Saturday February 28, 2009 for Monday, March 9, 2009
I saw the schedule. And as Joseph would mention the next morning in the worship service at Good Shepherd Community Church, it was a carefully crafted program. Each participant was informed in advance of order, timing and time constraints. The program was scheduled to begin at five o’clock and would end promptly at 8:03 PM. That’s what the planning spreadsheet said.
There were delays. The most significant was a traffic jam in the city caused by the arrival of a national political candidate. His appearance brought the already clogged streets to a standstill. Cell phones reported in… cars and busses and VIPs would be delayed. So much for the time sheet.
It meant that we spent more time in the hospitality tent, set up for guests to relax and enjoy “high tea.” That would be a carry-over from the old colonial days; but our hosts had their own OM (Operation Mobilization) version of high tea: Domino’s Pizza, sodas, bottled water. The tent was a brilliantly colored pattern with tassels and a distinct Indian flair. Students staffed the facility, and made sure we all had what we needed. The choices from Dominos included personal sized vegetarian, or if you prefer a cheesy calzone.
We met people from DFN (Dalit Freedom Movement) Vancouver and others who had come a distance for the celebration. But most memorable was a long conversation with Joseph’s daughter, who just recently completed medical school. She is a brand new physician. She told us about her work in the schools, and the goal to have each Dalit campus focused on health issues; hygiene and preventative medicine. Our guys were charmed, and issued an invitation for her to come to California and tell her story. Looks like that will happen in April.
The Canadian contingent included a seventy something man, David, who arrived with his wife, Barbara. They’ve been married less than a year. So I knew there was a story here. David, on Sunday morning, asked me to pray for him. The following day, Monday, he would participate in the dedication of a school funded in honor of his wife of forty-four years who died a couple of years ago after a long battle with cancer. He looked into the eyes of his energetic bride, Barbara, and told her that he didn’t want her to be uncomfortable. “She can handle it,” I said. And I hugged them both. One look at her, and you would agree. She’s got what it takes.
The sky grew dark. The lights flooded the “arena.” The stage was ready. The sound system boomed joyful music. And someone finally took to the mike and drew the crowd to their seats.
With all the fanfare you might hope for, the Class of 2009 was introduced. They marched in accompanied by upbeat songs of praise and the crowd stood to their feet in raucous applause. Each wore a bright turquoise gown with matching cap and tassel. They also wore broad smiles. They seemed to grasp the import of the moment. These are Dalit children who had no hope of receiving the privilege of this level of education. They are poised to grasp opportunities that would have otherwise been out of reach. It has been more than a ten-year journey. This is the first class that started at age six. Now, they are grown. Poised. Confident. Their teachers and counselors have coached and coaxed and mentored. Implanted in them are dreams that would have only been fleeting fantasies; but now are possible. Get to know them, and you would call it more than possible – you’d call it probable.
That’s why tears flowed down the cheeks once more of our tough band of brothers; the parents and dignitaries seated around us, too. We looked over at Joseph and Miriam D’souza, and we could only imagine what he must be feeling with the new three-story Good Shepherd High School as a backdrop for the scene. Their daughter, the other Dr. D’souza, stood beside us. Wet lines from her eyes ran down her glowing cheeks. Her presence speaks volumes about the quality of the home in which she developed into an extraordinary woman – who will make her own mark on the nation.
My iPhone captured the audio. There was a long succession of speeches – from national politicians to college professors to activists in freedom’s cause. The children made speeches and three or four troups provided colorful dance. All of it recorded by an internationally known professional cameraman, Abe. He was all over the scene with his high definition camera. The guys are going to produce a video record of the event – it will be stunning and emotionally charged.
For us Yorba Linda guys, a highlight was Matthew’s word of encouragement. It was carefully prepared and filled with pathos. Matthew’s pastoral gene kicked in full on as he addressed teachers and parents and partners and then best of all, the graduates. He challenged them to take what they’ve been given – and to change a nation. It was a powerful moment. Then he prayed.
Finally, Dr. D’souza took to the microphone. He was clearly overwhelmed by the landscape. He began humbly in his mission work, him and his Dalit wife. The work was painfully slow. Converts were few. And then God’s spirit broke lose and a new vision was unleashed. It has inspired people from around the world, including a significant new partner – Friends Church in Southern California.
Matthew and I will write a full chapter on this event. After the ceremony, he stood with a graduate, her mother and her grandmother for a photo. The girl lived in Pipe Village when they met. Pipe Village no more, Matthew said. They were all weeping tears of joy.
Freedom from Pipe Village. Global Freedom.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2009
Written at the Green Park Hotel, Hyderabad