Yesterday, the Friday Fellowship (which started as a weekly time of praise and worship, but is now spreading its wings) team visited the girls home run by the local church. There are about 60 children there and we had a wonderful time of singing, sharing, skits and a message, followed by dinner. The thought of children in need has been staying with me for the last few weeks, ever since I watched the movie 'The Kite Runner'. Having (to my embarrassment, I must confess) not yet read the book, I was quite moved at the presentation of the grim realities that face so many children on our planet. Amy, who has read the book, tells me that it is even more graphically presented there. But the time in our orphanage was certainly not what I expected. The children all looked so happy and really encouraged me with their effervescence and excitement. There was none of the doom and gloom that were depicted in the movie - rather, I left there with a feeling of having been blessed.
As I sat and let my mind wander during the message, (which being in Khasi, went right over my head), I was reminded of John Bradford's famous words - There, but for the grace of God, am I. Bradford was a Christian reformer who lived in Britain in the early 1500s. Known and beloved by all as a devout and compassionate Christian, he was so obviously set apart that in college at Cambridge, he was called 'Holy Bradford'. (And this was not in the disparaging sense that present day young people use it - in my college days the actual term used was 'white mafia'!!). After his studies he was ordained a priest and became a roving minister preaching the gospel. When Mary Tudor, a Catholic, came to the throne of Britain, persecution of the Protestants became very strong and Bradford was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was there for nearly two years, spending the time preaching, writing and systematically studying the Bible. During his imprisonment, he is said to have seen a group of prisoners being taken for their execution and made his now-famous remark - There, but for the grace of God goes John Bradford. He too was destined to suffer the same martyr's fate and it is said that just before being burnt at stake, he asked for forgiveness of those he had wronged, offered forgiveness to those who had wronged him and then remarked to the person tied to the stake with him, 'We shall have a merry supper with the Lord tonight'. Though there are some doubts about the attribution of this quote to him, it is now commonly used and has been modified by many, including Sir Winston Chrichill who said of the pompous Sir Stafford Cripps (known to all of us Indians for his infamous Cripps mission), 'There, but for the grace of God, goes God!!'
The powerful Bradford confession while conveying humility and gratefulness, also implies the tendency to think of oneself as better-off than someone else. While in college and blessed with the idealism of youth, I believed that nothing was impossible to anyone who had a dream and worked hard towards it. So much so, that I even invited 2 older boys from the village we had our community posting in, to stay with me in the hostel for a few days, so that they could experience the feeling of being in a medical college and be inspired to study hard and get there themselves!! I like to believe they had a good time, but with the realism (some may say cynicism!!) that comes with age, it is difficult for me to believe they actually made it to a medical college somewhere.
And yesterday sitting in the childrens home, surrounded by eager and excited faces (and not the dull and sunken ones I had expected), I realised that God's blessing to His children can never be counted in the material terms that we humans often base our lives on. His blessing is His love to our hearts that makes us sing whatever the circumstances (see Pradeep's latest post for a similar thought). While everything that we are and have are certainly His gifts, the mark of a true follower is the inner joy and peace that shine out whatever the circumstances. While I may never understand why those 66 children need to spend their lives not knowing the protection of a human father, never being able to utter the word 'Mama' and always knowing that they were not the 'same' as the majority of their classmates, I do know that their joyous faces and voices shone forth the love of God in a way I may never be able to do. As I sat there I knew in my heart that those little children were touching the heart of God with their songs and their smiles, while I, with my fancy education, so-called accomplishments and perceived stability was just a pretender who had a long way to run to His open arms. How hard for the rich man to enter the Kingdom.....