A Journey in Friendship

It was the first time I had ever been bathed in flowers. Yellow and orange petals were tossed all over the seventeen of us as we arrived for the first time on the church grounds in the village of Nagulavancha in the state of Telangana, India. The children seemed to love hurling floral handfuls at us, making a game of seeing how many petals they could get to land on their chosen targets. I remember receiving a rice shower back when Jill and I got married. And I have been showered with bubbles at many a wedding and anniversary celebration since then. But that moment in Nagulavancha was my first official shower of flowers.

But standing with petals in my hair and falling down my shirt, I had misgivings too. Our group of eleven High School students, five adults, and one four-year-old (Charlotte Berns) had come to celebrate the congregation and these girls – not to be celebrated. Since the most prominent plant-throwing pageant in my mind was Palm Sunday, I wanted to avoid any misconception we were playing the part of the donkey riding, Jerusalem-entering figure in that drama.  Jesus, as I saw it, had been at work in the Nagulavancha community and the lives of these girls long before we arrived.  And I trusted Jesus would have much to challenge privileged North Americans like us with during our time there — a savior who is powerfully at work in and among the poor for their liberation.

However, soon after we were presented with yet more flowers sewn together in garlands  (called Gajras) we were able to pass on gifts we had brought too. The gifts included stuffed flying monkeys the children could shoot into the air like slingshots, as well as coloring books, chess sets, and bubbles. It was our version of showering our hosts with flower petals. We passed on words of appreciation for the Nagulavancha church and its ministry, and prayed for them. And a spirit of friendship emerged as the week went on, with Christians from two different parts of the world serving and celebrating a common savior. Our group led a daily Vacation Bible School program and enjoyed food the children helped serve. We worked with the Nagulavancha congregation and its leadership to help build a compound wall, both to protect the girls, and to meet a new government requirement. We worshipped in sanctuaries and on rooftops together. And we saw up close the work churches in India were doing for orphaned and abandoned children – and what precious souls the girls were, each one created uniquely in God’s image.

The dance of friendship is complicated, especially when the friends are separated by miles of distance, an ocean of water, and a mountain of difference in wealth. But it is a dance worth undertaking. For in it, vital Christian ministry, cross-cultural learning, and mutual giving can flourish.

Pastor Matt



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