14 Feb A Wild Ride in India
“…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt made this
phrase famous in his 1933 inaugural speech after defeating incumbent Herbert Hoover in
an absolute landslide in the 1932 election.
To his credit, Hoover tried; but with the stock market crashing into a brick wall in 1929, a fourth of the country out of jobs, millions without homes, state banks closing, farmers of America with no future, and the country in the midst of a pretty sizable depression (wait, did he actually think he had a chance of winning?), he had no chance of winning. FDR, as most incoming presidents tend to do, worked to keep the country calm and assured of a brighter future.
Having nothing to fear but fear sounds today, as I’m sure it did then, eloquent,
optimistic, and promising enough (it’s everywhere!).
And let’s give credit where it’s due, FDR did go on to pull the country out of the depression, guide America and the Allies through essentially the entirety of World War II, and set the U.S. on track for a prosperous future, all while winning a record four—yes four—presidential elections (how was that legal?; see 22nd Amendment), so kudos to him. But am I really supposed to believe that at no point he or any other American was going to experience fear of something other than fear?
Apparently he didn’t entertain the thought that his parents may cancel their
Netflix subscription, forcing him and all his best friends to pay for their own accounts. Or
maybe he didn’t consider the possibility of having 15 miles to empty and not knowing
which upcoming exit will have a gas station and a Starbucks, for the sake of efficiency.
Or the fear of having a stomach ache, checking WebMD, and realizing it’s a hyper-rare,
deadly, one in a million disease that hasn’t existed in mankind for hundreds of years,
instead of the Taco Bell he just ate. I guess the 1930’s were just different.
Fortunately for FDR the internet wouldn’t be around for another 60 or so years,
and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all other means by which one can be
absolutely roasted for saying anything remotely questionable was still 80 years out. So,
FDR is fondly remembered and celebrated as one of the best, most successful presidents
in U.S. history. In reality, there were plenty of things for him and the rest of Americans to
legitimately fear, but FDR unified the American people around his resolve to make
America great again (in a totally different way), despite enormous challenges. He’s
rightly venerated for the work he did as president; but how helpful is his philosophy of fear?
Jonathan Kent, the adoptive father of Clark Kent—otherwise known as
Superman—had his own interesting philosophy on the nature of fear. In the 2013 movie
Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s attempt in the long line of Superman adaptations, there is a
poignant scene between Jonathan and a young Clark. Clark was supposed to keep his
super identity and freakish abilities a secret, but like a good Superman does, he just
couldn’t help but help people! I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan of the film as a whole, but this
scene is great (Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Superman as a superhero; he’s just too
super, too strong, and too awesome for me to appreciate, so my opinions probably don’t
matter!). Clark asks his dad (yes, his dad; watch the scene and try not to cry) why people
are scared of him, and Jonathan responds, “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”
Is that true? Well, yes and no. Xenophobia, for example, is intense or irrational
dislike or fear of people from other countries. Why is there fear? Are people from other
countries inherently scary? Of course not, they are human just like you and me. Their
cultures and backgrounds, however, are different from ours. And that difference—the unknown—is often what’s scary for a lot of people.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and hear something moving downstairs, your knowledge of the situation determines your response. If your grandmother lives with you and is always plundering through the kitchen at 2:00 a.m., you probably wouldn’t be afraid. On the other hand, if you’re home alone and you hear something moving downstairs, you may feel more fear. It could be your cat Fluffy, or it could be a grizzly bear; the unknown makes it a more fearful situation. The example is silly, but you get the point. So Superman’s dad is partially right.
But he is also partially wrong. Let’s take the grizzly bear for example. Here’s what I know to be true about grizzlies. They are massive. They are strong. They can run, climb, and swim much better than me. They love eating. They are impartial to whom they
will eat if their children are in danger. They can beat me up. They prefer Cookout
milkshakes to Chick-fil- A milkshakes (this is probably true, but I literally did no research
to support it). There is much more one could know about grizzly bears, but I think on a
basic level I understand them pretty well. And the more I understand about grizzlies, the
more I actually fear them. If, as Brick Tamland did in the movie Anchorman, I only
thought about grizzly bears as furry tractors, I would probably not fear them, and that
would be a bad decision.
There are many more examples that could prove this point, but this will suffice. I
think we can agree on these two points: there are legitimate things in life to fear other
than fear, and you can fear things you both do and do not understand, which, if you’re
keeping score, leaves us no further on the topic of fear than when we began. Success.
That obnoxiously long and unnecessary introduction was to get us thinking about fear.
I’m not going to lay out my personal philosophy of fear, but I am going to tell you a story
of a time I was afraid. This is true, and it happened a little over two weeks ago.
If you’ve been to India, this story will resonate; if you haven’t, I’ll do my best to
help you along. There we were (Will Ray and myself; the picture below is us at my wedding), in the back of an Uber, pulling away from our English speaking American friends we had just spent a week with, and making our way to Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.
There were no flights to Delhi this particular Sunday, and the train, which is fast, efficient, and doesn’t stop on the way to the airport, was booked. So we were left with little other options than to call an Uber and ask if he would be so kind as to take us to the Delhi airport, which was five hours away (imagine calling an Uber in Clemson, S.C. on a Sunday night and asking if he could take you to Raleigh, N.C. really quickly; that would go over well, I’m sure). But, because
Indians are some of the kindest and most accommodating people on the planet, it was no problem.
Our flight was set to leave Delhi at 1:25 a.m. on Monday morning, and, with the
five-hour drive, we were scheduled to arrive at the airport around 10:00 p.m. on Sunday
night, which would leave us plenty of time to make it through the airport and to our gate.
The drive started off well enough, but we had a couple of what one may call minor issues.
Our driver spoke minimal English (and by minimal I mean he knew only the
words “ten” and “minute,” an important detail for later); Will and I combined knew about
seven Hindi words, none of which were helpful at any point of our journey; we only had
enough Rupees (Indian currency) to pay our driver upon arrival; and neither of us had
cell phones or any means to communicate with the outside world (our American friend,
thankfully, did give us his number so we could get in touch with him from an Indian phone).
Issues aside, we were making progress and scheduled for an on-time arrival. After
about an hour and a half into the trip, our driver decided it was time to stop and eat some
dinner. This was an understandable stop; I’m sure our driver had not planned to take such
a trip and was getting hungry. We pulled off the highway into a dusty parking lot. Before
us was a massive establishment. Obviously a popular spot for weary travelers, there were
people everywhere. Our driver turned to look at me and said only two words, “Ten
minute.” I confidently responded with three of the seven Hindi words I know, “Koi baat
nahi,” which means “no problem.” It was truly a riveting conversation. He stared at me
for a few seconds, clearly not processing what I said, hopped out of the car, and
disappeared into a crowd of people (I probably need to work on my accent).
Will and I sat in the car, because, again, we only had enough money to pay him
for the drive, and waited. A minute passed, five minutes, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes
went by and still no driver. Doubt began to set in about our driver’s understanding of the
words ten and minute. We decided it was best for one of us to go into the crowd to find
our friend. I volunteered as tribute and made my way through the outside dinning area—no driver.
I went into the restaurant and looked to my right—no driver. I ventured
further into the establishment, and there he sat, our driver, all alone, staring off into space
while he ate a full course meal.
Because I had nearly exhausted my Hindi in our first conversation, and this
definitely was becoming a problem, I used the only words I thought we both understood.
With all ten of my fingers spread wide, I looked at him with mild concern and said, “Ten
minute.” He nodded his head, replied, “Do minute (the Hindi word for two; pronounced
dough),” and continued his meal. A bit baffled, and trying my best to keep my patience, I
calmly returned to the car and relayed the story to Will.
There we sat. Five minutes passed, ten minutes, fifteen, and suddenly we were roughly 35 minutes into a “ten minute” dinner break. Normally delays are expected and even welcomed when venturing in a foreign land, but traffic in India is always a threat, and we were still a considerable distance from our destination.
With frustration mounting, I proceeded back into the restaurant. There he was, seemingly no closer to completing his meal than before. With absolute resolve, he looked me dead in the eye with all seriousness and said the two words I did not want to hear, “Do minute.”
Now, those of you who know me can attest to the fact that I’m pretty laid back
and easy going. I realize it’s an easy thing for people writing about an instance they were
frustrated to claim they aren’t normally angry people, or they wouldn’t usually get upset
in this or that situation, especially if they are Christians (higher standard, am I right?). If
you don’t know me, I understand what you’re probably feeling, and I don’t blame you if
you judge me for what follows, but I didn’t know what else to do (we could have been
playing this minute game for hours!).
With utter loss of reserve and respect for the people in the restaurant and this poor
soul who, by fate, picked up two Americans in need of timeliness, I went berserk on my dude.
My mini-diatribe included appeals to the definition of words (ten has to mean ten!),
the urgency and relentlessness of airline departure times (gates close twenty minutes prior
to departure), and how Jesus said we should let our yes be yes or no be no, otherwise it’s
evil (okay, I didn’t say that, but it would have been a good time for it). With the entire
restaurant staring at me, and our driver now the baffled one, whatever I actually communicated worked, because he jumped up and ran to the car, and we were on our way.
Though the words I communicated clearly weren’t understood, the tone certainly
was. Our driver, suddenly a cast member of the Fast and Furious franchise, was zooming
down the highway and leaving others in the dust (literally, India is painfully dusty).
I immediately felt horrible for the restaurant incident, but if that’s what he needed to get us
to the airport, so be it. Jet lag began to catch up with me, and I dozed off for a nap. When I awoke, we were in the middle of some serious traffic and Will looked unusually concerned. A note about Indian traffic is necessary: it’s crazy.
Traffic laws are more like traffic suggestions…eh, theoretical ideas that would be nice if applied. There are lanes, but no one uses them. Cars frequently travel down the wrong side of the road.
Animals always have the right of way.
Stoplights are merely decorations. And, if traffic comes to a halt and there is an open space, some vehicle will fill that space, whether it is a bus, tractor (like, the farming kind), car, motorcycle, or auto rickshaw (yes, all these travel down the highway at the same time).
Will had been to India before and experienced bad traffic, so I knew that wasn’t
what was bothering him. Something much worse was at hand. I asked him what was
wrong, and he pointed to our driver, who, like a grizzly bear entering hibernation after a
season of feasting, was dozing quickly (fun fact: grizzlies hibernate 5-7 months at a time;
full circle, y’all). I guess his feast of a meal caught up with him. He was doing that thing where his eye lids would get really heavy, fully close for a second, then pop open, causing him to
jerk the steering wheel, nearly sending us into the cars all around us.
He went from slightly swerving to veering all the way across the highway and back. He would slow way down as his eyes would shut, and then speed up once he popped back. As he was swerving, other cars were doing their best to avoid hitting us.
To make matters worse, our driver’s GPS, which was constantly recalculating our time of arrival based on traffic, showed us arriving to Delhi at midnight, two hours behind what we expected. Arriving that late would push the limits of how quickly we could check-in, get through security, and make it to our gate before departure. In that moment, however, making our flight was the least of our concerns.
And this is where the overly long introduction on fear becomes relevant. I’ve been
to 13 different countries. I’ve lived in a mud hut with a devout Muslim family for seven
weeks in a small village in Africa. I’ve been in a makeshift canoe in the middle of the
Niger River, far too close to hippos, with a tour guide who was using nothing but a really
long stick to navigate. I’ve twice stayed beside an active volcano, which would smoke up
almost daily, and I could see the lava glowing at night; it erupted several years ago,
destroying much of the surrounding area. I’ve sat on the edge of a 2,000 foot sea cliff in
Europe. I’ve been in situations when I probably shouldn’t have felt safe or confident
about my ability to or likelihood of surviving. Maybe it’s stupidity, ignorance, or a
mixture of the two, but I’ve rarely been afraid while overseas.
In this particular instance, however, fear itself was not what I was afraid of, and
fear was definitely not something I felt because of a lack of understanding. Fear was the thought that
my Uber driver, with whom I could not communicate, was going to fall asleep while
trying to speed us to the airport, inevitably leaving us in a ditch, possibly dead. Fear was
the idea that I might not make it home to my wife. Fear was, for the first time in a foreign
place, the idea I might not make it home. It wasn’t a joke; it wasn’t funny; Will and I were truly fearful of a number of different possibilities, none of which seemed good for us. We looked at one another, buckled up, and made every effort to keep our driver awake.
He was fading fast. We kept hitting his arm and trying to communicate with him
to make sure he was okay to drive. Realizing we were worried, he decided to stop and get
some tea. I asked for his phone and called our American friend. He communicated with
our driver, and told him to stay awake and keep us alive. I could tell our driver was
concerned and gave affirmation that he was okay.
We got back on the road. Will and I intently kept watch on him to make sure his eyes were open. Our American friend called the driver and said our flight had been delayed by 40 minutes, and we should have enough time to make our flight. With about an hour left in our drive, our driver started getting sleepy again, and we kept hitting him to keep him alert. We arrived at the airport around midnight, no harm to us or the driver. We made it through the airport and to our flight in time, the worst part of our trip thankfully behind us.
Some things people fear are funny. For example, turophobia is the fear of cheese (that’s more sad than funny). Pogonophobia is the fear of beards. Some beards really are scary.
Hylophobia is the irrational fear of wood, forest, or trees. And, one of my favorites, papaphobia, is fear of the Pope. I found one, however, that is quite peculiar, but understandable.
Uranophobia is fear of heaven or the sky. Apparently this fear can be trigged when
people are scared about the afterlife. For some people, especially religious ones, they fear
their bad deeds may keep them out of heaven.
This interested me because when I think of heaven I’m not afraid. The gospel is
clear: those who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts
God raised Him from the dead will be saved (Rom. 10:9). Salvation ultimately means
God’s people will be in God’s presence for all of eternity. One of the things that is so
reassuring about Revelation 7:9—the throne room of God, where people from every tribe,
tongue, and nation are praising Him for salvation—is that it is a promised picture of a
future reality. And by God’s grace, I’ll be there one day with many brothers and sisters praising
Him for who He is and what He has done.
I don’t have anything to fear. Sure, I felt real fear in the car that night. I don’t
want to die because an Uber driver can’t stay awake. I desire to live a long and fruitful
life doing ministry with my wife for years to come. However, at the end of the day I don’t
have to be scared. I know God’s promises are true, and He is faithful to save. And if I die
tomorrow in a grizzly bear fight or in 60 years in a grizzly bear fight, Heather (my wife)
and I both will be around God’s throne one day, praising him for salvation.
One of the truly crazy things about India, other than the traffic, is the fact that 1.2
billion people are unreached—that’s 95.6% of the population of India. They don’t have
the gospel. Many of those people within that 1.2 billion have never even heard the name
of Jesus. During our time in India we were working with some partners who are trying to
make a dent in that 1.2 billion. All those dots are unreached people groups.
One day while we were there we went out with two national partners (Indian
believers) and shared the gospel in remote villages in the mountains. We were literally
just looking for houses in the mountains, intending to talk with them about the
gospel. One of our American friends, who is a terrible driver by the way (I hope he ends
up reading this), stopped on the side of the road because he spotted a potential village.
We walked down a path and made our way into a village of about five homes. Over the course of an hour, we shared the gospel with a group of seven people. We asked if they
had ever heard of Jesus, and they said no. They had no clue what Christianity was. One of
the national partners pressed in to make sure these people understood the gospel message
we were sharing.
Upon hearing the gospel, these seven Indians repented of their sins and
placed their faith in Jesus Christ. They wanted to learn more about the Bible and begin
meeting together to read about Jesus. Our American friends and national partners
said they would return to begin discipling this new group of believers. If that wasn’t
amazing enough, when we reconvened with the rest of our group we discovered they also
had the chance to share with a group of people in a different village that never heard of
Jesus and nine people came to faith! Praise God for salvation!
Here’s what I fear more than dying in the hands of a sleepy Uber driver or dying
in general, and that’s the fact that there are billions of people who are dying and going to
Hell for eternity; and most of those people have never even heard the gospel. The
saddening reality is that most of them never will hear the gospel. In Romans 10:14-17,
Paul clearly teaches people will not believe in and follow Jesus Christ if they do not hear
the gospel. That means people will spend eternity separated from their creator because
they did not hear the good news of Christ.
What should that do to us? How should that make us feel? I sincerely hope the
reality of the vast lostness across this planet moves and motivates us to preach Christ
wherever we are. Moreover, I hope it moves us to preach Christ where he has never been
heard. I pray laborers will be raised up to go into areas hard to reach. I pray
Christians in America will take seriously the call to make disciples. And I pray God will
use you and me to speak the truth of Christ to those who are lost, dying, and going to Hell.
Here are some prayer points: 1. Pray for laborers (Luke 10:2). We need people
going to the nations. 2. Pray for salvation. God is working across this globe to fulfill his
promise in Revelation 7:9. People are coming to faith. We saw 16 people profess faith in
remote villages in India, but there are billions left across the world. 3. Pray for the Spirit to move among believers to share the gospel. People absolutely will not come to faith if God’s people are
reluctant to share the good news of how He has saved them. 16 people, and countless more (the work going on in India right now is amazing), came to faith because they heard the gospel.
One last story and I’m done (thank you to those who have stayed with me this
long). We were able to attend a church the Sunday morning before the Uber catastrophe.
There were roughly 40-50 people present (including children). We asked how many
times they had shared the gospel in the past month. Their total came to 100. 100 gospel
conversations—that doubled the size of the congregation. They saw 19 people come to
faith that month. I want you to think about the size of your congregation. What if your
congregation doubled its number in gospel shares per month? Do you think we would see
a movement? Do you think people would come to faith? You do the math.
Thank you for hanging in with me and reading this through. I truly hope it was
helpful, encouraging, challenging, and enjoyable for you. Consider the prayer points, and
consider what it would look like to take evangelism as seriously as our Indian brothers
and sisters are. And pray. Love you all.
Generation LINK Resident