When my wife and I moved to a remote village in the Himalayas, what was the biggest thing we could have brought with us? New technology to solve the problems was an option. Bags full of money might have worked for a while. Signboards to announce our project’s presence would have made an impression. Perhaps, a shiny white Land Rover would have lent us credibility.
The original idea was very simple. A Himalayan village’s survival is based on their trails. All the crops they grow are carried out on them, all of the goods they need are carried in on them. The sick need the trails to get to help, and the well need them to get home. So we decided to build a smoother path for those who have a difficult road to tread. We got to work placing stones into a Himalayan mountainside.
This had an unbelievable effect on the village we aimed to serve. India is a land of castes based on everything from skin color to profession. Once one has reached a certain level they never stoop to a level “below” them. Physical labor is an absolute taboo for the rich. Such jobs are reserved for servants. Now imagine being a Himalayan villager and seeing college educated rich Americans sweating and toiling to put a road under your feet. People who they perceived as above themselves were serving them by putting stones under them. They not only accepted our charity, they came along side us. That first year a local social club caught the vision and helped out every day of the project and, after we left, continued the trail work every Saturday.
At our team’s farewell party the villagers told us, “You have become our gurus. We never knew what it meant to serve a man before and now we do.” So are they still serving? Our second team came to see that sets of hundreds of stairs were completed in our absence. It has been three years, and they are still building. Not just trails, but also schools. A health clinic is being planned as well. In 2005 alone 20 of our Hindu and Buddhist neighbors volunteered up to 80 days of labor each to see their village changed. Thanks to their sacrifice, the total cost for all the projects so far has been under $2,000.
It seems that the biggest thing that could have been brought with us was actually something very small. It is written that Christ’s glory is reflected in us, if only dimly, as in a dirty mirror. That dim reflection of Christ’s servant heart was enough to start a revolution in our village. And what did His reflection say to them? “Have hope. You are no victim of your karma. The mistakes of your forefathers haven’t sentenced you to a life of ill health, poor education and abandonment. Learn to serve, love mercy, hate injustice and your village may change. Find these things and you may find me, because I am searching for you restlessly.”
One day I was out building a trail with my local buddies and a group came from another village came distributing tracts and giving a short gospel program. After they had left I asked my neighbors, “So what do you think when Christians do this?”
There were some varied opinions, some good, some bad. Diu Narayan piped up and said, “You know Ryan, they come every year and do this. We know they want us to be Christians but we’ve never believed. But when you came here you didn’t have to give us a pamphlet for us to know your God. We could see Him in your life already.”
Upon hearing this I was shocked to say the least. More than anyone else I know that my reflection is a dim one at best. Still His love finds a way in the mess. Christ will make Himself seen. Simply to love and be loved in His name is by far the most powerful thing we can do with our lives. The poor do not want a hand out. No one does. They want someone to come beside them in their struggles and give them something to hope in. We, as the Body of Christ, are that someone. We can live out our stories in a way that gives them that something.