All posts by jlaudencia

Broaching the subject of homosexuality in India

On our first night in Mangalore, our hosts at Karnataka Theological College arranged a meet-and-greet between our group of 13 and their seminarian students and some faculty.

Our hosts prepared samosas and chai for mingling outdoors cocktail party style. We then moved to sit in a large circle in their auditorium and shared our names. We were each given a single beautiful rose as a welcome. Then the floor opened up for questions.

After a few exchanges, I decided to ask the pressing question on my mind. In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that a portion of Indian Penal Code 377 was unconstitutional, specifically the part that deemed homosexual acts as illegal. That was a huge victory for LGBT people in India. However, this past December 2013, the Indian Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and re-criminalized homosexuality.

I told the group of seminarians that I worked at a LGBT community center and have witnessed the devastating and harmful impact of church rhetoric against the dignity and self-esteem of LGBT people. I asked them whether their churches and this college took a stand on this recent issue.

Silence ensued. I looked into their eyes to see their reactions. Did I cross the line? Did I offend our host community by asking this question? Or perhaps did a cultural and language divide make my question incomprehensible?

After a few moments, a couple professors shared that they have addressed this issue in class but that, for the most part, it was a taboo topic in a very socially conservative culture. However, none of the students responded. I feared that I might have caused unnecessary discomfort on our first opportunity to meet each other. I wondered if any of them had ever met an openly gay man before. I worried whether the other students would speak to me in our time remaining here.

Afterwards, a professor related to me that leaders of the various main faith groups in India came out in support of re-criminalising homosexuality. Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders all publicly condemned homosexuality, making their positions clear to the Supreme Court.

When I heard that, I felt that the question I posed was not only appropriate, but necessary. Here were seminarians that would soon be leaving school to lead their churches and communities. If anything, my question might open the space for greater dialogue in this school or someone’s local community about this traditionally taboo topic. Hopefully, it would lead to the de-stigmatizing of LGBT people and eventually create the political will to dismantle IPC 377.

The next morning, in chapel, I saw one student I had met the night before and approached him to say hi. He immediately smiled, and said, “Come here. Sit next to me!”

My heart softened. I realized that despite the different positions we might hold on this issue, here in this place we were welcomed with open arms. I also realized that even though we must be aware of being in unfamiliar surroundings, I should not let that stop me from being authentic. Sometimes it’s a fine dance, but nevertheless it’s important to show up fully as I am.

- Joselito, student

Inspiring words from Mother Teresa

Anyway

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
- Mother Teresa

Submitted by Mariah

Looking out the window

Walking through the chaotic, busy, noisy streets, we reached the entrance to Mother Teresa’s orphanage after just a few blocks. Like the Mother House, a few blocks the other direction, there is a sense of peace and serenity in the midst of all of the sounds of the city. Smiling was an important lesson Mother Teresa taught to all she met. It is a simple way to convey the joy and the love of God. And so the sisters, moving about their work, when they caught your eye, smiled, truly seeing you. As we walked into the large room with several rows of cribs and cots I saw a lot of smiling. The room housed the children with mental and physical disabilities. Only a few lay in these beds. Most were in chairs or special seats, sitting on the floor, surrounded by the sisters and the volunteers. The sisters bustled about preparing the meal, ladeling spoonfuls of food into metal bowls. With all the perceived sadness of children facing lives of indescribable difficulty and having been abandoned by their families, in this space was a sense of joy. The joy of being in the presence of these children. Joy at having the opportunity to serve and to bring a moment of peace to these lives.

Off in a corner one little boy stood staring out to the street below. He was dressed in a neat blue sweater and shorts. He stood at the window, hands clasped around the metal bars, swaying slightly to some internal melody, or perhaps it was the song of the honking cars. I knelt beside him and said hello. I was touched by the moment when he looked at me- directly at me, curious. He then looked back out the window. He seemed sad and that was an unusual thing in this place. What was he thinking as he looked down at the people, animals, and cars rushing past each other on the street below? I can’t know, but there was a sense of wistfulness in his face. And so I turned and looked with him. I took in the scene below and tried to imagine what it must seem to him. I prayed that my presence brought some comfort to him, but mainly I absorbed the peacefulness of just looking.

All too quickly I realized that the group was leaving and so I touched his shoulder and moved toward the door. He didn’t seem to notice me leaving. As I come to the end of a day filled with important learning, and meeting people doing extraordinary things for adults and children facing the challenge AIDS, it is this boy that stays in my mind. I came to India imagining that I would be doing for others, and what I found today was a little boy who helped me remember that beauty and the sweetness can be found in the midst of suffering by simply being in another’s presence and looking out a window. We’ve been consciously looking for the face of Christ in India and I found him in this boy and in this place.

I just couldn’t bring myself to leave so I asked a sister if I could help in any way. One child, in a kind of stroller, was unable to control her limbs. One person needed to hold her head still while someone else spooned the food into her mouth. The little girl wasn’t very hungry. She seemed more interested in this strange new face staring at her but I was able to coax her to take a few bites. The sister asked a few questions about our group, smiling her lovely smile. As I left I thanked her for the work she was doing. “Yes” she said, ” and now you will remember us in your prayers.” I smiled and thought, “yes, I will.”

- 01/17 Mariah, participant

Unexpected Blessing

Joselito and Mariah sitting with Anindya while she was recuperating
Joselito and Mariah sitting with Anindya while she was recuperating

Unexpected Blessing

While visiting the Arunima Hospice for people with HIV/AIDS, one of our participants, Anindya, became very sick. She needed time to recuperate before the one-hour congested traffic travel back to our lodging, so Mariah and I stayed with her.

The hospice was incredible! The staff, volunteers and children poured their love and care to nurse Anindya back to health. They set up a bed for Anindya and brought her medicine and bottled water. People walked in to check on her, some speaking Bengali and others being silent. Despite our inability to fully communicate, they all served as a ministry of healing presence.

While Anindya rested, Mariah and I swatted the many mosquitoes swirling around that tried to bite Anindya and the both of us. We were so grateful that we were taking our malaria pills! We were also visited by several mice that crawled in the edges of the room. Mariah and I shrieked, and we prayed that Anindya would hurry up and get better so we could go back to our lodging.

When Anindya got well enough to travel, she thanked the hospice administrator for his and the organization’s help. He replied, “No…. thank you! You gave us the opportunity to serve you!” We were humbled. All three of us got to experience this group’s ministry and love in action.

The hospice sent the three of us back to our lodging in an ambulance they owned and bought from Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity

I am grateful to report that Anindya is feeling much better. Through this whole experience, we recognize the blessing bestowed upon us, and how wonderful it is to know and experience God’s presence.

- 01/17 Joselito, student

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