Camera and Flask
The Photography of Steven Gray


Camera and Flask // Steven Gray: Photographer. Storyteller. Artistic journalism and storytelling around the globe. Based in Pensacola, Florida.

Why India?

A Man of India

I've had a lot on my mind as I prepare for this summer's adventure.

Very soon, I will depart for India, where I will spend the rest of the summer working with Indian pastors across the country in their respective ministries.  Unlike my previous trips to India, I will not be traveling with a group of people, but will be going there alone and staying with host families until the final week, at which time I will meet up with some dear friends for a medical outreach.  At the moment, life feels a bit purgatorial as I refrain from starting new projects and basically kill time before wheels up.

The Man on the Street

Am I nervous at the prospect of going solo to dive into the frenetic country of India?

Yes and no.  I don’t relish the twenty-hour (including layovers) airline journey from Florida to India.  I have plenty of reading material ready for the trip, but it is still going to be a devastatingly quiet trip without any traveling companions.

But actually being in India again, doing work that is truly meaningful, is a prospect which I am greatly looking forward to.  I am never as confident in my purpose in life as when I am ministering in India.

People often ask me why I feel the need to go as far as India to share the gospel.  And, honestly, I’m still not sure how to respond sometimes, because there are a lot of reasons why I feel I need to go to India.  A major reason for this is that I can’t think of any institution outside of the Christian church that goes into India to reach out, form individual relationships and provide relief.

The biggest reason I can think of, though, is that India not only needs the gospel, India is hungry for it.  India has been under the rule of the caste system for so long that the freedom of thought and spiritual uplift offered by the gospel is a deeply moving concept, and one which they are eager to share with their friends and families.

It’s funny, really.  If you had come up to me three years ago and told me that I would spend two consecutive New Years in India, and would even go so far as to devote an entire summer to an epic missionary journey across the country, I would have laughed at the idea.  Not out of scorn, but out of sheer disbelief.

Me, go to India?  Why?

My first trip to India began in a picaresque way.  I logged into Facebook one day and found the following message waiting for me.  It was from a good friend who had already been to India for missions work the year before:

Find your passport

Need you to go on an expedition with us, December XX- January XX, to India to deliver the Christmas backpacks. Need someone who is not afraid of travel, weird food, sketchy legal situations, and who is strong as a horse. This is not missionary tourism. This is the real deal. You in?

How could I turn down an invitation like that?  It was a classic "offer I can't refuse," worded in exactly the sort of terms that I respond to favorably.

The trip was every bit the adventure the message hinted at it being.  But it was also the start of something bigger.

Prior to India, I had traveled, but never with the kind of purpose provided by ministry.  Stepping off of the plane into India was like leaping into a snowbank after languishing in a warm sauna all my life.  For the first time in my life, I saw real poverty among real people.  Not from a distance--it wasn’t a documentary or a movie--I was overwhelmed, overstimulated and in the middle of everything.  It changed the way I looked at the world; it made me fully cognizant of the freedom and sheer number of choices I had always enjoyed in the States without even knowing I had them.

Waving ChildrenBut my experience wasn’t limited to observations on third-world living conditions.  India re-introduced me to all that is good in the human spirit.  Most of the people of India seem blissfully unaware of their poverty.  It is simply their way of life, and as such, they greet visitors with the biggest smiles and the warmest welcomes I have ever seen.  The Indian people are kind in the extreme, and their beauty of spirit is exponentially magnified when touched by the love of Christ.

My first trip to India was one of culture shock.  So much was new and different that I was glad for the relief of coming home.  My second trip, however, was the opposite.  I was prepared for India, and the culture shock hit home when I arrived back in the US.  After barely more than a week in India, seeing beauty of soul in people who had next to nothing, I returned to the United States and was greeted by a spoiled culture of wealthy, overweight individuals who couldn’t make it from one gate to another in the airport without complaining the entire way.  To make matters worse, I had school to return to at at the time, and could look forward to three months of busywork in the homestretch toward my diploma.  I was experiencing reverse culture shock, and it made me angry.  I wanted to go back to India at that moment.

And now, I want to go back to India because the work I have done there represents the only times in my life to date when I had complete and total confidence that I was doing was the right thing.  When in India, I wake up every morning with the knowledge that the work I do each day is for God and will help others.  It is a far cry from the standard-issue drudgery of the daily grind in America.  It makes me question the core values of Western culture.  For Christians, ministry and outreach should be action items every day, but we allow ourselves to get caught up in the tedium of everyday life, and outreach is pushed to the back burner, or even worse, it is viewed as something “for other people.”

Evangelism in its pure form, sharing the words and love of Christ, is not an option if you identify yourself as a Christian.  Christians are, by definition, already called to share God’s love with the world.  Not judge the world, not to scream at cars from street corners--to share love.  It is a travesty that we allow our divine purpose in life to be relegated to a once-a-week event instead of daily practice.

In the end, I think that is why I love working in India so much.  It is a complete and total separation from everything that I see as lopsided in American culture, and blocking out time to be totally removed from the obligations of home, work and school lets me experience the joy of full-time service.

I recently saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  While the film’s depiction of India was a bit too clean to ring true, there was a very stirring line spoken by Tom Wilkinson that sums up my own feelings about India.  Wilkinson’s character, Graham, is asked a pointed question by Jean, played by Penelope Wilton:

Jean: "How can you bear this country? What do you see that I don't?"

Graham: "The light, colors, the smiles, it teaches me something."

I have to agree.

Kids in India