by P.D. DTS staff
“Sparsh” is a Hindi word for “touch.” We all have different experiences and preferences when it comes to physical touch. Some crave it, others may avoid it. But at our core, we share a common need for this unique expression of love and acceptance.
The rickshaw bumped and teetered, threatening to topple Tabea and me into the crazy throng of oncoming traffic. Hooting cars and cloud-puffing motorcycles fought their way down the road. Tabea and I exchanged a relieved glance as our rickshaw righted itself and rattled on. After thirty minutes, it came to a stop outside the leper colony.
Earlier that morning, as our team prepared for our second day of ministry at the leper colony in India, I felt that something unexpected awaited us and that it was important to go near the Hindu temple.
As we approached the temple, I was surprised to see children everywhere. Many looked at us with wide eyes – it was possible we were the first white people they had ever seen.
“Namaste!” I greeted the kids and locals. Hello!
The atmosphere around the temple felt heavy. I’ve encountered feelings like this before. Often, the only way to overcome the feeling is through prayer. Tabea and I prayed quietly as we walked and the heavy feeling lifted.
I paused to snap a photo of the temple with its ornate roof carvings. A group of little boys watching us overcame their shyness and raced over, smiling and motioning for me to take their picture. While we played with the kids, my eyes were drawn to a different sight. A thin man lay on the ground near the corner of the temple. He looked about 40, with some obvious physical and mental disabilities. A group of worshipers rounding the corner made sure to keep their distance. Not even the children paid him the slightest notice.
He was an “untouchable.”
India’s predominant Hindu religion categorizes people into four descending classes or ‘castes’ according to their family status, lineage and occupation. At the bottom, even outside this hierarchy, are the Untouchables, a fifth class of outcasts. They are the social dogs of society, without any privileges or even basic rights. According to the philosophy of Karma, they deserve their lowly state because of their past lives. Untouchables are avoided at all costs. In extreme cases, even touching the shadow of an untouchable is considered unclean.
Yet I felt compelled to go over to this man.
How would Jesus bless him? I wondered. He looked emaciated from hunger. What can I give him?
I rifled through my backpack and took out the only food I had – some jerky. Giving food away isn’t something that comes naturally to me, especially on mission trips where any kind of protein is a precious commodity. But I thought of how precious this man was to Jesus.
I walked over to the man. His eyes were closed, but his body contorted as if in pain. A huge lump rose in my throat. Lord, how can I show your heart?
“Namaste,” I said, crouching down and holding the food out to him.
The man opened his eyes. I took a bite of the meat to show it was good food and offered him the rest. He seemed confused, but took it anyway, the pained look still etched on his face.
By now we had drawn a crowd. The Hindu worshipers and children were laughing, mocking me and trying to pull me away, but I shrugged them off. I looked the man in the eye and laid my hand gently on his shoulder.
“God loves you.”
The transformation on the man’s face was immediate. One second, agony; the next, complete joy. I told him again that the God of the universe loved him. Cared about him. His smile grew even bigger as tears filled his eyes and mine.
Of course it occurred to me that he couldn’t understand me. But fortunately the power of touch – most importantly, God’s touch – crosses all language boundaries.
In that moment I knew that God had touched somewhere very deep inside his soul. There is a word they use in India for times like this: sparsh. It means to touch someone’s life.
This encounter will stay etched into my mind for a long time because I experienced first hand how a loving touch of God can alter a man’s heart. And as I was talking to God at the end of the day about the moment outside the Hindu temple, I caught a glimpse of God’s heart for this man—and the world. “In my kingdom,” God said, “there are no untouchables.”
By the way, later on that night our local contact, told the rest of our team some great news. At the market that day, he found four kilos of beef! It is hard enough to get any beef in India, let alone four kilos. A very rare treat indeed. It was like a perfectly timed gift by our wonderful God!