Friday, 18 January 2013

Tell me the old, old story...

Having never distributed a tract or ever “proclaimed” the gospel, I was taken aback when Harish S. (name changed) told me, “Saab, mujhe Yesu ki kahani suna do” (Sir, tell me the story of Jesus). My memories raced back to the day two years ago when he barged into my office, pulled a chair in front of me and sat down before declaring emphatically: “Sir, I have been attached with your office. I have never got along well with any of my superiors and have not been in any department for long.”
To the rest of the office Harish was a troublemaker who had to be dispensed with as early as possible. And the authorities had found it convenient to attach him to the public relations officer who had joined the organisation newly: me. In my youthful brashness I retorted: “Neither do I guarantee that we won’t have problems with each other. But let us get to work now.”
Days went by, with Harish provoking me by perpetually coming late, dilly-dallying on work, and worst of all, quizzing me on a hundred and one things. I tried not to lose my nerve and always got my work done. Technology played a great part in this more than my people management skills—I was more comfortable using a computer to do my job rather than let a stenographer do it.
To his credit, Harish was an excellent worker and had indomitable pride in his skills. But I could sense that he was wrestling with certain problems in his life. I too have had struggles in my life and had taken some time to find my way around them. My personal experiences had taught me to believe that everyone has a story to tell. All you need is to give them a chance to tell it.
Slowly I got to know his story. Harish was the youngest of three siblings, much pampered, and who grew up in a patriarchal set-up with lots of misgivings about how a woman should behave in a family. His sister-in-law, who cooked, cleaned, and washed clothes for the whole family, was his model for a wife he would take. But when the girl he married left him after two months his ego took a severe beating.
His sole aim was now to fight her legally. He used all the resources available with him to do so. But in the process, little did he realise that he was tilting at windmills, wrestling with the ghosts of the past and events beyond his control. I met Harish when his life was a roller-coaster ride, sinking into deep depression and adrenaline highs. His irresponsible behaviour and penchant to defy authority was only a part of that. He had an unusually negative attitude, which got manifested in abnormal mannerisms and nervous twitching. Once he told me he had no control over his limbs.
In a small way, I helped him battle his demons. Slowly he began to trust me and confided in me a lot. Once he took me home to his mother, who was paralysed waist down with a stroke. In incoherent syllables that came out from her mouth, a mother’s heart told me how grateful she was that Harish was now in my department. Tears dropped from her eyes like the monsoon rains.
It was during one of these days that he asked me to tell him the story of Jesus.
In order to wriggle out of an uncomfortable situation for me, I told him I would give him a book (the Bible) to read. Never wanting to yield, he refused it pointblank. He wanted to hear the story from my own mouth. I refused again. Why should I put up ramps and rails for someone who is not handicapped? Why should I try to transform him, I thought. Much to Harish’s chagrin, I got him a Bible in Hindi.
Now he found another negative: the letters in it were too small. He kept the Bible aside and kept on pestering me to tell him the story of Jesus. Next I got him an illustrated Bible. He found it too childish. Nevertheless he took it home. I did not bother to check with him again if he read it or not.
A few months later, Harish came with a flier in his hand which announced the arrival of a Christian healer in town. He began nagging me to accompany him to the ‘crusade’. This time I could not back out.
People were still pouring in when we reached the stadium. Music blared from the speakers and the atmosphere was thick with expectation. After the initial songs, those who wanted healing were asked to step forward to the front row. There were people on wheelchairs, the blind and the maimed, and the sick at heart. Harish now wanted to go to the front. This time I refused flatly, telling him if he wanted healing he would get it where he sat.
But when the signature tune began, through the tears that clouded my eyes, I saw him waving his hands and singing along with the crowd.
I spoke to Harish several years later after I had left that job and the city. His problems were not yet over, but he seemed to be in better control over his emotions. I am still not sure if he read the Bible I gave him or whether he knows the story of Jesus.
Now here was a golden opportunity, as at least some of you would say, to fulfill the Great Commission, the foundation for Christian evangelism and mission. Well, I wasn’t too sure about it. 
We look for ways and means to “winning people to Christ” using every medium: print, radio, television, and the internet. But, are the experiences of Christians in the Book of Acts repeatable today, in a world 2,000 years away and in a different cultural context? What is the best way to proclaim the gospel in a pluralistic society like ours? What should be the understanding of salvation be: an exclusively personal concern (“my salvation”) or one that includes every realm of human life (“our salvation”), including the transformation of relationships, political structures and release from social and economic oppression?
Did I miss a chance to proclaim the gospel to Harish? Did I lose a chance to save a soul? Could I have helped him change his attitude by telling him the old, old story? Would it have opened the door of salvation to him, or to me?

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