CNC in the town hall. Early days.
The owner of the Naaz Bar decided he wanted to make more money. We arrived one Sunday to find he had built some rooms in the hall we were meeting in. The walls were made of plywood and didn’t go all the way to the ceiling. We could hear everything that went on in the rooms, including the clearing of nostrils and throats. In the middle of our meetings, someone would shout out for “chai!” or “garam pani!” The hall was way too small with the additional rooms. One Sunday, when it got really bad, Tony announced, “I’m not sure where we will be next week, but we aren’t coming back here.”
During that week, we met Ajay Mark (Head of P.E at Woodstock School) who introduced Tony to the Mayor of the Town Hall. He gave us permission to use it on Sunday mornings. It was old, dusty and HUGE! We got in there, painted it and made it look nice with banners and flags. Our first meeting was a real celebration. We had so much room to dance around and we loved that the overhead projector didn’t bounce up and down when little Bhimla did her bouncy bunny dance. There was just one restriction, which we kept forgetting about. When we danced in the back right corner, debris would fall into the room of the lady who lived below. She would come up during the worship, quite irate, with her head covered in dust and tell us AGAIN not to dance on her roof.
A few Sundays before we moved, James Barton (Doctor of Science) and Chandra (a “coolie labourer” with one year of education) were ordained into eldership. It was amazing. It was a beautiful picture of God’s call being on level ground. Education and background had nothing to do with it. Both were qualified in character and call and we were thrilled. It was the beginning of a wonderful eldership team.
” Community of Nations” was growing in number and in passion and it was looking like its name. We had no idea where the people were coming from. It wasn’t just unusual to have so many nationalities together. It was more unusual to see people from different castes of India, loving each other with no barriers or bars. The rich and privileged served those who were untouchables and those from much less privileged backgrounds served with no sense of obligation. It was amazing for us to watch.
Something we learnt very early in our journey together was this : The only difference between the rich and the poor, is money.
Life was getting busy. Friends invited friends and the community was growing. There were people from just about every walk of life coming into our lives. There were international staff and students from Woodstock School who were highly educated. There were also tribal people from remote villages who were illiterate. Somehow we managed to communicate. Our main language was love and it wasn’t just verbal. It was tangible. We really loved each other.
Within weeks of arriving in India, God did an amazing thing in my South African heart. We were driving around and I was struggling with thoughts I never knew I had. It was as if I was better than the people on the street. We weren’t equal. I was here to help them. They were all in one big box; all part of the mass of humanity. No one stood out. They all looked the same. I never considered myself to be a racist. I had friends of all colours and nationalities, but there was still something there; like a deep root. It was affecting the way I was seeing the masses. I could see crowds but not individuals. I cried out to God. I told him I could not and did not want to live with such thoughts.
Then I saw a man riding on his bicycle next to our car. I looked at his face. I saw what he was wearing. I took a long hard look at his feet. I suddenly saw him as a father; as a husband going home to his wife. I tried to imagine what he had been doing all day. I wondered what his dreams might be about. It was a revelation.
It was as if a cataract had been taken from my heart. Everyone looked different. The root was gone. It was a miracle. I was so grateful. I wasn’t better than “them”. I wasn’t God’s gift to Indians. They were a gift to me. I wasn’t going to be doing all the teaching. I was going to learn way more than I could ever have imagined. I would be giving, but receiving so much more.
Sunil and Pam Sardar with Rebekah- 1993
Tony was having chai at Chaar Dukan. A man was introduced to him and it was friendship at first handshake. Tony came home and told me all about Sunil and Pam Sardar. I was so excited to meet them. They popped in for coffee with their little girl Rebekah who was just two years old. She was the tiniest cutest thing we had seen. Her tiny pierced ears fascinated Asha and Zoë. That was the beginning of a great and challenging friendship.
Sunil worked with dalits in Central India. He was a social reformer, fighting for the rights of farmers and untouchables. His passion was to see the caste system destroyed and all men given equality. We were challenged by his passion. Every time we met with them, we felt our hearts moved with compassion for the poor. He was sold out to see them liberated and finding justice.
We spent days and hours talking. As we did, our love for India grew. At times we felt our hearts would burst. It was so good to know there were people all over India, dreaming the same dream. There was no way any of us could do it alone. We all needed all the help we could get. Knowing that the dream came from God gave us the hope and courage we all so desperately needed.