India: Day Four
Today, Ram Kumar, one of the children from the Bible Club, invited me to his home to share a meal with his family!
Ram's house doesn't look like mine at all. There were six or seven people living in a one-room mud hut. Can you imagine doing that?! I can't.
Both of Ram's parents died, so he lives with his cousin, who only earns about one dollar a day to feed the whole family. The family also owes the village loan shark 28,000 rupees (about $700). They will be saddled with this debt for the rest of their lives - but they are praying for a miracle!
I asked Justin if it were possible for someone like me to simply pay off their loan. He told me it wouldn't be a good idea. The other villagers might find out about this payment and the family may be targeted for extortion - or even accused of taking a bribe to follow Jesus.
Also, the loan shark might take the money, and then say the family still owes him the entire debt, because the payment didn't come from them. Doesn't seem fair...
In our conversations throughout the day, Justin told us that in many ways the Bible Clubs are truly a lifeline to many children like Ram.
The Hindu caste system teaches that children born into the lowest castes are literally worth less than the lives of high caste children - and so they don't get the same privileges or opportunities.
Even if they go to school, many low caste children are forced to sit in the back of the class and the teacher gives them little or no instruction. Kids like Ram might be in school every day and yet never learn a thing!
But what's worse is that these kids grow up thinking that they don't deserve things like a good education or to be treated with kindness or respect. They believe their gods don't value them, and are punishing them for their sins. So when they come to a Bible Club, it is probably the first time they are encountering a loving God! A God who created them in His image - and invites them to come talk to Him in prayer.
I can't imagine my own daughter not knowing that Jesus loves her...
On a fun note, one of the cameramen, Dale, turned 22 today. The village children sang Happy Birthday - and even presented him with a cake! It was a lot of fun...
Chris' meal with Ram Kumar was just one of the exciting things he experienced today. Click on the photos below for more behind-the-scenes pictures from Chris' day in an Indian village.
Give us this day our daily bread...
Today's memory verse: "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." (2 Corinthians 8:2)
For kids like Ram, and most people in India, "our daily bread" is just that and not much more.
A small mud hut, no bathroom, no electricity... How would life be different if you had no electricity?
When you watch Chris sitting down with Ram's family by the light of a kerosene lamp, you have a picture of what life was also like at the time of Jesus. Jesus walked from village to village. Some people welcomed him into their home and shared food with him. Did Jesus have his own house? (Matthew 8:20) Compared to the people He spent time with, did Jesus have much of value?
Do you ever compare yourself to other people around you? We can see other families who look like they have more than we do, and feel sorry for ourselves... or we can look at the joy in the faces of people in India who seem to have so little, yet have everything they need in Jesus.
When we look at how other people live, God reminds us of two things: trust and contentment.
Trust God to provide what you need:
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:25-27)
Be content with what He gives:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:7-10).
Talk about it: What is the opposite of trust and contentment? Read Exodus 20:17 and talk about ways you may fall into this temptation.
Could you live on $1 a day?
Learn more about Ram Kumar and his family in this short video clip from Chris' visit today.
It is hard to imagine what life is like for kids in India like Ram Kumar. Have you ever tried to convince your parents to buy something for you by saying, "It's just a dollar"?
But for families in rural areas especially, $1 a day is all they have to provide food, clothing, and housing for an entire family. The cost of living in India is much lower than in countries like the United States, but it is still a challenge to survive on just one or two dollars of income.
Set aside some time (1 to 2 hours, maybe even a day depending on ages & schedule) during which you will pretend you are a poor family in India, living on just $1 a day.
Turn off your phones, computers, MP3 players, lights, etc. to get more of an idea what daily life is like, especially in rural India.
Here are some things you can try during this time to experience what daily life is like for kids growing up in India:
- Food Prepare a simple meal of rice for the family to eat. Each person should get only a small bowl, and there should be no leftovers. As you prepare the rice over a stove, talk about how most moms in India cook over a fire, using dried cow dung or wood as fuel. Have your child add food coloring to a cup of water to make it look dirty; talk about how many Indian families only have access to water that is contaminated by trash or animal/human waste. Sit on the floor to eat your meal (and try eating with your fingers, like Chris does in today's video!).
- Laundry Most families in India must wash clothes by hand. A boy or girl might only own one or two outfits. Find a shirt to wash and scrub by hand in the kitchen sink or bathtub. Talk about what it would be like to do your laundry like this every day!
- Clothing Trade shoes and/or clothes with someone in your family who wears a different size. Kids in India often go barefoot, but if they do own shoes, they don't have the luxury of going to get a proper fit. They often wear hand-me-down shoes and clothes that are too big or too small.
- Reading Don't read any books during this time. Many kids can't read - in fact, 87 million boys and in India who should be in school aren't enrolled, usually because their parents can't afford to send them. Lots of moms and dads can't read either (you'll hear more in Day 6 about how Mission India is helping through free literacy classes).
- Fun Most kids in India don't have toys, so they make up games using whatever is around, like rocks or sticks. Make up your own game or click here for instructions on playing the Indian game Uffangali.
Talk about it:
Reflect as a family on your experience. What was the hardest thing about doing this activity? What surprised you the most? If you had to live like this every day, would your faith in God make it easier to endure? Spend some time praying for Indian families like Ram Kumar's, that they would know the joy of the Lord as their strength, and give thanks as a family for God's blessings.
Today Chris shared a typical Indian meal of sambar and rice with Ram Kumar and his family. Here is the recipe below, along with two more recipes for lassi and chapati that your family can try at home! Consider inviting another family over to share your meal, and tell them what you have been learning through My Passport to India!
Sambar & rice
Sambar is a popular south Indian side dish of lentils and vegetables that is often served with rice.
To find some of the more unusual ingredients in this recipe, try looking for an Indian grocer in your community. Or, substitute a simple curried lentils recipe.
- 1 cup yellow split peas (tuvar dal)
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup tamarind pulp
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon yellow lentils (chana dal)
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened flaked coconut
- 2 dried red chile peppers
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seed
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder
- Place yellow split peas in a saucepan with 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until soft, about 15 minutes. In another saucepan, mix together the tamarind pulp stir in 1/2 cup water to make a watery juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and tomato to the tamarind juice, and continue to boil until the vegetables are soft, and the liquid has reduced to almost half.
- Meanwhile, grind the coriander seeds, yellow lentils, coconut and chilies to a paste using a mortar and pestle or food processor. Add this paste to the tamarind sauce, then stir in the yellow lentils until everything is well blended. Bring to a boil once again, then remove from the heat and set aside.
- Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat, and add the mustard seed, cumin seed, and asafoetida powder. Once the mustard seeds start to sputter and the mixture is fragrant, remove from heat and stir into sambar. Serve hot.
Lassi is basically a juicy, runny smoothie. It is often served as a refreshing drink in hot weather in India. You can use mango or substitute another fruit, such as strawberries or bananas.
- 9 fluid ounces (255 milliliters) plain yogurt
- 4 1/2 fluid ounces (130 milliliters) milk
- 4 1/2 fluid ounces (130 milliliters) canned mango pulp or 7 ounces (200 grams) from 3 fresh mango, stoned and sliced
- 4 teaspoons sugar, to taste, or feel free to try salt and cardamom seeds
- Put all the ingredients into a blender and blend for 2 minutes.
- Pour into individual glasses, and serve.
- Can be kept refrigerated for up to 24 hours
Chapati is a flatbread that is usually part of every Indian meal. It is similar to roti or naan bread.
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3/4 cup hot water or as needed
- In a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and salt.
- Use a wooden spoon to stir in the olive oil and enough water to make a soft dough that is elastic but not sticky.
- Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is smooth. Divide into 10 parts, or less if you want bigger breads.
- Roll each piece into a ball. Let rest for a few minutes.
- Heat a skillet over medium heat until hot, and grease lightly.
- On a lightly floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll out the balls of dough until very thin like a tortilla.
- When the pan starts smoking, put a chapati on it.
- Cook until the underside has brown spots, about 30 seconds, then flip and cook on the other side.
- Continue with remaining dough.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A doctor? A firefighter? A veterinarian? A teacher?
In America and many other countries, children grow up and choose their own jobs. We have many choices and can work hard to make our dreams come true.
But if you lived in India, your job - and your position in society - would be determined long before you are even born. You would have the same job as your parents...and grandparents...and someday your own children would do the same work.
This is because of something called the caste system. For centuries, Hinduism has divided Indian society into four main varnas, or castes.
- Sudras are the lowest caste, and do hard work and manual labor.
- The Vaisya caste includes merchants, farmers, and artisans.
- Warriors and rulers belong to the Kshatriya caste.
- The highest caste, Brahmin, is the smallest and most powerful group. Hindu priests and religious leaders come from the Brahmin caste.
Each varna is divided into thousands of subcastes, called jatis. There are different subcastes for every kind of job - blacksmiths, lawyers, stoneworkers, etc. Often members of a jati will live and work together, forming communities based on castes. Mothers and fathers choose marriage partners for their sons and daughters from the same caste.
Words to know:
- Varna: caste
- Jati: subcaste
- Reincarnation: an eternal cycle of life & death
- Karma: you get what you deserve
India's caste system is similar in some ways to discrimination based on skin color, gender, or ethnicity. But there is one big difference: Hindus believe their gods decide a person's caste as either a punishment or a blessing.
Hindus believe the gods decide what caste people are born into based on their karma, or how they lived in a past life. They believe when a person dies, they are reincarnated, or reborn into a new body.
If you pleased the gods in a past life, then you are reincarnated into a higher caste. But if you anger the gods, they will condemn you to a lower caste in the next life.
What's caste like?
We'll never know exactly what it's like to grow up with the caste system. It is hard to imagine someone not wanting to talk to us or even touch us just because of the family we were born into.
Click here for a role-playing activity to get a taste of what living under the caste system is like.
That is why in India, you cannot choose to leave the caste you are born into. If you are born into the highest levels, then people think the gods have blessed you. You will always be treated with respect by the lower castes. You will feel more important than others and even have the power to treat lower castes badly.
But if you are born into a low caste family, Hindus believe you must have angered the gods in a previous life and are being punished. You are looked down upon and even shunned by higher castes. An upper caste person can refuse to eat with someone from a lower caste. Sometimes in school, children won't sit near or talk to lower-caste students.
This kind of behavior, called caste discrimination, is against the law in India. Even though caste discrimination is illegal, this ancient social practice is still very alive today, especially in rural villages. In India, your caste is your identity.
What if no one would touch you?
What if people told you that you were so worthless, you weren't even human?
That is what life is like for millions of people in India, known as the Untouchables.
This group is considered so unworthy that they are not even in the caste system. This is where the word "outcast" comes from. Today, Untouchables choose to call themselves Dalits, which means crushed or broken. Gandhi called them harijan, or "Children of God."
Many of India's Hindus believe that Dalits are less than human and are spiritually unclean. Dalits were once forced to drink from clay cups that would be destroyed after each use. They had to walk with brooms tied behind them, to sweep away their "unclean" footprints.
For centuries, Dalits have done the dirtiest, most awful jobs in society. They must clean human waste and sewers by hand, butcher animals, and do leather work.
Because they are considered unclean, Dalits are ostracized in Indian society and most live in separate villages or urban slums. Many upper caste people believe even a Dalit's shadow is unclean. They will not share a well with Dalits.
Discrimination against Dalits is illegal in modern India. But it continues in social practice even today.
Many Dalit people have defied social traditions and gone on to achieve great success in society, becoming doctors, writers, and political leaders. India has even had a Dalit president: KR Narayanan was elected the tenth president of India in 1997 and served until 2002. But they are still considered "outcasts" by many upper caste people. Some upper caste Hindus even look down upon these successful Dalits because they believe the Dalits are not accepting the low status bestowed on them by their gods.