Every year, when World Communion comes around on the first Sunday in October, I think of her—the child I saw in the streets of what was previously known as Bombay, India. It was long ago, but I have never completely forgotten her and each World Communion Sunday I bring her with me to the table that begins in the church where I am worshipping and stretches across the world. It is a table that is open to all people—all ages, nations, and races. It is the table of our Lord. It is the table of Redemption.
Here is what I thought about on the day I saw her:
“How can I begin to describe the pain of hunger here in India? I am so saddened by the extensiveness of poverty that faces the majority of people here in this struggling country and I am saddened as I contrast it to the reality of my life–that I will never experience the feeling of not having enough.
“What is it like to not have enough? Even if I choose to starve myself for the experience of solidarity with these people it will not be the experience of poverty and hunger. It will be merely the experience of one who thinks she understands. How can I ever understand?
“All of my life I have heard of the poverty of India, but no one ever painted the complete picture of Bombay (now known as Mumbai) as I saw it today. No picture I saw in my church school years ever prepared me for the look of hunger in the eyes of a child.
“Many movies set in India show beautiful photography of glorious countryside casting a spell on the viewer, beckoning the viewer to paradise. I saw no beautiful countryside today. I saw slums filled with masses of people—children and men and women—in rags black with dirt. I saw food being prepared on rocks covered with flies. I felt the hotness of those shacks as temperatures soared and the humidity rose. I felt the closeness of humanity as I saw six or seven people living out of a space no much bigger than the kitchen in my apartment.
“And the smells were completely indescribable: sickness, rotten food, human waste. The most depressing reality is that 60% of the population of India live in this manner. Yes, what does it feel like to not have enough? I saw, today, what it looks like, but what is it really like? I can never know.
“Even after the freshness of what I have seen today wears away from the inner eye of my mind, I will always be haunted by the image of the woman and child that I saw in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Bombay. We were driving from the bank, in a hurry because our plane was to leave in two hours. How odd that I should be using a bank in India that so many of its population could never hope to us.
“As we were stopped at a light I saw a woman standing in the street begging money from tourists, from natives, from anyone that would give it to her. She was beautiful, as are all of the people of India: her skin was dark, her hair was dark and long, and flowing in what looked like a sea of silk, her sari was dirty yet still brilliant in color. She was thin. Obviously poor, yet, she was still striking.
“It may have been that she was a widow, and therefore, was claimed by neither her family nor her husband’s family. She was holding a child. After first glance I paid no attention to her. We had been told not to look at beggars, but something caused me to look again, and in that second look I saw not the mother, but the child: a child that was not beautiful as are the children of India, but a child with orange hair, a child with bluish, misty eyes that should have been dark and alive, a child thin with hunger.
“The child pulled at my heart as I remembered the words of Dean Hancock, program director for UMCOR, as he described malnutrition—the hair becomes orange in color and the eyes become discolored as well. This was a child suffering terribly from malnutrition.
“How can I ever know the poverty of this young life? If I return to India in the next five years, will this child be alive? Do we really care about those who are hungry or does giving money simply ease our guilty consciences? Can the poor of our global village ever be lifted from that cycle of poverty that entraps them? Who will save them?”
I saw this child in January of 1986. If she lived she would be nearly 40. I think about her every October and other times as well. Her mother was begging money that day—money for another day of survival, but what this mother and child really needed that day was redemption.
There are many meanings of the word redemption,but one meaning stands out to me this day: deliverance; rescue.
This child and her mother needed deliverance from a life of poverty. They needed to be rescued from the pain and anguish, sickness and possible death that can accompany poverty.
In the 19thchapter of Job, we are reminded that there are so many that need redemption—of deliverance from pain or anguish, trauma or death. There are many who need rescued. Job was one such person.
We know this folk story of Job that is placed in the Old Testament. It is a story that was meant to deal with complicated issues of theology. Job, a wealthy man, who lost all his wealth, whose family was taken from him, who experienced pain and anguish and turned to God over and over to ask why.
Why did these things happen?
Can there not be a resolution?
Why can I not understand?
His friends were no help, indicating to him, time and time again, that he must have brought the calamity on himself, that his life must have contained something that brought on God’s anger and thus the trauma that he experienced. Over and over again, his friends told him to confess and the trauma would be over, to confess and all would be well. Job knew that his faith in God was deep and that his life did not offend God, so he asked God to help him understand.
In the midst of the deepest part of Job’s conversation with God are beautiful words of poetry that Lord Tennyson, the great poet, felt were the greatest words of poetry ever written:
O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
They were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And that at the last he will stand upon the earth,
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
Then in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see on my side, (Job 19:23-26)
There is one who can deliver Job from the pain and anguish that he experienced in his life. There is one who can rescue Job from the trauma that he experienced.
For Job, a redeemer was more than the deliverer or the rescuer. The redeemer was also the voice of justice, not just for Job, but for all people. And Job knew that God was not one to measure out punishments to innocent people, but rather the voice of justice, the One who knows each of us best and loves us most, the One who longs for all of us to treat all of God’s children with love and respect, making certain that all are fed and clothed and housed and safe and thriving.
All of us need Redemption. So often, we understand that word only as a word that means to be saved from our sins. And so often, we understand the Redeemer to be Jesus who saves us from our sins, but there is more to that word and there is more to Jesus. There are people all over the world who need redemption from something in their lives that is critical, destructive, unsafe.
This child I saw in India years ago needed redemption from a life of poverty. Throughout the history of humanity, there has been the need for redemption. And in this day and age, there are those who need redemption from addiction, greed, power, selfishness and self-righteousness, from lying, from abuse and from abusing, from all manner of actions that destroy the health and wholeness of life.
This day—this first Sunday in October–Jesus the Redeemer invites us to the table, right here in Upshur County with others throughout the world. It is a table of Redemption, set long ago on the night that Jesus was betrayed and given over to death, but his death was followed by resurrection. In his death and resurrection was redemption. In his death and resurrection was deliverance from sin. In his death and resurrection was a rescue from our separation from God. In his death and resurrection was grace and mercy, freely given. In his death and resurrection was the voice of justice, still calling all of us to hear the cries of those around us that need saving—the cries of those that need redemption.
This day there have been and will be people all over the world invited to the table of Redemption, by the Redeemer of the World and then will be sent forth to offer Redemption to a hurting a world. Whenever we work to end hunger or raise people out of poverty, whenever we listen to those who are hurting and really understand that they are hurting, whether others believe them or not, we are offering redemption. Whenever, we welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, sit with the sick and dying, speak on behalf of those who have no voice or who are not heard, we are offering redemption in the name of the Redeemer.
It is World Communion Sunday again and I am thinking back to a crowded, hot Bombay street, where a sick little girl tugged at my heart. I hope that she received deliverance from her poverty and was rescued from the death that was her constant shadow. I hope that she is thriving somewhere, with a family of her own. On this World Communion Sunday, my heart will bring her and all the others of this world like her to this table of redemption. And I will bring myself for redemption, knowing that the Redeemer will send me out and all of us out to offer redemption to this world.
Will you come to this table? Who will you bring?
To God alone be glory!