“In India, anything is possible.” This is what I was told every time we tried to convince an auto rickshaw to carry six of us instead of four. This is what I was told when I thought I wouldn’t be able to push my way through the crowd to get off the train before it sped on to it’s next stop. This is what I was told when I told my host I didn’t think I could eat any more food. This is what I came to believe through the life of a boyish dreamer with a smile large enough for three faces and a heart even larger.
He became a lot more than a translator for us. At the end of six weeks of spending almost every day with our team, Shekhar was simply a part of it. If all of us on the team were siblings, than he was the favorite cousin.
I’ve heard it said a million times before, bravery is not about being fearless. It’s about overcoming fear. That little nugget of truth has become so cliché we can hardly believe it. But then it’s a nice thing to hold on to when you’re shaking with fear and feel like hiding. It’s comforting when you feel like your composed face and steady breathing are filthy lies. No, no you can tell yourself. I am brave. I just don’t feel it. No one needs to know that. But if you just happen to be a privileged individual that does know the fear just beneath someone’s facade, then there is very little more inspiring than watching their petrified bravery in action. If you are given the honor of knowing all about the fear that someone is overcoming, than you might just be inspired to be brave yourself.
Shekhar became so much more than a translator for us, but at first he didn’t even want to be that. We found out a few weeks into our time in India that his pastor had given him an ultimatum “Help these foreigners, or don’t come back to church.” I guess it was some measure of conceit that made me assume he would want to spend his day translating our confusing accents and catering to our whims. When I think about it now it only makes sense that this social twenty-three year old would have other things he wanted to be doing with his time. But his pastor made it a requirement not a suggestion and we ignorantly thanked him for joining us.
It wasn’t that he was miserable spending time with us though. Being the good natured, and fun loving person that he is probably why he initial disliked the idea of being stuck with us for the summer so much. But it’s also probably what made him quickly start to enjoy himself in our company. Shekhar was a dancer and loved music. Teaching us dance steps and songs in Hindi or Nepali built quick friendships as did sharing cups of chai or plates of food. “You are foody people, I am foody person.” I remember him saying one time in a market place, indicating that this was grounds for real frienship.
Because I didn’t know until later that Shekhar had not originally wanted to come along with us and because friendship with him developed so quickly, I didn’t notice when the shift happened and he was working with us from his own will. It was not a mystery though that even after this transition did take place, he was still sometimes less excited about being seen with us than usual.
On the same day that he told us he had been more or less forced to help us, we were winding our way through a crowded market place. Around every other corner someone would call out our wave to Shekhar familiarly.
“Do we embarrass you?” I teased him picking up on the fact that he wasn’t excited to see any of these people that seemed to know him so well. “I thought we were your friends!”
“You are my friends!” he assured us his mannerisms becoming exaggerated. “But here, everyone know me.”
It wasn’t just that people knew him in this area that made him feel awkward with us, but what people knew about him. For years Shekhar had been a part of a gang that more or less had control of this area. Vendors payed the gang for their stand in the market and the gang served as the lawmakers and protectors as well. Shekhar was well known as that. Not as the church boy leading foreigners around and talking about Jesus.
As I said, gradually Shekhar became much more than a translator. He started joining us for prayer times and worship times. He started sharing with people his own story of how he had come to know Christ and he became more and more a part of the team. In six weeks we saw him gain boldness and genuine excitement in doing things for God. He would always panic slightly before doing something new, but then almost always he would do it. The first time we asked him if he wanted to share the gospel with someone he said no. The second time, he said yes. By our last week in India Shekhar had found such a passion and love for telling people about Jesus that he was asking us about the discipleship training school we were doing and how much it would cost for him to go through it. He said that he thought he wanted to be a missionary.
For the last few weeks, a few days out of the week, we were hosting what we called a mini DTS. This meant we were doing teachings on some of the different topics we had explored during our lectures in Australia. People from many different churches had come every day to be apart of it. On the last day of the mini DTS (our second to last day in India) we planned to host an open air at the train station. We had been teaching a lot of things about sharing your faith, and we wanted to give everyone who had been coming an opportunity to put it into action what they had been learning.
One church was going to do a couple of performances and music to attract a crowd. We gave a young man who dreamed of being a preacher the opportunity to share the gospel. And we told Shekhar we would love him to share a little bit about what Jesus had done in his life. Apparently this was the hardest thing we could have asked him to do.
Every day for almost a whole week, he would bring up why he couldn’t speak at the open air. Every time we would tell him he didn’t have to but that it was up to him and we really wanted him to. Every day he would say that we had picked the worse possible place to have the open air. And every time we would say we were sorry with out offering to change the location. Their were many places that he was well known, but he said that at the train station everyone would know him and everyone would think it was funny that he was sharing his testimony. It was obvious that he could not stop thinking about it and that he could not stop worrying about it.
“You don’t have to do it.” I remember telling him for something like the tenth time that day. “If you don’t think you’re ready, it’s okay. Just pray about it.”
“No!” he responded passionately. “I can’t pray about it!”
“Because I know if I pray about it, I know what God will say that I have to do it!”
But on the day of the open air, Shekhar arrived, as usual, before anyone else. All week we had been praying for him and giving him all of the encouragement we could. When the actually day arrived the only thing left to offer him was cheesy thumbs up and encouragements like, “you got this.” or “you’ll do fine.” and he gave little response to any of them. He was resolved about what he was going to do and had become more quiet and internal than usual.
We went to the train station in waves, taking different means of transportation to get all of the people, instruments, and sound equipment into the city center. In typical India fashion it took us a long time to get everything set up and ready to go. We sang a couple songs and then one of the churches youth groups performed a couple dances. Shekhar’s youth group. But I wasn’t surprised to see him get into the performance. He had his church friends with him and being a dancer was something everyone already knew about him. A street performance wasn’t an uncomfortable thing for him. But he came up next by himself for something other than entertainment.
Any one who didn’t know might think that he was totally comfortable standing before a big crowd that had formed a semi-circle outside the station. Anyone who hadn’t heard his objections and listened to his excuses all week might have thought he felt confident and sure of himself. I couldn’t understand the exact words he said, but even for me, I was tempted to believe he wasn’t nervous.
He finished and the next person came up. I wondered if Shekhar had recognized anyone in the crowd, if any of his friends had been here to see him and if they were laughing at him. And then, because anything is possible in India, I saw something that will never stop inspiring me.
The other speaker had finished and the musicians had started back up. They were playing fun and celebratory songs and Shekhar was dancing again in the middle of the circle. Only now nothing was choreographed and different people kept jumping into what was now a ring of people. Shekhar reached into the crowd and pulled out a friend of his. Another dancer and once fellow gang member. Shekhar got him into the middle of the circle and the two started dancing together. It wasn’t amazing that Shekhar was dancing or even that his friend had joined him. It was the act of going back out in full view after doing all that he had said he would do. It was that he not only did not try to hide or duck away from being seen by his friend, but actually reached out to an engaged a person he was embarrassed to be seen by.
I have to admit, I had underestimated my Indian friend. I knew that despite all of his anxiety and hesitation to share his story in public, that he would end up doing it. I had seen in him a desire to grow that was too strong to let the opportunity pass him by. But I had not expected the boldness. I had not expected the abandonment. I had not expected the strength so adequately push fear behind bravery.
To be honest, I had expected Shekhar to lay low that day. To not say much and not draw attention to himself. To make his testimony brief and then pass off the microphone. But maybe that’s why anything is possible in India. Because maybe it’s not a culture to erect all kinds of limitations. Yes, the auto rickshaw is supposed to carry four. But that doesn’t mean it can’t not take six. Yes, there is a densely packed pile of people between you and the train exit, but you just have to shove. Yes, doing things outside of your comfort zone is nerve racking, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and go all in when you do it.
Shekhar said it over and over again that “anything is possible in India.” And after a little while I started to believe him. But after what I saw him do at the train station and after reflecting back on all the things I saw him do over the six weeks that I knew him, his life tells me something else I’m starting to believe…anything is possible. Knowing him, it’s not hard to believe that somewhere amongst the crowds and smells and sounds that overwhelm India, there is an x-gang member that will become a full time missionary to the nations. It’s not hard to believe that from a past of being unloved and uncared for would come a boy that loves and cares for people openhearted. It’s not hard to believe that God can so change a life as to make it have no need for limitations.
Shekhar’s story is one of many that I collected while traveling to Australia, Asia and Africa and America in 2014. He has given me the awesome privilege to share this story and include it in the book of short stories that I am hoping to release before the end of this year. If you liked this story and would like to read more, sign up here for my mailing list and get another story for free plus the first chance to get the book! http://eepurl.com/_J8Nz
“Sarah is an introspective extrovert that daily battles the struggle between wanting to be interacting and talking with people and wanting to stare out windows and at ceiling fans contemplating the meaning of life. She wears a lot of hats that she picked up mostly from the ministry, education, and writing departments. She blogs about all of those things at littlewritinghood.wordpress.com“