“To know the will of God, we need an open Bible and an open map.” – William Carey
In the end of June, I left for a 5-week study abroad/service trip with Westmont College that would be truly life-changing. Before I signed up for the trip last fall, I honestly had no desire to visit the country of India. Yet, one day as I was sitting in my New Testament class, I felt God calling me to go. I didn’t know why He called me, but that day I signed up and said yes.
We left on the 26th of June, excited and a little nervous as well. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into detail in regards to our adventures of every day of the trip. We had such vast amounts of experiences traveling to Delhi, Varanasi, Kolkata, Chennai, and Kerala. While I was in India, God taught me several things through people, experiences, words, sights, and challenges. I pray and hope God uses these words of my testimony to teach you as well.
1) I learned that India is gorgeous, its people are passionate, and that my stereotypes often fall short of the truth. I have never been anywhere as vibrant as India. Colors, smells, music- every aspect of the culture is filled with such excitement and life. It’s so different than anywhere I’ve ever been. I went into the trip hesitant, unsure of how I’d feel about what I was about to see. I only had images of poverty and idol worship in mind. Though those were prevalent, there is so much more to the incredible country of India. I saw colorful cities and lush, beautiful jungles. Furthermore, the Indian people were so kind, so fun, and so hospitable. Wherever we went, whether it was a nice hotel or villager’s hut, the people treated us as if we were esteemed guests. The Hindus we met were open and willing to chat with us, even though we believed differently than them. We were met with warm smiles, kind hearts, and hospitable hands. India is truly a place unlike any other.
2) I learned that the gospel isn’t to be preached as if it belongs to western culture, we should preach Christ, and Christ alone. Just because we have big churches with shining lights, slideshows, and contemporary music does not mean that is what the rest of the world needs. The rest of the world doesn’t need American Christianity. The rest of the world needs Jesus. India needs Jesus. India needs to know that following Christ has nothing to do with western culture. Following Jesus means living a life wholly devoted to our Savior who sacrificed everything so that His people might be restored. That’s what the people of India need. They don’t need to be more like an American to be a Christian, they need to be more like Christ. A church service or a worship service for an Indian may look different than a Western service- and that’s okay. In truth, it’s more than okay; it’s beautiful. Listen to what Revelation tells us about the time to come: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (7:9-10). There is beauty in various cultural expressions of worship, and diversity in the body of Christ is incredible. Let’s give the Indian people Jesus. Let’s give the whole world Jesus.
3) I learned that life can change in a moment. For two weeks, we had the awesome opportunity to serve at an orphanage in a rural village outside of Chennai. Our last day we were there, me and several friends were burning trash for the orphanage in the incinerator there. We had been burning trash for about an hour, when the scariest moment of my life (no exaggeration) occurred. I was stooped down in front of the door to the incinerator with my face and arm directly in front of it, when something inside exploded and fire/hot ash shot out of the incinerator. The loud explosion first was a shock, and once I was able to sense what just had just happened I felt horrid burning pains, like fire, on my arm and the right side of my face. I fell to the ground screaming in pain and fear as I saw the skin on my forearm destroyed and hot ash all over me. I had no idea what my face looked like. Around me, people were screaming, yelling for help for me. Thankfully nobody else besides me was hurt. I got carried off to a small vehicle, and we quickly headed to the village clinic, where they cleaned my wounds with rubbing alcohol (which was a whole other pain in itself) and gave me ointment for my burns. Thank God that my face was only mildly burned, and that it was only my arm which was severe. Though this may all sound horrible, I am not exaggerating when I say that it could have been a lot worse. God kept me safe. I truly believe that. Though my face was directly in front of the incinerator, it was only mildly burned, and after two weeks it has returned to normal. God was watching over me. He was. I learned how fast life could have changed for me. In life, we never truly know what might happen in the next moment, yet we must and we can rely on the fact that God sees us, cares for us, and watches over us. Praise Him for His goodness.
4) I learned that simplicity is beautiful. As we were in the village and at the orphanage, I noticed the joy that was so prevalent, yet life for the Indian people was neither extravagant nor complex. Life there was focused on family, values, and community. All they had were basic necessities and friendships, and that was all they needed. I learned how to be content with just a basic plate of food, a Bible, and my awesome Christ-centered Westmont team community. I learned that waking up to watch the sunrise over the horizon is infinitely better than waking up and checking my Facebook feed first thing in the morning. How can we say that all we need is Jesus, when we don’t know how to live without other things in life? Simplicity is beautiful. Jesus satisfies and provides, but we must remember that extravagant lifestyles and wants mean nothing in comparison to the glorious life which is found in Christ.
5) I learned that the love of Christ breaks through language boundaries, mental disabilities, and physical deformities. While we were in Kolkata, we had the unparalleled opportunity to volunteer at one of Mother Theresa’s homes for the disabled. The home we worked at had children who suffered from severe mental/physical handicaps. I was unsure of what to expect or how we were going to be able to engage these kids, but God had a plan, an awesome plan. When we walked in, we were greeted by smiles. The first day of interacting with the children was great. Most of them couldn’t talk, but you could tell that they were happy with your presence and a touch of a hand. God’s love doesn’t need words to be expressed. God’s love can be expressed through a smile, a touch, or even one’s simple presence. The second day at the Home was undoubtedly my favorite day on the trip. I had brought my guitar, so we began the day singing worship songs for the kids. They were all seated in a circle as me and my friends sat in the middle. It was one of the most precious moments of my life. It was fun, emotional, and even a little tiring! Praise God, we got to sing worship songs over those smiling children for over an hour. To see joy in the faces of children was incredible. God works in so many ways. After music time, we were asked to walk the kids to the local park. So imagine this: 6 American guys wearing aprons (we had to wear them) pushing severely disabled Indian kids down the crowded streets of Kolkata. What a sight! But what a blessing. The kids we had with us laughed and smiled as we zoomed them down the street mimicking car engines and horns. God deeply loves those children. He does. He showed me how much He loves His kids by giving me the opportunity to see them smile. “[God] shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands” (Job 34:19).
6) I learned that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. After my burn incident, I was struggling. It wasn’t just physical pain, I felt traumatized. It was a hard few nights that followed. I am so thankful for my family and friends who poured out prayers over me and gave me words of encouragement. I learned that life isn’t always easy and sometimes it entails suffering, but God is still good. Like Paul says in Romans 5:3-5, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” And also think about 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 which says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” God is good. He’s got a good plan. We may not know why things happen, but we do know that God is in control. Once we know that, we will have true hope.
7) I learned that God gives us gifts so that we may glorify Him in ways which deeply satisfy us. I love to speak and I love to lead worship. On the trip, God gave me the opportunity to use those loves to give Him the glory many times, whether it be at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Disabled, Little Flock Orphanage, or in a hotel room with my team. Believe it or not, God wants us to be happy. There is nothing wrong with us wanting to be happy and satisfied. What we must learn is that we are most satisfied in God. So desire joy and satisfaction, but remember- the greatest joy and satisfaction we can achieve is only found in Christ. As the Westminister Shorter Catechism states, “A man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
8) I learned that community is valuable. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). My Westmont team was such a fantastic, talented group of people. God used our different gifts in different opportunities. Some were great with the kids, some of us were bold leaders, others great thinkers, some were loving encouragers, some were powerful intercessors, and some had true servant’s hearts. God used each of us in our respective giftings. Community is so important. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord so that you might be strengthened, edified, supported, and encouraged- and maybe they’ll even provide you a couple laughs along the way.
9) I learned that if you let God be your guide, you will never be disappointed. India was a crazy adventure. It was busy, exciting, tiring, and fun. As we move through life, we need a compass to direct our path. Let God be your compass, and He will guide you where you are supposed to go.
I’m so blessed to have received the opportunity to travel to India. God reveals His plans for us over time. Wherever you are, live for His Kingdom and look for the little lessons He is teaching you throughout the many moments of life. Wherever you are, let Christ guide your path!
– Lucas Vieira
P.S. If you ever get an opportunity to go to India, Go! It’s DEFINITELY worth the trip. Ask me more about it!