An Island Welcome – Reflections on my first visit to India – Part 5

There is a wonderful quotation about the pivotal step of making a commitment to an enterprise, which my sister shared with me many years ago;

“Lose this day loitering – ‘twill be the same story
Tomorrow – and the next more dilatory;
Then indecision brings its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute –
What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it,
Only engage, and then the mind grows heated –
Begin it, and the work will be completed!”

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine being on an island in West Bengal with a group of friends to visit the school, children, teachers and pastors. And yet, having travelled from the UK to India the previous day, two hours from Kolkata to the boat early this morning, and a further three hours on the river to Rupamari Island, here I was. I learned more in that short time about how God likes to push us beyond our comfort zones where He can be our one and only strength, than throughout my Christian life. And it was exhilarating!

First Impressions

The welcome we received on Rupamari was joyous and heart-warming, the food delicious and plentiful, and being surrounded by the sound of silence and fresh air was such a welcome contrast to the noisy, dirty streets of Kolkata. Even though the dogs which roamed freely seemed to never stop barking and fighting each other. Missing my own dog, I had to contain my desire to stroke them.

The moment I first saw the children I remember being struck by how much joy they had. We live in such a material culture, and to watch these children overflow with joy with nothing but makeshift toys of sticks and empty plastic buckets overwhelmed my heart.

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The Innocence of Play

The way they ran up to perfect strangers and took our hands, calling us auntie and uncle and invited us to play reminded me of only one thing: Jesus, inviting us to come to Him as little children. Jesus, calling us to love the least of these. Jesus, loving without boundaries. And these children were reflecting Jesus’s heart right back at me. I didn’t understand the culture or the language, but the immediate response of these children was still to love me without restriction.

Stark contrasts

Friends united

The look of hopelessness that was visibly worn by the people we passed on the streets of Kolkata was oppressive and in no way beautiful, and in total contrast to what I was witnessing here.

John 8:12 says “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'”

We may live in completely different cultures and backgrounds, but we are truly brothers and sisters.

We entered our host’s world and found ourselves welcomed by their love, their beautiful smiles and the delicious aroma of food. They poured love into us by supplying for our every need. We love them and are very grateful for them. 

Hospitality borne out of love

It is impossible to count the number of things and people that touched my heart there, along with the experiences that led me to hear the sweet, familiar voice of God whisper, “this is why you’re here”. 

The end of a day

As the sun was setting on a very long but exciting day, it was fascinating to note how quickly we were thrown into darkness. Our host partner was stringing up a set of fairy lights to break up the darkness as we sat on chairs in the cool evening air outside the school building.

As we discussed the events of the day, we were aware of a voice cutting across the evening air from the village public address system. This was the main method of communicating village affairs. Having no knowledge of Bengali, we carried on our merry chatter oblivious to the seriousness of this “news flash”, or even the implications it could have for us all on Rupamari Island.

Part 6 – The Reality of Island Life – will reveal what was revealed to us.