It was 1993 and the end of winter. We drove to Delhi to pick up Mike Hanchett and Rob Rufus. We were excited to see them again. Rob wanted to visit a Hindu pilgrimage place so we went via Haridwar on our way home. It was my first visit too.
We walked along the ghats and while the guys prayed, I cried my eyes out. My heart broke for the people trying to wash their sins away in the Ganga. Crippled people were being carried into the water to get healed. Old people were waiting on the water’s edge, believing that if they died near the river they would arrive in heaven with all their sins washed away. In another area, bodies were being cremated and the ashes thrown into the water. The bodies of those who were too poor to afford enough wood were thrown into the river, partially cremated.
A few months earlier we had a community picnic on the banks of the “holy” Yamuna River. We found a lovely picnic spot with a shallow area for swimming and baptisms. After tea the cups were taken to the river to wash. The kids were paddling a few feet away. One of the boys saw a hand floating by. He grabbed hold of it and pulled it out. It was half a torso. Someone had not been able to afford enough wood for a complete cremation. It was all so disturbing. Fortunately the kids didn’t see it.
Rob’s interest in Hinduism went back to his early twenties in South Africa. His mother was an agnostic and his dad an atheist. Rob wondered why they insisted that he went to Sunday School. He went anyway, believing that going to church was something children did. When the time came for him to be confirmed, Rob asked his dad to be there with him. He refused and told Rob God didn’t exist. He went to bed that night and prayed, “God, I am mad with you because you don’t exist anymore.” From that day, he made it his mission to ridicule every Christian he met.
After his stint in the army, Rob went to University and became a committed hedonist. For three years he did everything that gave him pleasure. By the end of that season, he was at the end of himself and almost suicidal. He met Glenda, they got married and had a little boy. Rob started to question the reason for his existence. That started him on his search for meaning in T.M, Zen Buddhism and then the Hare Krishna movement.
He found Hare Krishnas interesting and bizarre, with their shaved heads, clay (from the Ganga) on their foreheads and their orange dhotis. “These guys have got it! They are vegetarians, they don’t’ wear shoes- they are so spiritual!” He was attracted to their mysticism. Glenda joined him in his new found religion, getting up at 3 am, practising yoga for two hours a day, abstaining from tea, coffee, meat and sex. Even as a young married couple, they had to live lives of celibacy.
Christians were Rob’s biggest nightmare. He started to run away from God and them. There was no peace. He wanted a way to God that would make him look good; one that wouldn’t require humility or having to admit to being a sinner.
They joined a Hare Krishna farm where Rob was given the job of planting tomatoes. When they weren’t meditating or doing manual labour, they were on the streets of Durban handing out literature; Glenda wearing her sari and Rob with his shaved head, curly little ponytail and dhoti. Rob could tell who the Christians were and tried to hide when he saw them coming.
One day a little old lady walked straight up to him. She looked into his eyes with lots of compassion and love and said, “What are you trying to do, young man?” She told him it was only through Jesus that he could be saved. He grabbed Glenda’s hand and started to run. They ducked into an alleyway and ran past a Christian bookshop. A man came running out of the bookshop and started jogging next to Rob, saying, “God bless you, God bless you.” He pressed a Bible under his arm. Rob had a feeling God was pursuing him. He was right.
A young Indian man, dressed in Western clothes came up and introduced himself to Rob. “Hi my name is Krishna. I was brought up as a Hindu and the reason I’m a Christian is because Jesus Christ is unique- he is unlike any other spiritual leader who has ever walked on the face of the earth. It is also the only faith that doesn’t require that you work to be accepted by God.”
That was the last straw for Rob. It was the straw that broke the back of his spiritual pride, the straw that caused his knees to buckle and his heart to break; the final straw that stopped him running away from love.
As we walked around Haridwar, I imagined Jesus being there. I could see Him touching cripples and giving sight to the blind; raising the dead and preaching the Kingdom of God.
I knew I had the power to do the same, but all I could do was cry.