By way of light relief, before moving on to the second category in my series on ‘The Poor deserve the Best’, I am reproducing a written interview I gave recently for my local church (Church of Christ the King – CCK) blog. There are lessons here about lack of wisdom, enforced humility, doing your homework before travelling in another culture and being grateful for angelic protection!
Nigel Ring has lived in Brighton and Hove for over 25 years now. He is part of the newfrontiers administration team and serves as Terry Virgo’s Administrator. He also has a passion for the upliftment of the poor and often travels to countries like India, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Zimbabwe to oversee some of the projects Newfrontiers has initiated in these countries.
Cultural naïvety and culture shock.
On my first visit to India (I have since been about 20 times) the angels worked overtime! I arrived at midnight and only had an address on a piece of paper; I did not want to trouble my host to meet me at that hour. I had assumed everyone spoke English and that the taxi drivers would be like London cabbies – they would know every street. How naïve. Wrong! Wrong!!
I clambered into one of the local means of transport, a three wheeler auto-rickshaw, and gave the driver the all-important piece of paper (having already fought my way through the cattle market of Bombay airport – now greatly improved). He shrugged his shoulders and set off. Rough roads, the stench of raw sewage and enquiring of every be-scarfed night-watchman (despite it being well over 20 degrees Celsius) if he knew the address, defined the next hour.
We then arrived – at least that was my hope. Leaving my cases in the rickshaw (still naïve!) I climbed to the 3rd floor to check I was in the right place and, to my great relief, found Henry Tyler (co-founder of CCK) who, with his dear wife Dorothy, was spending 4 months helping the churches in Bombay.
I returned to pay the driver – great relief as the suitcases were still there! He did not speak English and the meter read Rs 8. There were 12 rupees to the £ at that stage so I assumed that that could not have meant 70 pence but should have been Rs 80 – about £7. This seemed reasonable for a one hour taxi ride. I am sure he was laughing all the way to the bank when I paid him that amount (not that he would have used a bank)!
At 9am the next day, after a few hours of snatched sleep trying to ignore the barking of the ubiquitous brown mongrel dogs which roam the streets of every ‘third world’ city, I was visited by a young man from the church there who offered to show me round Bombay. (He, Arun Philip, is now a church leader in Kerala.)
We started in Dharavi of Slumdog Millionaire fame, the largest slum in Asia. To this day I can recall standing in the middle of the abject poverty and realising my emotions had closed down. I could not register with anything – the ill-clad children defecating on the road, the sack and corrugated iron shacks that served (and still do) as people’s homes, the stench, the noise, the language…. Through the day we climbed the social scale and ended in the beautiful home of a converted Parsi lady, with marbled floor and the scent of plentiful flowers masking the atmosphere we had just escaped. Indeed, it was seeing the beauty of flowers that had caused her to enquire about a Creator and led her to God.
All that took place nearly 3 decades ago. Despite this introduction to India something happened in my soul that has taken me there again and again. It also opened a new chapter in my life which has since taken me to many other nations where I have seen and experienced life in the raw, to places that no tourist ever has the privilege of sharing with local people.
And the angels continue to protect me – thank God! I could recount times in Sierra Leone, during the civil war, when I slept in a bombed out building under a UNHCR tarpaulin, or the occasion in Kenya when I nearly trod on a snake which, if it had bitten me, would have given me 2 minutes to live, or… But those are stories for another occasion.
God has been so gracious to me. Since my first sense of calling into ministry at the age of nine I can trace His favour and kindness to me in preparing me for each season of my life. I have rich memories of so many places and thank him for them.