Monday June 21, 2004: Kolhapur and Miraj, India: I was happy that I had not jumped to a false conclusion about Dr. Bidari over the airline tickets to Miraj and simply headed home after finishing my work at Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Washim, India. That would have been a mistake.
Upon arriving at the Wanless compound I was ushered to another missionary guest house called the “Fletcher Hall.” I had previously met Dr. Fletcher, for whom the building was named, on one of my trips to Houston to hold meetings with the board of directors of MBF.
I dropped my luggage off at room #4 and smiled broadly when I realized it had an air-conditioning unit in a back window.
Dr. Ebenezer R. Bidari, M.D., MS, surgeon, FACS, FCAMS, etc. had spent his entire 35-year career at the Wanless Hospital. He had grown up through the ranks of the outstanding hospital and college of nursing, practicing his surgery there and teaching too. They could not have chosen a finer director to run the hospital than Dr. Bidari. I learned to respect him from the moment I met up with him at the dining room of Fletcher Hall ten minutes after I arrived in Miraj.
As soon as I had finished lunch, Dr. Bidari escorted me to the administration building where he had assembled his medical administrative team for our introduction meeting. Our needs assessment study began just that fast. By six o’clock we had not finished the study, but we were finished with the day.
I had a dorm room to myself and took my meals at the Fletcher Hall dining area. The small beds were equipped with mosquito nets so, along with that and the AC, it was very comfortable.
The rainy season had not only started back in Washim but had started also in Miraj. Oh, how it rained! Washim area had been semi-arid, rolling countryside. Miraj was more tropical with some mountains nearby. The fresh rain had turned Miraj into a spot of Indian beauty.
Sunday, June 20
Dr. Bidari lived in a stone house just across the small road from Fletcher Hall within the compound. On Saturday evening he had invited me to attend the Presbyterian church service with his family on Sunday morning, after which we would go to their home and share lunch.
The original stone Presbyterian church was still being used after almost 100 years of continued service. I couldn’t help thinking, as I sat in the old grand building and listened to the minister preach a sermon on stewardship, just how many lives had found their way across the oceans and across India to help and influence the Christian work there in Miraj over the past 110 years. So many, many lives had contributed to God’s work there over the years that only eternity would reveal the good that had been made possible there.
I needed Sunday in Miraj. During the afternoon and early evening I was able to read and write some and catch up on my paperwork and reports. By 7:30 p.m., we went to the chapel on the hospital campus where we attended evening worship services conducted by the students and chaplain of the nursing college.
Monday, June 20
The previous 13 years of dry climate and especially the past four years of drought had really brought hardship to that part of India. They had borrowed money to plant their crops and had gone deeply into debt to purchase food to keep their livestock alive. In the years 2002 and 2003, the banks had to simply quit loaning money to the deeply indebted farmers. So the farm families were, of necessity, forced to sell or kill off their holdings. It had been an extremely tough time for the entire region.
But now, the rains had come. I could lie in my bed and listen to the thunder roll across the thirsty plains bringing with it the life-giving moisture they all needed there. The people I met were even optimistic and the common topic of conversation was about how good it was to smell and feel the rain again.
But, of course, the rain brought the mosquitoes. I was glad that I had started on my malaria medicine before I left home. The once-a-week prophylactic was well into my blood stream and liver by the time I encountered the pesky pinheads. You can bet I still used my mosquito netting over my bed each night, however.
I attended the early morning chapel service on the compound Monday morning and drank in the words of a wise old Indian speaker who brought the devotions. His talk centered on John 21:15-19, “Peter, do you love me?” It vividly brought back to me the memory of my own encounter 30 years ago when God rode in the front seat of that big, dark-blue Mercedes 600 limousine that I was driving and starkly confronted me with the “do you love me?” sequence. Oh, what wonderful years I had enjoyed since that March 12th night in the snow-covered hills of Colorado! It was worth the trip to India just to be energetically reminded of that life-altering experience.
The program that Dr. Bidari had laid out for me for Monday was to finish my assessment at the hospital and college of nursing, then together we would ride to several of the outlying clinics to observe the work that the staff, nurses and students were doing for the communities served by Wanless.
The first outpost was located in the village of Bedag. The structural facility was very adequate but the pieces of equipment and supplies were pretty “slim pickin’.” We talked about taking some of the present assets from the Miraj Hospital out to the clinics once they were replaced by items sent from Project C.U.R.E.
In the afternoon we drove back to Kolhapur, then beyond to a city called Nipani, where the Presbyterians had operated the Lafayette Hospital under the umbrella of Wanless Hospital. It was a 45-bed facility under the directorship of another able surgeon, Dr. Sunil Sase. He was prepared for me. He did a wonderful job of presenting his projects and his lists of much-needed things for Project C.U.R.E.
He was bright, articulate and had great plans for his hospital. His father had been the director there before him and was dedicated to seeing the institution continue in its successes.
All along the roadway between Kolhapur and Miraj there were groups of people walking and clanging cymbals and playing sitars and carrying orange banners of silk. Most of them were dressed in white. I inquired as to who they were. Dr. Bidari explained to me that they were pilgrims who, having admitted they were sinners, were making treks to the temples to pay physical and financial sacrifices to be cleansed of their sins. They would take three or four weeks out of their lives and travel about 15 to 20 miles a day across the country, sleeping out in the fields or in some sympathizer’s farmyard until they reached their destination.
They also punished themselves along the way to enhance their likelihood of being cleansed of sin once they attended the temple. Some were walking on sharp stones and carrying their shoes. Others were fasting, taking in no food along the way. One man impressed me especially. He would stand, then fall the length of his body. The length of his body determined where he would stand up next to proceed with his next fall. He would cover about a five- or six-foot distance with each fall. That was the way he traveled, five or six feet at a flop.
I studied the folks as best I could as we approached and passed them. They were mostly middle-aged men and women. The men always led the group, which counted from about a dozen to 30. The women walked lock-step at the rear. I could see that it was a very solemn occasion for each. The sincerity and determination etched in their faces convinced me of their seriousness.
Dr. Bidari told me that the system was quite a temporary thing in that as soon as they completed the ritual they would head right back into whatever indulgence it was from which they were trying to be cleansed. So, the next year they would have to take off another three to six weeks from their regular duties and proceed on another walkathon for cleansing.
As we bumped along beside one group, the words and melody line from a church song we used to sing when I was a kid flashed onto the monitor of my mind:
Lord Jesus I long to be perfectly whole
I want you forever to live in my soul
Break down every idol, cast out every foe
Now wash me and I will be whiter than snow
Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow
Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
For evangelical Christians and strong denominations to have been in India for as long as they had, we sure hadn’t gotten the simple message of Christ’s plan of salvation, sacrifice, and forgiveness across to the hurting population of India. Less than 5% of all the population of India claimed to be Christian.
We didn’t get back from our road trip to Nipani until well after 9 p.m. Monday night. The chef at the Fletcher Hall had dinner waiting for me.
Next Week: I miss my Mom