“Is it possible?” I wondered, stirring from my dream. It seemed only moments ago I’d struggled to fall asleep in this strange new land. Outside the roaring of vehicle engines continued all night, yet it was not as intrusive as the constantly honking horns. Slumber having been finally achieved, it was now abruptly ended by the sound of… a rooster? Throwing off the sheet, I inhaled deeply this uniquely smelling air. Exotic unfamiliar fragrances mingled with faintly distinguishable scents. An overtone of gritty dirt lingered. It was too early to understand all that my nostrils had taken in, though I knew they were a precursor of what the day would bring…
Turning to the window I unlocked and opened the shutters. “What!” I exclaimed aloud. “No glass?”
Startled, I discovered there weren’t any panes in the windows, only bars. Though surprised I refocused on the mission at hand, finding that crowing rooster. Searching outside I spotted more than my living alarm clock. The sun kissed the flat roof. Servant girls drew water from the compound well. Worshippers gathered for prayers at the near-by river. Livestock wandered the streets.
“Am I still asleep?” I whispered. “It’s like I’m in another century.” Arriving late the previous evening I hadn’t gotten a full grasp of my surroundings until that moment. Time couldn’t be wasted. Scheduled meetings brought me to this land but the culture beckoned me.
Straightening the white skirt I’d laid out the night before, I noticed a thin layer of dirt covering it. On closer inspection, the same was true of the bed, dresser, and suitcases! Without glass windows cleanliness was impossible, wearing white a disaster. I slipped into stockings and white pumps. Joining the others I noticed servant girls giggling and whispering. My hostess gave the girls a stern look and we were off.
Enthusiastically I led the worship until several women elbowing each other distracted me. My mind raced as I nonchalantly perused my appearance trying not to fumble over my words. Seated on the platform, I dismissed my self-conscious melt down and turned toward the preachers.
My attention span lasted as long as a child’s at a circus though delight was not what I felt. My legs were being attacked by blood-sucking mosquitoes biting through my new stockings! My hostess, noticing my flailing, smiled, reached into her purse and handed me a tube of dreadfully smelling cream.
“Spread this on thickly – right over your stockings.”
Desperate, I complied. Shortly afterward I glanced over and noticed some women snickering. This was not paranoia. Casually I leaned over and whispered to my hostess, “Do you have any idea why they’re laughing?”
“Oh yes. Look at your legs.” She replied, stifling her own laughter.
What a sight. The cream had bleached the color right out of the stockings everywhere I’d applied it; around my ankles, short strokes across my calves, longer ones down my shins. My suntan colored stockings looked like military camouflage! I tried to smile and laugh through my humiliation. This was not the impression I’d intended to make.
Returning, I found my laundry done. Horrified, I discovered my blouse buttons were destroyed.
Later my hostess and I had a “girl talk”. The servants laughed at my closed white shoes with heels, knowing bare feet or sandals were better suited for walking on dirt and straw. During worship the women poked one-another out of curiosity. Stockings were foreign to them. I didn’t need an explanation of the bleached stocking fiasco. And the buttons? Smashed by the rocks used to wash clothes in the river.
“We’d like to take you shopping for things to make you more comfortable. Your western clothes aren’t suitable for the places you’ll be traveling.”
“Sounds wonderful! I’d love to go shopping and see your malls so I can get a better taste of your culture.” Again giggling servants. Hmm.
Rickshaws were hailed to transport us. Butterflies in my stomach, I smiled and attempted to board. The problem? My straight skirt prevented me from raising one leg high enough to swing it into the surprisingly tall cart. After several attempts, with the servants surrounding me for privacy, I yanked my skirt up my thighs, and was pushed onboard. Laughing together, my shopping adventure in India was underway.
Paul was wise to become all things* to all men. Wearing Indian clothes was more practicable and comfortable. The natives, thrilled by my willingness to fit in, listened receptively to the Gospel I shared. Shopping had removed the distractions.
*“... I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV
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