The truest form of leadership is service. I’ve always wanted to serve Christ, and I finally did get a great opportunity to do so. I got to go on a mission to West Bengal!! I was incredibly excited about the whole thing, the travel, the food, the stay, the sessions… Wait for what!? Have I to give a session? Talk in Hindi!? Except for this… I was excited about everything else. Well, I did “prepare” for it though.
On Friday, May 17th, we started our journey via Bangalore. It was then that our spiritual warfare began. We got to know that our train from Kolkata to Alipurduar was cancelled due to elections. Also, our taxi to the airport got cancelled, so we left a little bit late. We reached the airport on time though. Once we reached Kolkata, the only thing on our minds was how to get to Alipurduar. Finally, we got a bus to Siliguri on Sunday afternoon. We were able to attend Sunday mass before that, which we would have otherwise missed because of the train. We were to reach Siliguri at 6 a.m. and then board the train to Alipurduar at 8.30 a.m., however, our bus tyre got punctured and we had a three-hour delay. Thankfully, the 8:30 a.m. train was delayed by an hour, so we managed to board the train even though we reached late. All this while, we were all thinking about what a great sacrifice we were making for this mission. Little did we know, what awaited us would prove us completely wrong.
We had first gone to Bangabadi, where we had lunch at Mary Barla’s house. This was the first glimpse I’d ever had of a house in a village, in the ‘Bagaan’ (Tea Garden). But the first thing that they did to welcome us truly melted my heart. They washed our feet! Yes, you read that right. This was the first time someone had done such a thing for me. It felt awkward, to be honest. Their humility moved me. Also, the one thing that did intrigue me was their custom to greet everyone with a cheerful ‘Jai Yeshu‘! After a couple of greetings, it sort of sticks to you. After lunch, Joshua, Amit and I left for Hantapara.
The moment we reached the village, the kids and youth ran behind our ‘Toto’ (Electric Rickshaw) full of enthusiasm to welcome us. The moment we got off, we went to Prakash’s home, where we were welcomed with flowers. We had a talk with a few of the youth leaders over there to discuss when and where we’d conduct the programme for the youth there. We had to give them a household training programme. We had a great meal (much above what I had expected), and after that, we sat to plan the next day’s programme. The house where we slept was practically entirely given to us. While we slept on their beds, they were either in the kitchen or at someone else’s house. I did feel bad that because of us, they had to move out of their own home. But their deep spirit of sacrifice moved me.
The next day we conducted the programme for them. We had the talks, games, action songs, ice breakers and so much fun, along with spiritual growth and prayer. Though we had gone there to teach them, we too learnt a lot from them. We formed households for them and taught them all that they had to do to maintain and manage their households. We also met their formators, youth leaders, and had discussions with them on ways to make youth meetings more interesting, so that more youth attend these meetings regularly.
And remember when I said I dreaded the fact that I had to give a talk in Hindi? Well, that moment came. I had never given a talk before, not even in English. And now I had to straight-up give a talk in Hindi. Well, I braved all odds. I made a little prayer, asking God for strength, and to help me during the talk. And of course, God did answer my prayer, I was amazed at what God could accomplish in my life when I chose to serve Him. Just the three of us had handled so much responsibility, yet none of us was crushed because God had given us the strength to bear every burden while we served Him.
Another thing that struck me was their enthusiasm. All of them were so eager to learn from us. Their generosity amazed me. They had so little, yet they opened everything to us. They gave us such good food, the food they’d usually never make unless it was an important occasion. They took such good care of us. Even though they had to go to work, they took their day off to take care of us. I felt so bad about myself, that I, having so much, rarely give it to someone in need, whereas these people had so little, yet they gave their everything to us!
The last day we had a lot of fun. We learnt one of their folk dances as they sang the song in Shadri (Tribal Language). In the end, they felicitated us with flowers, and we finally said goodbye.
We left Hantapara and were on our way to Gopalpur when we finally got network on our phones after two whole days. After about an hour or so, we reached Gopalpur.
As we reached, I did expect the Hantapara sort of welcome, but there wasn’t anyone there. We had dinner at Tita Tara’s place, and we got to know that we didn’t receive the same welcome because we reached late, and all the people who were supposed to welcome us had gone for prayers. The first night, we just had a fun ice-breaker game and action songs for the youth. Then, we stayed at Innocent’s home. Here too, it was just like Hantapara, where they practically gave us their entire house.
The next day, just like in Hantapara, we gave them the household training programme. That day, we had Sunday mass (even though it was a Thursday), because the tea factory/garden gives its employees a day off only on Thursdays. Our very own Amit led the mass, as he happens to be a ‘Prachaar’ (Village Catechist), and the village ‘Prachaar’ was sick. After mass, we began our programme. Here too we had a lot of fun, games, action songs, prayer, talks and teachings. We formed households here for the youth. This time too, with the grace of God, I was able to give my session properly in Hindi. Also, with our past experience in Hantapara, learning from all the mistakes that we made there, we tried our best to improvise.
Here too we met the formator and youth leaders and had a chat regarding the youth meetings. We became such good friends with these people too. Everyone was so enthusiastic and eager to learn. We taught them what to do in their household groups and other related things. We also had a pray-over for the youth and the formator. Even here, we did a similar folk dance and song, and all of us had a fun time. At last, it was time for us to leave, and it was so hard. We had so much to say, yet we had to finish early and leave for Bangabadi.
We all had one final speech, and then they felicitated us with flowers, they gave us a memento, and also some tea, fresh from the factory (yes the tea factory is right at the edge of the village, which is right in the middle of a tea garden). After that we roamed around the village for a while, picking fresh fruit like plums and jamuns. After lunch, it was time for us to leave. We left with a heavy, yet joyful heart.
On our way back it started raining, and Amit and I struggled to keep our guitars dry. We reached Bangabadi after sundown. Finally, our whole group that had been divided and sent to different villages were finally united. I found out that except for our group, every other group had visited Bhutan. I was somewhat disappointed, but I still had the contentment in my heart that I had fruitfully served the mission. That night we had dinner there, and the next morning, we caught our train to Kolkata. We reached Kolkata on May 26th, Sunday. We attended Mass, visited Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity (St. Mother Teresa’s convent/memorial/home), had some fun moments, and that afternoon, we left for the airport to catch our flight back to Bangalore. There was some turbulence as we were reaching Bangalore, but no sooner did we get off the flight and get our luggage, than a raging storm broke out. It was a miracle that we landed safely. Due to the rain, there was an hour’s delay in our bus to Mangalore, but in the end, we made it back home safely.
In this whole journey, there were so many things that I learnt and experienced. The first and foremost thing that struck me was their generosity. At least one of their family members has to work in the ‘Bagaan’ if they want to avail of the tea-estate provided homes. All of them struggle financially, yet they spared no expense in taking care of us. They took the day off from work to take care of us and cook for us. While I have so much and give so little, they have so little, yet they gave us all that they had. They gave us their beds and their homes; they cooked for us and gave us all the comforts possible. I’ve seen their hardships and their struggles, and I respect them for the great people that they are.
The other thing that moved me was their hunger for Christ. Everything that we taught them about Christ was greeted with such great enthusiasm and eagerness. I was surprised because we city folk don’t even have 10% of the zeal and zest that they possess. Yet in these villages, they desired Christ. Also, the other aspect that stood out for me was their humility. I was the youngest guy among all the youth there (at least in Hantapara). Yet, no one treated me like a kid. The fact that I was younger than all of them didn’t affect the attitude with which they listened to everything that I taught them. They were so respectful and treated all of us like their older brothers (in terms of respect) or younger brothers (in all the care they gave us).
Lastly, I felt like I was an apostle being sent out into the world by Jesus Christ. When Jesus sent forth his disciples, he told them not to take anything with them, no clothes, no food, no water. Yet, the disciples would have all that they need, just because they were serving the Lord. I had no idea what I’d do during the mission, how I’d do it, or anything for that matter. In spite of that, with the help of my brethren in the community, I was able to manage everything. Our food, our stay, everything was given to us. He made sure that we reached our destination safely, in spite of all the problems that we had faced during our travels. The Lord delivered us from the fierce storm, if it wasn’t for Him, we might have even been in a plane crash. He has taken care of us in every step of our journey during this mission. I firmly believe now that every time we serve the Lord and do His work by spreading His Word, He will truly provide us with all that we need in every aspect of our lives, as long as we serve Him.