I went to Agra, India, on my last India trip. For the first time in 15 years, my wife was along, so of course we had to go see the Taj Mahal. But in the shadow of one of the wonders of the world, the image above is what I remember most.
A young girl, probably only 11 or 12 years old, sitting alone in the restaurant at my hotel.
I had seen her earlier in the day, too, out by the pool. Not swimming – not even wearing a swimsuit. Just sitting quietly, alone then, too, with one eye on a family splashing in the water.
I’m sure she didn’t know how to swim. But that wasn’t what kept her out of the water. Even though only a couple years separated her from the children in the pool – she was not welcome with them.
She was there to serve them.
Domestic servants are not uncommon in India. Many families have nannies or cooks or housekeepers. But this was a little girl. The same age as my own daughter. Working.
Not in school. Her parents probably couldn’t afford it. Her employer-family didn’t consider her worthy of it.
But the most striking thing about my photo from the restaurant is what you don’t see in it. You don’t see the rest of the family. Two tables away from her, just off camera. Laughing and eating and enjoying their time together.
But not her. She was kept apart.
Because of her caste, because of her poverty, even because of her gender – she has been told, over and over again, without using words: she is worthless.
And there are hundreds of millions of people in India, just like her, who have been pushed aside and told they are “less than.” Told that they were born into bad circumstances because of the past decisions in a former lifetime. Told that they deserve every bit of the bad they’ve received – or none of the good they’ve been denied. Told that their caste makes them unclean, uninvited, untouchable. Told that all of it is their fault and to just live with it.
And, for that matter, to die with it, too.
But that’s not the message of the Gospel. That’s not what God wants for us. And that’s not what God wants for that little girl in the restaurant.
We want to see India transformed by the love of Christ. But how often do we stop and think about what that means? We consider ourselves a church planting organization. But I don’t think a church on every hill is our ultimate goal. It’s the fruit that those churches produce: Groups of people, connected in Christ, loving God, loving one another, and loving their neighbors. Making life better now.
A while back I was talking with Todd (my boss, and Mission India’s president) about the social justice aspects of our ministry, and he said something I thought was spot on: “Social justice is the Kingdom of God.”
I love that.
The kingdom of God isn’t some faraway place, lined by streets of gold and floating in the clouds. It starts right here, right now. It’s the result of the church being the church. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why we partner with the amazing people we partner with. It’s why everything we do is rooted in the planting of churches. And it’s why we focus on India.
It’s the Good News. Especially for people who don’t know what good news looks like. And I hope someday, it’s good news made real for the little girl in the restaurant.