India. It all comes back the minute you get outside the spanking new airport of Bangalore: or Benguluru as it seems to be called now. It is a long distance outside the city, and it was rush hour so the traffic was dense. Horns blaring incessantly, scooters weaving perilously in and out, laden buses lumbering along and crowds thronging the streets as dusk quickly became nightfall. India! The colourful saris and kulturs, the rickshaws, the cows nosing about in the rubbish, the stray dogs running around. Smokey fires, smells of curry, cows and coffee. Rubbish everywhere. Sewage.
We arrived at the hostel where we were staying and found to our joy lots of friends also staying there, from India and UK. Much delighted greeting took place in the foyer before we were shown to our room, and were pleasantly surprised. In the past we have slept on beds like ironing boards, but here the beds were OK and the shower hot and strong.
Next morning over a thousand gathered in a school building for the “Together on a Mission” conference. Over the next few days worship was conducted in several Indian languages: Hindi, Malayalam, Goan, as well as English.
Later my friend Joy-Anne took me shopping. Just mooching around the streets is fun, but buying is an education. I had silk scarves in mind for Christmas presents. We went upstairs in a small shop and sat by the counter as the assistant displayed numerous pashminas, shawls and silk scarves. Glutted by sheer abundance of colour, pattern and texture I eventually chose some beauties and Joy-Anne haggled for me. The whole lot came to a few pounds in English money.
Things weren’t so blissful that night. There was a powercut at about 9.30 pm as we returned to our room. We groped around in the dark until someone brought a candle. It was Diwali so the night was filled with loud bangs and flashes of fireworks; dogs barked incessantly, and trains rumbled through on the nearby railway hooting loudly. The imams started their chanting at 5am and the Catholics over the road competed with early mass. “Silent night” is an unknown concept here. Electric power was still unconnected, but thankfully restored in time for a shower and breakfast.
Later on, I found myself once again standing in worship, when unexpectedly the worship leader led us into an old hymn, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.” Flashback to a 7 year old me in Harringey arena with my mother at the first Billy Graham crusade in London. From then on, through my childhood and teens, Blessed Assurance was a recurring feature of church life.
It was wonderful to sing it again! Who would ever have thought that 60 years on, I would be singing it in Bangalore with hundreds of Indians? I was overwhelmed as we all declared, “This is my story, This is my song.!”
This is my story: heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his spirit, washed in his blood.” This is the song of the redeemed. This is a foretaste of glory when myriads from every tongue and nation sing it around the throne.
This is our story.