Kate Ellis lives and works with The Sozo Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa. She manages the organization's Eden project, which trains people living in a local township how to grow organic vegetables. Like Sozo's website indicates, Kate has an undeniable ability to see potential and beauty in hopeless situations. Check out some photos of her missions trip to India at the bottom of this blog. Thank you, Kate, for writing for us and for being such an encouragement!
When I asked God whether or not I should go to India with three of my friends, He reminded me of the talents He’s specifically given me: adaptability, empathy, positivity, communicating, and my outgoing nature. I realized these five characteristics would be beneficial in any missions setting. God had made me for opportunities such as this one.
In retrospect, those are the very five things God continued developing in me during my trip to India, and by no means did that process happen easily.
When we arrived in Vellore we were welcomed into the home of the founders of Asha Jeevan, a Christ-centered, community-serving NPO. Charles is probably the coolest Indian dude ever, Eunice is the most steadfast, unshakable Spanish woman, and their three-year-old son Isaac is in for a very different childhood adventure given that his parents are missionaries to India!
This family has a continuous flow of volunteers, from all over the world, doing life with them, and God used them to teach me about hospitality.
Charles and Eunice introduced us to seven orphaned Indian girls who attend the home overseen by Charles's mother. The girls have no stable family home, and knowing that was difficult. I watched as one of the girls dissolved into tears at the thought of spending Christmas away from the home and away from her “sisters.” Since she couldn't speak English, the girl taught me much about conveying empathy without words. What do you say to a teenager who has to leave her only place of comfort at such a special time — to a teenager who must spend time with a bunch of volunteers because her mother can’t be found?
One of the first things that struck me about India is that everyone is the same colour. Often, we were the only people of a different race in the area. Besides being painfully aware of my complexion, I realised for the first time that poverty is colour blind. Living in South Africa, where the majority of those who live in poverty are of a different race to those who live lives of plenty, has jaded me to this fact: There is no determining factor, other than circumstance, that decides whether a person will be born into privilege or penury.
I could be in that circumstance. You could be in that circumstance.
There is no difference between us and them. There is no reason why they shouldn’t eat — besides the fact that they've been dealt a poor hand. So I kept looking at people and wondering, “What is the difference between him and him?” Time after time, I found the answer to be: “nothing.”
One day, we drove for two hours to get to a remote mountain settlement called “Peace Village." Charles and Eunice have been visiting a colony of elderly people there who have suffered the devastating and life-altering effects of leprosy. Our mission was to show “unlovable” and “untouchable” people some love.
I was given the opportunity to address the group, and this is message I wanted to share: "You are beautiful, and we came to see you and spend time with you because we serve a God who loves you... and we love you, too."
We were given some time to interact with those lovely people who, despite missing limbs and being blind and being outcast from society, are in need of love. Another teaching moment. How do you show love to a person who cannot understand you or see you? You touch them. You reach out and hold their arms. You put your arm over their shoulders. You hug them and somehow convey that they are not ugly, disfigured, or diseased.
For the first few minutes, all I could do was kneel in front of a man who couldn’t see me, hold his hand that was missing fingers, and cry. I couldn’t even pray. I was so overcome by the fact that here and now, through orphans and volunteers, the loving hand of God was reaching out to these “outcasts" and showing them His amazing, unending, no-holds-barred love. The love that heals, restores, and brings asha jeevan — "life with hope."
Working at The Sozo Foundation means that I'm exposed to the reality of poverty in my community on a daily basis. Our philosophy at Sozo is that “We help people to help themselves so they can help others." However, being in India reminded me that there are people in the world whose material possessions consist of the clothes on their back. The pavement is their place of refuge, and for them, a meal parcel means another day.
When we were handing out parcels of food to people, I heard His voice saying, “for what you have done for the least of these, you have done for me." God taught me that when you help someone who can’t help themselves, you’re not throwing food into an empty pit. You're giving food to a person, a hungry person, a person that could be your brother or sister. When you look into a person's eyes and see disbelieving gratefulness, you can’t tell me you don’t see Jesus.
No one we prayed for and gave food to could speak English. All I wanted to tell them was that God loves them. Indians believe in thousands, if not millions, of “gods”... so even when I tried to tell them God loves them, they didn't really understand. Here in South Africa, I’ve never done that. I’ve never fed someone and told them that it was because God sent me. Yet another teaching moment. Thanks to India, I’ve never felt so ready to share the Gospel with people.
As believers, we're called to lay our lives down and love people every single day. Ask yourself, “How can I step outside of my comfort zone and help someone else?” Does it mean making a sandwich for someone who lives on the street every day when you get home? Would you give up your precious Saturday morning to help high school students from the Cape Flats with their homework? Perhaps your passion can be found in hosting a workshop in a township for people who need to learn the exact skill you've honed. How about hosting an orphan for Christmas? Maybe instead of chasing your own desires, you could play a part in someone else realising his.