I met a man from India. We chatted awhile. I asked him questions about his life there, where he lived and how. “I live in a big area, a very big state. In the middle,” he answered.
He seemed surprised. “Yes.”
“Do you speak Telegu?” I spoke a few words in that language – very poorly.
“How….?” he sputtered.
“I spent a little time in your country a few years ago,” I told him.
“What did you think?” he wanted to know.
I hesitated. Along with a few others, I had travelled widely across Andhra Pradesh, mostly by Jeep. We visited big cities and rural villages; for the most part living with the people. “I fell in love with India,” I said, “and I hated it, too.” He smiled, comprehending completely. “Any direction I looked,” I continued, “I saw or smelled or heard something to love and something to hate.”
He nodded, as though my answer proved my statement about visiting his country. Because anyone who has spent more than a week or two in India begins to understand what every East Indian knows. India is heaven, and India is hell. Glorious bougainvillea provide a backdrop to scenes of decay and poverty. Opulence grander than anything I’ve seen in Canada towers above pigs and naked children playing in a gutter.
I suppose, to fully appreciate one’s country one must go elsewhere, even for a short time. Just long enough to find unavailable there the things you take for granted at home, particularly the things that make us comfortable. Health care, infrastructure, education, first responders.
One of my travel partners was sexually assaulted in India. “Were the police called?” I asked. My question was greeted by our hosts’ blank stares. “What for?” They didn’t have money for the bribes, they told me later, and anyway, how do you begin to find a perpetrator in such a populous area?
I have never loved Canada more than on my return from India. I have never been more dissatisfied with Canada than on my return from India. These contrasting feelings lasted for several years. I loved the peace and safety in my home country, the easily accessed medical care, orderly traffic, uncrowded streets and reliable electricity .
But I found that my trip had, among other things, unsettled my faith. In India, I met Christians who knew no compromise; people who loved God and lived like Christ; who trusted him to supply their daily rice and then shared it with a neighbour – an AIDS sufferer who had none. Christians whose joyful worship made my heart (and sometimes my feet) dance with delight.
There are things to be learned about Canada by leaving it for awhile, especially how God has blessed our nation. But this I learned in India: our wealth, though great, can also make us poor; and our comfort, also great, can breed a slothful, fruitless faith.
I love Canada. But in many respects we Canadian Christians (at least, this Canadian Christian) have far to go.