Two weeks ago I was in northeastern India for a video shoot. We were working in a small village in a neglected patch of jungle-covered hills less than 100 miles from Myanmar.
My host was a guy named Rakesh, one of our local partners in Assam.
Those of you who have been hearing my stories for a long time might remember Rakesh. He has the dubious distinction of being the guy who, 10 years ago, cooked me elephant stew.
On our third day in Assam, we learned that a family in the village was preparing for a special ritual. They had summoned for a witch doctor who would be leading them in a pooja (act of worship and sacrifice) to a ‘local spirit’ on behalf of a family member suffering from stomach problems. I asked if we could walk over and observe the ritual with our cameras, and they said yes.
When we got there, the witch doctor and several men in the family were already drunk. They joked about their unexpected, pale guests of honor, but soon got down to business.
What happened next was fascinating, elaborate, and somewhat disturbing. The witch doctor and one of the male family members each set to work preparing areas on the ground for rituals.
Water was sprinkled over the dirt. Little twigs of bamboo were poked into the ground and banana leaves were laid on top and all around them. Wine was sprinkled and rice was piled onto each banana leaf. Incense was lit, and mantras were chanted. One by one, the necks of three chickens were slit, and the blood sprinkled across the leaves. The whole ordeal lasted nearly an hour. Rakesh narrated the entire experience, helping us understand the significance behind each step.
It was pretty intense.
But I’m not writing about this today to comment on the sadness or futility of such a ritual. Or on the quiet hopelessness of watching a suffering family offer so much time, attention and precious resource (three chickens!) in bondage to an invisible and imaginary and silent god. Even though all of that is true.
I’m sharing this story because I walked away from it filled with awe.
An hour earlier, we had been interviewing a pastor of a small village church and now we were watching witch doctors sacrifice chickens to evil spirits. To me, it felt like we had walked a thousand miles in those few hundred steps – but to Rakesh, both scenes fit comfortably in his world.
As the chanting ended and a small fire was prepared in order to roast the chickens, I asked Rakesh, ‘Have you ever seen something like this before?’
He smiled. ‘When I was a boy, before we believed in Jesus – even my father did these things.’
And that’s when it hit me. Rakesh navigates two worlds in ways we could never do – no matter how much we learn about India or how often we visit there. He exhibits both a holy conviction for Christ and a graceful understanding of the way things are in the places where Jesus is not yet known. He doesn’t judge. He doesn’t criticize. He understands because he’s been there. But he also knows the joy that awaits on the other side, which he is ready to share at a moment’s notice! This makes him uniquely suited for the work God has called him to do, in the place where he has been called to do it.
And Rakesh is one of hundreds! These incredible workers – we often call them our ‘field staff’ – make Mission India unique and effective. What a gift! Both to those he is called to serve in India…and to us.