. I must admit that I enjoy not wondering if I might have to swim back when I go out - however, I do not enjoy the increase in temperature that has arrived. I forgot how warm the sun can be! Health wise I am doing well - actually this past week has been the very first time since coming to India that I have felt "ill" shall we say... I am on the mend now and am ever so thankful for that!
Life here in the city really is exciting. Kolkata has a quality to it - a personality - all it's own. I enjoy going out with friends in the evening and walking down the bustling streets while music (because there is always music playing somewhere) drifts over the sound of car horns and vendors. Kolkata is affectionately called "the city of joy" and the sense of community, even amongst strangers, is so evident as I stroll along - usually sipping tea from a clay cup which you can purchase almost every ten feet.
A new favourite spot of mine is the roof of the hospital. From my perch atop the water tanks I can see the city sprawling in every direction - as far as the haze will let me see. By 6:00pm the sun is setting and I can hear the call to prayer begin to echo through the city corridors from the numerous mosques. It is comparable to a poorly timed choir with the members all starting at different times, but ultimately building into one giant crescendo.
Living in a hospital has also been quite the expereince. I sometimes forget that my temporary home is a full-fledged medical facility - and then I get a harsh reminder when I see a patient on a stretcher or someone staring out a window while crying into a cell phone outside of the ICU. The floor where I live is still under construction and so I am surrounded by a symphony of tools from just before 7:00am until any given time at night (or early morning). I refer to it as my penthouse apartment!
I have developed some interesting friendships while here. I would like to share a little bit about a young man, about my age, who we will name "Fred" (and do not think that Fred is not a name used here in India...the Anglo-Indian culture is quite strong and on Sunday night I listened to an Indian man, named Hendricks, play the blues - bet that shatters a few stereotypes!). Fred was abandoned as a little boy and grew up in the Assemblies of God boys home. Required to leave the home when he finished high-school, Fred has spent the last three years as a nomad sleeping in cars, on the streets and staying with friends.
Through Fred I have a glimpse into a whole other world. He has been involved with, or witnessed, so much - including drugs, alcohol abuse, gang violence, robbery, stabbings, executions and even bombings. When he tells me about his life, I cannot even begin to understand what he has gone through. Fred came to accept God during his time at the boys home and is a remarkable example of faith. Though he still has no place to call home, I have yet to hear Fred complain.
Fred is very involved in the church and so he has seen many well-meaning Christians come and go through Kolkata. He told me, very honestly, that many people have come and "spoke pretty words" and then left. According to Fred, "their love has no action". Though Fred was wearing the same clothes he had on yesterday, had not eaten in almost twenty-four hours, and was not sure of where he would sleep that night, he began to explain to me that God had never failed him, even when people had. So even when his circumstances may seem bleak, he knows that God is looking out for him.
Since my arrival here in Kolkata I have been asked countless times for money or assistance, often by people who seem to be doing alright. Not only has Fred never asked me for a thing, besides prayer, but in fact he has even refused my offers to take him out to dinner: "oh brother Matthew, don't you worry, God takes care of me".
I am struck by two things: firstly, Fred raises a good point. True love, Godly love, requires action and often sacrifice. After all, Jesus was MOVED with compassion - He acted on what He saw. As Christian's we should be the last to speak and the first to act. Secondly, I have heard it said that there is no one more thankful to sit and eat, than the one who can remember what it is like to starve. Though Fred has so little in this world, he has so much more in God. He has proven to me that even when we do not have all of the answers, it does not mean we question God. God promised that His grace is sufficient to sustain. God never promises us an easy journey, but that He will never make us walk it alone. Fred has reminded me that each moment of our journey, no matter how rough, is wonderful...why? Because God is walking with us.