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If the Almighty wills

Varanasi, India, the city of death. It lies next to the Ganges River, where cremated bodies are strewn into eternal bliss. Or so it’s believed. In Hinduism, if you die in the holy city, you’ll go straight to Brahman, escaping the endless cycle of reincarnation. For those hopeless souls of the lower castes who stand no other chance, Varanasi is the stairway to heaven. Throughout the subcontinent, the sick and dying board trains headed there. As you walk around on the streets, you might see people dying on the roadside, happy to breathe out their last in that place. Some are so weak when they arrive, they are left on the platform at the train station on arrival.

I was there once with a team serving a local ministry. One morning, we were on our way passing by the train station. Walking ahead, I passed a pillar and looked to my left. I still struggle to get the mental picture out of my head: A man, nothing more than skin & bones, lay naked in his own filth swarmed by flies. At first, I thought it was a corpse, but coming closer, I saw the faintest sign of life: his chest rising and falling ever so slightly. I made the snap decision to keep walking – something I was criticized for afterwards. I didn’t want to create a scene and crowd the man. Besides, my mind was firstly in getting our group safely to our destination. It wasn’t far away, and the plan was to notify our local ministry partners once we got there. They would know how to get the man the help he needed. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan.

One of our mates had double-backed unnoticed and returned to the train station. William. He looks a little like Jesus and acts a lot like John the Baptist. Blessings on his hairy head. Having left our team at the shelter we were serving at, I went back to the train station to find William. I was angry that he hadn’t listened to me. I found him sitting cross-legged next to the man. He had covered him with a plastic sheet he got nearby. He was holding his hand and praying. I’ve experienced a few holy moments in my life, but that was one of the purest. A busy train station platform and an upstart nineteen-year-old with nothing but love for the dying man he sat beside. Every ounce of anger in me disappeared.

I sat down on the man’s other side. His breathing was laboured. His skin taught and leathery, cold to the touch. His eyes were glazed over and there was nothing that made me think he was anywhere near consciousness. I had heard the last of your senses to go is your hearing. So, we prayed out loud. For comfort, for peace, for relief. For Christ to be near. Who knew where this man had come from or where he was ultimately going? All that mattered was he wasn’t alone.

The crowded train station went on with business as usual. Some people would look over quizzically at us for a moment and then they’d hurry on to their next destination. We had been there for some time, when one guy stopped and came over. We found out later he was a pilot at the air force base nearby. “What are you doing?” he asked in English, with a tone that made me wonder if we’d insulted him somehow. “Leave him, he’s dying!” the pilot said impatiently. “This is what he deserves. He’s lived a bad life, so now he’s dying a bad death. It’s karma. Leave him!” “We are Christians, and we don’t believe in karma,” I replied. “I don’t know what kind of life this man lived, but no one made in God’s image deserves this kind of death.”

I went on to ask the pilot if he didn’t know of anyone who could help this man. “No one will come. People die here every day. No one cares.” In the corner of my eye, I spotted a policeman across the street. “What about that policeman? Could he do something?” I asked the pilot. “No. No way. It happens all the time. He won’t care.” “Well, let’s try” I replied and walked across the street. The pilot followed. “Of course. Let me call the ambulance,” the policeman answered when I asked him to help the man. Surprised but still resolute in his nay-saying, the pilot scoffed: “The ambulance will say no. They’re too busy.” “The ambulance is coming in 25 minutes”, the policeman said hanging up the phone. The pilot doubled down: “They won’t come. They’re just saying that. Only if the Almighty wills, the ambulance will come.” The way he said, it sounded like the Almighty he believed in was way too preoccupied to worry about humans.

That last comment opened a whole new discussion while we waited. We talked about the sovereignty of God and how He rules the world with wisdom, grace and love. Not karma. 25 minutes later, we heard the sirens, and the ambulance came to a screeching halt as a crowd started gathering. The pilot was quiet. Between William, the pilot and I, we picked up the man’s emaciated body and carried him over to the ambulance. As we closed the door, I turned around and saw a crowd of more than 50 people had streamed out onto the street from the train station. The pilot turned to me and said: “Tell them what you told me.” So I shared the Gospel, with the pilot interpreting into Hindi.

When it was over, the pilot disappeared with the crowd. William walked away angry at something I had done. We never heard what happened to the man. And I have no clue whether anyone responded to what I shared on the street in front of that busy train station. But I do know the Almighty’s will is for none to perish and for all to come to repentance.

It's my prayer for the nation of India especially right now. May Christ be near to them.

Walk with the King… He will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death.

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