My name is India. A name that, along with my life itself, was a result of my mother’s brief but eventful ‘embrace-the-world, carpe-diem’ phase. Most of what she embraced, however, was my father who couldn’t be bothered to stick around after I was born. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bitter. Things happen. But…India?? I have to believe that if my mother could have looked past her drug-induced delirium in the delivery room and witnessed the myriad of raised eyebrows, lame jokes, misspellings and “What?” questions that I’ve had to endure my entire life, she surely would have christened me Rebecca or Lisa.
Naturally, I have been inundated over the years with various articles in reference to the country India – pictures, maps, Indian trinkets and, oh yes, even a birthday cake in the shape of the country. I tried to be a good sport. I tried to act amused. I even tried to smile when someone who thought he was very clever made a joke about my name that I’ve heard dozens of times. Try as I did, though, I developed quite a sarcastic streak and low tolerance level for people in general.
Everything changed, however, during my last year of college when I was required to do work-study for a sociology class. I found out that a missions trip, regardless of the length, would fulfill the requirement and I could even get a partial grant to help pay for it. I did attend church, although half-heartedly, and I knew they were very missions-minded. Checking their schedule, I found out the next available trip was to, where else, India. I groaned at the irony, but a week of work there still sounded better than 4 months anywhere else, so I was in.
The big day arrived and I stepped off the plane and onto the land of the country whose name I bear. I have to admit, my attitude was not the greatest. Nothing against the place, but its existence had caused me a great deal of aggravation. I had gone simply to satisfy a college credit and while it was a bit intriguing to actually be there, I really just wanted to get it over with.
We spent a day sightseeing and then on to the real reason for our trip. Loading up a truck full of clothing, food and toys, we made our way to an orphanage on the outskirts of Thane. Lugging a box of stuffed animals, I stepped into what would be the transforming moment of my life. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw...
There were no beds, really. Just makeshift mats using folded up fabric that most of us would not even allow our dog to sleep on. There were stains on every wall from where the roof was leaking. It was dirty and cold and primitive. Then the children arrived. They were just as poor and unkempt as their environment, but when they saw us, their faces lit up like I could never have imagined.
The day was filled with laughter, smiles and gratefulness from those of whom you would expect it least. There was barely a moment when I didn’t have tears in my eyes and many times found myself laughing and crying at the same time. I had heard missionary stories before, but being there with those little ones completely changed my heart. The reality that I, myself, could make a difference sank deep into my soul. It created an almost overwhelming desire in me to look beyond myself for the first time and see this world so desperately in need of what I had to offer. Whether I realized it at the time or not, I surrendered myself completely to Christ and finally realized the enormity and significance of His sacrifice for me.
Our interpreter could hardly keep up with the constant chattering and questions posed by the children. When he told a little girl that my name was India, her eyes widened and she looked at me in amazement.
“She is honored that you have the name of her country, living in such a wonderful place as America,” he explained.
I paused for a moment, wiping away more tears.
“Thank you,” I answered back, “but I’m the one who is honored.”
My name is India. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
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