The question was simple, “Would you consider going to India in July to lead a mission trip?” Wait, India? I said Central or South America would be my preference. July? Hold on, didn’t I say summer was out of the question? Oh that’s right, God’s plan doesn’t usually mesh with ours, and I’m convinced heaven is filled with laughter and the punch line is “You told them to do what?”
So in July I packed my bags, headed for India, feeling like Jonah: anywhere but Nineveh! As I was preparing, a friend said, “Wear scarves, spritz them with some perfume, and cover your face – it will keep you from heaving from the smells. Oh, and bring an extra pair of shoes – but don’t wear them. Throw out your old shoes in the airport when you land, because you know about their plumbing, right?”
As I exited the airport, the sounds of honking filled the air, people and cars were everywhere, the oppressive humidity like a thick curtain. A sign “Ms. Leonard” looked like a beam of light amidst the chaos. The white knuckled drive to my hotel took 45 minutes. Traffic signals are nonexistent, portals for u-turns appear out of nowhere, cars careen into your path, and everyone honks their coordinates to one another. There’s a hypnotic rhythm and order to the chaos, like a language spoken only by the locals. My heart was racing, but my driver looked bored.
Meeting the bright young women who coordinated our trip, they prayed over my co-leader and I, and both said they felt a special purpose in my presence, that they didn’t know why, but they knew God brought me to India for a specific reason. The cynic in me couldn’t help but mumble in my brain, “yeah right.” I was excited about the trip, the purpose of the journey, but aside from wanting to experience India, I doubted any long-term connection to this country. I was eager to meet our team, to learn more about the orphanages, to be a part of the culture for a week – but it was a SHORT term mission.
One afternoon we took the children to a park. 2 big busloads of volunteers, staff and special needs children descended upon the complex. Some of these beautiful children are blind, deaf, and have all manner of physical and emotional disabilities possible. Forgotten children who are so loved and adored by the staff and volunteers of Sarah’s Covenant Homes. I watched as the complex came alive with laughter and energy. I noticed a sweet little girl sitting alone, smiling at the activity, and I went to her.
I picked her up, and we looked at one another tentatively. Thinking, “Okay, now what?” as our eyes met, I had the urge to spin, and she began to laugh. We spun, and giggled, until I could barely stand – drenched in sweat (remember, July in India.) We sat down, and she looked into my face, her expression pleading, “Now what?” An instant of panic – now what indeed? A voice in my heart answered, “Sing.” Sing – YES, of course, SING!!! As I looked at her, not a single song came to mind. I’ve raised 3 children, taught Sunday school, helped in preschool, had zillions of playdates, music classes, watched Barney for goodness sakes, and not a single song… Panic began to set in, and the voice in my heart quietly said “Sing.”
And with that “Amazing Grace” poured from my lips, and this sweet child began to grin. Her eyes locked with mine, and I continued singing. I get to the verse “was blind, but now I see” and begin sobbing. See, the day before I spent time in the home where the blind children live. The vision therapists that work with these children spend countless hours helping make order out of the chaos in their darkness, and with improved nutrition and vision therapy some regain their sight.
The miracle of this place is revealed through the words of a well-worn hymn. The sweet girl before me grabs my hand, pleading with her eyes for me to continue our song, and as I do, her grip tightens and she lights up. My heart is filled to overflow, and tears stream down my cheeks.
As I finish, a staff member walks over and says, “You know Penny is deaf.” One of our participants overhears and says, “she must feel the vibration from your voice.” I spot Amy, who has the voice of an angel, and tell her, “Sing to this sweet one, watch how her face lights up!” Amy captivates me with her voice, yet sweet Penny looks all around as if Amy were invisible… Penny could hear my voice, though she is deaf. She was the reason I came to India, to see BEYOND the sounds, and smells, and chaos of the country. To look deep into her dark eyes and know that sometimes it doesn’t take words, or music, or sounds… It simply takes a quiet moment, a spirit of love, and childlike wonder to experience the hand of God.